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WSU Scientists Win $1 Million Grant to Explore Organic Dryland Cropping Systems

PULLMAN, Wash. – Replacing costly chemicals with new crop rotations and no-till technology to raise dryland crops such as wheat and barley organically will be the focus of Washington State University scientists thanks to a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Integrated Organic Program.

“This adds an important new dimension to our organic agriculture program,” said Dan Bernardo, dean of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “While we received a lot of publicity last year for being the first in the country to offer a four-year degree in organic ag, we have been conducting research of organic systems for years. This grant allows us to continue leading the way in translating some of the most economically-sound practices of organics to dryland cropping systems.”

“We’re trying to make organic dryland wheat production agronomically and economically successful to benefit both the growers and the environment,” said Professor Rich Koenig, co-principal investigator for the grant and chair of the CAHNRS’ Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. Researcher Pat Fuerst, weed scientist Ian Burke, and soil microbiologist Ann-Marie Fortuna, all in the department, are the other co-PIs. The project, which is centered in Washington but also involves Idaho and Oregon, begins Oct. 1.

The research will explore weed control, soil fertility and economics of growing wheat organically. Primary tools include the use of seven different rotation crops, including alfalfa which helps fight weeds and fixes nitrogen in the soil. Organic alfalfa is a highly prized commodity that would help the bottom line for growers using the dryland cropping system. Dry peas, another rotation crop in the project, serve as a green manure fertilizer.

Koenig said the research team also will examine the effectiveness of using minimally invasive tillage on the project as a way to control weeds and minimize soil erosion.

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