college of agricultural sciences

Increased selenium dosage boosts growth and immunity in lambs

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Sheep given supplements of organic selenium above United States government recommendations showed improved growth, weight and immunity, according to new research at Oregon State University.

In a new study published in the Journal of Animal Science, OSU researchers show that maximum selenium levels permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may be too low for sheep to reach optimum growth and health.

Selenium is essential for cellular function in animals and aids development. Large selenium doses can be toxic, but too-low levels can impair growth and compromise the immune system.

"When sheep don't grow to their potential or have weak immune systems, it can be a sign of insufficient selenium," said Gerd Bobe, co-author of the study and an OSU professor. “Our research shows higher levels of selenium can result in healthier animals that grow bigger and that can improve returns at the marketplace for farmers and ranchers.”

Normally, grazing animals eat ample amounts of selenium from grass and other plants grown in soils naturally containing the element. Yet the soils of the Pacific Northwest are low in selenium, and the region's livestock often need it added to their diets to avoid health problems.

A challenge is that the range between selenium deficiency and selenium toxicity can be narrow; current FDA regulations limit the amount of dietary selenium supplementation for animals grazing on selenium-scare soils – up to 0.7 mg per sheep per day or 3 mg per beef cattle per day.

In OSU's experiments, pregnant ewes were given selenium doses up to five times higher than the FDA's allowed level – an amount of supplementation researchers determined to be not harmful to sheep. The element is carried into the bodies of offspring, helping young animals during development.

At the highest amount, ewes gave birth to lambs that grew to be 4.3 pounds heavier than average after 60 days. Furthermore, survival was 15 percent higher in lambs receiving the highest amount of organic selenium supplementation. As farmers look to sell sheep at five to six months old, weight and health metrics are keys to profitability.

Selenium also boosted an important gauge of the lambs' immune systems. Levels of immunoglobulin G, a protein that defends against pathogens and is essential for lamb survival, were elevated by 48 percent in Polypay ewes and 23 percent in all ewes given five times maximum FDA-permitted levels of selenium.

The changes were measured in colostrum of ewes – a mother's first milk that is rich in immunoglobulins and vital for building the immune system and protecting against pathogens.

OSU has a long legacy of selenium research. Half a century ago, OSU animal scientist Jim Oldfield was the first to identify severe selenium deficiency as a reason for several deadly diseases in animals, including cardiomyopathy and white muscle disease.

A new generation of OSU research is attempting to determine how much selenium and in what form is best for optimal growth and health of sheep and cattle.

Consumers may also benefit from eating meat from selenium-supplemented animals, as its one of the major sources of the element in the U.S. diet. Human observational studies suggest that regions with low selenium intake have a greater risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases, Bobe said.

"Consuming selenium-enriched foods may be a viable alternative for getting extra selenium," said Bobe, an expert in human and animal nutrition. "Plus, selenium-enriched animal products, including meat, are sold in other countries at a premium price."

OSU's selenium research is a collaboration between Bobe, Gene Pirelli and Wayne Mosher in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Jean Hall, Charles Estill and Jorge Vanegas in the College of Veterinary Medicine.


Gerd Bobe, 541-737-1898

Six exotic vegetables for Oregon gardeners to try

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Bring a taste of South America, Europe or Asia to your garden this year by adding a diverse array of exotic vegetables.

A varied collection of plants can also reduce the potential for pests and diseases in a garden, said Jim Myers, a vegetable breeder with the Oregon State University Extension Service.

"There's a lot of natural, biological control that goes on in a garden that we're not even aware of when we have biodiversity," Myers said.

When shopping for exotic plants, buy only seeds or starts from Pacific Northwest-based nurseries and suppliers, Myers advised. If you order online or while traveling, globetrotting plants can carry hitchhiking pests or diseases.

The following plants were tested at OSU fields and perform well with varying degrees of success in a Pacific Northwest climate, Myers said.

