Sponsored by Forest Grove Economic Development
Home Back Issues April 2011 Mysterious wheat crop loss puzzles researchers

Mysterious wheat crop loss puzzles researchers

| Print |  Email
Articles - April 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Article Index
Mysterious wheat crop loss puzzles researchers
Page 2
Page 3
0411_WheatBy Peter Beland

Freak rainstorms fell. Fungi spread. Viruses attacked. Clouds of herbicides drifted. Not necessarily in that order or combination and what exactly happened remains unclear. But what is known is that last fall swaths of wheat on roughly 40,000 acres — worth about $15.4 million — in Umatilla, Morrow and Gilliam counties turned yellow and withered in a perfect storm of bad conditions.

Oregon State University plant pathologist Christopher Mundt got a call in October from OSU Gilliam County extension agent Jordan Maley. “I knew something was wrong when he called; I mean, he’s a fourth-generation farmer,” says Mundt. A crop disease specialist who will excitedly talk about the decades during which he purposefully stressed plants to infect them with all manner of afflictions, Mundt was a bit dumbfounded when Maley described the isolated 150-acre field in Eastern Oregon that had splotches of withered plants. The young wheat leaves were bursting out the sides of the plant instead of sprouting upward, curling up like an accordion. “I saw things I have never seen before,” says Maley. “It’s been very controversial. When it boils down to it, we really don’t know what’s going on.”

The ravaged wheat in Gilliam County was not the only strange thing cropping up in Eastern Oregon wheat fields last fall. According to Maley, September saw two inches of rain in one day in Gilliam County, about 15% of the arid county’s total annual precipitation. Rain fell throughout the region during a time when growers usually can count on weed-free fields to plant the soft white winter wheat for which the Northwest region is known, a crop that has seen a meteoric rise in value worldwide in the past year. With the unusual and early rain, weeds bloomed throughout the region.

In Umatilla County, 16 fields totaling about 5,000 acres were victims of the yellowing. It seems the very thing that killed the weeds in time for planting was the culprit: the herbicide glyphosate. “[It’s] fitting what we’re seeing in the field,” says OSU extension soil scientist Don Wysocki cautiously. “But it’s not what we’re seeing in the labs.”

Other researchers disagree. “I’d say nine-to-one that it’s glyphosate,” says Portland-based Pacific Agriculture Laboratory director Steve Thun. A bet, not an absolute. This discrepancy in conclusions is because samples sent to the Oregon Department of Agriculture and samples sent by growers to private labs such as Pacific Agriculture were tested with two different methodologies. “I’m not sure why two different methods were used,” says Wysocki. The ODA repeatedly said that it would reconcile the two methodologies throughout January and February, but as of mid-March said it had no conclusion. “The ODA is dragging its heels,” says Thun.

While the glyphosate sprayers were in the fields killing rain-born weeds, a weather inversion occurred; the herbicide was pushed down by barometric pressure, sulking in a cloud-like formation to nearby fields of newly planted wheat. It is likely the young plants were stressed by the herbicide contamination, according to Mundt.



 

More Articles

Podcast: Interview with Steve Balzac

Contributed Blogs
Tuesday, August 19, 2014

082014BalzacBY TOM COX | OB BLOGGER

Tom Cox interviews Steve Balzac, author of "Organizational Psychology for Managers."


Read more...

Oversight? Or gaming the system?

News
Monday, July 14, 2014
AmazonBY VIVIAN MCINERNY | OB BLOGGER

Some people think Amazon’s winking eye logo is starting to look like a hoodwink.


Read more...

Poll Wrap-Up

News
Friday, August 15, 2014

2014 NewPoll-report-newsletterthumbIn this week's poll, we asked readers: "Who should pay for the troubled Cover Oregon website?" Here are the results.


Read more...

Attack of the Robin Sages

Contributed Blogs
Monday, July 07, 2014
070714 thumb linkedinfakesBY TOM COX | OB BLOGGER

Named after the 2010 experiment by Thomas Ryan, "Robin Sages" are fake social media profiles designed to encourage linking and divulging valuable information.


Read more...

Private liberal arts education: superior outcomes, competitive price

Contributed Blogs
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
0826 thumb collegemoneyBY DEBRA RINGOLD | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

Why has six years become an acceptable investment in public undergraduate education that over-promises and underperforms?


Read more...

Interview: Dr. Mark Goulston

Contributed Blogs
Thursday, July 10, 2014
JustListenBY TOM COX | OB BLOGGER

Tom Cox interviews Dr. Mark Goulston, author of Just Listen, Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.


Read more...

OB Video: Dress for Success

News
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
DFSOBY JESSICA RIDGWAY | OB WEB EDITOR

Dress for Success Oregon promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and career development tools.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS