OSU’s Central Oregon Agricultural Research and Extension Center remains rooted in central Oregon’s massive seed industry.
By Chris Branam
Long before carrots become a snack or a side dish on your dinner plate, the odds are likely they started in the sandy soils of central Oregon.
Hybrid carrot seed was introduced to central Oregon fields in the mid-1970s and has since come to dominate the region’s agricultural economy. Central Oregon produces about 75 percent of the U.S. carrot seed supply, and 40 percent of the world’s carrot seed supply.
“If you’re eating a carrot, it’s likely the seed came from here,” says Carol Tollefson, director of Oregon State University’s Central Oregon Agricultural Research and Extension Center (COAREC).
Central Oregon is comprised of more than 60,000 acres of irrigated cropland, with specialty seed crops making up the core of the Jefferson County agricultural community. The region’s short growing season and hard winters make it more difficult for insect pests and diseases to build up, creating an ideal environment for agricultural production. Set on 80 acres in the shadow of Mount Jefferson, COAREC works with growers who specialize in these high-value irrigated crops, including vegetable seed, grass seed, and forages (irrigated hay and pasture grasses).
Plant pathologist Jeremiah Dung, for example, investigates disease that left unchecked could wipe out an entire field. Central Oregon’s soils are vulnerable to soil degradation, so Clare Sullivan, an OSU Extension crops specialist, explores the use of cover crops to improve soil quality. Mylen Bohle, an Extension forage specialist, conducts research at the Madras facility and in growers’ fields, delivering the results of his research to ranchers throughout the eastern part of the state.“We have a close relationship with the growers in Jefferson County and central Oregon,” Tollefson says. “They value us because we help them solve their problems. Agriculture is a main employer in Jefferson County, so everything we do has an impact.”
Established by the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station in 1947 in Redmond, COAREC relocated its headquarters to Madras in 1991. Like the other experiment stations across the state, COAREC is ingrained in its community, hosting workshops, field days, and Extension classes for youth and adults.
Along with the Jefferson County Seed Growers, COAREC co-sponsors the annual Central Oregon Farm Fair and Trade Show, which wrapped its 39th year in February. Last fall, COAREC threw a public party called the OSU Benny Bash and 4-H Kickoff. The event included a carrot cake bake-off.
“I love building relationships with all of the people around here,” Tollefson says. “The station has such a close relationship with seed companies and growers. That’s the best part of my job.”
COAREC At a Glance
Drip, drip, drip
Local carrot seed farmers owe much of their success to drip irrigation. In 1911, to help the flood of immigrants learn how to farm central Oregon, Oregon State College (now OSU) established irrigated crop demonstration trials in Redmond and a dryland site near Madras. University scientists held the region’s first Crop Field Day in 1912 in Redmond and Metolius. Today, the vast majority of carrot seed acreage in central Oregon is drip-irrigated.
More bang for your bee
Carrots, onions, and parsley don’t produce the quantity and quality of pollen and nectar that attract honey bees. Yet Oregon vegetable seed producers rely on the pollinators to keep their industry buzzing along.
OSU and COAREC researchers introduced artificial larval pheromones to hives to make bees sense there is a large brood of larvae that needs feeding. This motivates the hive to forage intensely for pollen and nectar, which increases their flower visitations in vegetable seed crops. The result? Pollination increased, and yields in carrot seed crops increased 15 percent.
Every spring, hundreds of fifth-graders from across central Oregon visit COAREC’s Research Garden and Learning Center. Rotating among different stations, the children learn about wheat, honeybees, soil, and plant diseases. Called Seeds of Science, the field trip is intended is to instill in local youth enthusiasm for agricultural science.
Tracy Wilson, COAREC’s agricultural literacy coordinator, partners with Extension 4-H educator Jon Gandy to teach “Meat Magic” and “All Purpose Wheat” lessons to local elementary students. Meat Magic teaches about livestock agriculture and meat grading. The series concludes with a taste test of the different grades of steak (select, choice, and prime). All Purpose Wheat informs students about the historical and current significance of wheat in central Oregon and the wide variety of uses for all of the parts of the wheat plant from flour to feed for livestock and ends with a field trip to the OSU campus in Corvallis that includes tours of the livestock barns and cereal lab.