Impact Reports

Beef Tenderness

In Search of the Perfect Steak

2016

American beef is of high quality, but tenderness is a concern. In national studies “grass-fed” beef is considered tough 66% of the time by consumers. Additionally, consumers believe “normal” beef is less than desirable tenderness 23% of the time. Tenderness is ranked as one of the top concerns, if not the top concern, of the American Beef Industry.

American beef is of high quality, but tenderness is a concern. In national studies “grass-fed” beef is considered tough 66% of the time by consumers. Additionally, consumers believe “normal” beef is less than desirable tenderness 23% of the time. Tenderness is ranked as one of the top concerns, if not the top concern, of the American Beef Industry.

Using DNA marker technology, Frank Hendrix tested and then researched bull bloodlines to find several bulls with the highest tenderness ranking of T=10. These bulls are uncommon and it took three years to find the first one.

Hendrix developed a team of cooperating producers and bred (artificially inseminated) 350 of their cows to T=10 bulls. He retained heifers testing T=8, T=9, or T=10 for six years to produce animals to test. The normal cow (T=3 or 4) when bred to a T=10 bull would produce calves with higher “T” tenderness values, but it was necessary to produce several generations before T=8, 9, and 10s were consistently produced for testing. A group of high tenderness ranking steers were born and managed with their herd mates according to the best management practices of the American Beef Industry. This group of cattle was raised on irrigated pasture until they each weighed 900 pounds. They were transferred to a commercial feedlot, finished to harvest weights (1,300 pounds), and  harvested at a commercial facility under USDA supervision.

Matching 12th rib steak samples were taken from all animals, identically cooked, and tested for tenderness using the Warner Bratzler shear force machine.

The results showed a significant difference (<0.01) in tenderness between normal American beef (T=3, 4) and the selected tender (T=8, 9, and 10) beef. The project showed tenderness to be an inherited trait and that the ranking method was 99% accurate. The technology is specific, accurate, cost effective, and makes a significant difference in beef quality. DNA marker use enhanced beef quality and guaranteed tenderness independent of beef breed, method of finish, or fat levels in the carcass.

The project showed guaranteed tender beef is an inherited trait that is significantly different and superior in quality (<P0.01), from normal American beef. Tenderness can be ranked accurately (99%) using DNA marker technology with a small sample from each animal. Producers can and should select breeding stock for superior beef tenderness.

Economic analysis indicates a guaranteed tender animal retains more than a $300 market benefit over the average beef animal. Less feeding time is needed to finish the animal, less fat is needed to produce a quality product, and tenderness concerns are eliminated by using the DNA marker technology. The use of DNA markers as an aid to augment beef tenderness and beef quality is rapidly expanding. When fully adopted, Washington beef cow/calf producers will benefit approximately $75 million annually as a direct result of these basic studies and findings. Guaranteed tender animals entering the feedlot to be finished will need 80 to 90 fewer days in confinement and on high-energy feed to produce a high-quality product. This will result in an estimated savings of $320 per animal, or approximately $900 million in Washington. Additionally, a significant amount of fat per animal will not be necessary to produce the same high-quality product. This is of significant financial importance (billions of dollars nationwide), but Hendrix has not been able to estimate the exact figure. The USDA grades will not be as important to quality. A lean beef steak will be as tender and as high of quality as a USDA prime-graded beef steak.

Funding for this fifteen-year study came from the Yakima County Cattlemen’s Association, indirect cooperating producers, and out of pocket.

  • 5 cooperating producers participated.
  • Project included 350 cattle over 12 years of data collection.
  • 66% of grass-finished beef is considered “tough.”
  • 25% of commercial beef is considered “tough.”
  • American Beef Council reports a guaranteed tender product is worth an additional $352 per carcass. (2008)
“From our prospective, tenderness is the largest problem in the beef industry. [Frank Hendrix’s] research has the potential to completely eliminate the tenderness problem.” –  Washington Beef Inc. management

“By using AI sires in this project we have ensured a high level of phenotypic quality in the selected cattle.” – Cooperating producer

“After trying a T-8 locker beef, all future locker beef is going to be DNA tested.” – Cooperating producer

“Since being involved in this study, I’ve been spoiled. I rarely buy restaurant beef anymore; it’s a disappointment compared to my beef at home.” –  Cooperating producer

For more information, please contact Frank Hendrix, WSU Extension, 2403 S. 18th St., Union Gap, WA, 98903-1637, (509) 574-1600, or hendrixf@wsu.edu.

First Detector/Exotic Pest Team

2016

Exotic Pest Team Members

Yearly economic impact of invasive species in the United State is estimated at $133.6 billion. In a time of world trade and global movement of people and products, hitchhiking pests are becoming more and more common. There is an estimated 32% risk that a wood-boring insect more damaging than the Emerald Ash Borer will be introduced into the U.S. in the next ten years. Washington is ranked the fourth-highest risk for exotic pest introductions according to the 2008 Farm Bill. Early detection of newly introduced pests is paramount for reducing impact and costs to Washington’s agricultural and natural resources.