  • Yacón: Smallanthus sonchifolius. The yacón is an Andean relative of the sunflower that grows 6-8 feet tall. It's tasty in a salad or as a snack but doesn't contain enough carbohydrates to become a diet staple, according to Myers. The perennial performs well in both eastern and western Oregon. While similar to the Jerusalem artichoke, yacón's tuberous roots grow to about the size of a sweet potato. Plant seed pieces in the spring for an October harvest. Yacón can overwinter in the ground where the soil does not freeze.
  • Mashua: Tropaeolum tuberosum. Mashua is grown in the Andes for its edible tuberous roots. A relative of the nasturtium, mashua's showy red flowers emerge in late September. A vigorous perennial, it can climb 7-13 feet high. Mashua has a pungent flavor, similar to a radish. This hardy plant thrives even in poor soil. Cultivate it similar to how you would a potato; plant in spring for a fall harvest.
  • Oca: Oxalis tuberosa. Oregon does not offer an optimum climate for oca, but it can be grown in select areas in the western part of the state. Tubers will grow small without tropical heat. It can't survive frost but tubers will overwinter in the ground as long as they do not freeze. Plant in spring for November harvest. Cultivate as you would a potato. The tuber is edible and the leaves and young shoots can be eaten as well. Its flavor is slightly tangy, caused by its oxalic acid content, which should not be consumed in large quantities. Some varieties have been bred for lower oxalic acid content.
  • Cardoon: Cynara cardunculus. The cardoon is related to the artichoke. Both are perennial members of the thistle family and hail from southern Europe. It needs full sun. Good for the Willamette Valley and eastern Oregon. Its leaf stalks produce in a flush of springtime growth; in the summer there is little growth. Harvest the leaf stalks similar to the way you would celery. Stalks need to be cleaned and peeled before cooking. Plant transplants in spring.
  • Asian greens: Any green in the Brassica rapa family. A good one to try is pakchoi cabbage, which has large white, fleshy stems. When eaten, it has a soft, creamy texture. "It has a little bite to it but it's pretty mild," Myers said. This cool-season crop goes well in salads or cooked. Plant it in early spring for an early summer harvest. Not tolerant of winter conditions. At OSU, pakchoi cabbage is planted in July for a fall harvest.

Jim Myers, 541-737-3083

New study links speciation and size evolution across all ray-finned fishes

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A comprehensive new study of more than 7,000 species of fish documents for the first time correlation on a grand scale between the rapidity of the origin of the species and the rate of morphological change.

In other words, groups of fish that rapidly split into new species tend to quickly evolve diversity in physical traits, such as the size of their bodies, while others described by Charles Darwin as “living fossils” because of their prehistoric characteristics show little change over millions of years in either numbers of species or types of morphologies.

The study is important because it links speciation with morphological adaptation on a scale that has never been done. It also demonstrates that variation in a single evolutionary process may create both living fossils and adaptive radiations, which are two of the most famous and celebrated phenomena in the history of life, the authors say.

Findings of the study are being published this week in Nature Communications.

A multidisciplinary team of researchers created a “Tree of Life” of ray-finned fishes, which comprise a majority of vertebrate biological diversity, to compare evolutionary rates across all families of fishes. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Miller Institute at University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA, and featured scientists from the University of Michigan, UCLA, University of Torino, University of Idaho, and Oregon State University.

“We were able to document the link between speciation and morphological evolution, but the question remains as to whether the speciation process itself leads to changes in anatomy or whether something in the anatomically diverse lineages promotes speciation,” said Daniel Rabosky, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan and co-lead author on the study.

Co-lead author Michael Alfaro, a UCLA scientist who specializes in the evolution of marine fishes, said one key facet in the correlation between evolutionary and morphological change is body size.

“The fastest speciating fish typically also had the fastest rate of size evolution,” Alfaro said. “It didn’t seem to matter whether they were freshwater or marine fish, or lived in cold or warm environments – the correlation was amazingly consistent. Changes in body size were closely linked to speciation, but whether one causes the other isn’t yet clear.”

The research team synthesized existing data from GenBank, FishBase and other sources to create their comprehensive phylogenetic tree of living fishes, which is one of the largest trees ever assembled for any group of animals.

Inclusion of so many species was critical to investigating body size evolution at such a grand scale.

Co-author Brian Sidlauskas, an Oregon State University ichthyologist specializing in the conservation of freshwater fish, said the study helps illustrate and explain the differences between dynamic groups of fish, characterized by African cichlids, and living fossils such as sturgeon and gars.

“Cichlids are the poster children for explosive adaptive radiation, having rapidly diversified into a vast number of species with different characteristics,” said Sidlauskas, who curates the Oregon State University Ichthyology Collection in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “Whitefishes are another example. They have only been in glacial lakes for a few thousand years, yet they already have branched repeatedly into two or three different morphologies, including some that feed on the bottom and others in mid-water.”

Based on the new results, cichlids and whitefishes fall into the 10 percent of fastest-evolving and speciating fishes, along with rockfishes, snailfishes, pufferfishes and several other groups.

