I’m fascinated by research, but frequently frustrated by how long it takes to reach end-users. Farming moves at a speed infinitely faster than research, but for good reason. Research helps us sort through casual observations and one-time coincidences for deeper truths and connections. Because we give more weight to research than observation, it requires more accuracy, rigor, and time.
But it all starts with good observations and questions. Which is why I’m so excited to attend the OEFFA Conference this month! It’s a great opportunity for disciplines to cross paths – farmers, growers, suppliers, researchers, program administrators—and share information.
At the OEFFA conference or otherwise, please feel free to be in touch. I’d love to talk about some of the research topics you’re interested in. We’re working with OEFFA and Central State on ways to promote organic research collaboration between farmers and scientists in Ohio. One opportunity listed below is the Warner Grant program (a long-time project of OSU's Agroecosystem Management Program), which is taking proposals until March 1. Also below are a few recent research updates, along with other resources and events coming up in the next month.
-Cassy Brown, OFFER program manager
Organic Dairy Herd Health Management in Ohio.
According to the most recent USDA survey, Ohio ranks 4th in the number of certified organic dairies and 14th in production. Organic dairy producers have distinct perspectives, approaches, challenges, and experiences when managing herd health, but few studies have documented these. Ohio State researchers used semi-structured interviews to examine herd health management for the organic dairy industry in and around Ohio. Interviews examined decision factors relating to disease prevention and treating infectious diseases, along with organic dairy - veterinarian relationships. Read more: https://go.osu.edu/orgdairy19.
Organic Corn Trial Results Available
The Ohio Organic Corn Performance Test evaluates certified organic corn hybrids for grain yield and other important agronomic characteristics. The tests were conducted on certified organic fields at Apple Creek (West Badger Farm) and Wooster (Fry Farm) in Wayne County and were intensively managed for nutrients and weed control using organic practices. See results at https://ohiocroptest.cfaes.osu.edu/organiccorntrials/.
Vegetable Pathology Lab 2021 Trials
The OSU Vegetable Pathology Lab carried out an active field research program in 2021, with full field trials spread across three Ohio research sites in Wooster, Celeryville, and Fremont and three bioassays for downy and powdery mildew management. As part of their 2021 trials, the lab tested biological control products, and disease-resistant varieties to manage diseases of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, pumpkins, cabbage and collards. You can read the research trial results at Plant Pathology Series 2022_Veg Pathology Research Rpts 2021_final. (These trials were not conducted on organic certified plots. Always refer to your certification agency’s approved list of products.)
43rd Annual OEFFA conference Feb 12, 17-19
The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Conference is February 17 to 19 in Dayton, Ohio, and February 12 online. More than 1,200 folks from throughout the state attend this conference. Funds are available through SARE to cover Ohio State educators’ registrations. Contact Mike Hogan or Suzanne Mills Wasniak if interested in attending or displaying materials. Registration closes February 10. Learn more at https://conference.oeffa.org/
Ray Archuleta "Soil Health and Regenerative Ag - Feb 24 in West Liberty, Ohio
Missouri farmer, retired soil health researcher Ray Archuleta will discuss soil health and regenerative agriculture at the West Liberary Salm High School. This event includes a dinner at 5:30, with presentation at 6:30. The event costs $20 and includes CCA credits. Deadline to register is February 21, but space is limited. Read more at http://go.osu.edu/archuleta
Field Futures—Ohio – Workshop Event on Feb 22
Curious how climate change connects to your farm? Consider attending the inaugural Field Futures-Ohio workshop planned for Tuesday, February 22nd from 10-6PM at the Lodge at Scioto Grove. This unique event will use participatory design exercises to explore alternative climate futures for Ohio. There is no cost to attend, but space is limited and registration is required. Food and supplies provided. Register at go.osu.edu/fieldfutures by Tuesday, February 15 or contact Forbes Lipschitz for details (603 738 2144 or email).