Yearly economic impact of invasive species in the United State is estimated at $133.6 billion. In a time of world trade and global movement of people and products, hitchhiking pests are becoming more and more common. There is an estimated 32% risk that a wood-boring insect more damaging than the Emerald Ash Borer will be introduced into the U.S. in the next ten years. Washington is ranked the fourth-highest risk for exotic pest introductions according to the 2008 Farm Bill. Early detection of newly introduced pests is paramount for reducing impact and costs to Washington’s agricultural and natural resources.

The Exotic Pest Team develops content, curriculum, and scholarship for dissemination throughout WSU Extension program areas targeted at gardeners, farmers, green industry professionals, and natural resource workers. Leveraging agency partnerships, WSDA and WSU strategically construct outreach specific to pest threats most likely to impact Washington’s agricultural, natural resource, and green industry communities. When a new pest threat comes to the region or if a pest threatens introduction in a large network of programs, stakeholders and potential first detectors are engaged to disseminate current knowledge of the pest and its potential impact on the state. The following are examples of the Exotic Pest Team’s reach:

  • Master Gardener Program had 3,329 volunteers reaching 83,330 gardeners through 4,540 diagnostic plant clinic events, 630 gardening classes, and 640 hands-on demonstrations in 2015.
  • Pesticide Education Program (PEP) delivered education through seventeen recertification trainings to 2,500 licensed pesticide applicators in 2015.
  • The WSU Plant & Insect Diagnostic Laboratory handles more than 2,000 samples a year.
  • The WSU Plant & Pest Diagnostic eNetwork processed 350 digital samples in 2015 and more than 7,500 digital samples since its creation in 2002.
  • The M.T. James Museum serves as a regional resource for insect identification. In 2014, the museum identified 154 insect samples submitted.
  • The WSU Garden Web Team has developed the “PestWatch” factsheet series and the PestSightings ListServe with 400 subscribers to disseminate new pest information.

Identification of newly introduced pests and adoption of new management strategies are measurable impacts. With the introduction of Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) and Spotted Winged Drosophila (SWD), team members Gwen Hoheisel and Mike Bush developed workshops for fruit growers that increased grower skill and knowledge. After workshops, 2% of the participants said they felt “fairly” confident in identifying SWD, while 98% and 100% were “very” confident in identification of SWD and BMSB, respectively. A similar trend was measured with Master Gardeners and WSU PEP participants when trained to identify native versus exotic pests. Eighty-five percent of the class participants surveyed could distinguish between exotic Asian Longhorned beetles and native beetles, and 89% could distinguish between the newly introduced Brown Marmorated Stink Bug and endemic stink bugs. Ninety-four percent now know how to report and submit suspect exotic insects after receiving training.

Since 1991, 67 exotic invertebrate pests have been detected in the state. Twenty-four of these (36%) were first detected by private citizens, underscoring the value of these outreach and education programs. Fifteen species (22%) were detected as a result of WSU Extension programming, which included presentations and material developed by WSU and WSDA. Diverse points of contact between the public and collaborating team members ensure that information moves freely to and from the public, and the collaborative Exotic Pest Team allows rapid communication across programs with distinct missions.

The introduction of BMSB to the region illustrates the effectiveness of the team. BMSB was first discovered in the Pacific Northwest in 2004 in Portland, Oregon. Based on its imminent spread into Washington, the team strategically issued press releases in southwest Washington to encourage citizens to search for this pest; a private citizen then discovered it in 2010. Since then, through outreach materials, trained stakeholders, and press releases we have documented the spread of BMSB into eleven counties via submissions to Master Gardener clinics, WSU Extension offices, and the WSDA Exotic Pest Lab. In addition, a new state record for the southern green stink bug, Nezara viridula, was discovered at damaging levels in King County. By integrating expertise and collaboration, the team increased the pool of exotic pest detectives and created a shared focal point for each program.

Since 2013:

  • 12,599 gardeners, landscapers, farmers, and natural resource professionals have been trained to recognize key exotic pests and manage newly introduced pests.
  • 141 first detector workshops and exotic pest educational events have been delivered.
  • 10 pieces of scholarship have been produced along with 8 training modules.
  • 4 grants have supported team efforts to recruit WSU clientele and program participants to detect exotic pests.

Since 1991:

  • 67 new invertebrate state records, 15 a direct result of WSU outreach efforts.

“With regular introductions of exotic pests, it is paramount that the Exotic Pest Team continue to deliver the information and research that helps WSDA stay abreast of exotic pest issues and marshal the resources of our diverse citizenry to help us respond to exotic pest issues.” – Dr. Brad White, assistant director, WSDA

Gwen Hohiesel, Sharon Collman, David Pehling, and Mike Bush (WSU Extension educators); Chris Looney and Eric LaGasa (Washington State Department of Agriculture Pest Program); Rich Zack (WSU Entomology, M.T. James Museum); Nicole Martini (WSU Master Gardener Program); Jenny Glass and Rachel Bomberger (WSU Plant & Insect Diagnostic Lab and WSU Plant & Pest Diagnostic eNetwork), Catherine Daniels (WSU Web Team); Carol Black, Carrie Foss, and Becky Maguire (WSU Urban IPM and Pesticide Education Program); and Justin Bush (Washington Invasive Species Council).