“Sturgeon and gars are just the opposite, showing remarkably few changes over millions of years and little tendency to speciate,” Sidlauskas noted. “It isn’t just ecological opportunity. If you put a handful of gars into the Rift Lakes of Africa, it is doubtful they would have evolved much. Yet cichlids evolved into hundreds of different species with different morphologies. Something in the wiring differs from one group of fish to another, and that’s what we need to investigate next.”

The authors say that although their study focused on ray-finned fishes, the same correlation potentially may be applicable to other branches of the Tree of Life, including mammals, birds, insects, plants and snails.

Media Contact: 

Brian Sidlauskas, 541-737-6789, Brian.Sidlauskas@oregonstate.edu

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fish evolution

"This evolutionary tree shows the relationships between nearly 8,000 living species of fishes. Red branches denote groups with fast rates of body size change, blue branches indicate slow body size change, and the length of each branch reflects the speed at which groups split into new species. Illustration courtesy of Dan Rabosky."

Book outlines history of California condors in Pacific Northwest

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new book documents the history of the California condor in the Pacific Northwest from northern California to British Columbia, an important step in discussions that could lead to reintroduction of the giant birds to the Northwest in the future.

No immediate plans for Northwest reintroduction exist, the authors say, but establishing a history of the condors’ presence is a prerequisite for potential reintroduction of the birds in the near future, noted Susan Haig, a co-author of the book, which is being published by the Oregon State University Press.

“Condors are iconic symbols to many Northwest tribes, and they were an important part of many ecosystems in the West,” said Haig, who is a professor of wildlife ecology at OSU and a wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “Unlike other endangered species – such as spotted owls – they don’t require specific habitat to thrive. They like big open areas and can be found today in the Grand Canyon as well as the mountains and coastal area around Monterey, Calif.”

The OSU Press book, “California Condors in the Pacific Northwest,” was written by Jesse D’Elia, a Ph.D. candidate under Haig and now a wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland and by Haig. It is available from the OSU Press at: http://osupress.oregonstate.edu/book/california-condors-in-pacific-northwest.

At nearly 10 feet, California condors have the largest wingspan of all land birds in North America. Their existence dates back to prehistoric times in the Northwest, and they were present in Oregon as recently as 1920, according to Haig. “Noted naturalist William Finley had one named ‘General’ as a pet,” she said. “It ended up at the New York Zoo.”

“Lewis and Clark reported condors all along the Columbia River,” Haig added, “and they were sighted at Willamette Falls as well.”

The historic population of condors is difficult to estimate, the authors say, and only an estimated 240 today live in the wild in North America. An additional 170 live in captivity. The Oregon Zoo in Portland is one of only four captive breeding facilities for the species.

The reasons for their decline are varied and not well-documented, Haig said. Condors are scavengers and feed on the carcasses of dead animals – some of which have been poisoned and others that contain fragments from bullets containing lead, which can be lethal. As electric power lines began dotting the West, others were electrocuted. And in an odd twist, some condors were killed by museum collectors in the 19th century so they could be put on display.

“In the 1800s, many museums were just starting and building their collections,” Haig said. “We do know that museum operators from Paris and Germany came all the way over to the West Coast to kill condors for their collections.”

D’Elia has collected condor bone and tissue samples from numerous museums around the world, and along with Haig and other colleagues is analyzing their DNA in an effort to determine their population structure prior to their decline.

“The California condor is an endangered species that captures our collective imagination,” D’Elia said. “Reading through the first-hand accounts of early explorers encountering condors, it isn’t hard to envision these giant birds once soaring through the skies of the Pacific Northwest in numbers. In addition to stirring our imagination, evaluating the history of condors in the region helps us understand where condors once occurred, how common they were and why they disappeared.”

Some of the factors that led to their decline could be barriers to potential reintroduction, Haig said.

“Hunting is not really an issue,” Haig emphasized, “but the use of lead bullets to kill animals that condors feed on is an issue. Hunting actually benefits condors because it provides fresh carcasses upon which they can feed. Lead bullet fragments left in carcasses are deadly to a variety of non-targeted wildlife, however, including condors. Power lines were an issue, but condors in captivity are now trained to avoid them prior to their release.”

“In fact, condors are incredibly smart and cool animals,” Haig said. “They recognize individuals and remember them. One bird can be mad at another bird for years at a time, and even recognize that animal a decade later. They have a very strong social structure and older birds pass behaviors along to younger birds.  They typically are monogamous and pair for life.”

“They only produce one egg at a time, and the parents fight over who gets to take care of that egg,” Haig said. “They are obsessive parents. But if the fledgling can survive, that young condor could potentially live to a ripe old age of 50 to 60 years.”

