Researchers in Utah State University’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences have received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative to lead a project to improve organic wheat production.
Five researchers from USU, along with colleagues from Oregon State University, University of Wyoming and Washington State University, will address a range of problems facing organic wheat production in the West. Wheat is Utah’s largest certified organic crop, said Jennifer Reeve, associate professor of organic and sustainable agriculture, one of the project’s two directors and a Utah Agricultural Experiment Station researcher.
“Growing wheat organically is not easy,” Reeve said. “Especially in the moisture-constrained West. Growers struggle with soil erosion, lack of soil fertility and problems with weeds.”
The long-term goal of the research is to find an economically and environmentally sustainable way to address the issues facing these producers.
Researchers will take a three-fold approach to the issue. First, team members, including small grains breeding and genetics professor David Hole and associate professor of soil chemistry Astrid Jacobson, will study various organic wheat management strategies to determine which approaches will improve water use efficiency, weed management, soil quality, wheat yield and quality. Working with the team’s economist, associate professor Kynda Curtis, the researchers will evaluate the economic viability of various management efforts for growers. Finally, through USU Extension and Extension resources in other states, the team will get the newly developed strategies for growing and marketing organic wheat into the hands of wheat growers.
Earl Creech, assistant professor and USU Extension agronomist, co-directs the project and explained that it builds on already completed preliminary work that demonstrated how an application of compost in a wheat-fallow system can potentially improve grain yields for decades. Currently, 23 percent of Utah’s wheat acreage is certified organic, and produces grain which sells for more than double the price of non-organic wheat.
“Wheat is an important crop in Utah both in terms of the acreage it encompasses and the revenue it generates,” Creech said. “Utah is also one of the top organic wheat producing states in the nation. This project pulls together agronomists, soil scientists, plant breeders, weed scientists and economists from several universities to address a critical issue for Utah dryland wheat growers.”
Reeve added that the team’s diverse background helps them address the multifaceted problems facing growers.
“Agricultural problems are often complex and involve multiple, intersecting fields of research that in the past often worked independently,” Reeve said. “Innovation improves when growers, Extension educators and researchers from different disciplines work together to solve problems.”
- USU Plants, Soils and Climate Department
- USU Applied Economics Department
- Utah State University Agricultural Experiment Station
- Utah State University Extension
- USU College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences