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Drones To Quinoa, Field Day Showcases Research Center

The project leaders at Oregon State University’s Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center in Pendleton had just 25 minutes each to explain months, if not years, of science behind their work Tuesday before buses left for another presentation down the road.

A full schedule kept the annual Field Day tour moving quickly as hundreds of local farmers and industry partners learned about work to improve their crops, including experiments in weed control and new alternatives to growing traditional dryland wheat.

Soil scientists talked about the best time for planting biennial canola. Agronomists discussed the possibility of growing quinoa in Eastern Oregon, and researchers demonstrated their eight-rotor drone helicopter for remote sensing of brassica oilseeds.

Interim station director Stephen Machado said OSU Extension hosts these field days to give farmers an idea of where their tax dollars are going, and how the research can help increase their bottom line.

“We are trying to solve agronomic problems here, and trying novel ideas to improve agricultural production,” Machado said.

Machado, along with former station director Steve Petrie and weed scientist Dan Ball, are growing test plots of quinoa on site as a potential dryland crop for the area. Quinoa, typically produced in the Andes Mountains of South America, is highly nutritious.

The challenge is finding an herbicide that can manage weeds without damaging the crop, and timing the harvest to gather as many of the seeds that mature at different times in the same plant.

“Since it’s a new crop, we’re trying to determine the whole package for growers,” Machado said.

The United Nations named 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa, and a surge in global demand is driving the price as high as $3,200 per ton, according to reports.

Other presentations at Field Day focused on canola and winter field peas in northeast Oregon. OSU soil scientist Don Wysocki and University of Idaho plant breeder Jack Brown ran an experiment last year planting canola in June and July which, with proper fertilization, could net a dependable yield.

“This is a crop we feel has a lot of potential,” he said. “Canola can make just as much (money) as wheat, if you plant it right.”

Winter peas, on the other hand, are more unpredictable in yield but can benefit farm fields by replenishing some nitrogen in the soil, said Kurt Braunwart with Progene Plant Research LLC.

“They fix nitrogen early, and then you can spring plant a new thing,” Braunwart said.

Dan Long and John Sulik, both with the federal Agricultural Research Service, demonstrated their unmanned aerial drone they use to measure the yield and quality of brassica oilseeds that could support increased development of cheaper aviation biofuels.

Guest speakers also briefly mentioned the recent discovery of genetically modified wheat in an Eastern Oregon field. Dan Arp, dean of the OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, thanked their scientists who initially tested samples before the U.S. Department of Agriculture took over the investigation.

Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Growers League and Oregon Wheat Commission, said they continue to await the results of USDA’s findings.

“We’ve tried to deal with what we know,” Rowe said. “When you start speculating, you can get into some worst-case scenarios that are pretty scary.”

Field Day continues Wednesday at the Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Station in Moro.

Contact George Plaven at or 541-564-4547.

This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.

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