Media Contact: 

Susan Haig, 541-750-0981; susan.haig@usgs.gov

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Despite reduced dog poisonings from slug baits, researchers are warning of a new hazard

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Stronger warning labels on slug and snail baits containing metaldehyde may have led to a huge drop in calls to a national pesticide hotline about possible dog poisonings, according to Oregon State University.

The toll-free hotline, operated by the university's National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), received more than 200 calls in 2005 about dogs that had been exposed to metaldehyde baits, said an OSU study, which was published this month in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Since then, metaldehyde-related calls have decreased each year – reaching a new low of 21 in 2011.

At the same time, a relatively new type of bait containing iron phosphate was marketed as a safer alternative to metaldehyde, but it can still lead to iron poisoning in children, pets and wildlife, said Dave Stone, the center's director and co-author of the study. The NPIC received its first call about dogs encountering the iron phosphate baits in 2005. Subsequent reports have increased each year, rising to 69 calls in 2011.

Slug and snail baits are sprinkled as pellets or granules and kill the slimy invertebrates when ingested. Many baits are flavored with molasses or peanut butter, and dogs will eat them, even seeking them out.

In 2007, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandated stronger cautionary language on metaldehyde baits. The chemical acts as a neurotoxin and can cause seizures, hyperthermia and muscle tremors in animals and can be fatal without treatment.

"Before the new labels, it was common to receive calls about dog poisonings and somewhat common to hear about dog fatalities," said Stone, a toxicologist with OSU Extension. "We interpret the data to show that new labels that alert pet owners to these dangers may have contributed to the decrease in reported incidents with dogs."

More than 80 percent of the calls in the NPIC's study came from Washington, Oregon and California, where the coastal climate favors slugs and snails.

Reported incidents to NPIC involving iron phosphate baits have been less severe, compared with those with metaldehyde baits. No dog deaths were reported following contact with iron phosphate baits, but the NPIC documented 56 cases involving 61 dogs showing signs compatible with iron toxicosis, including lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea.

"Slug and snail baits with iron phosphate carry risk," said Kaci Buhl, project coordinator for the NPIC and co-author of the study. "They might be advertised as 'safe' and some are registered as organic. That may give the impression of safety, but these are still pesticides and need to be treated with the proper care and respect."

The NPIC advises pet owners to store slug and snail baits out of reach from dogs and other animals. About half of the cases reported to the NPIC took place after baits were applied outdoors, while 20 percent occurred when the product was insecurely stored in garages or sheds.

NPIC also encourages growers and gardeners to explore alternatives to pesticides, including installing copper barriers and strips, which slugs and snails will not touch.

The OSU Extension Service has more recommendations in its online guides "Using Home Remedies to Control Garden Pests" at http://bit.ly/OSUExtension_SlugBulletin and "Keep Pets Safe Around Pesticides" at http://bit.ly/OSUExtension_PetsSafePesticides.

The NPIC offers more information about iron phosphate baits, including fact sheets, a Q&A and a podcast with researchers, at http://bit.ly/OSU_IronPhosphateInfo.

The NPIC can be reached at 1-800-858-PEST or www.npic.orst.edu. It provides objective, science-based information about pesticides to help people to make informed decisions – especially following suspected exposures. The organization is a partnership between OSU and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


Dave Stone, 541-737-4433

Kaci Buhl, 541-737-8330

OSU awards scholarships to 17 college-bound 4-H'ers

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon State University Extension Service's 4-H youth program has awarded almost $18,900 in scholarships to 17 high school seniors.

To qualify for the scholarships, students had to be members of 4-H for a minimum of three years, said Helen Pease, 4-H youth program coordinator with the OSU Extension Service. Judging was based on scholastic achievement, 4-H projects and activities and a personal essay. In the essay, applicants were asked to describe their growth in 4-H, emphasizing 4-H's five "C's" of youth development: competence, confidence, character, caring and compassion.

Scholarship recipient Katie Waldo of Corvallis compared her growth in 4-H to flipping through a photo album of her most meaningful experiences in the program. Those experiences included holding her first marketable lamb and attending the 4-H National Congress in 2011.

"These images and their stories will continue to remind me not only of who I am and what I've done but also how much I am capable of changing and the amazing things I can accomplish when I believe in myself and the people around me," she wrote in her essay.

Recipients of the statewide 4-H scholarships for 2013 are:

Albany: Clint Hamilton, $500, Duane P. Johnson 4-H Scholarship.

Aumsville: Raquel Albee, $3,500, Martha MacGregor Memorial 4-H Scholarship.

