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Integrated Pest Management Pays Off for Oregon Growers
Oregon State University Agricultural Research updates

Onion growers in eastern Oregon are adopting a system that saves water and keeps topsoil in place, while producing the highest quality "super colossal" onions.

Sweeping field for insects.

Rick Hilton, an entomologist at OSU's Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, collects the insects living near a Medford orchard. Photo: Steve Dodrill

Pear growers in southern Oregon have reduced their use of some of the most toxic pesticides by up to two-thirds, and are still producing top-quality pears.

Range managers throughout the state have controlled the poisonous weed tansy ragwort with insect predators and saved the Oregon livestock industry up to $4.8 million a year.

These are some of the results Oregon growers have achieved in collaboration with OSU researchers as they test new farming methods including integrated pest management (IPM).

However, nationwide IPM has not delivered results comparable to those in Oregon. A recent U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) report indicates that the riskiest pesticides still make up more than 40 percent of all pesticides used across the country. The report notes that while integrated pest management is capable of providing environmental and economic benefits for growers, the federal government has been lacking in effectively implementing IPM.

Rick Hilton, an entomologist at OSU's Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, collects the insects living near a Medford orchard. Photo: Steve Dodrill

In contrast, the GAO report specifically highlights apple and pear producers in Oregon and neighboring states who reduced their need for pesticides by as much as 80 percent by using IPM methods, including insect traps, to control codling moths.

In Oregon, growers have found that when they adopt more environmentally benign practices, they can have unexpectedly good results, according to Paul Jepson, a professor of entomology at OSU and director of OSU’s Integrated Plant Protection Center.

For example, a few years ago scientists at OSU’s Malheur Experiment Station began testing a new drip irrigation system to replace old ditches that wasted water and washed soil and fertilizer into streams. The new system cut water and fertilizer use by half, kept topsoil in place and protected water quality.

In addition, and unexpectedly, the new system produced crops of very large onions, rated "super colossal" and highly valued by restaurants and processors.

OSU researchers in Malheur next tested straw mulch and found that it successfully held soil in place and kept the ground moist with less irrigation. In addition, the scientists found that the mulched soil created a home for beneficial beetles and spiders that prey on onion thrips—a notorious pest in commercial onion fields. The discovery could further reduce the need for pesticides.

"Consumers are putting more and more pressure on the industry to change its reliance on chemical pesticides, but they still want a picture-perfect product," said Rick Hilton, entomologist at OSU’s Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, where researchers help pear growers reduce the need for highly toxic pesticides.

Picture-perfect pears are an important industry in Oregon, and traditionally they have required lots of chemicals. In recent years, the industry has faced stiff competition from overseas producers, so any new methods that growers adopt must make sense economically as well as environmentally.

Hilton is testing a growth regulator that interferes with the molting of codling moth larvae. Another study used pheromone dispensers to disrupt codling moth mating. These and other methods of integrated pest management have allowed pear growers to reduce their use of organophosphates by two-thirds and reduce all other synthetic pesticides by even more, and still produce top-quality pears.

Anderson refers to major storms as pulse events, or times when an extensive amount of precipitation falls and creates a larger-than-normal amount of water runoff.

"The effect of these pulse events in terms of the amount of bioavailable contaminants they wash into the harbor area has not received much study," said Anderson. "My research measures the amounts of bioavailable contaminants these pulse events bring into the harbor and assesses the impacts of these contaminants."

The chemical contaminants Anderson is concentrating on include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides, heavy metals and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, which are generated from combustion of organic materials including petroleum.

Understanding contaminants’ bioavailability in the harbor is important, according to Anderson.

"Different forms of chemical compounds vary in how bioavailable they are, and the chemical form affects the transport and fate of the compound," she said. "A goal of this work is to understand the effect of episodic events on chemical bioavailability so that identification of critical factors can be used to ensure water quality integrity. Bioavailable chemicals are more likely to impact species in and around the harbor."

Quality of Life Keeps Ranchers on the Range

herding cattle

Moving a herd through the high desert of eastern Oregon. Most western ranchers agree that the profit motive is not the main reason they run a ranch, a survey by OSU economist John Tanaka suggests. Photo: OSU Extension and Experiment Station Communications

Consider an average 2 percent return from most livestock ranching investments and you wonder what keeps western ranchers in the saddle.

As it turns out, lots of different people are home on the range for the same reason. From the small hobby ranch to the trophy spread to the large family corporation, most western ranchers agree that their foremost reason to run a ranch is the quality of life, according to an Oregon State University survey.

