Study Finds Commercial Organic Strawberry Farms Have Better Fruit and Soil, Lower Environmental Impact
Side-by-side comparisons of organic and conventional strawberry farms and their fruit found the organic farms produced more flavorful and nutritious berries while leaving the soil healthier and more genetically diverse.
“Our findings have global implications and advance what we know about the sustainability benefits of organic farming systems,” said John Reganold, WSU Regents professor of soil science and lead author of a paper published in the peer-reviewed online journal, PLoS ONE.
The study is among the most comprehensive of its kind, analyzing 31 chemical and biological soil properties, soil DNA, and the taste, nutrition and quality of three strawberry varieties on more than two dozen commercial fields–13 conventional and 13 organic.
“There is no paper in the literature that comprehensively and quantitatively compares so many indices of both food and soil quality at multiple sampling times on so many commercial farms,” said Reganold. Previous Reganold studies of “sustainability indicators” on farms in the Pacific Northwest, California, British Columbia, Australia, and New Zealand have appeared in the journals Science, Nature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
All the farms in the current study were in California, home to 90 percent of the nation’s strawberry production and the center of an ongoing debate about the use of soil fumigants. Conventional farms in the study used ozone-depleting methyl bromide, which is slated to be replaced by the highly toxic methyl iodide over the protests of health advocates and more than 50 Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences. In July, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked the EPA to reconsider its approval of methyl iodide.
Reganold’s study team included Preston Andrews, a WSU associate professor of horticulture, and seven other experts, mostly from WSU, to form a multidisciplinary team spanning agroecology, soil science, microbial ecology, genetics, pomology, food science, sensory science, and statistics. On almost every major indicator, they found the organic fields and fruit were equal to or better than their conventional counterparts.
by Eric Sorensen, WSU science writer
A longer, more detailed version of this article is available at http://bit.ly/9aZdSl.
Learn more about research in crop and soil sciences at WSU, both organic and conventional, by visiting http://css.wsu.edu/.
WSU Graduate Student’s Discovery Benefits State’s Peppermint Industry
Peppermint producers can now make better informed decisions about what to plant and how to rotate their crops, thanks to a discovery by WSU graduate student Jeremiah Dung.
Dung, who is working on a Ph.D. in plant pathology, is investigating a soil-borne fungus called Verticillium dahliae.
Dung’s research began while on a class trip in July 2008 for his Field Plant Pathology class taught by WSU professors Gary Grove and Lindsey du Toit. He noticed that plants wilting and dying in an organic skullcap field looked similar to potato and mint crops suffering from a disease. Skullcap is a native North American herb in the mint family that is also grown commercially for its purported medicinal properties.
Lindsey du Toit, assistant professor of plant pathology, worked with Dung and fellow doctoral student Emily Gatch to isolate Verticillium dahliae as the cause of what Dung observed in the skullcap field. The team also determined that it was the first report of Verticillum wilt affecting skullcap. They demonstrated that the pathogen can be carried in infected stems or seeds used for planting new fields.
In addition, Dung’s major professor, Dennis Johnson, demonstrated that fungus isolates collected from either skullcap or peppermint produced severe symptoms on both hosts.
“Jeremiah’s research is increasing our understanding of the nature of resistance in mint to the Verticillium wilt pathogen and of the population dynamics of Verticillium dahliae,” Johnson said. “Knowledge in both of these aspects is needed to economically manage diseases caused by this wide spread and destructive plant pathogen.”
Washington’s peppermint industry was valued at $36.6 million in 2009.
Healthy plants, healthy planet: Learn more about plant pathology at WSU by visiting http://plantpath.wsu.edu/index.htm.
“Beefing Up the Future” Offers Industry Insights and Strategies for Success from WSU Animal Sciences
Beef industry professionals and students interested in the industry will have an opportunity to learn about the research, teaching and extension of Washington State University’s Department of Animal Sciences at “Beefing Up the Future” on Oct. 22 and 23.
“Beefing Up the Future” is a showcase of science and solutions for Washington’s beef cattle industry. Focused on targeted areas of research and extension projects currently under way, the Friday and Saturday program offers an inside look at the science and technologies that are shaping the industry’s future.
On Saturday, the program includes a keynote address from Larry Corah, vice president of Certified Angus Beef. Having spent his career advancing the beef industry as a Kansas State University Extension beef specialist and director of beef production systems for NCBA before joining CAB, Corah is nationally recognized for his visionary perspective on the beef industry. Based on his experience, he will offer his vision of the beef industry’s future by outlining challenges and presenting opportunities for Washington producers.
Margaret Benson, chair of the WSU Department of Animal Sciences, said, “We anticipate participation from all over the region, and by both established professionals and young people looking for a future in the industry. To that end, we’re arranging for a bus to bring folks from the west side of the state to Pullman on Friday, and take them home again on Saturday.”
Information about transportation, meals (including a Friday night beef BBQ with optional beef and wine tastings created by WSU executive chef Jamie Callison), hotel rooms and registration costs are available on the animal sciences web site: http://bit.ly/dfVVR3.