Canyon City: Josh Whitman, $1,000, Babe Coe Memorial 4-H Scholarship.

Central Point: Madison Gierloff, $1,250, Klein-Youngberg Family 4-H Scholarship.

Corvallis: Makai Bradley, $1,250, Klein-Youngberg family. Justine Ekman, $1,500, Judith K. Hofer Scholarship. Sam Greydanus, $1,000, CHS Foundation Scholarship. Megan Pinard, $1,000, Oregon 4-H Foundation. Ann Santich, $1,250, Klein-Youngberg family. Katie Waldo, $1,500, H. Joe Myers Memorial 4-H Scholarship.

Dallas: Jamie Kennedy, $557, O.M. Plummer Scholarship.

Hermiston: Bailey Burns, $1,000, A. Lois Redman 4-H Scholarship.

Philomath: Tessa Gourley, $1,000, Kate Thiess Memorial 4-H Scholarship. Courtney Kutzler, $500, Ted and Betty Dietz Memorial 4-H Scholarship. Tatiana Thompson, $1,000, Minnick Memorial 4-H Scholarship.

Sherwood: Janika Jordan, $1,000, Jeanne Leeson Memorial 4-H Scholarship.

More information on the scholarships is at http://bit.ly/14wppGy.

4-H is the largest out-of-school youth development program nationwide. The OSU Extension Service oversees Oregon's 4-H program, which reached nearly 117,000 youth in kindergarten through 12th grade via a network of 8,534 volunteers in 2012. Activities focus on areas like healthy living, civic engagement, science and animal care. Learn more about 4-H at http://bit.ly/14fEFHF.


Helen Pease, 541-737-1314

Fruit-damaging fly could hit record population in Northwest this year

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The spotted wing drosophila fly, which lays its eggs in fruit and makes it unmarketable, could reach record population levels in the Pacific Northwest this year, according to Oregon State University researchers.

"All indications estimate this season will be similar or worse than 2012, which was the worst on record," said Vaughn Walton, an entomologist with the OSU Extension Service. “Winter and spring temperatures in the Pacific Northwest have been warmer than last year, and heat equals larger populations of spotted wing drosophila.”

Originally from Asia, the spotted wing drosophila was first found stateside in California in 2008 and has since spread across the continent. The insect lays its eggs in ripe and ripening small and stone fruits, and its developing larvae eat the fruit. The cosmetic imperfections caused by the larvae make the fruit undesirable to most consumers.

The fly's favorite fruits include blueberries, cherries, blackberries, raspberries, peaches and plums. The pest has not impacted wine grapes so far, Walton added.

Walton expects spotted wing drosophila populations in the Pacific Northwest to rapidly build through July and August when most susceptible fruits ripen.

The economic stakes are high. In Oregon alone, farmers grew $198 million of berries in 2012, with blueberries accounting for $108 million of that, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Growers also sold $74 million of sweet cherries that year, the report said.

In the absence of detection and control measures, Oregon's small and stone fruit industry could lose $31 million per year, according to a report by the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics at the University of California.

Since the discovery of the pest in Oregon, OSU has been collaborating with scientists in California and Washington to better understand it and help growers deal with it. For example, researchers at OSU are seeing if a parasitic wasp that is native to the United States, known as Pachycrepoides vindemmiae, can be used to control the spotted wing drosophila. It lays its eggs in the fly's pupae, thus killing them.

OSU will also lead a trip to South Korea in August to search for and collect other similar wasps, including one known as Asobara japonica that lays its eggs in the spotted wing drosophila's larvae. Over the next few years, researchers will study these wasps in quarantine to determine if it attacks only the fly's larvae. If tests show the wasp does not harm other insects, Asobara japonica and others could be released in the U.S. in three to five years.

For now, OSU has found that insecticides are the best way to control the pest. OSU pesticide evaluator Joe DeFrancesco tested various compounds for use on strawberries, blueberries and caneberries to see which are most effective. OSU entomologist Peter Shearer has conducted similar work on cherries. The top-performing pesticides are on OSU's website at http://bit.ly/SWD_GrowerInfoOSU.

"To protect against severe economic damage, we've seen farmers spraying more than usual – and this year will probably be no exception," said Shearer. "If farmers use proper sprays at proper times, they should be able to prevent the flies from damaging fruit."

Last year, farmers in the Willamette Valley and Oregon's Mid-Columbia Basin sprayed an average of five to nine times to control spotted wing drosophila at an average cost of $169 an acre, said Walton. Before the fly landed in Oregon, the state's small fruit growers typically sprayed only twice a year to manage other pests, Shearer said. Oregon's blueberry growers alone spent $6 million last year to manage the spotted wing drosophila, Walton estimates.

