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Organic Survey, Team Organic, Thin Dark Line

Posted by | November 18, 2008

WSU Researcher Surveys Organic Producers

While Washington state’s certified organic agriculture producers say that economic factors are the primary reasons that they are farming organically, they also say they feel their farms are contributing more to environmental and social sustainability goals than to economic sustainability goals.

That is one of the findings from what is believed to be the first comprehensive survey of certified organic producers in Washington state. Jessica Goldberger, assistant professor of Community and Rural Sociology at Washington State University, conducted the survey between October and December 2007.

“Organic farming continues to be one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture, and Washington has the third highest number of certified organic operations in the country,” Goldberger said. “It’s important to know the characteristics, information sources, needs, opinions and challenges of our organic producers.”

Approximately 80,000 acres in the state are certified organic, and annual organic farmgate sales exceed $144 million.

For more information, including survey details and results, please visit:

Jessica Goldberger working in her garden at home in Pullman.

Jessica Goldberger working in her garden at home in Pullman

Team Organic Targets Stewardship, Profitability

A 16-member organic farming systems team led by Craig Cogger, a soil nutrient management specialist at Washington State University’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center, has landed a $644,232 grant from the USDA-CSREES Integrated Organic Program to design production strategies for stewardship and profit on fresh market organic farms.

“Our team is partnering with farmers west of the Cascades to help them develop innovative and sustainable farming systems to meet local demands for organic foods while building soil quality,” said Cogger.

The long-term goal of the four-year project is to improve the agronomic and economic competitiveness of fresh-market organic farms by developing integrated, systems-based solutions to a farm’s most significant soil and pest problems.

Cogger’s team will investigate the relationships between production management strategies, soil quality, weed pressure, and crop productivity to improve farming system design and performance.

The team will also develop an innovative organic farming education program in cooperation with producers, producer organizations, and the WSU Small Farms Team. The program will target new and existing organic farmers, farmers who are in transition, students, and agricultural professionals.

For more information, please visit:

WSU Soil Scientist Craig Cogger explains growing cycles at a Puyallup Field Day.

WSU Soil Scientist Craig Cogger explains growing cycles at a Puyallup Field Day

A Thin Dark Line

Soil is crucial to sustaining life on our planet, feeding everything from microbes to elephants. Unfortunately, the world’s soil is being reduced to a thin dark line. Tillage and erosion are the root causes of agricultural soil loss and land degradation, creating one of the most serious environmental problems worldwide.

Tillage, the turning of soil by hand, animal or machine, leaves the soil vulnerable to wind and water erosion. It also scars soil in such a way that the soil’s ability to provide nutrients and sustain productivity is greatly diminished. The resulting soil-loss crisis threatens not only food production but aspects of ecosystems that scrub water and air of pollutants, helping to maintain the overall health of the planet.

At the same time, with millions of new mouths to feed each year, increasing demands for bioenergy production, and mitigation of climate change through soil carbon sequestration, the demands on the world’s soil have never been greater. “The expectations of agriculture to address multiple concerns are broader now than they have ever been,” said David Huggins, USDA-ARS soil scientist and no-till researcher.

Huggins, along with a number of his colleagues, points to no-till as one of the solutions, if not the solution, to control soil erosion throughout the world. As leading researchers in no-till agriculture, the editors of Scientific American asked Huggins and WSU sustainability expert John Reganold to co-author a balanced overview of no-till. Their article was published in the July 2008 issue and is currently available online.

Huggins defines “no-till” as simply planting directly into the undisturbed residue of a previous crop. No-till drills are used to cut narrow grooves into the soil into which seeds are planted. This planting method causes minimal soil disturbance, Huggins said, thereby decreasing soil erosion, conserving water, reducing runoff, and moderating soil temperature. No-till also increases soil organic matter which improves soil structure, sequesters soil carbon and enhances biodiversity.

This article by Deb Marsh (WSU Dept. of Crop and Soil Sciences) is excerpted from a longer version available at:

Threatened by tillage and erosion, a thin dark layer of top soil sustains the planet

Threatened by tillage and erosion, a thin dark layer of top soil sustains the planet