Soil Health webinar series – March 3
The OSUE 2022 soil health series concludes with “Hot Topics-What's the Future of Soil Health?” on March 3, 8-9 a.m. A variety of soil health researchers will briefly discuss their current and ongoing work. Come with your questions and ideas! Register at go.osu.edu/soilhealth2022. Recordings of previous webinars are available at https://agcrops.osu.edu/events/webinar-recordings/dirt-soil-health-investing-below-surface-0
Test Drive New Organic Seed Varieties
Are you a farmer or gardener in the Upper Midwest? Are you interested in contributing to the development of new tomato and pepper varieties for organic farmers in our region? Consider joining the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative and SeedLinked plant breeding network. Read more at https://seedtokitchen.horticulture.wisc.edu/
Warner grant proposals for Sustainable Agriculture Research – due March 1
The OSU Sustainable Agriculture Team and Agroecosystems Management Program (AMP) is accepting proposals for on-farm research projects on sustainable agriculture topics. Research is intended to identify and publicize sustainable agricultural practices and systems that are profitable, socially responsible, energy efficient, and improve water quality and other environmental concerns relevant to Ohio farmers. Farmers are invited to partner with OSU scientists and extension educators to carry out these on-farm projects. Read the Request for Proposals at go.osu.edu/2022-warner-grants or contact Doug Jackson-Smith if you have questions. Proposals are due March 1, 2022.
Organic Grain Training
The Organic Agronomy Training Service (OATS), the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s OGRAIN, and the American Society of Agronomy (ASA) have launched a video series, call series, and listserv for organic advisors and ag professionals to connect and learn from each other. Read more at https://www.organicagronomy.org/organic-advisor-call-series.
The OFFER program cooperates with Ohio State Agricultural Operations to maintain organic production space for field research. Most of the land is located at the West Badger Farm in Wooster and is managed organically when not active in research projects. Facilities include dedicated organic equipment, grain storage, and staff to assist with farm and certification management. Researchers or cooperators interested in reserving organic research land or cooperating for trials or demonstrations should contact Brian Gwin, OFFER coordinator. Multiple small and large grants are available for this work. Find more resources around this topic at https://offer.osu.edu/resources/resources-researchers.
This summer, West Badger is home to organic variety trials for corn and oats, year 2 of a perennial wheatgrass trial, and cultivation equipment trials in partnership with Tilmor. Plans for additional variety trials are underway.
|Cultivation Equipment Trials|
OFFER is pleased to partner with Tilmor for equipment trials on our West Badger research station. Based in Orrville, Ohio, Tilmor specializes in affordable tools and equipment for smaller farms. Read more about Tilmor at tilmor.com/en-us
|Organic Variety Trials|
Oats were planted in early spring along with organic corn variety trials.
|Variety trial results are archived at u.osu.edu/perf/. Results from 2021 oats should be added soon.|
|Perennial Wheatgrass Trials|
Kernza seed and forage was harvested in late July at the Wooster (above) and Fremont (below) sites. Kernza is a potential dual purpose crop for grain and forage. This work is part of a multistate project to track productivity, quality, and soil health under various fertilization and harvest timing treatments
|Weed pressure remains high at the Wooster site, but the Fremont trial was virtually weed free this second year. Leader researcher Steve Culman will continue to monitor this potential crop's competition with weeds to see if this crop might be useful duing organic transition or as an effective weed management tool with soil health benefits.|
Biostimulants are not exclusive to organic systems, but they are a common input for organic growers. Ohio State vegetable production specialist Matt Kleinhenz has spent many years studying microbial-based biostimulants (MBBS). Few agricultural input markets have seen the kind of explosive growth that has occurred with MBBS.
“These products are widely available, relatively inexpensive, are said to offer interesting and appealing benefits, and rarely put users at significant risk, unlike some other products,” says Kleinhenz.
Nicole Wright, program coordinator for the Vegetable Production Lab’s MBBS project, also attributes market growth to increased interest in microbiology.
“I think growers are applying them and thinking about soil and soil microbiology,” she says, “They are thinking ‘everything I hear says that having healthy soil means having lots of living things in them and if I can contribute to that, it’s a good thing.’”
With a constant stream of products entering and exiting the market, Kleinhenz and his team are less interested in testing specific products and more interested in answering the bigger questions surrounding this subset of agricultural inputs. Their research has focused on identifying which factors are important to product efficacy, such as the effect of timing and application rate.
Kleinhenz and Wright have this advice for growers interested in or already using MBBSs on their crops:
- Do background research. Just because a product is OMRI-listed does not mean it’s been found effective. Set aside time to read up on the product. Take a critical look at label instructions. What details are provided about the timing, application rate and application methods? What can the manufacturer tell you about mixing it with other products or using it in specific conditions or crops?
- Be wary of claims that seem exaggerated. Most of these products create modest, gradual, and/or inconsistent yield improvements. Growers should have realistic expectations for MBBS products.
- Product consistency can be an issue with MBBSs. If a product only works some of the time, the cause may be related to the user, the manufacturing process and product itself, or production conditions. For example, environmental factors like soil fertility, pH, or cropping history might influence the product’s effectiveness.
- Use storage and handling procedures that acknowledge these are living products. Avoid temperature extremes and chlorinated water, for example.
- Track what happens. Referrals from other users of the product are valuable. But remember that their success won’t necessarily be repeated in your farm’s unique conditions. When trying a new product or practice, maintain a similar untreated part of your field to compare. Do your own experiments with rate and timing. Keep records on what you applied, where, and take notes on any differences you see in growth, yield, quality, etc.
- Use good cultural processes to increase microbials in your soil too. Wright likens MBBS products to taking a vitamin vs. eating healthy foods. Cultural practices that favor soil biodiversity, organic matter, and good drainage are also needed to provide food and conditions that allow microbial life to thrive.
Change is coming
So far, these products are largely unregulated. For the first time, the current farm bill includes language defining a biostimulant--an important first step in creating better uniformity in the industry, says Kleinhenz. Some manufacturers are concerned about the overall image of MBBS products and are pushing for a more narrow definition along with efficacy testing.
Kleinhenz feels regulation will usher in increased product consistency and better information for consumers, but regulation may also limit the number of products available. Testing product efficacy requires time, expertise, and/or expenses that smaller manufacturers may find challenging.
He also questions if it is truly appropriate to apply the same efficacy standards used for many mainstream agricultural inputs. Based on averages and standard, proven statistical analysis, a comparison of treated and non-treated plots failed to show that inoculation (product use) significantly influenced yield. However, the Vegetable Production Systems Lab team observed many times when a MBBS did increase yield (and a few times when it lowered it).
“If you went out to your truck and it only started half of the mornings, you’d be pretty annoyed and conclude it’s unreliable, that it’s not working,” Kleinhenz says. “However, if you apply a product to your crops or soils and see measurable improvement say, 30% of the time, you might still find the application worthwhile if the costs and other risks were low. Our goal as a team is to provide growers and others with information they can use to distinguish worthwhile from unwise investments and practices.”
There are many additional practical questions to answer that could involve microbiology and decision-making. For now, Kleinhenz and his lab are enjoying the conversation and questions stimulated by this growing and changing industry.
This research is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Organic Transitions Program under award Number 2016-51106-25714 and also under award number 2016-38640-25381 through the North Central Region SARE program under subaward number LNC16-380.
It's time again for Ohio's largest sustainable food and farm conference. This year's OEFFA Conference will feature a larger trade show area, plus three days of workshop sessions and events featuring more than 70 topics and speakers.
Among this year's educational sessions, the Ohio State Vegetable Production Systems Lab will host Do's and Don'ts of Getting More From Microbe-Containing Crop Biostimulants on Friday, February 14 from 12:45-1:45pm. Session leader Matt Kleinhenz invites producers to bring along their lunch and share experiences, concerns, and questions about these commonly used, but often difficult to evaluate, products.
Kleinhenz, an Extension specialist and professor with The Ohio State University’s Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, will lead discussion on the promise and challenge of using microbe-containing crop biostimulants in organic crop production, with an emphasis on vegetable production.
While many organic growers use these types of inputs, the benefits of doing so are rarely clear. Kleinhenz will discuss major reasons for these unclear responses. He will also provide tips for selecting, using, and evaluating biostimulant products effectively. The workshop will integrate hands-on demonstrations and how-to discussions, incorporating news from farms, research stations, and product manufacturers. Participant questions and observations will be blended into discussion on product-crop and product-product compatibility, preparation, application, handling, storage, and normal product effects on crops and yields.
Kleinhenz and his lab have been working with microbe-containing biostimulants for several years, supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture USDA Organic Transitions Program and through the North Central Region SARE program. Those unable to attend the OEFFA conference session can read more about Ohio State work with Microbial-based Biostimulants (MBBS) and their Use in Commercial Vegetable Production by visiting the Vegetable Production Systems Laboratory website: https://u.osu.edu/vegprolab/research-areas/vegebiostimsferts/
Kleinhenz is one of 17 Ohio State presenters at this year's OEFFA conference. For more details about the OEFFA conference and schedule, visit www.oeffa.org/conference2020.php. Walk-in registration is available for Friday and Saturday's programming. The Exhibit Hall is open to the public on Thursday from 4:00-7:00 p.m. and Friday from 5:00-6:30. p.m.