OSU is also investigating the impact of cold weather on the insect's survival. Early data suggest that some adults can survive fluctuating conditions and can live for 150 days in the winter. Low humidity appears to negatively impact the fly's survival and reproduction, but tests are still ongoing to confirm these findings.

Additionally, OSU researchers have also helped develop an interactive map that estimates the fly's population throughout the U.S. based on temperature and weather conditions. In the mid-Willamette Valley, data suggest that three to five generations of the pest emerge during each growing season.

OSU is also advising growers to monitor for the fly by hanging homemade traps containing apple cider vinegar in plastic cups punctured with small holes that lure in the insect. Amy Dreves, an entomologist with OSU Extension, explains how to make them in a video at http://bit.ly/OSU_SWDtrap. Researchers are working to develop better baits and traps that catch the spotted wing drosophila earlier in the ripening season to help growers determine when to treat for the pest.

In addition, Bernadine Strik, a berry crops specialist with the OSU Extension Service, is monitoring the presence of the pest in an organic research plot and using organically-approved methods to control the fly.

More information on the fly is on OSU's website at www.spottedwing.org. The site features guides to identify the fly, advice for gardeners and commercial growers, and updates on OSU's research. It also contains links to the following guides published by the OSU Extension Service:

OSU's partners in the spotted wing drosophila project include the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Washington State University and the University of California, Davis. The work is funded by a $5.8 million grant from the USDA.


Vaughn Walton, 541-737-3485;

Peter Shearer, 541-386-2030 ext. 215;

Amy Dreves, 541-737-5576;

Bernadine Strik, 541-737-5434

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Spotted wing drosophila

Small and stone fruits are preferred foods of the spotted wing drosophila, an invasive pest that first arrived in the U.S. in 2008. (Photo by Vaughn Walton.)

Soil parasite costs Northwest wheat growers $51 million in lost revenue, says OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A microscopic parasitic roundworm is costing Pacific Northwest wheat growers $51 million in lost revenue each year because it's cutting grain yields by an average of about 5 percent, according to estimates by Oregon State University researchers.

Called the root-lesion nematode, the transparent, eel-shaped roundworm lives in the soil and feeds on the roots of wheat, barley, oats and many other crops. This limits the crops' ability to take up nutrients and water, leaving plants with smaller heads and yellowed leaves.

"The presence of nematodes is usually confused with root rot, viruses or lack of nutrition because the effect on crops looks the same," said Dick Smiley, a plant pathologist at OSU's Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center in Pendleton. “But nematodes often go undetected because they're not well-known, and they're transparent and thinner than a human hair.”

Researchers have detected the root-lesion nematode in about 90 percent of fields sampled in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, according to Smiley, who has studied the pest since 1999. Population densities of nematodes high enough to reduce yields have been detected in 60 percent of fields sampled in Oregon and Washington. The roundworm wreaks the most havoc in drier areas where wheat and barley grow.

Most nematodes are beneficial to agriculture by helping decompose organic matter. Some, however, are parasitic to plants or animals. They spread easily, hitchhiking to new locations via the wind, animals, farm equipment and boots. It's nearly impossible to eradicate them once they're established.

Another harmful roundworm, the cereal cyst nematode, is also damaging wheat, barley and oats in the Pacific Northwest. First identified in western Oregon in 1974, it is now found in eight western states.

Wheat farmers in Idaho, Oregon and Washington are estimated to lose $3.4 million in revenue each year to cereal cyst nematodes, according to OSU calculations. Researchers arrived at the figure by considering a range of factors, including the percentage of fields infested with damaging densities of nematodes, as well as the yields and farmgate value for crops in these infested areas.

OSU scientists are studying crop management strategies to mitigate the worms' impact. The most effective tactic they've found is a three-year crop rotation where farmers skip two years between wheat plantings.

Rotations vary depending upon which nematode is causing problems. Root-lesion nematodes are well-managed by planting winter wheat the first year and spring barley the second year and then letting the field go fallow the third year. Cereal cyst nematodes are best-managed by rotating wheat or barley with broadleaf crops.

Crop damage can also be alleviated to a limited extent by applying extra fertilizer and water. There are no chemicals legally available for wheat and barley growers to kill the two types of nematodes.

OSU researchers have also tested more than 20 wheat, barley and oat cultivars to determine how badly yields are reduced. Most Pacific Northwest wheat varieties don't resist harmful nematodes.