For more information, please contact Todd A. Murray, Director, Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension Program Unit, WSU College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, Hulbert Hall, Room 411, PO Box 646248, Pullman, WA 99164-6248, (509) 335-8744, or tmurray@wsu.edu.

Honey Bee Health

2016

Photo credit

Honey bees contribute more than $18 billion to the U.S. economy in pollination of more than 90 agricultural crops. One-third of the food we eat benefits from honey bee pollination. Thus, the serious decline of honey bees, known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), is a major concern for all of us. In Washington, beekeepers are reporting losses at two to three times the level they have historically experienced. CCD is a complex syndrome and more than 60 variables are associated with this pneumonia. Most researchers and beekeepers attribute the parasitic mite Varroa destructor as the major contributor to CCD. But there are several other major variables that also contribute including various pathogens, loss of habitat, and exposure to pesticides. First discovered in the United States in 1986, the Varroa mite will kill the colony within 2 years if left untreated. Agricultural pesticides, including those used by beekeepers to control the Varroa mite, are also contributing factors in the decline of honey bees.

Honey bees contribute more than $18 billion to the U.S. economy in pollination of more than 90 agricultural crops. One-third of the food we eat benefits from honey bee pollination. Thus, the serious decline of honey bees, known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), is a major concern for all of us. In Washington, beekeepers are reporting losses at two to three times the level they have historically experienced. CCD is a complex syndrome and more than 60 variables are associated with this phenomenon. Most researchers and beekeepers attribute the parasitic mite Varroa destructor as the major contributor to CCD. But there are several other major variables that also contribute, including various pathogens, loss of habitat, and exposure to pesticides. First discovered in the United States in 1986, the Varroa mite will kill a colony within 2 years if left untreated. Agricultural pesticides, including those used by beekeepers to control the Varroa mite, are also contributing factors in the decline of honey bees.

The most common means of controlling the Varroa mite is through chemical treatments in the colonies. While these treatments can be effective, reliance on them is not sustainable. WSU is seeking sustainable solutions that include increasing the genetic diversity of honey bees and looking at natural and cultural control strategies. Increasing the genetic diversity of honey bee populations will improve our ability to find natural mechanisms of resistance to the Varroa mite. WSU is also looking at non-chemical natural approaches to controlling the Varroa mite and improving the immune system of the honey bee. In addition, WSU is considering the science behind various management strategies that can help reduce the impact of the Varroa mite.

Since 2008, WSU has imported honey bee semen from areas of the world where the bee is indigenous, including Italy, Slovenia, Republic of Georgia, Poland, Germany, and Kazakhstan. After being cleared of any disease problems and initial selection, WSU works with queen producers to distribute this stock to beekeepers throughout the United States. DNA analysis has documented significant increases in genetic diversity in stock of U.S. queen producers as a result of this program.

WSU has started the first germplasm repository for honey bees where semen from the importation program and U.S. bee breeders can be held indefinitely through cryopreservation. WSU is working with beekeepers to look at better ways to overwinter bees and help reduce Varroa populations. » More …

Farm to Fork Field Day Program

2016

Funding and Partners

Washington State University Extension programs have promoted healthy living through a variety of delivery methods for individuals and families for more than 100 years. Today, health issues continue to be significant to youth and families in our state. In Washington, 24% of youth ages 10-17 and 27% of adults are overweight or obese (Department of Health, 2013). There is a strong need for people to identify the health benefits of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and recognize the bigger picture of food systems. Putting food on the table is not only an experience that begins at the grocery store, and it is important to understand that it grows locally and each person can be involved in its production and/or finding more of it locally. This is especially critical in urban settings where people are farther removed from the production of their own food. Teaching and showing youth where their food comes from and how it gets to their table can influence their desire to increase their local selection of produce for a healthy diet.

Agricultural literacy is an important way to encourage healthy eating behaviors through education about food systems. Pairing this with hands-on activities involving growing food increases the chances youth will make changes in their food choices.

Washington State University Extension programs have promoted healthy living through a variety of delivery methods for individuals and families for more than 100 years. Today, health issues continue to be significant to youth and families in our state. In Washington, 24% of youth ages 10-17 and 27% of adults are overweight or obese (Department of Health, 2013). There is a strong need for people to identify the health benefits of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and recognize the bigger picture of food systems. Putting food on the table is not only an experience that begins at the grocery store. It is important to understand that it grows locally and each person can be involved in its production and/or finding more of it locally. This is especially critical in urban settings where people are farther removed from the production of their own food. Teaching and showing youth where their food comes from and how it gets to their table can influence their desire to increase their local selection of produce for a healthy diet.