"This has important consequences for rangeland policies," said John Tanaka, an economist at OSU’s Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center at Union. "Economic models that attempt to explain rancher behavior based only on the profit motive can lead to poorly conceived land-use polices. Financial incentives won’t be effective if financial reward is not the thing that ranchers value the most."

Yet, according to Tanaka, policy assessments continue to use livestock production as a measure of ranching success, even though rates of return from livestock operations are low by any standard investment criteria.

Tanaka and Brad Gentner, a former graduate student in agricultural and resource economics at OSU, surveyed 2,000 ranchers who lease federal rangeland throughout the West, to better understand who they are and what keeps them on the ranch.

They found that because ranching occurs in a variety of physical settings, among ranchers from a broad spectrum of income levels and perspectives, a blanket policy applied to all situations may fail in many specific cases.

Working from his office at the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center in Union, Tanaka helps ranchers sort out their values and goals through development of "ranch models." These models simulate the effects of the choices ranchers make about cattle, forage, landscape, economics, and way of life on a particular ranch.

The results from one year are fed into the simulation for the following year, so ranchers can fast-forward across generations to predict the consequences of various management choices and policies. Eventually, Tanaka will combine groups of ranch models into community models that may help predict how the future of local ranches will affect rural communities in eastern Oregon.

Undergrads Are Detectives in One OSU Program

women standing at table with wine samples

Kelly Helms, an OSU undergraduate, arranges food for a sensory experiment. Photo: OSU Publications

Becky Cooper tracks anaerobic microbes from humans to oysters to discover how resistance to antibiotics can be transferred. Kim Padilla traces patterns of climate change from clues deposited in an ancient pine. Anne Taylor follows the trail of microbes through soil to measure the sustainability of agricultural practices.

Detectives in a bio-thriller? These are examples of projects accomplished start to finish by undergraduates in Oregon State University’s BioResource Research program.

These up-and-coming scientists didn’t wait to earn multiple degrees before launching their research careers.

"Students in this undergraduate program learn to solve real-world problems; they don’t work from recipes," said Anita Azarenko, an OSU professor of horticulture and co-director of the program. Working one-on-one with a professor mentor, students identify a problem and, like detectives, find ways to solve it.

Cooper worked with her mentor, Kate Field, an OSU microbiologist and co-director of the BioResources Research Program, to trace routes by which new antibiotic resistant bacteria could be formed.

In a project featured at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, Cooper demonstrated how oysters filtering contaminated water could concentrate levels of bacteria and allow antibiotic resistance to transfer from one bacterial cell to another.

"Antibiotic resistance is a concern to public health," said Cooper, who now works at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada.

"This study suggests that even when antibiotics are in low concentrations, such as in water polluted with fecal matter, systems that filter water can concentrate bacteria and increase the chance of transferring antibiotic resistance."

"Becky is a good example of the sort of students we get in this program," said Field. "She’s part of a cohort of critical thinkers who will go on to lead national research labs and provide solid research support to improve people’s lives."

Another student, Kim Padilla, followed the trail of atmospheric change by studying the rings of a 350-year old tree. Padilla’s mentor Kim Anderson, a professor of environmental and molecular toxicology, knew of the fallen pine, and arranged for a slab to be delivered to her lab on the OSU campus.

Padilla chiseled apart the stone-hard rings and analyzed their chemical compositions. Trace elements deposited with each year of growth revealed a record of local and global environmental change that reached back to the mid-1600s.

Among many discoveries, Padilla’s detective work uncovered evidence of a volcanic eruption in Indonesia in 1815 that dumped acid rain on the Pacific Northwest, leaving chemical clues etched into the tree rings.

Padilla, whose study is published in the latest issue of Chemosphere, now works for an environmental testing lab in the Portland area.

"I appreciate the fact that my academic advisers took an active role in my work and helped me develop valuable skills necessary for employment," Padilla said.

Another student, Anne Taylor, started her undergraduate career after raising four children.

"When I was ready to go back to school, I looked for a program that would make me employable," she said. "The BioResources Research program had immediate applicability."

With the help of her mentor, Richard Dick, a professor in OSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Science, Taylor researched ways to diagnose the health of soil by following chemical clues left by bacteria and fungi.

"Farmers and foresters need a way to measure the effect they are having on the soil," said Taylor. She correlated land management practices with enzyme "fingerprints" of beneficial microbes to measure the health and quality of soil.

Following graduation, Taylor earned her master’s degree in Environmental Soil Science. She is a researcher in OSU’s Microbial Observatory.

Eventually, Tanaka will combine groups of ranch models into community models that may help predict how the future of local ranches will affect rural communities in eastern Oregon.