In OSU's tests, nearly every variety suffered severe root injury. Only the hard red spring wheat WB-Rockland prevented cereal cyst nematodes from reproducing while also maintaining consistent yields. UI Stone, a soft white spring wheat, and Buck Pronto, a hard red spring wheat, allowed nematode populations to thrive but still produced a steady crop.

Additionally, University of Idaho, Washington State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and commercial wheat breeders are crossing sources of resistance with a number of wheat varieties to create new cultivars that can potentially stand up to the cereal cyst and root-lesion nematodes.

OSU researchers recommend growers have their soil tested for nematodes. Addresses for testing labs, as well as information about management strategies for farmers, are available in two OSU Extension factsheets at http://bit.ly/OSU_ExtBulletin3 and http://bit.ly/OSU_ExtBulletin2.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington State University and the University of Idaho are collaborators with OSU on its cereal cyst nematode research.


Richard Smiley, 541-278-4397

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OSU nematode expert Richard Smiley

Dick Smiley, a plant pathologist at Oregon State University, examines the roots of young wheat plants. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

OSU aims for 1,000 Lane County 4-H'ers

EUGENE, Ore. – In three to five years, the Oregon State University Extension Service aims to get more than 1,000 youth enrolled in its 4-H clubs in Lane County, which are returning after a two-year absence.

"Our goal is to grow our enrollment back to and even exceed what we historically had in the past," said John Punches, a regional Extension administrator. "I think we will grow much bigger over time."

The 4-H youth development program closed in 2010, when about 400 youth were members of clubs, because the county's government withdrew its funding for Extension. But thanks to donations, Extension in Lane County has been training club leaders and recruiting students since October 2012.

"4-H is back," Punches said. "It’s in a new format that will allow young people to get hands-on experience in everything from animals to art and marine science to machinery and food to photography – all while developing leadership skills and doing great things for the communities where they live."

Six general interest community 4-H clubs for students in grades 4-12 are open for enrollment in Eugene, Springfield and other parts of Lane County. Extension has trained 45 adult volunteers to lead the clubs and serve as mentors.

Annalisa Linn, 13, of Veneta, participated in 4-H two years ago. She signed up for the 4-H club in western Lane County in February and is looking forward to learning about photography, cake decorating and art. Two years ago, her family had to drive nearly two hours to Corvallis to participate in the 4-H program in Benton County.

"I'm just really happy it's back and I don't have to drive all the way to Benton," she said.

Members of each club will be able to decide what skills they want to learn. For example, one student could learn to show horses while another pupil in that same club learns to raise a puppy as a guide dog. Other topics could include woodworking, leather craft, public speaking, rocketry, crocheting, entomology and leadership development.

OSU Extension is also recruiting adult leaders with the aim of creating groups for Cloverbuds, a 4-H program for youth in kindergarten through third grade.

To lead 4-H in Lane County, Extension hired Kate Hammarback of Eugene, who comes with extensive experience in education and community organizing. Hammarback, who started Feb. 8, previously worked as a children's program teacher for the Oregon Research Institute. She will develop and establish clubs, recruit and train leaders, develop activities, collaborate with 4-H officials in neighboring counties and encourage kids to sign up for the clubs.

In the past several months, Extension officials and volunteers have raised more than $50,000 in donations and grants, which will fund the 4-H program in Lane County for its first year, Punches said. Retailer Coastal Farm and Ranch has pledged $100,000 in seed money for the first three years.

"Coastal's support has been instrumental in getting the 4-H program restarted in Lane County," Punches said.

In the long run, the Extension Service aims to sustain the program through enrollment fees, grants and more donations, Punches said.

For information about enrolling in 4-H as a student or volunteering as an adult, go to http://bit.ly/11DgZuK or call the OSU Extension Service in Lane County at 541-344-5043.

4-H is the largest out-of-school youth development program nationwide. Thousands of young people in kindergarten through 12th grade participate in OSU Extension's 4-H program each year in a variety of hands-on activities. The return of 4-H to Lane County means that OSU Extension now has a 4-H presence in every one of Oregon's 36 counties.

The following is a schedule of club meetings open to parents and youth:

  • West Lane Community Club: April 10 at 6 p.m., Veneta Fire Station, 88050 Territorial Hwy., Veneta
  • Eugene Community Club: April 15 at 6:30 p.m., Willakenzie Grange, 3055 Willakenzie Rd., Eugene
  • Springfield Community Club: April 18 at 6 p.m., Trinity Baptist Church, 1162 B St., Springfield

John Punches, 541-602-4689

Kate Hammarback, (541) 344-5043

Multimedia Downloads


Kate Hammarback is the new 4-H coordinator for the Oregon State University Extension Service in Lane County. (Photo by Patty Driscoll.)


