WSU Research Cultivates Seeds of Opportunity for PNW Farmers
The grain-like seed crop quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is growing in popularity and very likely will soon be grown more widely in the Pacific Northwest, thanks to a $1.6 million USDA grant recently awarded to a team of Washington State University researchers.
Quinoa is in high demand by consumers because it is a highly nutritious, high-protein (and gluten-free) alternative to grains and rice.
Kevin Murphy, the project’s lead scientist and a plant breeder for the WSU research project, says that current and growing demand in the US outweighs production from traditional quinoa producing countries like Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru. “Demand is driving distributors, wholesalers, and retailers to seek out domestic, reliable sources of quinoa and this spells opportunity for Pacific Northwest farmers,” Murphy said.
Organic farmers and quinoa distributors and retailers alike are expected to benefit from this research. “Consumers want organic and local sources of quinoa,” Murphy says. The project aims to identify the best varieties suited for organic production in the region, develop best management practices for production, and assess market demand and future marketing options for quinoa growers and sellers.
The research project ties into a larger global focus on the potential of this nutritious crop. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa. According to International Year of Quinoa website, the goal of the campaign is to “focus world attention on the role that quinoa´s biodiversity and nutritional value plays in providing food security and nutrition and the eradication of poverty.”
Quinoa’s potential to increase options for regional farmers and locavores as well as to address global food security lies in its adaptability to marginal growing conditions. “Compared to other crops, quinoa has excellent drought and salinity tolerance,” explains Murphy. “Quinoa can adapt to many environmental and climatic conditions. It thrives in a wide range of soil pH and tolerates light frost and late rains.”
One area that needs improvement is developing varieties with greater heat tolerance. So far, Murphy’s variety trials indicate that varieties bred from Chilean germplasm are best adapted to high maximum temperatures of the Pacific and Inland Northwest regions.
WSU will host an International Quinoa Research Symposium August 12-14 in conjunction with the International Year of Quinoa. Researchers from around the world will gather in Pullman, Wash., to learn about current research and view demonstrations of variety and breeding field trials.
Weed Scientist Synergizes ‘Superfruit’ Study with Scottish Berry Breeders
When WSU weed scientist Tim Miller first teamed up with fruit researchers in the United Kingdom last summer, he was hoping to learn how weeds affect the quality and nutritional value of raspberries. Now he is traveling to the James Hutton Institute in Invergowrie, Scotland, for a second year of berry trials, May 14-23, and when he returns, his findings may help growers produce a higher-quality “superfruit.”
Miller developed the series of trial projects in order to find out whether weeds, or the herbicides used to control them, produce berries with less of the vitamin C and other antioxidants and nutrients which make berries so healthful and appealing to consumers. His research complements that of UK researchers who have perfected the method for measuring the amount of many compounds in raspberry and black currant, two so-called “superfruits” which contain large amounts of antioxidants.
Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that protect and repair our bodies’ cells from damage caused by free radicals that can impair the body’s immune system. Superfuits are believed to help fight off that damage by boosting the immune system, enabling the body to better ward off colds, flu, and other infections.
“Since we both grow berries, it was a natural thing for a Pacific Northwest weed scientist and the small fruit breeders in the United Kingdom to team up and see what some of the factors are that affect berry quality,” said Miller.
For raspberries, one common factor may be how weeds are managed. “Producers in the Pacific Northwest, as in Scotland, use herbicides to manage cane growth and control weeds,” Miller said. Their research may determine — for the first time — whether weed control also influences berry quality, sugar content, color, and antioxidant level.
According to Miller, last summer’s initial Scottish berry-trial results linked the presence of some hard-to-control weeds like broadleaf dock, fireweed, and quackgrass to negative impacts on berries such as lower sugar and vitamin C content and reduced color and juice sweetness. He said this year’s trials will provide even more useful information for berry growers and consumers across the globe.
“A better understanding of the potential effects of management decisions will give growers one more tool to improve not only the yield of their fruit, but also the quality of those fruits for consumers,” Miller said. “Whenever you test living plants in the real world, you can expect some variation in the results from year to year. If berry quality factors respond the same way two years in a row, it’s a good indication that you are looking at a true response rather than simply a response due to temperature or some other environmental factor.”
When, How, and Why to Grow Your Own Vegetables—and More
Just in time for the spring growing season, one of the founding publications in WSU’s Home Garden Series is now available to help Washington State gardeners transform their yards into edible landscapes.
Whether you’re looking to participate in local farmers markets, trim a food budget, or simply start growing your own food, Home Vegetable Gardening in Washington can be consulted for everything from building garden beds and planting seeds to pest management and harvesting. It also offers growing details for more than 70 vegetable crops, including quality differences between home-grown and store-bought produce, production per square foot, and monetary values.
One of the most important factors to consider when selecting vegetable crops is climate, says the manual’s lead author Carol Miles, a WSU Extension vegetable specialist and Master Gardener educator. She and her coauthor specialists in horticulture and entomology added color-coded maps to the publication so that new growers can easily match their vegetable garden site to planting zone dates and temperatures.
The peer-reviewed and professionally edited and designed gardening guide is available at http://bit.ly/10zjBpb. Visit the WSU Extension Online Store home page at https://pubs.wsu.edu/ for the latest releases, and enter “home garden series” in the search box for more science-based growing advice. Another useful site for home gardeners ishttp://vegetables.wsu.edu/, where you can find links to research on plant diseases and pests, organic agriculture, food safety, and much more.
Upcoming Farm Walks
April 22: Vineyard Habitat Restoration, Klickitat County
Robin Dobson and Kathleen Perillo are engaged with ecodynamic farming in their 12-acre vineyard. They have introduced native flora into the farm and among crop plants to encourage biodiversity that lets the good bugs out-compete harmful pests. Learn how they manage the habitat, their grape harvest, and making wine by hand. Participants will also tour their winery where they use no external inputs and let nature do its work. Wine tasting included.
May 6: Grade A Goat Dairy Farm Walk Near Spokane
Heron Pond Farms, located at the base of Tower Mountain in Spokane, is a small, sustainable, family-owned farm providing quality artisanal cheeses and heritage pork to local consumers, markets, and restaurants. Heron Pond is dedicated to humanely raising healthy, happy, hormone free, dairy goats and large black hogs in a pasture-based setting that encourages the animals to behave naturally. During this farm walk, visitors will have the opportunity learn what goes into creating a Grade A dairy products. Participants will see the entire operation, starting with the milking room and ending at the cheese cave. Meet the happy goats and pigs that make Heron Pond Farms their home! Cheese tasting included.
The Heron Pond Farm walk is offered by Tilth Producers and the WSU Small Farms Program. Register for the walk, and check out other upcoming events, at http://tilthproducers.org/events/, or call Jacqueline Cramer, Tilth’s educational programs coordinator, at 206-632-7506.
Whatcom County Farm & Food Finder
Sustainable Connections has published the 2013 edition of the free Whatcom Food & Farm Finder, the region’s comprehensive guide and map to local food and agriculture that helps connect Whatcom County visitors and residents alike with local farms, restaurants, grocers, and other resources.
The Whatcom Food & Farm Finder also includes a wealth of information and resources to help shoppers find out how to eat with the seasons, find u-pick and farm stands, celebrate at local events, find organic farms and learn about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares, source products directly from fishers and ranchers, and learn about the importance of our local food and agriculture.
The 2013-2014 Food & Farm Finder is available online at eatlocalfirst.org as well as at locations around the Puget Sound.