Farmers donate test-plot crops to Second Harvest

Sometimes it pays to be across the road from an internationally-recognized agricultural company.

Four local farmers donated test plot crops to Second Harvest in 2016, said Sarah MacPherson, food sourcing manager. “I think as more farmers try different growing methods we will continue to reap the benefits,” MacPherson said. Test crops are still-safe foods farmers grow alongside conventional crops as they hunt for new innovations like resistance to pests.

Wilbur-Ellis, one of the crop donors, has a branch in Pasco and didn’t want their potatoes to go to waste. The company donated more than 96,000 pounds of fresh potatoes to Second Harvest from local test plots, said company representative Stacy Kniveton.

“Wilbur Ellis as a company has always prided itself on giving back to the community.  Having a product to donate to our neighbor fits our mission very well,” Kniveton said. The crop was too small to market commercially, Kniveton said, but company officials didn’t want to throw the potatoes away. Second Harvest was a natural fit.

On-farm research, or OFR, helps farmers and consumers better understand what types of seeds, hybrids and plants work in different climates and soil types. Crops planted in test plots are a way to experiment with new types of crops and foods – to test hypotheses about growing conditions or potential modifications.

In contrast to research conducted at university experiment stations, where trials are run in tightly controlled settings, on-farm tests demonstrate how real-life factors such as different soil types, plant populations and pests affect a new practice or system.

For example, while research to determine new fertilizer or herbicide rates works well in controlled experiments, a project conducted on a farm to test confinement versus pasture for dairy calves might show results that are more applicable in real life. (University of Wisconsin Extension, 2006).