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Lost Valley founder jailed for meth in Hermiston

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Mon, 09/24/2018 - 07:34

The founder of Oregon’s second-largest dairy found himself Friday in Hermiston police handcuffs.

Hermiston police arrested Greg te Velde, 60, for felony methamphetamine possession. The resident of Tipton, Calif., was not alone. Police also arrested Sarah Cook, 38, of Hermiston for felony meth possession as well.

Officers contacted the pair late Friday during a traffic stop in the parking lot near her apartment complex at 630 S.E. Sixth St., according to Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston.

“Officers discovered suspected methamphetamine and smoking devices in plain view,” he stated, and te Velde was in possession of $7,400 cash. The police chief also reported te Velde “admitted to buying and using methamphetamine earlier in the evening with Cook.”

Officers detained the pair and searched the vehicle, where they found several grams of what appeared to be methamphetamine. Police arrested te Velde and Cook for the drugs and booked them into the Umatilla County Jail, Pendleton. Officers also seized the $7,400 and cited te Velde for driving while suspended and failing to drive on the right.

“This arrest was the start of the weekend for the team of officers that was late shift,” Edmiston said an in email. “Our officers were extremely busy making several drug and DUII arrests. We are aware Mr. Tevelde is facing numerous charges from more than one entity. We have been in consultation with the Umatilla County District Attorney’s Office.”

Court and police records also use the name Tevelde.

Te Velde founded the Lost Valley Farm, near Boardman, plus two dairies in California — GJ te Velde Ranch, Tipton, and Pacific Rim Dairy, Corcoran. He also brought on himself a slew of financial, personal and legal troubles, including drug use and patronizing prostitutes. The California bankruptcy court in September wrested control of the farms from te Velde and appointed a trustee to oversee their operations.

Oregon wine industry continues to grow

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Fri, 09/21/2018 - 07:03

A “perfect storm” of high demand and increased production carried the Oregon wine industry to significant economic growth in 2017, according to an annual study by the University of Oregon Institute for Policy Research and Engagement.

The latest Oregon Vineyard and Winery Report shows the state added 92 new vineyards and 44 new wineries in 2017, while expanding planted acres from 30,435 to 33, 631 — a 10.5 percent jump.

Overall production also rose from 79,282 tons of wine grapes valued at $167.8 million in 2016, to 91,343 tons at $191.9 million in 2017. Willamette Valley Pinot noir remains the leading variety, accounting for 58 percent of acreage and 59 percent of production.

Most new wineries, however, came out of Eastern Oregon and “at-large” wine growing regions. Eastern Oregon — home of the state’s newest American Viticultural Area, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, established in 2015 — saw 18 new wineries open in 2017, while the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon saw 13.

Total sales grew to more than $550 million in 2017, up nearly 4 percent over 2016. Though in-state sales saw a slight decrease from 593,192 cases to 579,155 cases, domestic sales outside of Oregon rose from 1.8 million cases to more than 2 million cases, and international sales exploded from 65,515 cases to 94,351 cases, bringing exports back to levels last seen in 2014.

The top export destination by a wide margin is Canada, which brought in 46,692 cases of Oregon wine, or nearly half of all Oregon wine exports. Japanese consumers bought 26 percent more Oregon wine than they did in 2016, and the United Kingdom bought 31 percent more Oregon wine.

Tom Danowski, executive director of the Oregon Wine Board, said the data shows Oregon is well positioned to compete in a fiercely competitive global wine market.

“We continue to see the marketplace recognizing quality and Oregon delivering it more consistently across more grape varieties and growing regions than ever,” Danowski said in a statement.

The majority of Oregon wine grapes continue to come from the North Willamette Valley, a region that specializes in Pinot noir, though production did increase markedly for Chardonnay, which gained nearly 1,500 tons, and Syrah, which gained roughly 1,250 tons.

Sally Murdoch, a spokeswoman for the wine board, said Oregon winemakers have garnered a reputation for quality.

“People associate Oregon wine with consistently high quality, and they are showing us with their purchases they’re willing to pay for it,” Murdoch said. “Thanks to the hard work our winemakers do in hosting tastings and landing on wine lists all over the world, we have better exposure, and the more people who taste Oregon wine, the more fans we make.”

With the increase in planted acres, Murdoch said the future continues to look bright.

“While wine is a competitive market, we now have a perfect storm of high and increasing demand for Oregon wines met with more wine grapes being grown and more wine produced,” she said.

Forests, farmland identified as mercury pollution sources

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Fri, 09/21/2018 - 06:55

Forests and farmland are identified as the major sources of mercury pollution in the Willamette basin’s waterways in a modeling study commissioned by Oregon’s environmental regulators.

The finding reflects the extent to which agriculture and timber are major land uses in the region and doesn’t necessarily blame them for causing pollution.

Nonetheless, Oregon’s natural resource industries are troubled by the implication they’ll be expected to shoulder most of the regulatory burden to reduce the mercury load.

