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OPN Connect Newsletter 280 · August 4, 2022

Cal Poly’s Grimm Family Center for Organic Production and Research


In November 2021, Cal Poly established the Grimm Family Center for Organic Production and Research within its College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences in San Luis Obispo, California.

The new center is a public-private partnership that resulted from discussions in 2020 between Grimmway Farms, the Grimm Family, and leadership at the Cal Poly College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences.

Global Organics Aug 2022

In 2021, the Grimm family committed $5 million to the center, and since then over $100,000 in additional funds have been raised from various other donors.

“Our mission is to provide a unique learning model developing research and innovation across disciplines, focusing on real-world issues that directly impact California’s >$11 billion organic industry,” said Matthew Grieshop, director of the Center for Organic Production and Research. “The center will support multidisciplinary research and teaching opportunities in topics related to organic soils, plant nutrition, pest management, agricultural education, and marketing.”

Matthew Grieshop, Director, Grimm Family Center for Organic Production and Research

Chelan Aug 2022

Grieshop assumed directorship of the center at the start of this year. Prior to his Cal Poly position, he spent 14 years as the Organic Pest Management Specialist at Michigan State University. He holds a BA in Environmental Studies and Agroecology from UC Santa Cruz and an MA and PhD in Entomology from Montana State University and Kansas State University, respectively.

“The center will support multidisciplinary research and teaching opportunities in topics related to organic soils, plant nutrition, pest management, agricultural education, and marketing.” - Matthew Grieshop

“My overall focus for the first six months has been leading the development of the center by developing networks with interested Cal Poly faculty, staff, and students as well as organic growers/ranchers, organic industry representatives, nonprofit organizations, and governmental agency representatives,” said Grieshop. “Along with this, I am working on renovating the Grimm Family Soil Health and Sustainability Laboratory (which will serve as the center's main on-campus lab), recruiting personnel for the center, and launching research and outreach projects. I also expect to be heavily involved in expanding the Cal Poly Student Organic Farm, with an eye towards increasing organic agriculture research opportunities for students.”

One of the main emphases of the new center will be applied research, including collaboration with industry.

Misionero Aug 2022

“The center’s research will focus on developing solutions for immediate problems/opportunities facing the California organic industry,” said Grieshop. “For Cal Poly to provide the organic industry with the research it needs, we absolutely must find ways to fund research through public-private partnerships. Cal Poly is the perfect university to do this as it has a long history of partnering directly with the agriculture industry.”

Grieshop noted that the Center for Organic Production and Research is modeled after the university’s successful Cal Poly Strawberry Center, a collaborative partnership with the California Strawberry Commission that focuses on enhancing the sustainability of the state’s strawberry industry through research and education.

“For Cal Poly to provide the organic industry with the research it needs, we absolutely must find ways to fund research through public-private partnerships. Cal Poly is the perfect university to do this as it has a long history of partnering directly with the agriculture industry.” - Matthew Grieshop

Cal-Organic Aug 2022

Though less than a year old, the Center for Organic Production and Research already has a number of research endeavors under way. It is currently conducting a student-staffed pilot study examining the nitrogen mineralization rates of various organic fertilizers at different temperatures.

Grieshop said the center also has a pending research proposal looking at “the impact of nitrate in irrigation water on organic and conventionally grown Central Coast vegetables.”

“We are also beginning pilot pest management projects,” he said. “These projects are oriented towards outreach and education. The first is to develop organic plant protectant efficacy tables and outreach materials for organic leafy greens, cole crop, blueberry, and caneberry growers. This project involves summarizing 40 years of published efficacy data and is expected to help us determine where to begin our future pest management efficacy efforts.”

Vitalis

Another project the center is working on involves informing produce buyers, consumers, and regulators about the “good” versus “bad” bugs that can be found on produce. “We want to help educate the public on how to tell the useful critters from the pests,” Grieshop said. “We want people to know that finding a few good bugs on your produce is an additional ‘certification’ that the produce is synthetic pesticide residue free.”

Though less than a year old, the Center for Organic Production and Research already has a number of research endeavors under way.

For the bug project, Grieshop is collaborating with Moses Mike, a professor in the Agricultural Education and Communication Department, to create online educational videos and infographics that are linked to QR codes and can be disseminated via social media.

Grieshop said the center also “recently submitted a $31 million proposal to the USDA’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program to develop research on how organic practices in vegetable and annual fruit crops fit into a climate-smart model and to promote the adoption of core organic practices in these systems.”

If the proposal is funded, the research will be conducted in partnership with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR), California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), the Santa Cruz and Monterey Resource Conservation Districts, and the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology.

“We are also beginning pilot pest management projects. These projects are oriented towards outreach and education.” - Matthew Grieshop

Grieshop said that as the Center for Organic Production and Research continues to develop, it will add new research projects on a variety of topics, including things like “novel cover crops for annual veggies and fruit production, evaluation of biological control delivery systems, and evaluation of new weeding systems and approaches.”

Stemilt Aug 2022

When asked what he thinks are some of the biggest opportunities for the organic produce industry, Grieshop highlighted organic farming’s effect on the climate.

Cal Poly Organic Farm

“Right now, I think the single biggest opportunity is to demonstrate that organic production is a form of climate-smart production,” he said. “We need to educate the buyers, consumers, and especially regulators and policy makers that climate-smart practices like cover cropping, crop rotations, and the use of non-synthetic fertilizers are already cornerstones of organic production. This has the potential to provide added value for the organic label, which hopefully will translate to increased premiums for growers and expansion of organic acreage and produce shelf space.”

“Right now, I think the single biggest opportunity is to demonstrate that organic production is a form of climate-smart production.” - Matthew Grieshop

Grieshop also believes the organic industry has the opportunity to fill an important need for more consumer education about agriculture. “We live in a society where less than 1.5 percent of the population identifies as farmers, yet we all eat!” he said. “One result of this is the overwhelming majority of our population is disconnected from how their food is produced. This is important because this ‘disconnected majority’ are ultimately who have the biggest voice in determining agricultural policy and regulations—at the ballot box and the cash register.”

Grieshop noted that the organic produce industry could use its “platform to educate consumers about how crops are produced and the complexity of how food gets to their tables.”

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