USU team leads research to improve organic wheat growth

LOGAN –Utah State University will soon be a part of a research project to help improve organic wheat production. The USU researchers will lead the project as part of a team that also includes scientists from Washington State University and the University of Wyoming. The research will be funded by a $1.5 million grant that was recently given to the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences.

Utah State assistant professor Earl Creech is co-directing the project. He said farmers have been struggling with declining dryland wheat fertility for years. He said he hopes the project will help wheat growers improve profitability by boosting yields and cutting production costs.

“Yields on these pieces of ground are often so low that it’s really hard to produce enough wheat to pay the bills,” Creech said. “Because of that they’re reluctant to put any inputs into the crops such as fertilizer because they struggle to recoup the investments they made.”

According to Creech, much of what the team will be working on is based on research done by a USU graduate student in the mid-1990s who examined compost use in dryland areas to try and increase yields. The compost proved to be successful, but not economical, so the project was cancelled. Creech said the areas were revisited and observed 16 years later and some surprising discoveries were made.

“We found that the yield was still 50 percent higher in the compost-treated areas versus those that didn’t receive it,” Creech said. “So some 16 years later we had 50 percent higher yields and that of course changes the economics of that.”

Creech said the team will look at sites in Utah, Wyoming and Washington. They will test the original treatments along with others to try and find which has the best economic impact.

“Hopefully we can find something that is cheaper to put out initially but still gets the long term benefits that we saw from this other research project,” Creech said.

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