Station History and Program

The Malheur Experiment Station is a branch of the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station, a part of Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Oregon’s agriculture is complex and exciting. The State produces more than 100 commercially important crops. Oregon’s varied soils and a climate that changes from rain forest to high desert means that scientists must address the challenges of agriculture in locations where the commodities are produced. Because of this, 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 Station at 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 Station specialize in research important to row crops, small grains, alfalfa, and native plants. Onions, sugar beets, and potatoes are major crops in Malheur County, helping to generate a farm gate income of $230 million for producers and about $1 billion of economic activity in the county in 2009. Alfalfa has high value because it is transformed into 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 station also conducts research at many locations in the region.

History

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 service district in May, 2012, to support Malheur County extension and research. 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 (now director) since 1984.

The Malheur station has been a leader in agricultural innovations partnering with growers, growers’ organizations, agricultural businesses, and public agencies

Facilities

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 onion storage, an artificial onion dryer, potato storage, potato quality laboratory, a NOA weather station, an AgriMet weather station, a chemical laboratory, greenhouse with head house, and a soil moisture sensor laboratory. In 1996 the station started publishing its reports on a web site, cropinfo.net.

Research

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 resistance to botrytis neck rot and higher yields, precise irrigation criteria, and drip irrigation.

Russet Burbank potatoes grown in the area suffered a high incidence of dark-ends in 1985 (the stem end of the potato darkens when fried). Minimizing dark-ends was achieved by evaluating potato varieties, potato irrigation, and soil management. Producers needed this information to avoid stress in potato plants at critical periods. The 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 releasing several dozen new improved varieties of potato including Ranger Russet, Alturas, Umatilla Russet, and Premier Russet.

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 project. 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.

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 grass, 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 help develop seed production technology.

Sugar beet research has included studies of mildew control, seed emergence, irrigation, weed control, and variety evaluations. Other crops under investigation include soybeans, alfalfa, poplar trees, and pharmaceutical crops.

Nitrogen and irrigation management research is conducted on onions, small grain, potatoes, and sugar beets to find ways to reduce the loss of nitrate to groundwater, while protecting growers' yields and profitability. Station research places emphasis on irrigation water use efficiency and the reduction of off site effects of crop production. Station advances have improved soil moisture monitoring, irrigation scheduling, and nitrogen use efficiency. Leaching of nitrate and other chemicals to groundwater has been reduced. Reductions in irrigation-induced erosion help protect surface water quality.

Partnerships

OSU Extension agents work closely with the Malheur Station staff on crop production problems. They cooperatively design and evaluate experiments on onions, potatoes, and alfalfa. Scientists from other experiment stations evaluate small grains and potatoes in cooperation with Station staff.

Scientists at three branch experiment stations and the central experiment station of OSU cooperate with Washington State University, the University of Idaho, and the ARS on potato variety development.

Cooperators with the station include growers’ associations, businesses, the Malheur Watershed Council, the Owyhee Watershed Council, the Malheur County SWCD, NRCS, OWEB, ODEQ, ODA, the Lower Willowcreek Working Group, and many others.