Organic Small Grain Production in the Inland Pacific Northwest: A Collection of Case Studies

Organic Small Grain Production in the Inland Pacific Northwest: A Collection of Case Studies

PNW683
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Louise Lorent, Associate in Research, WSU Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Diana Roberts, Professor and Regional Extension Specialist, WSU Extension, Ian Burke, Associate Professor of Weed Science, WSU Department of Crop and Soil Sciences
Organic farming can be a challenge anywhere, but the obstacles encountered by Inland Pacific Northwest organic small grain farmers are unique. Their options for managing weeds and soil nutrients are few, and the limitations of the regional climate don’t make things much easier. Nonetheless, organic small grain farmers are out there, and a few are sharing their experience. This publication investigates the farming philosophies and practices of 12 organic small grain producers across Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
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Introduction

Organic small grain farmers in the Inland Pacific Northwest face unique challenges. Their options for weed management and soil nutrient management, two common challenges for organic operations, are limited by low precipitation levels, high soil erodibility and few sources of available manure compared to other areas of the country. The region has a “Mediterranean climate” typified by wet winters and dry summers; rainfall events after mid-June are rare. Dryland farmers are limited, therefore, in the diversity of crops (especially warm-season species) that they can include profitably in their rotations.

These case studies were conducted to investigate practices of 12 organic small grain producers in the tri-state region of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Annual precipitation in the region was classified as low (less than 12 in.), intermediate (12 to 16 in.), and high (more than 16 in.).

There are representatives from dryland and irrigated production, plus large- and small-scale farms. Some operations were entirely organic while others were mainly conventional with a smaller certified organic acreage. For the farmers who had access to irrigation, some were limited by their water rights so only used it to provide supplementary water. Others used irrigation to boost the economics of their organic fields, but did not irrigate all their ground.

All featured farms included small grains in their cropping system; wheat was the most commonly produced crop, but some farmers also raised barley, triticale, and ancient grains such as emmer and kamut. Small grains were not always the primary cash crop of the farm. In some cases, grain was a rotational crop on farms mostly devoted to hay or vegetable production.

Figure i.1. The 12 producers featured in the case study operate farms with varying available moisture.

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Copyright 2016 Washington State University

Published July, 2016

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