environment and natural resources


CORVALLIS - In the world of mighty mites, Oregon has a classic case of good versus bad. And the good guys are getting the edge, with millions having been released in Oregon fields to rescue high-value crops.

As a result, many growers in the Pacific Northwest will eventually cut pest control costs in half, and considerably reduce their need for pesticides.

Here's the story:

The bad guys are spider mites that take a multi-million dollar toll each year on mint crops, strawberries, ornamentals and trees. The good guys are predator mites. Just about all they eat are spider mites.

So the world needs more predator mites. To make that happen, Brian Croft has a plan.

Croft, a professor in Oregon State University's Department of Entomology working with OSU's Agricultural Experiment Station, has studied mites for more than 15 years.

The good mites (Neoseiulus fallacis) occur naturally, Croft said. So growers have to minimize the pesticides that might kill the good mites. They probably also need an extra supply of good mites so they have the numbers to zap all the bad mites.

So far, the plan is working best in mint. Predator mites multiply like crazy in top-irrigated mint. "They like the high humidity," Croft said.

In the greenhouses of A.M. Todd Co., a mint handler near Jefferson, Ore., researchers have been multiplying mites on lima bean plants since spring.

Starting in late August, they began turning loose more than 10 million predators in mint fields around the wetter areas of Jefferson, Eugene and Junction City, and in the drier areas of the Pacific Northwest, such as central and north-central Oregon, the Columbia River Basin and the East Yakima Valley of Washington and Idaho.

"We should have had more predators in the fields by April, but our greenhouses weren't ready in time," said Joyce Takeyasu, an entomologist for A.M. Todd. "Now we are concentrating on post-harvest releases (August and September). Predator mites are good at over-wintering, so we should have enough in fields when spring rolls around if they disperse adequately."

Next April, mint growers should check their fields. If they average more than one spider mite per plant and if the ratio of spider mites to predator mites is too high, they will have to spray with pesticides or bring in predator mites or both.

Spider mite control is a big deal to Oregon's peppermint producers, whose $51 million crop is the biggest of any state's.

Currently, mint growers with spider mite problems apply Comite, often spending up to $35 an acre on the miticide and application cost. With some help from predator mites, applications can be reduced, significantly lowering pest control costs, according to Mark Morris, an OSU doctoral student who works for A.M. Todd Co. in research and development.

Morris said new miticides are even more expensive, so biological control could have even a greater payoff.

"When spider mites approach the treatment threshold, we figure one predator mite for every 10 spider mites will do the job," Takeyasu said. "In early spring if spider mite populations are below one spider mite per plant, we can start with a one to 100 ratio and the predator mites will hopefully catch up and deplete the population of spider mites."

Morris believes the pinpoint-sized predators "should eventually replace chemical pesticides as a first line of defense in growers' arsenals - although pesticides are needed as a backup in cases where biological control is not effective enough."

Morris said he won't inoculate a field with predators if a grower already has enough in a field. In those cases, natural biological control should control the spider mites.

Croft said predator mites are put into fields in one of three ways: - INOCULATION: "In strawberries, we inoculate plants in a new field that won't be harvested that year. If we inoculate a thousand plants, that's enough to get predator mite coverage of a 10- to 20-acre field by the next year."

- INUNDATION: "That means putting on a lot of predators and using them like a pesticide," Croft said. "This tactic is like releasing 10,000 coyotes to wipe out 100,000 rabbits, but is necessary and economical on high value crops."

In mint, Takeyasu said, biological control requires at least 1,000 predator mites per acre - at a cost to growers of $8 to $10. But this rate depends on initial spider mite densities and presence of natural predator mites or other generalist predators.

Even if more predators are needed, the price might seem like a bargain to mint growers whose crop is worth more than $1,000 an acre and who have seen spider mites wipe out all of a field's mint leaves - and their valuable oil. - PERIODIC RELEASES: The ploy is to scout fields for predator mites and to manage pesticide use accordingly. Mites are added from time to time when the predators are in short supply.

Croft said OSU extension specialists and Agricultural Experiment Station scientists are working with growers to encourage the natural spread of predator mites.

"It's a matter of multi-crop management," Croft said. "Growers need to integrate production practices' so natural predator control is encouraged."

Besides their value to mint and strawberries, Croft said predator mites can control spider mites on rhododendrons, virburnum, magnolias, azaleas and shade trees such as linden.


Brian Croft, 541-737-5498


HERMISTON - The trouble with center pivot irrigation systems is that they water a circular area, while most land is parceled out in squares. You don't have to remember much geometry to realize there are going to be some unirrigated corners.