Agricultural literacy is an important way to encourage healthy eating behaviors through education about food systems. Pairing this with hands-on activities involving growing food increases the chances youth will make changes in their food choices.

In an effort to connect youth to local food access and help them understand where their food comes from, 4-H and Food $ense have worked together to develop the WSU Clark County Extension’s Farm to Fork Field Days. This field trip experience gives youth the opportunity to visit the Heritage Farm and learn about local food access.

In 2014, the WSU Clark County Extension faculty, staff, and volunteers worked together to pilot the Farm to Fork Field Day program. The goal was to increase the awareness and knowledge of agriculture and the role it plays in the lives of young people in Clark County. Through Farm to Fork, area youth from schools and community groups came to the Heritage Farm to learn more about how their food grows and gets to their tables at home.

Since the pilot project, Farm to Fork has been promoted in school classrooms and community youth programs encouraging youth to participate in hands-on farm experiences. Groups participate in farm- and food-topic-related workshop stations. The topics of these stations include: planting, weeding, and harvesting produce, worm composting, water resources, bees and pollination, uses of animals and animal byproducts, food systems, and other farm-based activities. » More …

Wheat Academy

2016

The Extension Dryland Cropping Systems Team formed in 2013 to efficiently coordinate and deliver educational information and resources to dryland crop producers in eastern Washington. Educational events for this audience were poorly coordinated and often lacked informational depth. The Extension Dryland Cropping System Team was formed to address these issues.

The Extension Dryland Cropping Systems Team focused their efforts in three areas in 2015. These were: 1) the Wheat and Small Grains website (smallgrains.wsu.edu), 2) soil acidification awareness, and 3) the Wheat Academy.

Growers make a lot of decisions during the growing season, including what crop to plant, what crop varieties to use, what pest control strategies to use, how much fertilizer they need and when to apply it, and when to sell their grain. Educational events for this audience had been poorly coordinated and often lacked informational depth.

Dryland crop production in eastern Washington is a challenging enterprise and knowledge is necessary for success.

The Extension Dryland Cropping Systems Team formed in 2013 to efficiently coordinate and deliver non-biased, research-based educational information and resources to dryland crop producers in eastern Washington. As part of its efforts the team created the Wheat Academy in 2014. The second Wheat Academy occurred at Washington State University on December 15-16, 2015. Attendance was limited to 75 people to keep class size small enough to allow for quality, hands-on activities. Fifty spots were reserved for crop consultants and 25 for growers. Presentations included information on:

  • Understanding the mechanisms of herbicide resistance;
  • Variety development of wheat cultivars in the Pacific Northwest;
  • The nitrogen cycle in the soil-plant-atmosphere system, what happens to nitrogen fertilizers after application, and how form, timing, and rate of nitrogen application, tillage, and residue management affect yield and protein;
  • Monitoring soil pH and implementing a liming program;
  • Differences between wheat and canola management, and the best strategies for a successful transition to growing canola based on current research;
  • Wheat price formation and the potential benefits/challenges of actively managing price risk;
  • Nutrient content and the value of wheat and other crop residue;
  • Crop rotation;

» More …

Improving Leafy Green Production for Direct-Market Farmers in Washington

2016

Funding

Leafy greens are a high-value crop that can be produced year round in the mild maritime climate of the Pacific Northwest. Year-round production can improve cash flow throughout the year and is key to the economic stability for many small farmers. Maintaining continuity in sales year round is also crucial for sustaining relationships with consumers, distributors, and markets, and is fundamental to increasing sales and economies of scale for small-scale direct-market farmers. There is a strong societal, local, and regional demand for locally produced foods on a year-round basis. Access to local and regional markets currently is limited among farmers in northwest Washington by knowledge of production practices and competition from out-of-state producers.

Leafy greens are a high-value crop that can be produced year round in the mild maritime climate of the Pacific Northwest. Year-round production can improve cash flow throughout the year and is key to the economic stability for many small farmers. Maintaining continuity in sales year round is also crucial for sustaining relationships with consumers, distributors, and markets, and is fundamental to increasing sales and economies of scale for small-scale direct-market farmers. There is a strong societal, local, and regional demand for locally produced foods on a year-round basis. Access to local and regional markets currently is limited among farmers in northwest Washington by knowledge of production practices and competition from out-of-state producers.

This project increased local production of leafy greens in western Washington and served as a model for other regions by investigating low-cost season extension production technologies, implementing variety trials to identify suitable leafy green varieties for each season for year-round production, identifying optimum harvest size for various produce niches (e.g., baby greens, braising mix, bunching), identifying optimal planting densities, showcasing cultural weed management options, and processing techniques for a safe food supply. Increasingly important to the production of fresh market produce is Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) that require documentation of production steps to ensure food safety. This project coupled improved production techniques with training of small-scale fresh market producers on GAPs certification for leafy greens.

