Introducing the Organic Researcher Spotlight Series

Written by Brian Geier

OFRF recognizes the power of stories to affect change. We have embarked on a project to collect and share the stories of researchers, specifically those whose work is embedded within the organic community. In this effort, we are happy to introduce this first Organic Researcher Spotlight. Our Researcher Spotlight Series showcases current research being done on some of the toughest challenges faced by organic producers across the country. Through a series of interviews, OFRF is sharing updates and results from exciting collaborative research projects currently being funded by the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and the Organic Transitions Program (ORG).

Organic farmers consistently report that pests are one of the most challenging aspects of organic production, especially in the south. For farmers producing small fruits like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and stone fruits like peaches or cherries, the Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD), an invasive fly of Asian origin, has been causing damage to crops since its first documented presence in the United States, in 2008. 

Photo: University of Georgia Department of Entomology

Dr. Ash Sial, University of Georgia blueberry entomologist, has heard and seen this damage first-hand working with farmers in the region. To respond to this emerging pest and to provide answers to how to control the pest organically, Dr. Sial leads the “SWD Organic Management” grant, collaborating with researchers across the country and with farmers in the south.

This OREI-funded research focuses on understanding the life-cycle of this pest, and builds a groundwork of understanding of how the fly is (or is not) surviving on farms. Working collaboratively with organic farmers in the region, Dr. Sial’s research is identifying how certain cultural and physical controls, like pruning strategies and mulches, can effectively control this newly-introduced pest. Watch OFRF’s interview with Dr. Sial from early 2023:

For more information about SWD, check out OFRF’s factsheet, watch this SWD presentation by Dr. Sial, and learn more about his work on SWD at the University of Georgia.

By |2023-12-06T20:56:04+00:00June 7th, 2023|News|

Conservation of an endophytic insect-pathogen fungus for plant protection in organic cropping

Mary Barbercheck, Pennsylvania State University
Professor of Sustainable Agriculture, Department of Entomology

Farmers and agricultural professionals have great interest in exploiting beneficial soil organisms, especially in organic systems with their focus on soil health and reliance on natural cycles to manage plant health and pests. Endophytes are microorganisms that form non- pathogenic symbioses with plants and can confer benefits including growth promotion and increased plant tolerance to environmental stresses that are predicted to increase with climate change. Our long-term goal is to understand how to promote and conserve the beneficial endemic soil fungus, Metarhizium robertsii, as an insect pathogen and endophyte in organic cropping systems.

By |2022-12-01T20:43:05+00:00December 1st, 2022|Grant Award|

Cover Crops for Soil Health: demonstration of on-farm trial

Pushpa Soti, Assistant Professor, Biology Department
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

This project was designed to address the three major research needs expressed by the farmers: weed suppression, pest management, and soil conservation. The specific objectives of this study were to determine the right cover crop or cover crop mix by evaluating the agronomic, environmental, and economic benefits, ultimately address local farmers’ priorities to overcome barriers to organic agriculture in this region. We worked closely with the local organic growers to address their research needs. The goal of this project was to address the farmer-driven questions on cover crops.

By |2022-12-01T20:39:41+00:00December 1st, 2022|Grant Award|

Advancing Organic Potato Production with Mustard Seed Meal Extract: a multi-pronged tool to control weeds, promote soil health, and improve potato nutrition

Inna Popova, Dr.
Assistant Professor in the Department of Soil and Water Systems

Weed management, soil health, and nutritional quality of organically produced foods are among the highest priority organic research topics according to organic farmers across the US, and abundant peer-reviewed research supports these perspectives. Utilizing innovative organic agricultural practices that improve soil health, combat weeds, and enhance the nutritional quality of staple foods will enable farmers to successfully meet the challenges of feeding a rising global population. Our overall goal is to discover effective weed management strategies for organic potato production that promote healthy soils and nutritious potatoes.

By |2022-12-01T20:33:22+00:00December 1st, 2022|Grant Award|

20 to 20, in 2020

Hand holding 12 species of seed mix

Lee-Ann Hill, Rocky Mount Seed Alliance

This project investigates 20 promising ancient and heritage grain varieties to measure performance for farm scale organic growing conditions and will increase available seed of these 20 unique varieties to a minimum of 20 pounds each in 2020. Data will be collected on weed suppression, lodging, disease, and pest pressure as well as yield and height and environmental conditions at two sites- Ketchum, Idaho and Paonia, Colorado. This on-farm research will be supplemented by data collected through Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance’s grassroots ‘Heritage Grain Trial Program’ (HGTP) and via a new field app. The HGRP not only activates peer-to-peer discovery of regionally adapted germplasm, but also preserves a living diversity of crop genetics.

