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Oregon State University agricultural research updates.

Help Comes in Many Languages

The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) at Oregon State University receives more than 24,000 questions each year from all 50 states and several countries. Now NPIC can handle pesticide questions in more than 170 languages.

Since coming to OSU in 1995, NPIC has helped thousands of callers with questions that range from chemical contamination of well water to the effects of pesticides on humans and animals.

A new agreement with Language Line Services connects NPIC with staff trained in medical and scientific terminology who can provide real-time interpretation in more than 170 languages, including Mandarin, Russian, and Farsi.

“This new service makes it possible to reach many underserved populations,” said Dave Stone, a professor in OSU’s Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology and the director of NPIC.

The National Pesticide Information Center, a cooperative effort between OSU and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, provides science-based information about pesticide toxicology, safe and legal use of pesticides, environmental impacts and regulation to the general public, medical community, government officials, and applicators.

“If you’re in the city or on a farm, if you’re combating cockroaches or weeds, if you’re a homeowner, physician, or pesticide applicator, you can get objective information about pesticides,” Stone said.

NPIC has a new website (www.npic.orst.edu). For more information on NPIC or assistance with pesticide-related questions, call NPIC at 1-800-858-PEST or send them e-mail: npic@ace.orst.edu.

Students Learn to Design with Nature

Oregon dam photo by Lynn Ketchum

OSU’s new ecological engineering program takes learning into the field where students work on real-world problems, such as assessing the risks posed by this aging dam in southern Oregon. Photo: Lynn Ketchum

This year, students at Oregon State University are studying the laws of nature to help design a world more in tune with natural systems.

This first-of-its-kind undergraduate program in Ecological Engineering combines the tools of engineering design with an understanding of how complex natural systems interact. It is part of both the College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Engineering.

“Society has been very good at breaking down the individual parts of a system to understand how each part works,” said Thayne Dutson, outgoing dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “But, as Einstein said, we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. We have seen the unintended consequences of looking at the parts without considering the larger whole. Global warming, endangered species, and contaminated water supply are a few of the hard problems of society that will require new, integrated thinking to solve.”

The program takes education out of the laboratory and into the field, where large-scale, interconnected systems interact in unpredictable and sometimes unruly ways.

“Agriculture is where ecological engineers can contribute in many ways to a sustainable system that integrates human values with natural structures and functions,” said John Bolte, head of OSU’s Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering.

Citing examples of plants used to clean water, air, and soil, Bolte said ecological engineering “is a new and rapidly growing industry that needs professionals who understand agriculture, plant systems, and engineering design.”

“This new degree sets Oregon State apart from other schools in the country,” said Ron Adams, dean of the College of Engineering at OSU. “Many students study engineering because they want to solve complex problems that move the world toward a healthier, more sustainable place. This new degree is a major step in offering our engineering students another option that will impact the future in a positive way.”

“There is no other institution teaching this approach, and no better place to do it than Oregon State,” said Lou Licht, president and founder of Ecolotree, Inc., the nation’s oldest phyto-remediation business. “For the past 17 years, we have had to train ‘conventional engineers’ ourselves through internships. OSU’s new program of ecological engineering has the potential to provide industry, communities, and government agencies with off-the-shelf, work-ready ecological engineers.”

More information on the OSU undergraduate program of ecological engineering is available on their website.

Making Plans for the Next Generation

Kids playing on hay bales. Photo by Lynn Ketchum

Ranch kids romp across hay bales during a round-up in eastern Oregon. Their futures are the subject of work by OSU economists. Photo: Lynn Ketchum

When it’s time to pass on the family ranch, a succession plan can help keep the ranch intact and in the family. An ongoing series of workshops offered throughout the state is helping ranch owners plan transitions from one generation to the next.

“We ask ranchers what would happen if they died suddenly,” said Bart Eleveld, an Oregon State University economist and one of the organizers of the workshops. “Would their ranch survive to be passed to heirs? Or would taxes and legal fees eat up so much that the ranch would have to be carved up or sold?”

Succession plans are all about communicating between spouses and generations, Eleveld said. “What are your goals? What do you want the future to look like? How will you get there?”

The workshops help ranching families talk about difficult topics in order to prepare for all possible events. They examine the difference between “fair” and “equal” and how to resolve conflicts before they become severe. Eleveld brings in experts to discuss financial analysis; appraisal and valuation discount; land trusts and charitable remainder trusts; and buy-sell agreements.

Eleveld is developing a multimedia tutorial covering the same material and plans to deliver a similar program tailored to specialty crop producers in the Willamette Valley.

The workshop series, “Ties to the Land: Succession Planning for Ranching Families,” is sponsored by OSU’s Extension Service and Austin Family Business Program, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and the USDA Risk Management Agency. For more information, call 541-737-1409.