Our project addressed these issues by undertaking a multipronged approach to improve regional leafy greens production. First, screening of leafy green types and varieties occurred at WSU Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center and at Cloud Mountain Farm Center for spring and fall months over the course of two years. Nine common baby-leaf salad cultivars were examined in the spring and six in the fall for total and marketable weight, and for quality, pest pressure, and storability. Second, 103 different single-parent lines of cos (romaine) and leaf lettuce were assayed for germination under cool conditions to simulate spring planting. Third, pre- and post-plant bed flaming treatments were evaluated for the ability to suppress weeds and for injury to baby-leaf arugula. Fourth, interviews of producers, agricultural professionals, and food purchasers were performed to better understand market demands and expectations. » More …

Washington Farm Bill Outreach

Educating Farmers on New Farm Program Options

2015

The Agricultural Act of 2014, more commonly known as the Farm Bill, is recurring 5-year legislation that sets national agricultural policies. The 2014 Farm Bill has been described as a sweeping overhaul of agricultural policy. It eliminated direct support payments and replaced them with new, insurance-based programs for many important commodities in Washington such as wheat, barley, legumes, corn, and dairy. A significant departure from past programs that enrolled producers annually, is that decisions on new crop programs are binding for the life of the 2014 Farm Bill, which is at least through 2018. For dairy producers, the 2014 Farm Bill eliminated the historic MILC (Milk Income Loss Contract) program and replaced it with the insurance-based Margin Protection Program (MPP). These new programs are critical risk-management options that require producers to make enrollment decisions on programs and program options that they have never seen before.

The Agricultural Act of 2014, more commonly known as the Farm Bill, is recurring 5-year legislation that sets national agricultural policies. The 2014 Farm Bill has been described as a sweeping overhaul of agricultural policy. It eliminated direct support payments and replaced them with new, insurance-based programs for many important commodities in Washington such as wheat, barley, legumes, corn, and dairy. A significant departure from past programs that enrolled producers annually, is that decisions on new crop programs are binding for the life of the 2014 Farm Bill, which is at least through 2018. For dairy producers, the 2014 Farm Bill eliminated the historic MILC (Milk Income Loss Contract) program and replaced it with the insurance-based Margin Protection Program (MPP). These new programs are critical risk-management options that require producers to make enrollment decisions on programs and program options that they have never seen.

The new Farm Bill programs and their complicated options required extensive education efforts in a short timeframe to meet program enrollment deadlines. WSU Extension, through the Western Center for Risk Management Education, collaborated to provide a national Farm Bill Conference in Kansas City as a train-the-trainer workshop for Extension educators to learn about program options and national computer decision aids. WSU Extension also co-hosted a regional workshop in Salt Lake City on the Texas A&M Farm Bill Decision Aid. The Farm Bill provided funding for each state to conduct Farm Bill Education workshops. From October through November, 11 dairy producer workshops were conducted throughout Washington on the Dairy MPP. A publication was created evaluating MPP implications for Washington dairy producers, “Overview of the Agricultural Act of 2014 Dairy Margin Protection Program and Its Implications for Washington Dairy Farmers.” Starting in December and lasting into March, 12 workshops on the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage program options were conducted for crop producers. Information on program options was posted on the WSU Small Grains website, which includes links to decision aids, video presentations, and newsletters.

It is commonly known that dairy producers face substantial profitability risk as milk price can be highly volatile in response to world dairy market conditions. The MPP is the first widely available program that dairy producers can use to manage the financial risk they face.

There are 480 licensed dairy operations in Washington. About 350, or 73%, of the dairy producers in the state attended the MPP workshops. For 2015, 309 Washington dairy producers enrolled in the MPP, which represented about 64% of the dairy farms and dairy production in the state. Of those choosing to enroll, 58% purchased more than minimum coverage levels. This requires producers to pay higher insurance premiums for the higher coverage levels. High enrollment rates among Washington dairy producers show that they are taking proactive steps to manage their financial risk.

The Farm Bill commodity program decisions were complex for Washington producers because of the diverse rotations that have been expanding into new crops such as chickpeas and canola, the high variability in crop yields across a county, and adoption of reduced tillage operations that affect both yields and rotations. For Washington, the commodity program decision affected 17,113 Farm Security Administration farm units and more than 3.4 million acres of production. Wheat had by far the largest production acreage with more than 2.9 million acres enrolled in Farm Bill program options.

Washington producers chose to enroll 90% of the wheat base acres into the ARC-CO program, 6% into the PLC program, and 4% into the ARC-IC program. Washington has the highest enrollment in the ARC-CO compared to the other leading wheat producing states ranked by base acres, with 60-75% of their base acres enrolled in the ARC-CO program. The predominance of choice in the ARC-CO program has future cash flow implications that are tied to county yields. If yields are low as they are proving to be in 2015, it can decrease the cash flow payments from the ARC-CO program.

