The Oregon State University's North Willamette Research and Extension Center held an open house last week, inviting nursery owners, berry growers and neighbors from surrounding communities to check out the research, facilities and foods cultivated at its 107-acre field research station located in Aurora just a few miles south of Wilsonville.
Dozens of farmers, families and curious individuals showed up July 19 to check out the blueberry and blackberry cultivars on display or learn about breakthroughs in pest control systems researched at the NWREC. OSU students and professors collaborated to put together informational material and present it all in a manner reminiscent of a school science fair. While the research is in-depth and providing real impact everyday for nearby nurseries and farmers, OSU faculty and students were able to parse out that information so it's easily digestible for any lay person.
One of those researchers is Robin Rosetta, associate professor of horticulture and entomology expert. Rosetta's work centers around pest management at the nursery and greenhouse level, which are particularly important in preventing the spread of new pests that might be transferred to farms or home gardens via nursery transactions. Rosetta said her job focuses on improving the efficiency of pesticide application, while finding new ways to manage pests through biological control such as using other insects to combat pests.
"Here in Oregon, with nurseries, we did pioneering work using predator mites that prey on spider mites in field releases. That research started in the late 90s. I worked on that and, today, most of our nurseries are using some aspect of biological control using that predator mite," Rosetta said. "It's very exciting when you can help somebody not spray their plants by manipulating little soldier mites and other insects that are our little armies against the bad guys."
Rosetta's work varies wildly due to the fact there is such a huge variety of plants grown in the Northern region of the Willamette Valley. She estimates it's somewhere around 10,000 different species ranging from berries, vegetables, nut crops, small fruit, Christmas trees and even shade tree nurseries. That means there is also a huge variety of pests to be dealt with.
"I think it's really important for people to get a good idea of the diversity of the research and outreach we do," she said. "This is the agriculture surrounding you and it's important to know how we're helping people reduce pesticide use, for instance, using things like bio-control, and also cutting-edge (pesticide) technology."
Some of that research around pesticides includes a prototype of a new spraying technology that implements sensors to read a plant's physical depth, height and shape in order to adjust its nozzles as to prevent unnecessary plumes of pesticides being sprayed, Rosetta said. They're doing preliminary testing of this "smart sprayer" at nurseries in Boring, Oregon, as well as wine grape vineyards in Napa, California.
"With our researcher in Oregon, the first five years, we learned we reduced the volume of pesticides from 40 to 70 percent with the same degree of control of the pest just using this technology," Rosetta said. "We reduced aerial drift and ground load by about 90 percent as well, so it wasn't going into the air or into our soil
and into our waterways. It helps the farmer reduce the risks so they don't lose their crops."
On the other side of the research, Bernadine Strik is working to improve the quality and economic viability of berry farms in the North Willamette Valley and beyond. Strik is a professor of horticulture who has been the head berry specialist at the NWREC for the past 30 years. Her work has led to breakthroughs in new berry varietals that are well-adapted and resistant to disease and pests in order to improve efficacy for farmers across the region.
There are two aspects of Strik's job at the NWREC, the first is working with the United States Department of Agriculture's' Agricultural Research Service, the principal in-house research agency of the federal government's agrarian branch. It's a partnership that has been around for more than 100 years and helps to create breakthroughs in crossbreeding of different varieties of berries and other foods.
The second aspect of Strik's profession is to work and interact with local growers in order to distribute the findings of their research in order to help boost their yields and economic viability.
Strik says events like last week's open house go a long way to improve the access and visibility of their work within the community.
"I think there's a disconnect between the consumer and the farmer. The average consumer doesn't understand where their food comes from, and one of the things I'm noticing here is that so many people don't know that marionberry is a blackberry," Strik said. "Events like this help make the neighbors aware (of what we do here). They see the gate, they drive by, but they have no idea what we're doing here.
We have the world's largest
organic berry research program right here, and the
fact that this is right in
people's neighborhood is kinda cool."