“It will have a serious effect on people’s bottom lines for a problem they’re not even creating,” said Mary Anne Cooper, public policy counsel for the Oregon Farm Bureau.

Mercury is a neurotoxin that’s naturally found in the soil but also travels through the air from coal-burning plants in China and gets deposited on the ground in Oregon through rain.

Forestry and agriculture advocates are troubled by a modeling study conducted by Tetra Tech, an environmental consulting firm hired by Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality.

The study indicates environmental regulation can’t control the major cause of mercury pollution, since it’s coming from overseas, but it can address the “fraction of the load that reaches streams” through erosion.

“You can’t achieve the target concentration without addressing the atmospheric deposition,” said John Butcher, an environmental engineer at Tetra Tech, during a Sept. 19 meeting in Wilsonville, Ore.

At this point, the modeling study is simply Tetra Tech’s opinion, rather than official DEQ policy.

However, since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oregon’s DEQ — which enforces federal water quality standards — cannot stop China from burning coal, natural resource industry advocates worry they will be expected to solve a problem they didn’t cause.

Due to the steep reduction in mercury pollution that DEQ determined was necessary to comply with the Clean Water Act, it’s possible that even the most stringent restrictions on tilling and logging wouldn’t sufficiently lower mercury levels in fish.

Activities that disturb the soil lead to erosion, with the mercury-laden sediment winding up in waterways.

The median concentration of mercury in fish tissue is currently 0.15 milligrams per kilogram. Under the “total maximum daily load” determined by DEQ, the maximum level of mercury would have to fall to 0.04 milligrams per kilogram.

Atmospheric deposition is estimated to contribute 34 percent of the Willamette basin’s mercury load, while sediment contributes to about 43 percent — however, much of the mercury in that sediment comes from historic atmospheric deposits.

In the context of land use, the model estimates that forestland represents 45 percent of the mercury load source, followed by shrubland — which is mostly disturbed forests — at 20 percent.

Row crops were found to represent 7 percent of the load source, while the “other” category — which includes pasture and hay ground — was estimated at 11 percent. Altogether, these sources represent 83 percent of the mercury load.

Heath Curtiss, government affairs director for the Oregon Forest Industries Council, fears it’s possible that even if all forestry and farming were shut down in Oregon, mercury pollution would still exceed the DEQ’s standard.

“This water quality modeling proves this standard is unattainable,” he said. “There is literally nothing we can do to meet those target reductions.”

Arguably, farms and forests are actually “sequestering” much of the mercury by capturing the element in soil and plants, preventing all of it from going directly into waterways, said Mary Anne Cooper of the Oregon Farm Bureau.

The modeling study doesn’t acknowledge the erosion-prevention measures that farmers have already taken, she said. “It doesn’t take into account cover cropping, it doesn’t take into account riparian buffers, it doesn’t take into account restoration work or conservation tillage.”

Objections were also raised about the data used in the modeling study, much of which was collected in the 1990s, before such methods were as commonly employed by Oregon’s farmers and foresters.

“I had hair in the 1990s, which has very little relevance for today,” said Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries.

Gene Foster, DEQ’s watershed management manager, said the agency won’t ignore the strides made by natural resource industries in controlling erosion.

“We recognize a lot has happened to keep soil on the land over the past years,” he said. “We will be able to take those into account in our water quality management development.”

The EPA and DEQ are under a tight court-ordered deadline to revise how the state deals with mercury pollution.

In 2017, a judge ruled the way that EPA and DEQ had decided to implement the “total maximum daily load” standard was insufficiently strict and gave the agencies two years to revise their methods. That deadline is coming up next April, which is why DEQ has commissioned the modeling study and assembled an advisory group to confer on its plans.

At this point, the modeling study hasn’t identified which sources of mercury pollution are human-caused or would occur without logging or tilling, Foster said. The study currently differentiates among land use sources of the mercury load regardless of human activity.

Though it’s unclear whether the water quality standard can be achieved through regulation, the modeling study is the best science available to the agency, he said.

As the state implements the TMDL standard to reduce the mercury load, regulators will monitor the basin water system and respond with “adaptive management,” Foster said.

“As things progress, we learn more and adapt accordingly,” he said.

Western Innovator: Grower succeeds despite counselor’s advice

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Fri, 09/21/2018 - 06:40

As a university horticulture student, Kathy LeCompte once got some bad advice from a guidance counselor about her plan to commercially grow and sell plants.

“I was told early in my career there was no room for women in the nursery industry,” she said.

After successfully running the Brooks Tree Farm for the better part of four decades with her husband, Dave, LeCompte likes to think she and other women have helped change the negative gender stereotype espoused by her counselor.

“It turns out he was wrong,” LeCompte said.

Since starting on a 30-acre parcel in 1980, the company has grown to seven sites with 255 acres and annually sells up to 6 million plants of roughly 50 varieties.