On a 7-point scale (1 low to 7 high) evaluating knowledge gain in Farm Bill Education workshop attendees, the gain in knowledge jumped from 2.7 to 5.5 for dairy and 2.2 to 5.0 for crop producers. The quality of information and presentations was rated 6 for all workshops. The ability to use workshop information to make program decisions was rated 6.5 for dairy and 5.0 for crop options.

  • About 350 dairy producers and 750 crop producers attended the Farm Bill Education workshops.
  • 11 workshops on the Dairy Margin Protection Program.
  • 12 workshops on the Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage programs.
  • Farm Bill program elections were made on 17,113 Farm Security Administration farm units with more than 3.4 million acres of production.

“For many farms that have both owned land and rented land, the Farm Bill program option data analysis is huge – overwhelming. Attending this Farm Bill workshop has been a huge help in understanding my program options and risks. Thanks for putting on the workshop.”

“I really appreciated the hands-on help after the workshop to work through the details on the specific program options for my farm operation.”

“I wanted to pass on the many compliments that we have received on the Farm Bill Dairy Margin Protection Program workshops. Several producers have mentioned how much they appreciate knowing more about this program … and the Darigold staff have all indicated how helpful the materials are for them to talk out in the field with their members.” – Jay Gordon, Executive Director Washington Dairy Federation

For more information, please contact J. Shannon Neibergs, Associate Professor Extension Economist, Director Western Center for Risk Management Education, School of Economic Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164, call: 509-335-6360, or email: sneibergs@wsu.edu.

Mechanization of Orchard Practices

2016

Collaborators

With the production and financial success of high-density, narrow canopies in apples and to a lesser extent cherries, industry is seeking opportunities to mechanize some of the tasks that currently require large pools of employees for short windows of time and where the work requires a ladder to complete.

The production of tree fruit crops is labor intensive and labor-related risks are high. The top labor-related risks include getting the job done, getting the job done correctly, and getting the job done on time. Manual production tasks include pruning (winter and summer), tree training, green fruit thinning, and harvest. Every apple, pear, apricot, peach, nectarine, and sweet cherry in the fresh market was picked individually by hand.  Currently the industry needs large numbers of semi-skilled employees for short periods of time. This demand scenario can be disruptive for families, communities, and industries.

With few exceptions, trees in PNW orchards are grown to a height of 10 to 11 feet. This means that roughly 1/3 of the work requires the use of a ladder or mobile platform to reach the work space. Ladder injuries can be life changing for the employee and compensated claims are expensive for employers. Narrow fruit canopies (fruiting walls) open opportunities for the adoption of labor/human assist and automated technologies. Narrow canopies are machine and human friendly, maximize sunlight interception and distribution, produce a uniform canopy and crop load, and result in fruit and canopy that are accessible for precision application of inputs. Expertly managed narrow systems produce high early yields and high mature yields of premium fruit. An estimated 95% of all new apple acreage planted since 2010 is trained to narrow tree architecture and at a spacing that allows for mechanization of some or all tasks. There are some limitations with cherry and pear, but where the rootstock is available and the management is able, high-density, narrow canopies are being experimented with on a large scale in pear, sweet cherry, and stone fruits.

With the productivity and profitability achieved in high-density, narrow canopies in apples and to a lesser extent cherries, the industry is seeking opportunities to mechanize some of the tasks that currently require large pools of employees for short windows of time and where a ladder is required to complete the task.

Europe leads the world in tree fruit orchard mechanization. In collaboration with the Washington Tree Research Commission, key producers have traveled with WSU Agricultural Engineering and Extension faculty to Europe to look at machinery on the manufacturing floor, the Expo floor, and in the orchard. We studied successful and failing operations in terms of selection, maintenance, and operation of equipment and integration of orchard system, task, machine, and people. » More …

Riparian Grazing and Water Quality Protection

2015

Partners

Solving the social dilemma and improving water quality through improved livestock management both require addressing the drivers of water quality from a watershed scale and application of an education/outreach method that is palatable to landowners.

Acute social and legal conflict over regulation of non-point source pollution related to livestock in Washington State strains proactive efforts to improve water quality. Stream impairment from poorly managed livestock grazing activities often is related more to impaired stream function, changes which occur over a long period of time, than to direct contributions of pollutants.

The environmental and legal concerns involved in water quality regulation threaten all three classic aspects of agricultural sustainability for livestock farmers: economic, environmental, and social. Solving the social dilemma and improving water quality through improved livestock management require addressing the drivers of water quality from a watershed scale and application of an education/outreach method that is palatable to landowners.

Tipton Hudson, Kittitas County Extension director, acquired a grant from the Western Center for Risk Management Education in 2011, which funded a series of workshops conducted in partnership with the National Riparian Service Team to provide in-depth, in-field training on the relationships among livestock grazing practices, riparian condition, and water quality. Relationships established through these workshops spun off numerous local landowner meetings on specific management practices to improve upland and riparian condition and thereby improve water quality. The project also produced a short film series on riparian grazing and water quality. Topics include: Water Quality Risks, Tools and Techniques, Ecosystem Interactions: Water Quality and the Plant/Soil Interface, Bacteria Ecology, Risks of Livestock Direct Access and Solutions, Risks of Complete Exclusion, Grazing Effects Evaluation, and Bacteria Research and Water Standards.

