From 1/5 acre to more than 50, Oregon’s small farms come in all shapes and sizes. “A small-scale farm can’t be defined by number of acres alone,” said Nick Andrews, a senior instructor in horticulture at OSU and leader of the Small Farms program in metro Portland. “They tend to be diverse farms that are owner-operated, produce niche crops or specialty livestock, and utilize direct marketing channels.”
OSU Extension’s Small Farms program connects growers with a range of research-based information that’s as broad as the goods they’re producing, be it pickled beets, locally brewed cider, organic vegetables, or artisan cheese from goat’s milk.
Demand is on the rise for the research-based guidance that OSU provides, says Andrews, because many of the state’s growing legions of small-scale growers don’t hail from a farming background. “We are here to provide practical, no-nonsense education that will help farmers make good decisions that won’t waste money, resources, or lose crops,” said Andrews. “Successful small farms can be an economic engine for their local communities, and that ultimately helps everybody in the state.”
In addition to providing one-on-one advice to farmers, offering classes, and publishing bulletins, the Small Farms program in Aurora is building new decision tools that will guide growers from pre-planting to harvest to market. Its first offering helps farmers plan organic fertilizer strategies and predict cover crop nitrogen using a free, downloadable spreadsheet. Next, OSU researchers will recruit growers and seed companies to become citizen scientists by empowering them to access weather stations around the state. Eventually, they’ll develop more than 70 degree-day models for vegetables to predict maturity dates and manage weeds and nitrogen.