The nursery produces conifer seedlings for multiple markets — reforestation, Christmas trees and ornamental stock — as well as native plants for habitat restoration projects.

Much of the company’s plants are field-grown, but it’s also invested in greenhouses in which they’re grown in “plugs,” or tiny containers that contain the roots, rendering them less vulnerable to drying out.

“They tend to be a lot more uniform,” LeCompte said.

Selling plants with more than one purpose has traditionally broadened the company’s base of customers, helping to insulate it from shocks to any one market.

“It helps even out production,” LeCompte said.

Brooks Tree Farm was usually far enough back in the supply chain to cushion it from economic disruptions, but the most recent “Great Recession” proved an exception to that rule.

With the severe downturn in housing, loggers weren’t cutting trees for new homes and didn’t need seedlings for replanting. At the same time, housing developers and homeowners stopped investing in landscaping, drying up demand for plants.

“It hit our nursery on both sides. We weren’t supplying the timber or the ornamental nursery trade,” LeCompte said.

To make matters worse, severe overproduction in the Christmas tree industry destroyed demand for seedlings in that sector as well.

Between 2008 and 2015, the company dumped three million Noble fir seedlings, for example, because they were getting too big to effectively harvest and ship.

“It’s not like other businesses where you can leave product on a shelf until things are better,” she said.

Fortunately, the fourth pillar of the company’s business, native plant sales, was a major factor in why the nursery survived. Environmental restoration projects are often funded by the federal government, which spent heavily to stimulate the economy during the recession.

The native plant market is inherently risky because there are relatively few buyers who can order tremendous numbers of plants.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, native species are often finicky to germinate and cultivate even though they’re grown in their natural climate.

“They just take a lot of baby-sitting,” LeCompte said.

Seeds from the cottonwood and willow spoil very quickly, for example, and the seedlings that do emerge can grow very unevenly. Meanwhile, their irrigation needs are disparate: Willows desperately need water, whereas over watering cottonwoods would quickly produce enormous, unsaleable trees.

Though native plants pose particular challenges, anticipating demand years or even decades out is a conundrum facing each of the market segments served by Brooks Tree Farm.

Knowing how many Christmas trees consumers will want, for instance, is highly speculative, LeCompte said. “We’re guessing what the market is going to need 12 to 15 years out. That’s tough.”

Now that the glut of Christmas trees has ended and housing starts have improved, there’s enough need for seedlings that a shortage has developed.

“Those trees were pushed out and now there’s an under supply,” LeCompte said.

One product that’s not as exposed to long-term trends in other industries are tiny coniferous trees that are used as gifts at weddings and funerals.

The traditional use for these trees was as “grafters” that serve as the base for other varieties, but Brooks Tree Farm also sells them in decorative boxes or champagne flutes, serving as inexpensive and flexible party favors.

Such diversification is helpful in an industry filled with uncertainties about future demand.

“Those are questions none of us knows the answers to,” LeCompte said.

Brooks Tree Farm

Owners: Kathy and Dave LeCompte

Headquarters: Brooks, Ore.

Employees: 30 year-round, up to 75 during peak harvest season.

Founded: 1980

Property: Seven locations totaling 255 acres.

Markets served: Christmas trees, reforestation, ornamental nursery stock, native habitat restoration.

Sales territory: Primarily the Pacific Northwest, but also throughout the U.S. and occasionally international.

Rangeland association calls for partnership with Forest Service

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Fri, 09/21/2018 - 06:27

A volunteer group of wildland firefighters in south-central Oregon is frustrated with the U.S. Forest Service after members were turned away from suppressing the Watson Creek fire, which would go on to burn nearly 60,000 acres.

The fire started Aug. 15 on the Fremont-Winema National Forest about 13 miles west of Paisley, Ore., spread quickly and prompted multiple evacuation notices for nearby residents in rural Lake County.

Kevin Leehmann, of Summer Lake, serves as chairman of the High Desert Rangeland Fire Protection Association, covering 1.7 million acres from Fort Rock south to Valley Falls. He was among the crew that initially responded to the Watson Creek fire when it was still only 8-10 acres in size, only to be told by the Forest Service to leave.

“We were pretty angry,” Leehmann said. “I was just dumbfounded they would turn us away.”

Rangeland fire protection associations allow local farmers and ranchers across the West to work with state and federal firefighting agencies to battle wildfires in large, remote areas. Oregon’s High Desert association formed in 2017 following the Ana fire, which burned 5,874 acres and two structures west of Ana Reservoir near Summer Lake.

“We needed this association,” Leehmann said. “I think it’s a great model.”

The association now has roughly 75 members scattered over a mix of private timberland and dry, scrubby desert. Leehmann said they have signed agreements with the Oregon Department of Forestry and Bureau of Land Management, but not with the Forest Service.

At about 3 p.m. on Aug. 15, Leehmann said the association first received reports of a fire over dispatch through the Lakeview Interagency Fire Center. They responded first to the Withers Ranch near Paisley, before determining the fire was west of Highway 31 on the national forest, outside of their jurisdictional boundaries.