A regular meeting with a few conservation districts and key regulatory personnel about the social and environmental problems resulted in WSU Extension’s creation of a water quality risk assessment for grazing areas, which characterized positive and negative conditions and practices and relied on risk management language that accurately reflected scientific reality with respect to non-point source pollution. The reality is that there is rarely a distinct per pollutant threshold that can be established for stream impairment, individual landowner practices couldn’t be accurately correlated with instream pollutant levels even if a threshold were clear, and the only effective strategy to combat degraded water quality is to combat degraded stream condition through evaluating grazing management practices and riparian condition holistically. The solution, according to Dr. Sherman Swanson of University of Nevada-Reno, is to ensure one’s management includes “more good than bad.”

Hudson has served as technical advisor to a producer-led stewardship organization in the Palouse, the 5-Star Watershed Stewardship group, which was created to develop a non-regulatory, non-conflict approach to improving soil and water quality in the Pacific Northwest. Hudson has provided approximately 12 hours of instructional time to this group, and 25 producers have gained new knowledge in grazing planning and management, riparian grazing, and water quality risk assessment. At least 10 producers representing more than 25,000 acres have adopted new management practices to improve water quality and rangeland condition, including planned grazing, ecosystem monitoring, water quality monitoring, and riparian pastures.

Through outreach efforts, ranchers, regulators, and natural resource professionals in Washington State understand:

  • Grazing management affects water quality directly based on abiotic site factors, vegetation conditions, and grazing variables.
  • Riparian health drives water quality; water quality often lags improvement in riparian condition by 10-20 years. Grazing management affects riparian health and water quality, long-term.
  • Certain conditions make stream fencing a desirable and effective option to improve water quality.
  • Changed attitudes toward management-based solutions (non-infrastructure-dependent) shifted to allow for results-oriented grazing solutions.

The tenor of dialogue has become more cooperative. The content of dialogue and newly drafted regulatory guidance allow that well-managed livestock grazing in stream zones may be sustainable if done well. Solutions include:

  • Helping farmers understand economic consequences of riparian degradation or improvement;
  • Encouraging all parties to think in terms of risk assessment rather than violation or no violation, which applies to both site conditions and livestock management practices;
  • Encouraging riparian function as the target of management and voluntary incentive programs; and
  • Advocating withholding regulatory action except in the case of egregious pollution where significant quantities of pollution are visibly contaminating surface water.
  • 2011-12 Western Center for Risk Management Education grant: $62,977.
  • 2015 Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education mini-grant, professional development: $2,500.
  • Registration fees for workshops: $3,100.
  • 1 peer-reviewed journal article (Hudson, T.D., 2015).
  • 9 educational videos.
  • Over the last 5 years, Tip Hudson conducted more than 30 educational events with more than 1,000 individuals communicating water quality risk management principles and practices.

“The Washington Cattlemen’s Association appreciates the technical assistance and expertise that Tip Hudson brings to the table. WSU Extension is playing an important role of both a scientific and technical nature, as well as a set of boots on the ground to help landowners and livestock producers address site-specific water quality issues of all sizes. The WCA is proud of the partnership we have with our Land Grant University” – Jack Field, Executive Vice President, Washington Cattlemen’s Association

Washington State Conservation Commission, Washington Cattlemen’s Association, Washington Farm Bureau, and Washington Association of District Employees

PIs on RME grant: L. Hardesty, D. Nelson, F. Hendrix, J. Ullman, S. VanVleet (all WSU)

Non-WSU expertise to credit: National Riparian Service Team; Dr. John Buckhouse, Oregon State University prof. emeritus

For more information, please contact Tipton Hudson, Kittitas County Extension Director, 901 E 7th Avenue, Suite, Ellensburg, WA 98926, call: 509-962-7507 or email: hudsont@wsu.edu.

Beginning Farmer Programs at WSU

2016

Funding and Partners

Declining farm numbers and an aging farmer population highlight the urgent need to support new entry farmers in Washington. Almost half of all Washington farmers are over age 60 and less than 5% are younger than age 35 (2012 USDA Census of Agriculture). A significant transfer of farming knowledge, skills, and assets to the next generation will be necessary for Washington agriculture to remain vibrant. However, new and aspiring farmers face myriad challenges, including acquiring production and business knowledge and skills, securing profitable markets, and gaining access to affordable land, water, and equipment. Beginning farmers tend to have limited access to capital and start small in terms of acreage and sales. On the last agricultural census, more than 75% of beginning farmers operated fewer than 50 acres and had sales under $10,000. Beginning farmers also are more likely to be women or immigrants than established farmers.

