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Scientists, Morrow County wheat farmers talk shop

Morrow County wheat farmers discuss growing challenges, questions with OSU scientists in new series of meetings

By Jayati Ramakrishnan

East Oregonian

Published on January 25, 2018 8:41PM

Last changed on January 25, 2018 10:14PM

OSU researchers Larry Lutcher, Duncan Kroese, Christina Hagerty and Judit Barroso (far right) dig up and examine some wheat plants Thursday in one of Sam Myers’ fields. Myers is second from right.

Staff photo by Jayati Ramakrishnan

OSU researchers Larry Lutcher, Duncan Kroese, Christina Hagerty and Judit Barroso (far right) dig up and examine some wheat plants Thursday in one of Sam Myers’ fields. Myers is second from right.

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A group of wheat farmers and scientists sat down in a barn Thursday morning to talk shop — discussing challenges and potential solutions to wheat farming issues in Morrow County.

The meeting was part of “Shop Talk,” a recent effort by the OSU Extension Service to meet with farmers to discuss how their research efforts align with practical application, said Christina Hagerty, a plant pathologist and assistant professor at OSU’s Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center.

About 12 Morrow County wheat growers gathered at a Heppner farm off Little Butter Creek Road to address topics that included which varieties of wheat may be most effective at managing pests or disease, and how to deal with weeds such as cheatgrass and thistle.

They also discussed the merits and drawbacks of open variety seed.

Open variety seeds can be saved and replanted, and can potentially save farmers money in the long run. But those seeds can also become more susceptible to disease if they don’t have the modifications of newer seeds.

“It’s less expensive to save seeds,” said Hagerty. “But the older varieties where it’s legal to save seeds also have an older set of genetics, and may not provide the disease resistance packages that come along with modern varieties,” she said. “Farmers are paying a premium to have modern genetics.”

Wheat farmer Sam Myers noted that OSU is a land grant college, and that money they make from seeds should be put back into the community.

“Is there a way to produce or fund seed that’s open variety, but augmented on the purchase or breeding side?” he asked.

Some farmers mentioned the drawbacks to open variety.

“I actually think that open variety is holding us back,” said Roger Morter, a Morrow County farmer. “If you want something better as far as disease control, you have to pay for it.”

Morter also expressed concern at the level of involvement of seed companies when farmers are trying to buy product.

“I don’t know why, as an industry, we’ve allowed the seed industry to go that direction,” he said. “I don’t mind paying the royalty. My issue is that I can’t pay without the seed company getting involved.”

When a new variety of seed is developed, whether by a private company or a public university, it is patented. Buyers then pay a royalty to the developer every time they plant those seeds.

“That’s the way they’re able to recover the cost of producing the seeds,” Hagerty said. “It’s also a way varieties can be upheld to the highest quality.”

The price differs per variety and, Morter said, can become prohibitive for small establishments.

“In a low-production area, that’s a big deal,” he said.

Myers, who hosted the event at his farm near Heppner, also asked scientists about ways to mitigate disease without having to buy new seed.

“Is it the consensus that there’s no disease resistance we can do — it’s all new varieties?” he asked.

Hagerty said there was research being conducted to look at disease as a function of tilling versus direct seeding.

Producers said in the future, they’d like to meet further with scientists to discuss other issues.

“Understanding disease from a farmer’s perspective,” said one. “Something like that, I would get a lot out of.”

Mary Corp, regional administrator of the extension service, briefly discussed the upcoming vote to bring an extension service district to Umatilla and Morrow counties.

She said passage of the measure, which will be on ballots in May, would support extension activities in the county, but the funding would also support the work of OSU scientists at CBARC and HAREC (Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center).

“Right now [we] go to the county and request general fund support,” she said. “This would be a dedicated stream of funding that could only be used for the service district and ag research.”

The proposed rate for the service district tax would be 33 cents per $1,000.

Corp said they plan to hold a few more shop talk events before the winter is over, talking to dryland farmers around the Columbia Basin.

“As you can tell from this morning’s conversation, they have some pretty specific needs within their micro-climates,” Corp said.

Duncan Kroese, a scientist who was at the event, said the meetings have been informative for those who spend most of their time on research.

“We grow such little plots, we don’t have to think about the economic aspect as much,” he said. “It’s always eye opening to talk to growers.”

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Contact Jayati Ramakrishnan at 541-564-4534 or jramakrishnan@eastoregonian.com



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