Leehmann, who works as a trained firefighter and paramedic with the La Pine Rural Fire Protection District, said they got within 1,000 yards of the fire, walking in a D6 bulldozer to start digging a firebreak in thick timber and lots of dead and down fuel.

By that time, the Forest Service had taken command, and that’s when Leehmann said they were ordered to leave.

“We jut flat got shot down,” he said. “I’m not saying we would have stopped the fire, but at least we would have done something.”

Leehmann readily admits they were outside of their jurisdiction, but nonetheless were prepared to go to work. The fire made a seven-mile run overnight, leading to immediate evacuation orders for Lakeview Estates and Level 2 notices as the fire approached Paisley.

Leehmann said the association needs an agreement with the Forest Service to prevent something like this from happening again.

“If we don’t have it by next year, I’m probably going to raise holy hell over it,” he said. “It’s just ridiculous.”

Tamara Schmidt, a spokeswoman for the Fremont-Winema National Forest, said the primary issue was safety. The association arrived on scene without being dispatched, outside of their jurisdiction, and without wearing the appropriate protective gear, she said, such as Nomex shirts, pants and hard hats — an assertion Leehmann denies.

“Our first priority is firefighter and public safety,” Schmidt said. “We didn’t want them to get hurt.”

Now that things have settled down, Schmidt said the Forest Service will work this winter to reach an agreement with the High Desert association, and outfitting the group with the proper equipment.

Schmidt said the Forest Service is accustomed to working across jurisdictions on wildfires. She cited the South Central Oregon Fire Management Partnership, made up of the Forest Service, ODF, BLM, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Crater Lake National Park.

Schmidt said the Forest Service knows members of the community were frustrated following the Watson Creek fire, and appreciates their patience and understanding.

“We value and appreciate the community, and want to make sure we’re all working together, and doing it safely,” she said.

The Watson Creek fire is now 95 percent contained. The cause is still under investigation.

Onion grower, urban farmer appointed to Oregon Board of Ag

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Fri, 09/21/2018 - 06:21

A longtime onion entrepreneur from Ontario and a small urban farmer from Portland are the newest members of the Oregon Board of Agriculture.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has appointed Grant Kitamura of the Baker & Murakami Produce Co. and Shantae Johnson of Mudbone Grown farm to replace outgoing board members Tracey Liskey, a farmer in the Klamath Basin, and Laura Masterson, an organic grower from Portland.

Kitamura, an Oregon State University graduate and married father of three children, is the descendant of Japanese immigrants who “transformed his onion business into a successful, modern enterprise shipping onions nationwide,” according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which is advised by the board.

Johnson, a graduate of Portland State University who raises six children with her partner, operates a “community-oriented collective farming and farmer training program” that’s intended to teach job skills and serve “people of color and veterans of military service,” the agency said.

Both Kitamura and Johnson are expected to attend their first board meeting in McMinnville in late November.

Patients react to new limits on Oregon medical marijuana

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Thu, 09/20/2018 - 11:43

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — In August, a state analyst spotted dozens of suspicious transactions when he crunched cannabis sales data: a small number of medical marijuana cardholders bought unusually large quantities of marijuana flowers on consecutive days.

Oregon regulators suspected medical marijuana patients and caregivers were exploiting the system by buying cannabis to sell on the illicit market.

The response was swift. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, under pressure from federal officials to tackle the robust black market for marijuana, quickly issued a temporary rule that dramatically reduced the amount that medical marijuana cardholders could buy in a day.

The limit dropped from a pound and a half of marijuana to 1 ounce -- the same quantity recreational cannabis consumers are allowed to buy.

“What we saw was abuse, clear abuse of the standards,” Steve Marks, executive director of the Liquor Control Commission, said Wednesday.

Over 19 days in August, for instance, one medical marijuana cardholder bought nearly 13 pounds of cannabis. Another bought 7 pounds over 10 days that month. Officials said the questionable transactions came from a small percentage of cardholders and that the typical purchase for most cardholders was 4 grams or less.

Marks said marijuana program overseers worried that the state’s low marijuana prices enticed some cardholders to stock up and “take it to Iowa or wherever and sell for a profit.”

“We saw that happening,” he said, adding it was “a little bit of a Ponzi scheme.”

Oregon has been in the crosshairs of U.S. Justice Department leaders for not doing enough to crack down on the black market. U.S. Attorney Billy Williams has repeatedly expressed frustration with the state’s failure to contain production and he’s chided top officials for not devoting enough resources to oversight and enforcement.

On Wednesday, patients and advocates for the medical marijuana program blasted the new limits at a contentious meeting of the state’s rules advisory committee.

Advocates said medical marijuana patients sometimes need large quantities of the drug to make products they rely on to treat their conditions and they accused the state of meddling with medicine.

The rules committee, made up of marijuana industry participants and advocates, called on the Liquor Control Commission to restore daily purchase limits to 24 ounces.

