The Malheur Experiment Station is a branch of the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station, a part of Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Scientists at the Malheur Experiment Station work in close cooperation with faculty at the OSU Malheur County Extension.
Oregon’s agriculture is complex and exciting. The State produces more than 100 commercially important crops. Oregon’s varied soils and climate that ranges from rain-forest to high desert means that scientists must address the challenges of agriculture in the locations where the commodities are produced. To provide research relevant to diverse regions, scientists serve at eleven branch experiment stations and research centers in addition to the central station on the OSU campus in Corvallis. Besides the Malheur Experiment Station in Ontario, stations are located in Klamath Falls, Burns and Union, Medford and Astoria, Pendleton and Moro, Hermiston, Hood River, Redmond and Madras, Portland, and Aurora.
Scientists at the Malheur Experiment Station specialize in research important for the production of row crops, small grains, alfalfa, and native plants. Onions, wheat, corn, beans, sugar beets, and potatoes are major crops in Malheur County, helping to generate hundreds of millions of dollars per year of farm gate income for producers and over $1 billion of economic activity in the county. Alfalfa, corn, and hay are transformed into high value meat and milk products by cattle and dairy producers.
The station is located on 117 acres of row crop land midway between Ontario, Vale, and Nyssa in the Cairo area. Entrance to Onion Avenue is from Highway 20/26. Visitors are welcome at the station. The OSU faculty and staff also conduct research and observations at many other locations in the region.
Local farmers asked Oregon State College to establish an experiment station in Malheur County in 1942. Research began that year. Money was raised by a local tax initiative to buy the land which was deeded to OSU in the mid-1950’s. Through a local initiative, citizens established a tax service district in May 2012 to partially support Malheur County extension and research essential for outreach.
Neil Hoffman, the Station’s first superintendent, served in that post from 1946 until 1977. Dwayne Buxton was superintendent from 1978 to 1982 followed by Charles Stanger from 1982 to 1984. Clint Shock has been superintendent then director from 1984 through 2018.
The Malheur station has been a leader in agricultural innovations, partnering with growers, growers’ organizations, agricultural businesses, and public agencies.
The land surrounding the buildings at the station is appropriate for research on onions, sugar beets, potatoes, small grains, alfalfa seed, cultivation of native plants, and weed control. Specialized facilities include an onion storage, an artificial onion dryer, onion grader, a potato storage, a potato quality laboratory, a NOAA weather station, an AgriMet weather station, a chemical laboratory, a greenhouse with head house, and a soil moisture sensor laboratory. In 1996 the station started publishing its reports on a website,“www.cropinfo.net”.
Research at the station is shaped by economic and environmental problems and opportunities. Research on onions, a major crop in the Treasure Valley, includes variety evaluations and studies to combat thrips, weeds, and Iris Yellow Spot Virus. Special environmental studies are being conducted to reduce the negative effects of Iris Yellow Spot Virus. Major onion research accomplishments include grower adoption of more effective herbicides, varieties with greater higher yields and resistance to botrytis neck rot and higher yields, precise irrigation criteria, and drip irrigation. The drip irrigation technology for onions that has been adopted widely in the US was developed at the Malheur Experiment Station. Research at the station has shown that E. coli entering onion fields via irrigation water by furrow and drip irrigation is largely filtered out by the soil. The station has also shown that the E. coli reaching the onion bulbs does not survive.
In 1984 and 1985 the Russet Burbank potatoes grown in the Pacific Northwest suffered a high incidence of dark-ends. When potato strips were fried the stem end of the potato strips darkened. Station research minimized dark-ends by identifying potato varieties less susceptible to the defect, identifying irrigation onset criteria that reduced dark ends, determining that sprinkler-irrigated potatoes were less susceptible than furrow-irrigated potatoes. Producers needed this information to avoid water stress in potato plants during tuber bulking. The station’s potato quality lab is involved in determining specific gravity and dark-end fry color in potatoes. New potato varieties are screened every year for yield, grade, and internal quality including fry color. The station has been a partner with other Pacific Northwest researchers in developing and releasing several dozen new and improved varieties of potato including Ranger Russet, Alturas, Umatilla Russet, Clearwater Russet, and Castle Russet.
Sugar beet research has included studies of mildew control, seed emergence, irrigation, weed control, and variety performance.
Trials of small grains have been conducted to evaluate cultivars of soft white wheat, and occasionally hard red wheat, club wheat, barley, and triticale.
Evaluating alternative weed control practices is an ongoing priority. A goal is to find herbicides or herbicide combinations that control weeds without significant crop injury. Important aspects of weed control research include the rate of application, method, timing, and spray pressure and volume. These are all factors affecting the success growers have in controlling weeds. In recent years the weed yellow nutsedge has received focused attention, with results showing how systematic control of yellow nutsedge may be possible. The station has pioneered the use of herbicide through drip irrigation to control yellow nutsedge, resulting in product registrations.
Nitrogen and irrigation management research is conducted on onions, small grains, potatoes, and sugar beets to find ways to reduce the loss of nitrate to groundwater while enhancing growers' yields and profitability. Station research places emphasis on irrigation water use efficiency and the reduction of offsite effects of crop production on water quality. Station advances have improved soil moisture monitoring, irrigation scheduling, and nitrogen use efficiency. Leaching of nitrate and other chemicals to groundwater has been reduced. Groundwater quality in Northeastern Malheur County is improving. Reductions in irrigation-induced erosion help protect surface water quality.
OSU Extension is integrated with the Malheur Experiment Station in solving crop production problems and communicating results to growers. Scientists from Extension and Research cooperatively design and evaluate experiments on onions, potatoes, and alfalfa. Scientists from other experiment stations evaluate small grains and potatoes in cooperation with local scientists. Scientists at the OSU stations in Malheur, Hermiston, Klamath Falls, and the Crop and Soil Science Department in Corvallis cooperate with Washington State University, the University of Idaho, and the ARS on potato variety development.
The station is cooperating with the BLM and US Forest Service to develop information for the successful production of native wildflower seed for restoration efforts in the Great Basin. Following fire, non-native species tend to invade many burned areas. In the past many burned areas have been reseeded largely with grass species. There is interest in reseeding burned areas with mixtures of grasses, wildflowers, and shrubs. Seed production practices and seeding technology are essential for the use of these species since commercial supplies of seed are not available. Growers need to know how to plant, control weeds and pests, irrigate as necessary, harvest, and clean seed. Current research at the Malheur Experiment Station and elsewhere seeks to develop seed production technology.
The station cooperates with growers’ associations, businesses, the Malheur Watershed Council, the Owyhee Watershed Council, the Malheur County Soil and Water Conservation District, the National Resource Conservation Service, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Lower Willowcreek Working Group, and several others.