Ahh, Oregon. The land where the mountains meet the sea, hazelnuts can be seen for miles, and everything grows abundantly, including grass seed.
How could I possibly learn more after last year? Wasn’t it all just a repeat of the same facts? I can tell you, I was worried about being bored with the information this trip. I was so glad I jumped at the opportunity to help Josh represent Williams Lawn Seed, because, once again, I was blown away.
After a slight error in judgement at the rental car counter (who knew a Mazda 5 would be a minivan?), Josh and I were on our way to Corvallis, Oregon. We spent a few days there and got in a trip to the coast (Yaquina Head, Newport, Foulweather, South Beach), a visit with our son, and an incredible field day with Dr. Leah Brilman, a leader in seed research, and the team at PickSeed.
Dr. Leah showed us around her research farm. This was the first of many times on the trip where the phrase “genetic purity” came up. All the researchers in Oregon have chosen to strategically locate in areas where there’s less chance of pollination from other types of grasses. This helps ensure the data is true and helps the researchers guarantee genetic purity throughout.
Dr. Leah also showed us a plot of tall fescue where the endophytes actually repel geese at a certain height. This tall fescue is part of a worldwide initiative called Clear Sky, to be planted near airports. Another research plot contained Bracco, which is a high nitrogen green manure that helps with nematode and weed suppression. What? Basically, it looks like a big weed with yellow flowers. It can grow in about 3 weeks then be tilled into the soil, where it will ‘clean’ the field. So, let’s take a sod farmer for example. He has a field where he’s been having trouble with weeds for a while. No matter how many chemicals he treats it with, the weeds just won’t clear away. Enter the new Bracco tilling. Plant the seeds, let them grow to the right height, till into the soil, cover with water and, presto, the field can be replanted and will/should be weed free. It’s only a five week commitment altogether for the farmer, which makes this a very desirable new treatment. Plus, it’s totally green. Who doesn’t love that?
Last year, we took a look at the DIA (digital imaging analysis) machine used to study turf plots. This year, drones are being studied as a more efficient way to collect those digital images to be studied. The images are being examined against the current DIA, so it can be perfected for regular use at the farms and facilities. Researchers study 811,000 data points to compare turf. So, when the bag says “low maintenance or draught tolerant” you can rest assured that wasn’t haphazardly stamped on the bag.
Bioprime is also a new vitamin pack that’s being tested for turf. It’s a fine dust/mist that’s hydrostatically applied to seeds to help overall performance. I’m sure everyone has seen the coated seeds that have been out for a number of years. The difference between the two is basically size and weight. If you coat something, it becomes twice or three times the original size, which means you’re getting less actual seed in the bag for your money. Sure, it’s supposed to guarantee better performance, but at the end of the day, you’ll likely need two bags of seed to cover the area. Bioprime is able to offer much of the same benefit while giving the consumer more seed in the bag, since it only takes up .0016% of the space. Incredible!
As a side note, Corvallis is a beautiful city, home to the stately University of Oregon campus, a restaurant and entertainment area along the river and a magnificent park with a colorful rose garden and hiking/biking trails. I’m so glad we got to see it and I’m happy that Mary’s Peak beckoned us to come visit on Friday. What a view!
Wednesday took us to the TWCA (turfgrass water conservation alliance) conference at NexGen. Much like last year, so much important work is going into making turf more draught tolerant and resistant. Water, or the lack of it, is a huge topic on the west coast, especially in California. Most Californians have resorted to hardscaping their yards with rock instead of turf. What’s the big deal? Well, let’s consider how much cool air and oxygen is created from one city lawn. Rock hardscapes actually make the air hotter by 20+ degrees. If everyone in the world stopped having lawns and went to rock, we’d really be talking about global warming. So, the researchers at NexGen are putting their cultivars under a lot of draught stress and heat stress to test them. I know I wasn’t going to survive learning about it in that hot greenhouse for another minute, let alone weeks. Hopefully, the future will bring more green lawns to areas of north America under stress.
How do you limit how much water the plots of grass are getting out in the field? Check out this watering box. Measure, box and pour. So simple, but genius at the same time. I always love being barefoot on NexGen’s lawn. So soft!
By this point, we were tired and hot, but worked in a visit with one of the smartest, most down to earth farmers in the valley. Not only did he take the time to show us around his research area, he insisted we visit his favorite spot to take a break by the river. Oh my. I’d never get any work done. This was so relaxing and enjoyable after a long day of learning, we could’ve stayed much, much longer, but it was time to move forward with more plans.
Thursday morning was freezing cold and rainy, but I did manage to gather a few bits of info while my teeth were chattering. Finally, I experienced the weird Oregon weather everyone always talks about. One day we’re sweating in a field and the next we’re freezing in long sleeves like a Midwest October. I’m ever grateful to the gentleman that passed me his hooded sweatshirt.
Today’s research facility was Peak Plant Genetics. I found fascinating the differences in the way the researchers mark their plots and study them. For instance, look at the ‘yellow’ lines between these plots. It made them so easy to see and compare. Here the cultivars are in the ground instead of tubes in the greenhouse. They sort of looked like green spaceships all over the field to me. And, do you see those guys around the table? They’re testing a piece of sod for strength. How many psi does it take before it rips apart? Strength is of utmost importance for sod farmers, as you can imagine.
We talked again about genetic purity. These cultivars are being tested and studied in a makeshift room of cereal rye. Do you see the walls around the outer perimeter? That keeps the pollen from other grasses from contaminating the cultivars. I laughed out loud at this quote from Peak’s Director of Research, Steve Johnson, about finding the best, strongest cultivars and breeding them, “We discriminate for a living out here.”
While at Peak, we got to hear about the Rose Bowl field from Will Schnell, the head groundskeeper. What an honor to be able to learn more about what it takes to manage a professional field where a few events take place each week. From commercials, to corporate events, to games, to concerts, this man’s job keeps him on his toes. The grass on the field now is provided by Mountain View Seed, one of our many friends in the biz.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at Pure Seed where Crystal, Lucas and their crew are testing shade tolerance and salt tolerance, among many other things. They’re really making great strides with both and it was cool to compare some of last year’s subjects to this year. We also heard from one of their researchers that’s been working on growing grass in Dubai, a monumental task.
Friday, we made a stop to check on some wildflowers and then we were off to knock some bucket list items. First, we just had to hike/walk to the top of Mary’s Peak. We were totally unprepared for the 45 degree temp at 4000 feet, but we powered through anyway. We were so glad we took the time.
From there, we took the most winding and scenic mountain drive to the coast. Check out the covered bridge and river we discovered along the way.
Once we hit the coast, it was up a ways to see Seal Rock. Guess what? It was sunny and 80 degrees there. No jackets needed! Just beautiful! We continued to follow Hwy 101 south and stop at points of interest. We found some great beaches and lookouts and eventually found Cape Perpetua, home to Thor’s Well. (Actually it’s called several other things, but I read about it as Thor’s Well, so we’re going with it.)
Our exploring came to an end in Eugene, Oregon, where we got to visit with our son again and check out this interesting city. If you ever are in the area, you MUST spend some time at their Saturday market. The produce was unbelievable and the entertainment was varied and fun with lots of street performers doing what they do best.
Our brains were totally full and we were exhausted after about 70,000 steps for the week. Whew! Thanks for another enjoyable time, Oregon. I still heart you.