The at-times boisterous crowd included some of the same activists who have long championed Oregon’s 20-year-old medical marijuana program since its early days. For many, the rule reflects the latest change to a program that has experienced a steep drop-off in participation since voters approved recreational marijuana in 2014.

State statistics show Oregon has about 39,000 medical marijuana patients, down from 78,000 in 2015. The number of grow sites serving three or more patients has also plummeted from about 4,000 in 2015 to about 800 today, according to Anthony Taylor, a longtime advocate.

Cannabis is tax-free for medical marijuana patients. They also are allowed to buy more potent edibles and oils than recreational users, and until the latest rule change, they could buy more cannabis flower.

It remains a vital program for those who remain, supporters said.

Brent Kenyon, a licensed producer, processor and retailer based in Medford, accused regulators of scapegoating medical marijuana cardholders for black market diversion when recreational producers do the same.

“You cannot punish everybody for the few bad actors,” he said. “You can’t do it. It’s not good policy.”

During a particularly tense exchange, Jesse Sweet, the lawyer who has helped draft the state’s rules for Oregon’s legal marijuana market, asked Dr. Rachel Knox, a member of the advisory committee, to explain why one person would need so much cannabis.

“I need you to explain to me why a patient needs 6 pounds of flower,” he said. Knox countered by saying the state had no proof that the transactions were linked to illegal activity and she wouldn’t rule out that one person could have a legitimate medical need for a large quantity.

It was a claim that Sweet found incredulous, using an expletive to express his disbelief.

Sweet, the administrative policy and process director for the Liquor Control Commission, then got up and walked out of the crowded meeting. He eventually returned and apologized for losing his temper.

Marks, after the meeting, struck a diplomatic note, saying he was encouraged by the lively discussion and some of the advocates’ proposals, including allowing patients to buy more marijuana based on a doctor’s recommendation.

“We are going to look at it,” he said. “We are listening.”

Oregon sees low-oxygen seasons in coastal waters

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Thu, 09/20/2018 - 08:52

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The waters off Oregon’s coast now have a season of low oxygen caused by warming ocean temperatures, according to scientists.

The coastal waters go through an annual season of hypoxia, a condition resulting in the deaths of sea organisms as dissolved oxygen decreases in water near the ocean floor, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported this week.

The low-oxygen season is much like the state’s wildfire season, said Francis Chan, co-chair of the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel.

“Every summer we live on the knife’s edge and during many years we cross the threshold into danger, including the past two years,” Chan said. “When oxygen levels get low enough, many marine organisms who are place-bound, or cannot move away rapidly enough, die of oxygen starvation.”

Some of the first signs of hypoxia appeared in 2002, when dead crabs were hauled up in crab pots. Hypoxia was rarely recorded last century, but it has been observed almost annually since 2002, Chan said.

Warmer ocean temperatures trigger excessive phytoplankton blooms, which take oxygen out of the water when they die and sink to the ocean floor. The problem has been exacerbated by the lack of mixing ocean waters. Changing wind patterns have led to the stratification of ocean layers.

“Scientists keep saying that the ocean is changing along with the climate, and people are beginning to get in tune,” said Jack Barth, an Oregon State University oceanographer and co-chair of the Oregon Coordinating Council on Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia. “They see the heat waves and all the smoke from wildfires and are beginning to realize that this is something different.”

Purdue grape team offers expertise boosting Indiana wineries

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Thu, 09/20/2018 - 08:42

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bruce Bordelon, professor of viticulture at Purdue University, is fretting about the weather. The state is getting way too much rain, which plays havoc with maturing grapes. Excess moisture can cause them to burst, and encourages mold and other harvest-damaging ailments.

“It has rained every week since the last week of July,” Bordelon said. “That’s the worst thing that can possibly happen. That’s why so many of the nation’s grapes are grown in California and Washington and Oregon, where they don’t get summer rains during the ripening phase.”

Still, things could be worse. Just a couple of decades ago, Indiana had virtually no wine-grape crop to worry about. Today, the annual harvest (and the 2.4 million gallons of wine it makes) generates an economic impact of $600 million, sustains 4,000 full-time jobs, and pays $37 million in state and local taxes and $38 million in federal taxes.

Much of the credit for the rise of Indiana’s wine industry belongs to a tiny Purdue University program that goes by the unlikely name of the Purdue Wine Grape Team. Over the last two decades, this four-person cadre of experts has been instrumental both in husbanding the local winemaking industry and in raising its profile nationwide.

“Tens of thousands of people have taken our classes and attended the events we coordinated,” said Christian Butzke, professor of enology (winemaking) and a member of the Purdue Wine Grape Team. “That’s how we reach a lot farther than just teaching at Purdue.”