But researchers at Oregon State University's Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center are testing a variety of grasses and forages to cover problem areas such as these.

"These grasses are not just for farmers with irrigation pivots," said Jeffrey McMorran, an OSU Extension agent and agronomist. "They are applicable for anyone who has a 'back forty' that they don't want to blow away or become overrun with weeds."

Last fall, researchers planted trial patches of about 150 different species of grass and broadleaf forages. This spring it was found that Piute orchard grass, tall fescue, wild oats, tetraploid perennial ryegrass, covar sheep fescue and black mountain cereal rye are the best candidates for this job. Application rates should be about 15 pounds of pure live seed per acre, with plantings done no later than March 15.

"Typically, in this part of the Columbia Basin Russian thistle and puncturevine take over any disturbed land," McMorran said. "These weeds are generally not a problem on uncultivated lands such as native grasslands, but they are a big problem in places where the earth has been disturbed and no crops are growing, such as between pivots or in large backyards."

"Ideally you'd rather have something that will hold the soil, require little or no watering, out-compete the weeds and look nice," he said. "If it can provide food for birds and doesn't need to be mowed, all the better."


Jeffrey McMorran, 503-567-8321

OSU to host '96 flood conference in Portland Oct. 7-8

PORTLAND - Oregon State University is co-sponsoring a conference to try to put the flood of 1996 into historic, scientific and political perspective.

The conference, "The Flood of '96: Causes, Effects and Consequences," will be held Oct. 7-8 at the Columbia River Red Lion Hotel in Portland. It is the second annual Pacific Northwest Water Issues Conference.

It is designed for scientists, policy makers, students, interested citizens, land owners, regulators, land use planners and managers.

"The flood of 1996 had a significant impact on the Pacific Northwest, closing highways, damaging water supplies, flooding thousands of homes, businesses and acres of farmlands, affecting fish and wildlife habitat and taxing emergency management personnel," said Kelly Bartron of OSU's Oregon Water Resources Research Institute, a co-sponsor of the event.

Presentations at the conference will focus on: watershed and urban hydrology, meteorology, flood policy, water quality and ground water, water supply and emergency management. Field trips to flood sites are offered the day before and the day after the conference.

Registration fees are $225 per person, including conference materials, Monday evening reception, catered lunches, continental breakfasts, post-conference proceedings and refreshment breaks. Partial registration is possible. Field trips cost an extra $25 each.

For registration and information, contact: Oregon Water Resources Research Institute, 541-737-4022.

The Oregon section of American Institute of Hydrology and the Washington section of American Water Resources Association is co-sponsoring the conference with OSU.


Kelly Bartron, 541-737-4402

“Green” construction often secondary to cost, building codes

CORVALLIS, Ore. –  The mandates of building codes and desire for low costs are still the driving forces behind the structural materials usually chosen for buildings, a new survey suggests, despite Oregon’s increasing demand for use of “green” construction techniques.

The analysis reflected interviews with more than 30 architects, engineers and other design professionals, and showed that they wanted to build environmentally friendly structures but were often bound by the constraints of budget, code requirements and some uncertainty as to what constituted the best green structural materials or construction approaches.

Amid the significant pressures to appear “green” and sustainable, the survey also cited some concerns about “greenwashing,” in which the manufacturers of every product insisted they were the most environmentally benign and building designers were unsure who they could trust.

“These are actually pretty complex questions and there are some gaps in information we need to help address,” said Chris Knowles, an assistant professor with the Oregon Wood Innovation Center at Oregon State University. “These professionals are interested in green construction, they are usually informed about it, but it’s still difficult to make the most informed and optimal decisions, and they also have cost and code issues they struggle with.”

This survey was conducted by OSU, the University of Oregon and Portland State University, with support from the Oregon Forest Resources Institute and the Oregon Built Environmental and Sustainable Technologies center, or Oregon BEST.

Also somewhat surprising, officials said, was that the LEED rating system developed by the U.S. Green Energy Council often had little influence on materials chosen for the structural system. The LEED ratings and certification carry significant value, the building designers said, but types and volumes of materials used carry minimal weight in the LEED analysis and as a result have little effect on material choice, whether that be wood, concrete, or steel.

