SOURCES: Richard P. Dick, 503-737-5718
Helene Murray, 612-625-0220
CORVALLIS - Agricultural scientists and farmers are putting
their heads together to sustain modern agriculture and the
environment for future generations.
Oregon State University (OSU) and Washington State University
(WSU) scientists collaborated with growers at 16 northwest
vegetable and small fruit farms in a year-long study of their
entire farming systems, from planting to family finance
and marketing. Their findings were published this month by OSU and
WSU in "Whole Farm Case Studies of Horticultural Crop Producers in
the Maritime Pacific Northwest," (SB 678).
Unlike in many agricultural studies which are often more
narrowly focused, the scientists went after the big picture,
systematically examining the biological, social, and economic
factors of each farming system, explained Helene Murray, the
study's principal researcher.
"One of the major goals of our program was to examine entire
farming systems, not just problem-specific components such as weed
or insect management," said Murray, now coordinator of the
Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in St. Paul.
"Problems do not manifest themselves in isolation, but rather in a
system of complex interactions."
During the course of the study, the scientists were able to
zero in on these concerns by seeking greater farmer participation
in development of new methods and in research with a grant from the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Western Regional
Sustainable Agriculture and Research and Education program
(SARE) and assistance from OSU and WSU.
First, they conducted a "sondeo," an informal give-and-take
interview technique that gives them a quick picture of the way each
grower copes with changing production and market demands. Next came
more formal interviews where scientists asked the farmers about
their production practices, research needs, family issues, estate
planning, marketing and labor problems.
"What emerged was an appreciation of the complexities farmers,
researchers and extension workers are all facing," said Murray.
"There is a need to jointly research and adapt old and new farming
techniques that protect the health of the soil, water and air,
while maintaining farm profitability - these are daunting tasks."
Although all the growers in the whole farm case study roughly
agreed on the nature of the environmental problems resulting from
modern agricultural methods, they solved problems differently from
each other, said Murray. Half of the growers used certified organic
methods, while the other half favored conventional means.
Both organic and conventional growers clamored for more
information on sustainable farming methods. Also, both wanted to
see universities take new directions in agricultural research,
broadening the focus on increasing production to include
environmental and social safety concerns.
The study revealed also that farmers sometimes do things for
reasons other than money. For example, some growers planted only
marginally profitable crops simply to keep their hard-to-come-by
workers employed throughout the growing season.
The report describes the study's other findings including:
individuals' commitment to farming; methods of soil management and
cover cropping; weed, insect and plant disease management; family
structure; methods of business and labor management; marketing,
record-keeping and insurance coverage; ownership and use of land,
capital and equipment; and sources of information.
"Whole Farm Case Studies of Horticultural Crop Producers in
the Maritime Pacific Northwest," (SB 678) is available at no charge
from: Publications Orders, Agricultural Communications, OSU,
Administrative Services A422, Corvallis, OR 97331-2119. If ordering
more than six copies, enclose 25 cents for each copy.