OSU Researcher Records a Rare Sighting

wolverine photo by Katie Moriarity

Lured by bait attached to cables and a remote-control camera, this wolverine snapped its own portrait in the Tahoe National Forest and provided OSU researcher Katie Moriarty with evidence that the species, long thought to be gone from California, still exists there.

An unexpected image captured by a remote-controlled camera has turned out to be the first confirmed sighting of a wolverine in California in nearly three-quarters of a century.

Katie Moriarty, a graduate student in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, set out to study martens, a species of elusive forest weasels. She had an array of cameras set up in California’s Tahoe National Forest to capture images of the animals through the use of motion sensors and heat detectors.

One day this spring, however, Moriarty was surprised to find that one of the cameras captured an image of a larger animal with telltale markings and a bushy tail that experts say is a wolverine.

“This may be an important scientific ‘stumble,’” Moriarty said. “Wolverines are, at the least, extremely rare, and some people consider them to have been extirpated in California.”

Moriarty’s sighting made quite a stir in the research community. Researchers at the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station sent the photo to a noted wolverine expert at the Rocky Mountain Research Station who said he couldn’t confirm it was anything other than a wolverine.

According to the Forest Service, reports of wolverine sightings occur occasionally in California, but none have been confirmed until now. The last documented sighting of a wolverine in the state dates back to the 1920s.

The North American wolverine is the largest member of the weasel family; adults can weigh as much as 40 pounds. This one joins a menagerie of animals Moriarty has photographed during her research in the Tahoe Forest. “I’ve obtained images of black bear, bobcat, coyote, spotted skunk, Stellar’s jay, common raven, mice and long- and short-tailed weasels. It’s a fantastic wildlife assemblage,” she said. But has she seen a marten? “Oh, yes. And martens, too,” she said.

Wake up and Compost the Coffee

coffee in cup. Photo by Ivan Freaner, stock.xchng

Every day thousands of yawning commuters, sleep-deprived college students, and caffeine-addicted office workers in Lane County fuel up at coffee shops. But what happens to the dark, steaming, gritty coffee grounds that are left over from each latte and espresso?

Up until recently, the majority has been trucked to the county’s municipal solid waste disposal site. But now, some of the aromatic grounds are sweetening area gardens, thanks to a composting program launched by the Oregon State University Extension Service in Lane County.

Since 2004, Extension-trained composters have collected almost 200 tons of grounds from 13 coffee shops and kiosks throughout Lane County. That’s the equivalent of about 25 large dump trucks, said Dan Hurley, the landfill’s waste management engineer.

Last year, the volunteer composters—known as Compost Specialists—collected 53 tons of coffee grounds, according to Cindy Wise, the coordinator for Extension’s Compost Specialist program in Lane County. In recognition of their work, Lane County commissioners gave Wise and the Compost Specialist program the Trashbuster Award in 2005.

Coffee grounds are an excellent addition to compost piles because they add nitrogen and are a safe substitute for manure. Coffee grounds keep things piping hot in compost piles, reducing potentially dangerous pathogens and weed seeds, and they attract earthworms, who seem to appreciate a cuppa joe as much as anybody.

Oregon Agriculture Adds Up to $25 Billion

guy with plants. Photo by Lynn Ketchum

The nursery industry has muscled into the top spot in Oregon agriculture, contributing more than $1 billion to the state’s economy last year. Photo: Lynn Ketchum

Food, landscapes, and bounteous harvests. Oregon’s agriculture industry is linked to 10.6 percent of the state’s sales of good and services and 10.1 percent of employment, according to a report released from Oregon State University in February 2008.

The report, the first since 2000 to assess agriculture’s economic ripple effect on the state, found that Oregon’s agriculture industry, directly and indirectly, is linked to $25.8 billion in sales of goods and services and supports 214,511 full- or part-time jobs.

“The economic impact of agriculture reaches across the state and into sectors not directly connected to agriculture,” said OSU Extension economist Bruce Weber. “What happens in agriculture has ripple effects throughout the economy.”

Weber and Extension community economist Bruce Sorte wrote the report, “Oregon Agriculture and the Economy.”

The report followed the economic footprint of agricultural products as they were grown and harvested and as they traveled from producers to processors, wholesalers, and retailers. It calculated how much money each sector made by producing, processing, transporting, storing, or selling agricultural commodities. It also tracked how money earned by workers in these industries was spent.

“This study validates that agriculture remains a significant economic engine in Oregon,” said Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “While other sectors of the economy may struggle, agriculture adds to our job base, our trade balance, and our quality of life.”

“While Oregon has seen a decline in the number of farms, like the rest of the nation, Oregon agricultural producers have been very creative, which has allowed them to slow, and in many cases, reverse that trend,” Sorte said.

Growers are helping consumers who want to know more about how their foods are produced and how to buy them closer to home, Sorte said. One trend showed small farms producing goods that are often sold locally and sometimes become the owner’s primary source of income.

Download the report (pdf), which was funded by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the OSU Extension Service.