Among the findings of the survey:

  • Wood is generally seen as a green and sustainable building material, but the frequent presence of formaldehyde-based adhesives in engineered wood products causes concerns about gas emissions;
  • Availability of large volumes of certified wood products sometimes limits their use on larger projects, with preference given to the certification program operated by the Forest Stewardship Council;
  • Concrete and steel sometimes are favored due to their ability to add thermal mass to a structure that makes heating and cooling more energy efficient, or because it’s necessary on taller structures more than several stories high;
  • The availability of reliable and unbiased sources of information is a concern, and product representatives or industry literature are generally seen as biased;
  • The “life cycle analysis” is respected as a useful tool to make long-term environmental comparisons between use of wood, concrete or steel and based in part on that approach, wood is often seen as the building material of choice;
  • The group identified a need for continuing education courses to study these issues and stay updated on the latest approaches.
Media Contact: 

Chris Knowles, 541-737-1438

Portland firm honored for recycling efforts at OSU

CORVALLIS - A Portland construction firm is receiving Oregon State University's 1996 Recycling Excellence Award.

Lee Schroeder, OSU chief business officer, will present Marc McConnell of Hoffman Construction with the award during a 12:30 p.m. ceremony on Friday, Oct. 11, in OSU's Valley Library Room 135. The ceremony is open to the public.

Hoffman Construction is being recognized for outstanding recycling efforts during the first five months of the campus' Valley Library construction project.

Since May, subcontractor Catapult, Inc., has recycled 15,000 pounds of aluminum grating from the front of the library and 12,000 pounds of scrap metal from a canopy over a covered bike parking area.

Another subcontractor, L and H Grading, has removed 31,000 cubic yards of dirt, bricks and sidewalks, using the material for fill rather than sending it to a landfill.

OSU Campus Recycling is recycling the paper, bottles and cans generated during the project and Corvallis Disposal is recycling the cardboard, wood and metal scrap.

Hoffman Construction has shown a commitment to recycling not only for environmental reasons but also as a way to save the library project money, said David Garcia, OSU recycling coordinator.

"Hoffman Construction was chosen for the project based on a selection process that included a section requesting plans for recycling during the construction," Garcia said.

The library project is scheduled for completion in the fall of 1998. The $40 million project will add 147,000 square feet to the library and completely remodel the existing 189,000 square feet. The completed library will also include built-in recycling containers.


David Garcia, 541-737-3574

Scientists recover rare blocks of methane off Oregon coast

CORVALLIS - An international team of researchers has discovered a deposit of methane gas hydrates on the seafloor off Newport, Ore.

Although the material looks like snow or ice, it is so packed with methane, it can be set on fire, said Robert Collier, an Oregon State University associate professor of oceanic and atmospheric sciences, who helped identify the substance as it was hauled from the sea.

The finding is important, scientists say, with implications in the areas of energy development, global warming, and the marine food chain.

"This is a rare find," Collier said. "You can virtually count on one hand all of the people in the world who have ever seen this much material."

Undersea methane hydrate is significant as a possible future fuel source. As it decomposes, undersea methane could also add an energy source for undersea microorganisms, and, finally work its way out of the water and into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming.

German, U.S. and Canadian scientists discovered the deposits during a project to study fluids and gases which are being squeezed from sediments on the seafloor off the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The expulsion, active along the plate collision boundaries of the earth, results from the compression of the water-rich sediments carried on the moving oceanic plates that are diving below the continents.

The joint project is coordinated by GEOMAR, Research Center for Marine Geoscience at the University of Kiel, Germany. GEOMAR director, Erwin Suess, a former OSU oceanographer, was chief scientist during the expedition.

A giant, TV-guided robotic "claw" working from the German research vessel Sonne 50 miles west of Newport retrieved more than 100 pounds of the material from the seafloor. The hydrates were formed in the sea under conditions of high pressure and low temperatures, Collier said. They begin to decompose as soon as they are removed from the seafloor, within hours leaving scientists with only a smelly puddle of water.

The fact that methane hydrates are only stable under narrow temperature and pressure conditions and are generally buried deep beneath the seafloor may limit potential commercial uses of the compound. But the study of these methane hydrates also has enormous implications in other fields, Collier pointed out.

Some researchers believe that global warming - which is expected to be most severe in polar regions where vast quantities of shallow gas hydrates are present -could lead to the catastrophic decay of these deposits. Decomposition of the hydrates could release more methane and cause further global warming, scientists warn.

Scientists from OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences and the University of Victoria in British Columbia participated in the recovery and analysis of the gas hydrates.

Gary Klinkhammer, an OSU geochemist and associate professor of oceanic and atmospheric sciences, said the discovery of this large methane hydrate field is only the first step in what may be a series of important research projects.

"This site presents an incredible opportunity," Klinkhammer said. "Located less than 50 miles off Newport, this could be a natural laboratory to study the behavior of this unique and globally significant material."

Samples from this new site will give the first accurate estimates of the layering and proportions of hydrate and sediment that generate seismic reflections from below the seafloor, Collier said. From those seismic readings, scientists surmise that there are vast deposits of the hydrates located throughout the world.