Indiana had a thriving (though somewhat rustic) wine industry during the 18th and 19th centuries, but Prohibition killed it on the vine. A revival began in 1971 when the Indiana General Assembly, nudged by Indiana University law professor (and winemaking hobbyist) William Oliver, passed the Indiana Small Winery Act that allowed for the creation of small Indiana winemakers. A year later, Oliver opened Oliver Winery, which has grown to become Indiana’s largest.

Initially, however, only a handful of operations set up shop. The Indiana Wine Grape Council was established by the Indiana General Assembly in 1989 to goose growth by disseminating winemaking research and providing marketing help. It’s funded by a portion of the 5-cent excise tax on every gallon of wine sold in Indiana, a fund that also pays the salaries of the Purdue Wine Grape Team. The tax generates about $550,000 a year.

Founded in 1991, the team is an agricultural extension program composed of enology, viticulture and marketing specialists who assist Indiana winemakers and grape growers. Team members (who include, along with Butzke and Bordelon, Katie Barnett and Jill Blume) come from Purdue’s departments of Food Science and Horticulture & Landscape Architecture.

“Purdue is renowned,” said Michel Pascal, co-owner of Carroll Wine & Spirits, a Fishers-based fine-wine and spirits distributor. The state has nearly 100 wineries, he said, “and all of them use Purdue as a research tool. And when I travel to California and talk about Purdue, people know exactly what’s going on. They know what it is.”

That’s quite a compliment for a program that’s not a school or department and doesn’t even offer so much as an undergraduate minor. Though Butzke has for years taught a popular wine-appreciation class that draws 250-plus students for each session, the team’s extension efforts — encompassing everything from soil analysis to fact-finding tours of vineyards around the world — is the chief reason Indiana now contains 98 wineries, compared with about 10 in 1991.

“I think the fact that Purdue had a program, and we were able to help them, is what helped give them the confidence to do it,” Bordelon said.

“Many operations around the state went ahead with five-acre, 10-acre plantings. That probably wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been here to offer workshops, to do things to show what they could grow and how to grow it, and to put together publications to show how to manage crop loads. We provided the support they needed to gain the confidence to grow the industry.”

One of Purdue Wine Grape Team’s biggest success stories is Oliver. When it opened in 1972, Oliver sold a respectable 2,000 cases of wine. Now it sells about 430,000 cases annually, in 26 states.

But CEO Bill Oliver, son of founder William Oliver, said there was a time back in the 1990s when Oliver almost gave up on growing its own grapes. The Indiana weather was just too changeable. Bordelon pitched in to turn things around, Oliver said.

“He was tremendously helpful in helping us solve problems,” he said. “And Lord knows you’ve got a lot of problems growing grapes in Indiana. We have 60 acres now, but I don’t know if we’d have even one if it weren’t for Purdue.”

The program also reaches beyond the state’s borders. It’s swollen the ranks of Indiana-born winemakers and vineyard owners worldwide, with Purdue Wine Grape Team disciples ranging as far afield as Napa Valley and New Zealand.

“Purdue’s enology and viticulture program is nationally recognized,” said Dan Howard, executive director of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture.

People touched by the grape team’s programs form part of a worldwide diaspora of Hoosiers who’ve made it big in the wine industry.

For instance, one of Butzke’s graduate assistants, Patty Skinkis, received a doctorate in viticulture at Purdue and is now an associate professor and viticulture extension specialist for the highly regarded wine program at Oregon State University.

Kokomo native (and Purdue grad) Erik Miller owns the well-regarded Kokomo Winery in Dry Creek Valley, California; Purdue graduate Mike Sweeney owns Oregon’s Cherry Hill Winery; and another Purdue alum, Laurine Leep Apolloni, owns Apolloni Vineyards in Oregon.

Apolloni majored in mechanical engineering at Purdue and didn’t get fully into wine until after she graduated, but that’s not an uncommon career path in the vineyard biz.

“What you find in the wine industry is a lot of former engineers and scientists who have a passion for wine, and who transfer their problem-solving and technical skills to the areas of viticulture and enology,” she said.

Butzke makes a point of keeping in touch with such Purdue grads, whether they were part of the school’s wine programs or not.

He invites them to speak at his wine appreciation class, and to serve as judges at the annual Indy International Wine Competition, the 27th edition of which was completed in June, and for which he’s chief judge. The world-renowned gathering brings in competitors from all over the world.

Purdue cuts a high profile because it’s a fairly big fish in a small pond. When it comes to agricultural enterprises, the entire wine industry pales in comparison to crops such as corn, wheat or even tomatoes.

As Butzke points out, only about 20 million acres worldwide are planted in grapes — a mere fraction of the 350 million acres of cropland in America alone. And Indiana has only about 600 acres of grapes, which barely amounts to a rounding error when compared to its 16 million acres of prime agricultural land.

“We often say in the wine industry that there’s hardly ever more than one or two degrees of separation between anybody anywhere in the industry,” Butzke said. “It’s an international community, but it’s also a local one.”

But still, that small parcel is responsible for thousands of jobs that didn’t exist 20 years ago.