Children participate in a parachute activity at a 4-H summer camp in Lane County in 2006. New 4-H clubs are returning to Lane County after a funding shortfall ended the Oregon State University Extension Service's 4-H program there in 2010. (Photo by OSU's EESC.)

Remote-controlled aircraft to fly near Hermiston for potato research

HERMISTON, Ore. – Two small, remote-controlled aircraft are expected to start flying over potato fields in the Hermiston area this month as part of Oregon State University's efforts to help farmers more efficiently use water, fertilizers and pesticides to bolster yields and cut costs.

While taking photographs, the aircraft will fly over 50 acres of OSU's 300-acre Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center (HAREC), as well as several crop circles totaling about 1,000 acres at a research cooperative farm west of Boardman. The flights will take place at least three times a week until the potatoes are harvested in the fall, beginning with a test run Wednesday at the Boardman farm.

OSU researchers will use various cameras on the aircraft to photograph the potato plants. The cameras will include ones that detect different wavelengths of light. One of these wavelengths, infrared, is reflected by plants, but unhealthy plants reflect less of it, and in infrared photographs sick plants are much darker. Researchers will also explore using other wavelengths of light to determine which ones will be most helpful in identifying troubled plants.

Researchers aim to see if the cameras, which are capable of zooming in on a leaf, can detect plants that aren't getting enough fertilizer and water. They'll purposely reduce irrigation and fertilizer on some plants and will then see how quickly, if at all, the equipment detects the stressed plants. If it works, the scientists hope that the project will continue in subsequent years so they can test the cameras to also find plants that are plagued by insects and diseases. The idea is to help farmers take action before larger crop losses occur and it becomes more difficult and expensive to control the problem.

"The key is to pick up plants that are just beginning to show stress so you can find a solution quickly, so the grower doesn’t have any reduced yield or quality issues," said Phil Hamm, the director of HAREC. "This in turn can save money. It's an early warning system for plants with issues as well as an opportunity for growers to reduce costs by being more efficient in water and fertilizer use."

Potatoes were chosen as the focus of the research because they're a high-valued crop, expensive to raise and must be carefully managed to reduce internal and external blemishes and irregular growth spurts, said Don Horneck, an agronomist with the OSU Extension Service. One of Oregon's leading crops, the state's farmers sold $173 million of potatoes in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But spuds are prone to devastating problems caused by diseases and insects, said Horneck, who is the lead researcher from OSU on the project.

"They are one of the most difficult and expensive crops to grow," he said, adding that it typically costs Hermiston farmers $4,000 or more per acre to grow them. That equates to about $500,000 for the average size of field in the area.

OSU hopes that the aircraft it tests will reduce these costs. The aircraft that will fly over OSU's land is called a HawkEye and is sold by a company called Tetracam. About the size of a suitcase and weighing only 8 pounds, its maximum flight time is 10-30 minutes. The hull-less, battery-operated machine is easy to operate and was made for farmers with plots of land that are less than one square mile. A motor and propeller allow it to take off on four wheels. A parachute keeps it in the air. Photos and videos of it are at http://bit.ly/10LDbjt.

A delta-winged aircraft made of plastic foam will fly over the private farm. Made by Procerus Technologies and called a Unicorn, it has a wingspan of no more than 6 feet and weighs less than 6 pounds. A bungee cord launches it like a slingshot. A factsheet on it is at http://bit.ly/XTqioS.

OSU is inviting the public to see the HawkEye fly during its potato field day at its Hermiston research center on June 26.

Allaying concerns about privacy, Hamm said, "These unmanned aircraft are for agricultural research only and will be used to do nothing more than that. This is about helping our local growers do a better job of growing crops, something HAREC has been doing for the past 102 years."

The Federal Aviation Administration has authorized the flights of the aircraft, which aren't allowed to fly higher than 400 feet and must stay within sight of the operator, typically less than a mile away.

OSU is leasing the aircraft from Boeing Research & Technology. n-Link, an information technology firm in Bend, is also a partner in the project. Ray Hunt, a plant physiologist with the USDA in Beltsville, Md., will collaborate with OSU's Horneck on the data analysis.

OSU aims to become one of the nation's premiere universities using unmanned aircraft for research. It is using or has plans to use them in studies on natural resources, wildlife, land-use management, forestry, oceanography and engineering.

Media Contact: 

Phil Hamm, 541-567-8321