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Oilseed Crops, Tree Fruit Gift, Butterfly Book, Winter Holiday

Posted by | December 7, 2011

Making the Case for Oilseed Production in Eastern Washington

For over 10 years, Tom Conrad has successfully grown spring canola in place of chemical fallow in a 3-year rotation.
For over 10 years, Tom Conrad has successfully grown spring canola in place of chemical fallow in a 3-year rotation.

Farmers in eastern Washington’s high rainfall zone who are interested in producing oilseed crops now have an opportunity to learn from the experiences of those already doing so. A new, free publication relates the experiences of five eastern Washington farmers growing canola, mustard, and winter rape. “Oilseed Production Case Studies” is the first in a series written by researchers in the Washington State University Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.

One of the major economic drivers for oilseed crop production in the Pacific Northwest is to generate a secondary income stream for growers. “We were looking for something to provide more income on fallow,” Colfax farmer Tom Conrad explained, “so we started growing canola about 10 years ago.”


Another reason farmers get into oilseed crops is to create a measure of energy independence. “We, as farmers, need knowledge about biodiesel—how to produce it and how to use it, but that is also a personal choice depending on a particular farmer’s needs and interests,” said Lee Druffel of Colton, Wash. “I have grown the oilseed crops and crushed the seed, and I sold the oil to someone nearby who was already making biodiesel. Although I have not made biodiesel myself, I’ve used a blend from the pump in my equipment and it performed well for me. I like having an alternative fuel source.”

After the seeds have been crushed to capture the oil, the remaining solid material from canola may be ground into meal, an important protein source for livestock feed. Oilseed crops may also be used to improve the health of a field. Druffel said, “We chose to grow oilseed for rotation purposes, and to add diversity to our crop choices. There is no doubt, from the perspective of soil health, that an oilseed crop does something to the ground that’s good…. The soil health is so improved after an oilseed crop. The soil is mellow, and the roots will break through the hardpan at 16–18 inches–now that’s a darned good subsoiler!”

Colfax farmer John Hinnenkamp has grown spring canola for 14 years. He advises farmers to start small and grow a manageable oilseed crop. “The first year we planted 125 acres of spring canola, and we were scared to death! However, things worked out, and we’ve been growing it ever since. Keep in mind that everyone is different, and will respond differently to the suggestion to grow oilseeds.”

Like most crops, the decision of what to grow correlates with the demands of the market. In recent years, for instance, mustard has had a higher market value than canola. Steve Teade of Colfax explained his decision to switch from canola to mustard: “Mustard has been better for us due to flexibility, profit, and less expenses even with an open market.” Calculating profitable financial returns and contacting area processors to assess potential market demand for a particular crop are integral parts of planting an oilseed crop.

All five farmers concurred that chemical carryover was an issue in planting oilseed crops. Knowing the chemical history of any field being considered for planting is crucial. Likewise, all said that marketing was an issue due to fluctuating prices. Despite the challenges, all five farmers said they would continue producing oilseed crops.

–Michael Burley, agricultural news intern

Download a free PDF of “Oilseed Production Case Studies” by pointing your browser to

WSU continues to be a leader in developing solutions that are making oilseed crops an economically viable alternative for Pacific Northwest farmers. In January, WSU experts are offering oilseed crop production workshops in Odessa and Colfax. Learn more by visiting

Check out a story about a La Crosse farmer who grows and presses camelina:

Tree Top Inc. Donates $250,000 to Support WSU Tree Fruit Programs

With the expressed goal of supporting Washington’s tree fruit industry, Tree Top Inc. is investing $250,000 in tree fruit research, teaching and extension programs at Washington State University.

“Tree Top’s participation in the Campaign for Washington State University is first and foremost about reinforcing the industry’s investment in WSU,” said Tree Top CEO Tom Stokes, referring to the tree fruit industry’s recent approval of a $27 million self-assessment to support WSU tree fruit programs. “It is our way of affirming our ongoing support of the industry and its long-term prosperity.”

Dan Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, said the gift will help to further enhance the excellence of tree fruit programs at WSU. “This investment underscores the industry’s commitment to the value of quality research, extension and teaching, and represents one of the first major contributions by the business partners of tree fruit growers throughout the state,” he said. Specifically, the funds will support research orchard development, modern fruit handling and storage equipment and facilities, and scholarships for graduate and undergraduate students working in areas related to the industry.

Tree Top is a grower-owned cooperative established in 1960 in Selah, Wash., and is recognized as one of the world’s leading producers of tree fruit products, such as juice, apple sauce, packaged apples and dried ingredients.

Last December, WSU announced a $1 billion comprehensive fundraising effort: “The Campaign For Washington State University: Because the World Needs Big Ideas.” To date, generous donors, businesses and organizations have committed more than $638.2 million to the Campaign for WSU to increase support for the university’s students, faculty, and research and extension programs and to leverage the university’s impact across the state, nation, and world.

Allied industry members have made additional gifts of over $500,000 in support of tree fruit research at WSU, and efforts will continue to secure an additional $10 million in gifts from other businesses associated with the tree fruit industry over the next year.