The university has facilitated that growth, helping people who want to start a winery, providing continuing education to those already in the industry, and helping train future winery employees.

Anne Zwink, a Purdue graduate who spent a great deal of time under Butzke’s tutelage (and who went on to earn a master’s degree in food science with a focus on enology from Washington State University), couldn’t agree more.

She’s now the winemaker at Soldier Creek Winery in Iowa, which — like Indiana — is in the midst of a prolonged effort to stoke its grape industry.

“Every state has a handful of wineries, but that number is growing year after year,” Zwink said. “It’s definitely an industry that’s up and coming.”

Even after this year’s truly awful grape-growing weather, Bill Oliver is upbeat. He noted that the previous three years were fine.

“You’ve got to take the good with the bad in agriculture,” he said.

As for the future of Indiana’s wine industry, he thinks there’s plenty of room for even more growth, a view he didn’t always hold.

“It you’d have asked me eight or 10 years ago, I’d have said it’s as big as it’s ever going to get,” Oliver said. “But now it’s probably three times larger than it was then.”

Airport grant worries farmland preservationists

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Wed, 09/19/2018 - 08:18

Farmer Mike Iverson grows fresh market vegetables along both sides of the Aurora State Airport, so a prospective runway expansion makes him nervous for several reasons.

An immediate concern would be any disruption to traffic on Keil Road, which runs directly south of the airport and is necessary for him to transport workers and equipment back and forth.

Noise and pollution from added air traffic are worrisome to Iverson, who is also troubled by the implications for development on surrounding farmland from a more bustling airport.

While such concerns about increasing the runway from 5,000 feet to 6,000 feet are nothing new, an upcoming proposal from the Oregon Department of Aviation has Iverson and other opponents on high alert.

On Sept. 26, the agency will ask the Oregon Emergency Board — which makes funding decisions when the legislature isn’t in session — for permission to apply for a $33.3 million federal grant to expand the Aurora airport’s runway.

The fear is that if the Federal Aviation Administration approves the application, proponents of the controversial proposal will be emboldened to sidestep normal regulations to expand the runway.

“There was no public process and they’re trying to bypass the public process now,” said Iverson.

The Oregon Department of Aviation counters that even if the Emergency Board does authorize applying for the grant, that hardly means the runway expansion would be exempt from requirements by local, state and federal governments.

“Once the money is there, it doesn’t circumvent the permitting or planning process,” said Matthew Maass, the agency’s state airports manager.

Increasing the runway’s length has already been extensively discussed during a “master planning” process for the airport, also paid for by the FAA, and the grant application is just another incremental step, he said.

The FAA doesn’t subscribe to a philosophy of “if you build it, they will come” — it only funds such expansions for airports that have demonstrated their operations are already constrained, Maass said.

A study of the Aurora airport determined that more than 500 aircraft operate at less than fully capacity by taking on less fuel or cargo to adapt to the shorter runway, he said.

Extending the runway by 1,000 feet would allow these aircraft to gain more airspeed and improve their lift, letting them take on more fuel and cargo, he said. Agricultural traffic could still be accommodated if the runway were longer.

“They are going to fund it based on the existing need today,” Maass said, while acknowledging the expansion could increase air traffic at the facility.

If the runway was extended, the state would buy more land south of the facility to protect the airspace, but new buildings wouldn’t be allowed in that area, he said. “Our intent would be to keep that farmland because it protects the approach to the airport.”

Opponents of the project are dubious whether the runway extension would ever face full regulatory scrutiny, partly because of House Bill 4092, which would have eased land use laws for such an airport expansion onto farmland.

The bill died in committee earlier this year, but it’s likely other legislation could again be proposed to “super-site” the expansion — especially if the funding is already in hand, said Ken Ivey, chairman of the Aurora-Butteville-Barlow Community Planning Organization.

“They don’t want to go through the land use planning, they don’t want the community involved,” he said. “They will hammer a square peg into a round hole because they have the funding.”

Federal agency withholds $500K for Oregon water study

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Wed, 09/19/2018 - 08:06

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (AP) — The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is withholding $500,000 allocated for a water quality study of Oregon’s Upper Klamath Lake, citing potential budget cuts.

The bureau’s Klamath Basin Area Office Manager Jeff Nettleton told the Klamath Tribes that the funding will be reprogramed to other activities to avoid losing that money, the Herald and News reported .

In an email last month to the tribes, Nettleton said the bureau is expecting budget cuts between 13 percent and 20 percent next year. He said the office will continue to work with the tribes to “close out the current agreement and evaluate the possibilities for future funding of the key activities under the agreement, but that future is uncertain due to budget cuts and other issues.”

Negotiations about water allocation agreements cannot proceed until there is progress on improving water quality, Klamath Tribal Chairman Don Gentry said in a statement.

“In what can only be described as a giant step backwards, the federal government recently pulled funding for critical water quality research that could help us understand how to make the lake safer for people, fish, birds and other wildlife,” Gentry said.

