Moscow organic farm awarded USDA grant
Lewiston Morning Tribune
A Moscow organic farm that plans to develop mustard meal as a natural pesticide and nitrogen fertilizer for organic farmers is one of 26 recipients of the Idaho Department of Agriculture's special crop grant awards.
Paradise Farm Organics, owned by MaryJane Butters of Moscow, received $50,000 to develop the mustard meal for market. The project has been a subject of study at the University of Idaho since 1998.
Matt Morra, a UI soil biochemist, said the Paradise Farm project involves harvesting two varieties of mustard seed developed at the UI, Pacific Gold and IdaGold, crushing the seed on site and extracting the oil. The leftover meal would then be used as a soil amendment. Morra said the meal contains 5 to 6 percent nitrogen.
"Organic farmers aren't allowed to use any inorganic fertilizer, so they're locked into things like chicken manure and a kelp (seaweed) derived product, which is less than 1 percent. So this will be a big benefit."
The other use of the mustard meal will be as a pest control. Morra said mustard contains a natural pest inhibitor, the same chemical that gives mustard its hotness or pungency.
That chemical has been proven to be noncarcinogenic at low levels and is present in a number of foods, such as broccoli, cauliflower and canola.
"So you get the same kinds of compounds in all the things we already consume in our diet," Morra said. "At the concentrations we're working with, they're not considered any kind of an environmental concern. We eat them all the time."
The oil extracted from the seed will probably be returned to the university and used in its biodiesel project.
Morra said the mustard research has been going on for four years but got sidetracked when it appeared there would be no practical use for it.
"But now with the interest in organic farming and the interest in biodiesel, I think the market is there and the interest is there. It's just kind of a timing thing that everything has come together now."
He added there has been a huge surge in interest in organic gardening since 1990, the result of public interest in food safety and health and a move away from synthetic chemicals that are becoming more expensive to license and produce.
The money will be used to buy a press to manufacture the meal, hire a person to operate it, market the end product and pay for some of Morra's ongoing research.