OSU North Willamette Research Center works with farmers and others in Northwestern Oregon

by: JOSH KULLA - Locally grown blueberries enjoyed by visitors of all ages were just one of the many examples of local agriculture on offer at the July 24 open house at the OSU Northwest Research and Extension Center in Charbonneau. Nestled among fields of crops and ornamentals just south of Charbonneau, it’s easy to drive right by Oregon State University’s Northwest Research and Extension Center.

If you’ve done this you wouldn’t be the first and you won’t be the last, not by a long shot.

Opened in 1957 with $50,000 in state funding and 52 acres of land leased from Clackamas County, the facility is OSU’s only research center in the northwestern part of Oregon. It expanded to 160 acres in 1965 and has operated the property ever since.

Despite working hand-in-hand with local farmers, nursery owners and other agricultural businesses, much of the center’s work takes place out of the public eye. That’s why NWREC Director Mike Bondi decided years ago to hold an annual open house for the public. by: JOSH KULLA - OSU's Northwest Research and Extension Center is engaged in ongoing research into different types of species used by the large Oregon Christmas tree industry.

This summer, that event took place July 25 under clear blue skies and temperatures in the low 90s. Despite the heat, an enthusiastic crowd turned out to tour the facility’s fields, crops and research, as well as sample the wares of local farms and nurseries who partner with the NWREC in its work.

Special topics of interest included a proposed solar array planned that supporters hope will soon be installed along Miley Road, the world’s first blueberry tree and a discussion station about genetically modified wheat. There also were Master Food Preserver demonstrations and Master Gardener information.

“We’re excited to open our doors to the public annually to share the important work being done at NWREC,” Bondi said.

In addition to research, the center serves as the Extension Center for residents in seven Northwest Oregon counties, including Clackamas, Marion, Washington and Multnomah. Its funding comes from a variety of federal, state and county sources, plus grants and contracts as well as contributions from the Friends of the North Willamette Research and Extension Center. The center’s current budget is approximately $1.7 million annually.

Wilsonville resident Greg Leo is a community representative on the new NWREC Advisory Council. The group was created last fall to provide guidance about the center’s education and research programs. It met last November and again in January and May. The group’s 17 appointed members represent various agricultural and community interests spanning the same areas in which the center specializes.

“It’s about giving support for the center and making sure the experimental work is relevant and useful to people who grow berries or Christmas trees or all the various things that grow here,” said Leo, gesturing toward the food booths lined up across the center’s lawn. “You can see here these are all local vegetable growers who have provided free products. They all get together to make sure the work of the experiment station can go forward.”

Leo said the blueberry breeding research being done at the NWREC is probably its most widely known area of work at present. But in addition to farmers, the facility’s researchers also work extensively with local Christmas tree farmers and growers of ornamental plants.

“The university has done a great job of producing the umbrella for all of the different research that goes on,” Leo said.

Farm tours

by: JOSH KULLA - The North Willamette Research and Extension Center grows acres of wheat for commercial sale. The money helps fund research and operations.

At the same time as local farmers were handing out blueberries and local cucumbers, NWREC Bio Science Research Technician Peter Sturman was enduring several hours under the hot sun narrating tours of the facility for visitors.

Chugging along behind a tractor, the tours passed through ornamental fields of landscaping plants being bred for their ability to thrive without irrigation, as well as blueberry plants that are being grafted onto Vaccinium arboreum, a shrub native to the Southeastern United States. The latter program, Sturman said, is intended to make commercial blueberry species taller and more amenable to mechanical harvesting.

“Grafts have already occurred,” said Sturman, who explained how current mechanical harvesters leave a “blue stripe” of wasted berries on the ground. “Now we’re comparing the yields and the food quality of the plants that have already been grafted.”

The tour also passed through fields of GMO wheat, Christmas tree research involving the Turkish Nordmann fir and much more, before returning to the lby:  JOSH KULLA - Vendors offered local blueberries and other produce and products at last Wednesdays open house. aboratories on the north side of the property.

“It’s amazing how much diverse food is grown just locally at our doorstep,” Leo remarked. “It makes for healthier citizens and a better quality of life for everyone. It’s really a great organization here, we’re proud to support it and be a part of it.”

For more information about Oregon State University’s Northwest Research and Extension Center, visit > JOSH KULLA - Blueberries are among the many crops raised as part of ongoing research that aims to help Oregon's diverse agriculture industry.

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