Keeping it Green: Go west, horticulture educators
By TOM BUTZLER
(Editor: This article is the fourth in a series exploring professional opportunities for Penn State Extension agricultural educators during the 2019 summer.)
In the previous columns, I wrote about my June professional development tour of agricultural operations in Centre County. I ventured out of state in July with several educators to visit horticulture operations in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the northern portion outside of Portland. Our group chose Oregon because the greenhouse and nursery industry is their largest commodity (in terms of production value — over $1 billion) and the wide diversity of crops. The next several articles will explore this diversity.
I should have known what we were getting into (in terms of horticulture) when we stepped outside the Portland International Airport. Their multi-level parking deck was adorned with living plants. Not only do they shade the buildings and cars, it adds color to the concrete structure.
After a quick stop for lunch, the group headed to J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.’s Nursey. Here, we got an overview of the operation, from its early start to where they are now.
With the end of WWII, housing construction took off across the country and with that, a demand for plants to create a landscape. Frank Schmidt planted trees on 10 acres in the late 1940s to address that need and the family run business hasn’t looked back since. The operation now consists of several farms located over 3,000 acres. They produce over 400 species and cultivars of deciduous shade and flowering trees. And what size do you want your tree in? They produce it all, from whips (1-year old tree) to large containerized plants and everything in-between.
During the conversation of tree production, we were also introduced to certain aspects of the climate for the valley. It’s mild most of the year and is in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 8 (for reference, Lock Haven is Zone 6), so a nice long growing season.
According to the National Weather Service, the upper Willamette Valley receives 42.85 inches of precipitation a year. Very similar to our area as Lock Haven tops out at 42.64 inches a year. The big difference is when it falls. According to the National Weather Service, nearly 90 percent of the annual rainfall occurs between mid-October and mid-May. Oregonians will tell you that it rains all the time during these months. Not torrential downpours but a consistent rain, almost falling like a mist.
Come July, the spigot is turned off and nary a drop of water falls for several months. Only about 3 percent of the rain occurs in July and August (1.30 inches compared to our 8.87 inches in the same time period). Most horticultural crops, including Schmidt’s Nursey, require irrigation.
Between travel and our first tour, it was late in the day and time to head our hotel for a meal and sleep. Our overnight lodging itself was a horticulture wonderland and that is where we will pick up in the next column.
Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.