Declining farm numbers and an aging farmer population highlight the urgent need to support new entry farmers in Washington. Almost half of all Washington farmers are over age 60 and less than 5% are younger than age 35 (2012 USDA Census of Agriculture). A significant transfer of farming knowledge, skills, and assets to the next generation will be necessary for Washington agriculture to remain vibrant. However, new and aspiring farmers face myriad challenges, including acquiring production and business knowledge and skills, securing profitable markets, and gaining access to affordable land, water, and equipment. Beginning farmers tend to have limited access to capital and start small in terms of acreage and sales. On the last agricultural census, more than 75% of beginning farmers* operated fewer than 50 acres and had sales under $10,000. Beginning farmers also were more likely to be women or immigrants than established farmers.

Increasing consumer demand for local products has created new market opportunities. However, incoming farmers need practical tools to evaluate their resources and develop feasible farm and business plans. Needs assessments with beginning farmers indicate that they prefer peer-to-peer, on-farm, and interactive learning formats. In response, the WSU Small Farms Program has developed a community-based, participatory education program in partnership with county Extension offices and local producers that includes semester-long evening classes, a farm-internship program, advanced short-courses, online resources, and an interactive Farm Walk, on-farm education series.

The collaborative Cultivating Success™ Sustainable Small Farming Education program is designed to educate and mentor entering and transitioning farmers at the community level by engaging successful established farmers as mentors and drawing upon the expertise of university faculty and other agricultural professionals. Over the past decade, semester-long courses have been offered in 24 different Washington counties, online, and in 4 different languages. The main courses offered are (1) Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching, (2) Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Business Planning, and (3) On-Farm Internships.

*A “beginning farmer” is defined by the U.S. government as someone who has been farming for 10 years or less. In 2012, 8,133, or 22%, of Washington farmers fit this description.

Beginning farmer programs at WSU have attracted high numbers of participants. During the three-year period from 2013 to 2015, a total of 3.120 participants attended 128 English language and multilingual programs. Evaluations indicated that more than 95% of participants reported an increase in knowledge and more than 90% planned to implement something they had learned through the program in their farming operation. Twenty-three percent of those evaluated said they planned to start a farm, while around 60% of Farm Walk participants, 21% of Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching course participants, and 41% of Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Business Planning course participants already were farming.

End-of-course evaluations indicated that for the Cultivating Success™ Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching course specifically, 98% of student respondents increased their knowledge of available farming resources, and more than 90% improved their understanding of principles of small farm sustainability and sustainable farming practices. For the Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Business Planning course, 100% of respondents said they had improved their knowledge of how to write a business plan and 90% said they had improved their understanding of farm profitability. More than 80% of respondents said they felt more prepared to evaluate their human and financial resources and to assess the feasibility of a small farm or ranch enterprise.

After participating in a short course, 100% of those who responded said their knowledge had increased somewhat or greatly, and 81% said they planned to change a farming practice. More than 96% of Farm Walk participants said their knowledge increased somewhat or greatly. Specifically, after participating in the program, 63% of Farm Walk participants said they would make a marketing change on their farm, 53% said they would make changes to improve labor efficiency, 47% planned to improve their nutrient management practices, and 42% said they would change their pest management practices.

On a 2012 survey of former Cultivating Success™ students who had taken courses at some point during the past 8 years, 28% said they had begun a farm or ranch as a result of participating in the program. More than 56% said they were currently a principal operator of a farm and 9% were working on someone else’s farm. Cultivating Success™ graduates offered numerous examples of how taking these courses had helped them avoid costly mistakes and strategically target the most effective market channels.

Cultivating Success™ in Washington

  • 4,485 students.
  • Approximately 300 students annually.
  • 108 Hmong students.
  • 295 Latino students.
  • 50 East African students.
  • 80 instructors trained.
  • More than 150 farmer mentors engaged in course instruction.
  • 25 certified farm internship hosts.

Farm Walk Program

  • More than 110 innovative sustainable small farms featured since 2004. Average of 45 participants per walk. Participants farmed an average of 115 acres in 2015.

“Sometimes there’s success in not going down a road that would have been unsuccessful.”

“My business was profitable in its second year. … Each year my sales have grown.”

“I am now looking to upgrade my farm to a larger place and am digging out my old books from the class to revise my farm plan. The resources are timeless.”

“Gave me skills, confidence, connections, knowledge.”

Funding Sources:

  • USDA NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, USDA Risk Management Agency, USDA Higher Education Challenge Grants, and USDA Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmer and Rancher Grants

Partners:

  • University of Idaho, Rural Roots, Tilth Producers of Washington, Seattle Tilth, and Viva Farms Incubator

For more information, please contact Marcia Ostrom, Small Farms Program, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Associate Professor, School of the Environment, Washington State University, 1100 N. Western Ave., Wenatchee, WA 98801, call: 509-663-8181, Ext. 263, or email: mrostrom@wsu.edu.

For information on the WSU Small Farms Team, please visit http://www.smallfarms.wsu.edu, and for information on the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, please visit http://csanr.wsu.edu.