By |2022-12-01T20:27:26+00:00December 1st, 2022|Grant Award|

Evaluation of selection methods and efficacy in on-farm breeding of organic wheat and oat varieties

Helen Jensen, Research Program Manager
The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, Seed Change

This research project will document how farmer-selectors have contributed to genetic improvement for organic production for wheat and oats and share that information with existing and prospective PPB participants across the country. We will also document and evaluate the strengths and limitations of the PPB partnerships that underpin this particular program. In doing so, we will ensure that new organic PPB programs can be improved based on the experience of farmers. We anticipate that outcomes will include improved knowledge of selection practices for all of the stakeholders in the program, as well as improved methodologies and increased adoption of PPB by a broader range of organic farmers.

By |2022-12-01T20:35:01+00:00December 1st, 2022|Grant Award|

A Comprehensive Approach To Control Weeds in Organic Peanut Systems in the Southeast

Don Cooper, Georgia Organic Peanut Alliance
Agricultural Outreach and Education Specialist

This project will examine the effectiveness of an integrated weed control system in Certified Organic peanut production utilizing regular mechanical cultivation and Eugenol, a broad spectrum herbicide derived from cloves and approved for Certified Organic production in a commercial formulation as Weed Slayer. The project will be conducted with four Certified Organic farmers at four locations in Southwest Georgia: (1) two loamy/clayey farms, (2) two sandy farms. Each site will have two fields planted approximately 2-3 weeks apart within the optimum planting window (May/June) to measure weed pressures and yield. Each farm will begin use of a tine weeder within 5-7 days after planting, with 5-7 total passes, followed by 2-3 passes with sweeps until the peanut plants’ canopies extend across the rows.

By |2022-12-01T20:20:30+00:00December 1st, 2022|Grant Award|

Efficacy evaluation of biological control agents against wireworms in organic production

Photo of Soybean plantation rows view from the soil

Arash Rashed, University of Idaho
Associate Professor of Entomology

Wireworms, the larval stage of click beetles (Coleoptera: Elateridae), are generalist subterranean herbivores that cause significant damage in a variety of crops. Managing wireworms has been a challenge due to their long-life cycle, subterranean living habitat, and ability to survive wide range of host plants. Although there are a few insecticides available for conventional farming, there is no effective alternative control measure against wireworms in organic production. Thus, there is a critical need for developing effective non-chemical control protocols against wireworms.

By |2022-12-01T20:20:42+00:00December 1st, 2022|Grant Award|

Breeding disease-resistant heirloom-quality tomatoes

tomatoes on a bush

Carol Deppe, Owner Fertile Valley Seeds

The object of this project is to breed disease-resistant heirloom-quality tomatoes, especially those resistant to late blight and a number of other diseases. I have already crossed ten premiere heirloom tomato varieties—full-size red, pink, black, orange, and paste types—to the hybrid ‘Iron Lady’, which is resistant to late blight and a number of other relevant diseases. And I have developed the second-generation (F2) populations from each of these ten crosses. This year, the grant year, I’ll use marker assisted selection to identify most of the disease resistance genes in each transplant before transplanting them to the field. (This involves taking a sample of leaf from each transplant and sending the samples to a laboratory that can identify the genes in each sample.) This way I’ll be able to plant only the transplants that have the desirable disease resistance genes. I’ll evaluate plants in the field based upon plant form and vigor, maturity, fruit color, shape and flavor. I’ll derive a number of lots of seed from each cross. These lots of seed will be distributed far and wide to allow organic farmers and gardeners to easily develop their own heirloom-quality tomato varieties with resistance to modern disease. Many of the lots of seed will already be pure-breeding for late blight resistance, so breeders working with it will not need to select for late blight resistance. (You might or might not have it in your field any given year.)

By |2022-12-01T20:21:21+00:00December 1st, 2022|Grant Award|

Evaluating the Effects of Seeding and Inoculant Rates on Weed Suppression, Nodulation, and Soil Health on Organic Lentil Production in the Northern Great Plains

Evaluating the Effects of Seeding and Inoculant Rates on Weed Suppression, Nodulation, and Soil Health on Organic Lentil Production in the Northern Great Plains

Photo of a field of flowering lentil plants

Jed Eberly, Assistant Professor, Montana State University

Lentils are important for diversifying wheat-based cropping systems and are also beneficial in enhancing soil health. These benefits have contributed to the exponential growth in pulse crop acreage in The Northern Great Plains (NGP). However, little is known about the optimum seeding and appropriate inoculation rates to improve crop growth, nutrient acquisition, weed management, and yield potential for lentils in organic systems. The goals of this project are to evaluate effects of seeding rates on lentil yields and weed competition. These goals will be achieved through a multi-site replicated trials on grower’s fields in three different lentil growing areas of Montana. Three lentil varieties would be selected based on seed sizes; large, medium, and small and will be seeded at four different rates.


Impact: Improved lentil yields, nutritional quality, and better returns on investments for organic lentil growers.


By |2022-12-01T20:21:37+00:00October 17th, 2019|Grant Award|
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