Researchers Prep Growers for 2017 Season
By Dan Drost, Utah State University
Crop rotations, onion budgets, Utah water quality and food safety were just a few of the topics covered at the 2017 Utah Onion Association winter meeting held in Brigham City, Utah.
Attendees had a chance to inspect the 2016 onion variety trial results, meet with onion industry representatives and listen to the prepared presentations.
Crop Rotations, Thrips Populations
Dan Drost, Utah State University (USU) vegetable specialist, reported that based on six years of studying different crop rotations, growing onions after corn works as well as when onions are grown after wheat.
“We do, however, consistently see fewer thrips on onions when grown after corn,” he reported.
It is not completely clear why corn before onions reduces thrips numbers, so further study is needed, Drost said. One possible explanation may be that there are fewer over-wintering sites for the thrips in corn residues, which influences winter survival.
“Onion yields were not reduced by going to a low-nitrogen system compared to the local commercial nitrogen application amount; however, thrips numbers were always greater when we applied high nitrogen amounts,” Drost added, noting potential savings through lower nitrogen costs and possibly less pesticide needed.
Onion Production Budget
Ruby Ward, USU agricultural economist, presented an updated Onion Production Budget.
“Onions are pretty risky to grow since prices are quite volatile; therefore, we created an interactive spreadsheet that growers can tailor to their specific farms’ requirements and see how small changes in input and production costs influence the bottom line,” Ward explained. “If you apply sensitivity analysis to your production system, you can start changing expected revenue or expenses to evaluate how this may alter net income.”
Small changes in some areas of expense have very little effect on income, and other areas influence it more.
“Taking the risk out of farming begins with knowing your costs and then managing what you can control,” Ward reminded her audience.
Food Safety Modernization Act
Travis Waller with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) and Neil Allen, a USU irrigation specialist, shared the latest details of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Waller noted, “It’s the Department of Agriculture’s job to enforce the rule; however, what we really want to do is get growers educated first before we regulate.”
With a $3.6 million FDA grant, the UDAF and USU are partnering to
1) hire a produce safety coordinator
2) develop a Utah farm inventory
3) organize compliance training and certification programs for producers and inspectors
4) hire certified FSMA trainers
5) conduct agricultural water surveys for Utah
6) create an advisory group to set priorities and identify areas of need.
Allen shared his findings on water quality in various irrigation districts across northern Utah, how different E. coli test methods work, and what that may mean for farmers.
Waller and Allen emphasized that farms should begin efforts to comply with FSMA rules despite uncertainty about how the new administration will enforce the rule. Since food safety is critical to American agriculture and farmers are the first point in helping to maintain a safe food supply, the partnership between UDAF and USU will help Utah farms achieve the national food safety goals, according to the speakers.
Summer Field Tour
Utah State University Extension will host the Utah Onion Association summer field day on Aug. 8, 2017, from 8 a.m. to noon in Box Elder County. For more information on the summer field tour, contact Mike Pace at email@example.com.