Although its potential as a viable fossil fuel resource is unknown, Japan recently announced a $50 million effort to commercially produce methane from the sea surrounding Hokkaido.

"We need eyes on the deep-sea floor to further advance marine science," Suess said. "Discoveries of such a basic nature in deep-sea research are only made possible by the application of new technologies including remotely operated, autonomous, and manned submersibles.

"When these and other TV-guided instrumentation are supported by state-of-the-art remote sensing and analysis from surface ships and shore-based laboratories," Suess added, "we are capable of making incredible progress in understanding critical scientific and environmental issues."


Robert Collier, 541-737-4367

Scientists find new use for French fry sludge

ONTARIO, Ore. - One of the byproducts of American's national lust for French fries is a toothpaste-thick sludge that leaves potato processing plants by the truck load.

Oregon State University agricultural scientists are trying to recycle this sludge as fertilizer in order to keep it out of settling ponds and landfills and to save processors disposal fees.

Making potatoes into fries and hash browns is a major business in eastern Oregon and western Idaho. The processed potato industry creates a lot of potato peels and waste water - about 40,000 tons per year in the Boise-Ontario area alone, according to Lynn Jensen, chair of the Malheur County office of the OSU Extension Service.

Currently, beef feedlots take most of the potato sludge off the hands of area processors, explained Erik Feibert, research assistant at OSU's Malheur Agricultural Experiment Station in Ontario.

"The processors are happy to get rid of the sludge because previously they had to pay to dispose of it," said Feibert.

The feedlots also get culled French fries from the processors. Cattle gain weight easily on the fries, said Jensen. But sludge is a problem because of its low feed value, so its disposal is still a problem.

"We think the sludge has potential to be a good fertilizer, but we're still unsure at what rates it needs to be applied," said Jensen. "We're running field trials at various amounts of sludge per acre. We want to determine the nitrogen release rate of sludge to determine how it fits with crop fertilizer needs."

Clint Shock, professor of crop and soil science and superintendent at the OSU Malheur Experiment Station, is studying the nitrogen release rate of potato waste on local soils. The researchers have bags of carefully mixed soil and sludge buried in test plots so that they have the same temperature conditions as the field.

"We dig them up every three weeks to test for nitrogen release rates," explained OSU research assistant Feibert.

Potato sludge as a fertilizer has a lot of advantages over other organic fertilizers, claim the researchers. They are testing sludge as a fertilizer for onions at the Malheur Experiment Station.

"Potato sludge has only about two-thirds the nitrogen content of manure," explained Jensen. Unlike some industrial or city waste products, potato sludge does not contain heavy metal that could contaminate the soil. By the time the sludge arrives at the farm it 's in a gel-like consistency that can be easily applied to the fields with a modified manure spreader."

Despite its apparent benefits, there are still some obstacles to the wide spread use of potato sludge as a fertilizer.

"The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) isn't ready to allow unlimited use as a fertilizer until we have some more data on nitrogen release rates," said Jensen.

Growers have also expressed some concern about the spread of plant disease such as late blight with the sludge.

"The spread of disease should not be a problem since the sludge is treated at 350 degrees and is sterile of any potato disease organisms when it leaves the processing plant," he said.


Clint Shock, 541-889-2174

Recycling efforts jump on campus

CORVALLIS - Oregon State University appears on its way to setting a new high in recycling, with the campus reclaiming about 1,050 pounds of paper per student in 1996 - a 10 percent jump from 1995 figures, said David Garcia, campus recycling coordinator.

During 1995, OSU recycled 1.37 million pounds of paper, which was a 17 percent jump over 1994, Garcia said. Now, with only three months left in 1996, the figure is up 10 percent from last year.

"Based on information from our yearly waste audit, this gain is due to increases in both the rate of recycling and the use of paper," he said.

Recycling efforts continue to grow at the campus of about 14,000 students. About 46 percent of all OSU's waste is recycled and of the remaining 54 percent thrown in the trash, 21 percent could be recycled.

In an effort to reduce paper use on campus, the university is launching a campaign to convince staff and students to use both sides of every sheet of paper.

"By using both sides of every sheet of paper, we reduce the amount of paper and the amount of file cabinet space required. Our goal this year is for all students to be able to turn in assignments on double-sided paper and for all office correspondences and forms to be double-sided," Garcia said.


David Garcia, 541-737-3574

OSU aquaculture program receives $13.7 million

CORVALLIS - A $13.7 million federal grant will allow a global aquaculture program based at Oregon State University to continue into the 21st century.

The five-year grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development will fund the Pond Dynamics-Aquaculture Collaborative Research Support Program to 2001, said Hillary Egna, program director.

The program began in 1982 as a global venture to aid aquaculture, or "pond farming," in developing countries. Much of the research is centered in raising fish or shrimp to bolster food supplies in countries including the Philippines, Thailand, Honduras, Egypt and Rwanda.

Raising bigger fish faster is one goal, said Martin Fitzpatrick, OSU assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife. "The main technique to increase the size of the fish now is to feed the fish steroids over three to four weeks," he said.

Researchers in the Collaborative Research Support Program are working to cut steroid conditioning to several hours to abate human health and environmental risks.

Fitzpatrick is working with tilapia, a tropical fish that grows to about a foot in length and weighs under two pounds.

Other facets of the program include sociology, agricultural economics, bioresource engineering, water quality and soil science. Program efforts help farmers improve incomes and feed more people without ruining resources.

Lessons learned overseas can often be imported to the United States to aid local aquaculture efforts. In addition, aiding less developed countries can open new markets for domestic producers, researchers say.

While OSU has technical, administrative and fiscal responsibility for carrying out the grant provisions, the aquaculture program is a joint effort of more than 100 professional and support personnel from U.S. universities.

Universities include: Auburn University; the University of California at Davis; University of Oklahoma; University of Delaware; Southern Illinois University; University of Texas; University of Michigan; University of Hawaii; University of Arizona; University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff; as well as OSU.

The program also benefits from the efforts of more than 75 scientists, technicians and graduate students in host countries.


Hillary Egna, 541-737-6415

State climatologist shares recipe for flood

CORVALLIS - First, take a wetter than average winter. Saturate the ground and fill streams and reservoirs. Cover the foothills and mountains with a thick blanket of snow. Then chill and freeze the ground. Coat low elevation surfaces with freezing rain.

Then inundate the whole scenario with four days of subtropical rain. The result? A whopper of a flood.

The early February 1996 flood in northern Oregon and southern Washington was caused by the above rare sequence of events, explained George Taylor, state climatologist with the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University. Taylor will discuss his flood analyses at the upcoming annual OSU-sponsored James. A. Vomocil water quality conference at OSU's LaSells Stewart Center in Corvallis on Nov. 13.

"When you combine a wet winter with deep snowpack, frozen ground then four days of warm, intense rain, you have a recipe for a flood," said Taylor. "It was such a warm air mass that rain fell in all elevations except the highest Cascade crests."

Taylor is analyzing information from the 1996 flood in order to evaluate its significance for groups such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), land and water management agencies and flood insurance companies. He is trying to compare this flood with all others that have occurred since data recording began, generally in 1928.

By studying precipitation patterns, river flow levels, snow depths, and temperatures, weather station by weather station, county by county, month after month, year after year across the state, Taylor is looking for patterns and record-setting events.

"I am trying to evaluate the likelihood of this kind of thing occurring again," explained Taylor. "Was this a 100-year event? A 20-year event? Many land use and policy decisions get made based on analyses such as these.

"For example, flood insurance kicks in when you reach a certain flood return interval," he continued. "The location of the 100-year flood line in relation to a home or structure can determine whether reimbursement for damages occur. Our analyses help determine more accurately what a 100-year flood actually is."

State government is particularly interested in how often a flood of this magnitude might occur, he said.

"Planning requirements are different for 20-year events than for 100-year events," he said.

Some of Taylor's more interesting findings about the February 1996 flood include:

-The northern Oregon Coast Range area, near Tillamook, had the worst flooding in terms of historical record - probably greater than 100-year events.

-In the south end of the flood area around Eugene, it was probably only a 10-year event.

-Overall throughout northwestern Oregon, the flood was approximately a 25-year event. The flood of 1964 was a little more extreme over a larger area, from northern California through Washington, and eastward to Idaho.

-The Laurel Mountain area, in the Coast Range southwest of Salem, received more than 28 inches of rain in a four-day period. An area close by, west of Valsetz, is considered the rainiest area of Oregon.

-Human land uses can influence flooding patterns. Urbanization in the Tualatin Valley may have augmented flood heights there. Timber harvest activities in the Coast Range may have contributed to landslides that occurred.

Interested citizens, students, land owners, regulators, land use planners and managers and scientists are welcome to register for the water quality conference. For more information, write: Water Quality Conference, Dept. Bioresource Engineering, OSU, Gilmore Hall, Room. 116, Corvallis, OR 97331-3906 or call 541-737-4021.


George Taylor, 541-737-5705