–Kathy Barnard

Learn more about WSU tree fruit research by visiting

Watch a short video about WSU research programs that help maintain Washington’s tree fruit growers’ competitiveness in the global market: In collaboration with the state’s tree fruit growers, WSU established a state-of-the-art research orchard near Wenatchee, Wash. Check out a short video offering a brief overview of the types of research currently being conducted at the orchard:

Learn more about the Campaign for WSU by visiting Learn more about the Washington tree fruit industry’s $27 million investment in research, education, and extension by visiting

New Book Captures Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies

The California Sister has “fangs” as a caterpillar that it bares when disturbed. In its juvenile form, it also builds piers out of its own dung on the leaves it feeds on in order to rest and possibly to avoid small insect predators. The hardy Coronis Fritillary migrates up to 200 miles from low to high elevations and back during its life, climbing from 2,000 feet on the Columbia Basin plains to 8,000 feet in the Cascade Mountains of Yakima County, Wash. These are just two of the 158 species featured in a new book, Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies, coauthored by Washington State University entomologist David James with Seattle-area naturalist David Nunnallee.

David James holding a copy of his new book.
David James holding a copy of his new book.

“This is the result of a decade-long effort to rear and photograph all stages of every Pacific Northwest butterfly species,” said James, an associate professor of entomology based at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser. “Such detailed coverage of a regional butterfly fauna has not been published in North America or Europe, so it’s a unique book.”

Life Histories describes and illustrates the immature stages of all but one of the butterfly species found in Washington state, northern Oregon, southern British Columbia and the Idaho panhandle. James and Nunnallee collected fertile female butterflies and raised individual species from eggs, usually several times, to document and photograph each step of their development, from hatching through larval evolution to pupation and adulthood.

In the book’s introduction, James and Nunnallee explain that among the reasons for writing Life Histories was the need to raise awareness of how human activity has threatened many of the region’s butterfly species. Several are endangered, with more on lists waiting to be added.

“Such listings typically require recovery plans, which in turn may include captive rearing programs,” they wrote. “State agencies, zoos, universities, and conservation organizations are currently cooperating to rear some of the listed species for reintroduction to the wild. We cannot protect what we do not understand. We hope this book will increase our understanding of butterfly life histories and that this will lead to more effective preservation programs.”

Unknown to the other, the two authors initially worked independently for several years on opposite sides of the state pursuing the same goal. Then in 2005, James and Nunnallee met and combined their efforts on the project. Nunnallee has studied Pacific Northwest butterflies for 15 years. He is cofounder of the Washington Butterfly Association and supplied photographs for The Butterflies of Cascadia written by Robert Michael Pyle, lepidopterist and founder of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. In fact, Pyle wrote the book’s foreword.

“I can’t say enough about the distinction of Life Histories,” Pyle said. “In the first place, it represents an enormous advance in our knowledge…Our entire Washington fauna (save one), including most of the Cascadian species, has been reared by these two dynamos, as well as studied and exquisitely photographed in every stage. In the second place, this book is the apex of life history treatments to date… The publication of Nunnallee and James, or ‘the Daves’ as we know them, is a matter for unreserved celebration, not only for lepidopterists and nature lovers of all stripes, but for anyone who cares about our butterflies’ lives, futures, conservation management and the plants with which they have co-evolved,” Pyle said.

 Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus on Echinacea purpurea
Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus on Echinacea purpurea

For James, the book represents his lifelong dream to detail butterfly life histories, which started in England in the 1960s when he was 8, rearing butterflies in the family home. (He dedicated the book in part to his parents, Alan and Doreen, for supporting and encouraging that early fascination.) After receiving his bachelor’s degree in zoology in 1975 from University of Salford in Manchester, England, James immigrated to Australia to work and pursue his doctorate in entomology, which he earned in 1984 from Macquarie University in Sydney. His doctoral research focused on Danaus plexippus, or the Monarch butterfly.

James stayed in Australia for 23 years, serving as a research entomologist for the New South Wales Department of Agriculture before coming to WSU’s Research and Extension Center in Prosser in 1999. Today, his research focuses on biological control to reduce pesticide use in irrigated crops, particularly vineyards. He directs WSU’s Vineyard Beauty with Benefits project, which seeks to use native plants to beautify vineyards—and attract beneficial insects like native bees and butterflies as well as predators for pest control.

One of James’s favorite butterfly species, the Monarch, also described in Life Histories, is the world’s best-known butterfly, noted for its long-distance migrations from Canada to Mexico. Regular visitors to the Cascadia region, Monarchs, whether larval or adult, make an unpalatable and toxic meal for birds and other potential predators because their bodies store cardenolides, a type of steroid, from the milkweed they eat. The blue-green pupae are familiar teaching tools in classrooms because they are so easily raised. James admires this species for its tenacity and charisma.

“The Monarch was critical to me being where I am today,” he said. “My fascination with butterflies, specifically their biology and how they adapt to their habitats and live, figured into my future work. I’ll likely finish my career with butterflies, as I started it. They are a symbol of purity, freedom. and ‘organicness.’ A world without butterflies would be a very sad place.”

–Nella Letizia

The 448-page Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies is available from Oregon State University Press. For details, visit For background on James’s Vineyard Beauty with Benefits project, see WSU’s wine science publication, Voice of the Vine: (middle of the page).

See You in January

Snowflake photo by Kenneth G. Libbrecht/
Snowflake photo by Kenneth G. Libbrecht/

The writers and editors at On Solid Ground are taking some time off to celebrate the winter holidays. We’ll be back in January with the another issue of On Solid Ground. In the meantime, please check out our other agricultural science publications.

  • Voice of the Vine – the monthly newsletter for lovers of wine and wine science. Subscribe at
  • Green Times – the monthly newsletter focusing on organic and sustainable agriculture. Subscribe at

Happy holidays!