The lack of funding and enforcement staffing is halting progress on reducing to the flow of damaging nutrients into the lake, Gentry said. The tribes have been working with the state Department of Agriculture, state Department of Environmental Quality, and local landowners to make reductions.

“The Tribes believe that the declining health of the lake and surrounding ecosystem is a community issue, one that can be solved with local collaboration to the benefit of all,” Gentry said.

Hazelnut industry aims to inspire culinary uses

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Wed, 09/19/2018 - 05:59

Representatives of food manufacturers and food service companies recently attended a tour of Oregon’s hazelnut industry intended to inspire new culinary uses for the crop.

The Sept. 13 tour was organized by the Oregon Hazelnut Marketing Board and included stops at a hazelnut orchard and a processing plant, followed by a hazelnut cooking session at Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center in Portland.

The ultimate goal is to have consumers encounter more hazelnuts in new contexts, hopefully driving consumption of the staple Oregon crop, whose production is expected rise significantly in coming years, said Patrick Gabrish, vice president of sales and marketing for the Hazelnut Growers of Oregon cooperative.

“If you enjoy the product in one format, you’re more likely to enjoy it in more formats,” Gabrish said.

Oregon is the country’s top hazelnut producer, with about 70,000 acres of orchards in the ground and thousands more planted each year. Much of that acreage isn’t yet of bearing age, which means the industry is facing tremendous growth.

China, which has traditionally consumed roughly 60 percent of Oregon’s crop, can’t absorb all the new production and so the industry needs to create a stable domestic market, Gabrish said.

With so many of Oregon’s hazelnuts going overseas, the industry hasn’t had the opportunity to familiarize U.S. consumers with new uses for the crop as it will in the next few years, he said.

Fortunately, modern chefs and food makers aren’t as constrained by what distributors provide as they were in years past — they come from a generation that’s accustomed to doing its own research and tracking down ingredients, Gabrish said.

Part of the solution will fall to processors, who must provide hazelnut ingredients in packages that are well suited to individual companies, he said. For example, restaurants won’t want the industrial-scale pails of hazelnut butter that manufacturers use.

Consumers often see hazelnuts in confectionery goods, but one new product developed by the Northwest Hazelnut Co. takes the crop in a different direction.

The processor teamed up with Esotico, an artisan food company in Silverton, Ore., to create a hazelnut pasta based on Italian recipes.

Esotico has sold the pasta at farmers’ markets and it’s attracting new customers, which will hopefully inspire others to find innovative uses for hazelnuts, said Naomi Inman, public relations director for the Northwest Hazelnut Co.

Aside from imparting a unique flavor, the hazelnuts boost the pasta’s protein content to 11 grams per serving, she said.

“We’re hoping other manufacturers — especially large ones — catch on to savory uses for hazelnuts,” Inman said.

Statistics bear out the positive reception that hazelnut products are likely to encounter: In 2017, 47 percent of consumers surveyed said they considered the crop “very healthy,” up from 24 percent in 2006, according to an Oregon Hazelnut Marketing Board study.

About 49 percent of survey respondents reported eating hazelnuts at least once a month, compared to 33 percent in 2006, the study said.

“Consumers are starting to get almond fatigue, which I think is a pretty big opportunity for hazelnuts,” said Jason Ball, research chef at OSU’s Food Innovation Center.

Though Hazelnuts have the reputation of being seen as special, that shouldn’t discourage their regular usage, said Sarah Masoni, product and process development director at the center.

“We want it to be a daily use item,” she said.

Oregon judge won’t let animals sue

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Tue, 09/18/2018 - 06:44

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A judge has tossed a lawsuit filed by animal rights activists in the name of a once-neglected horse, finding that animals don’t have a right to sue.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports in doing so, Washington County Pro Tem Judge John Knowles on Monday refused to become the first judge in the nation to grant a non-human legal standing to sue.

Lawyers from the Animal Legal Defense Fund had urged Knowles to let the 8-year-old horse sue for lifelong costs of medical care after the horse was discovered in March 2017 covered in lice, 300 pounds underweight and with frostbitten genitals.

Its former owner, Gwendolyn Vercher of Cornelius, was convicted of animal neglect and paid some $3,700 in restitution.

Lawyer Matthew Liebman argued that animals are sentient beings and noted that animals can be listed as “victims” of neglect or abuse in criminal cases.

Solar developer challenges project denial

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Tue, 09/18/2018 - 06:34

A solar developer claims Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals should order Yamhill County to reconsider its rejection of a solar facility on farmland.

Earlier this year, the county government denied a conditional use permit for the 12-acre solar panel array on land zoned for “exclusive farm use” near Yamhill, Ore.

The developer, Yamhill Creek Solar, appeared before LUBA on Sept. 13 arguing the decision should be remanded to the county because the rejection was based on speculative concerns that weren’t supported by sufficient evidence.

Damien Hall, the company’s attorney, said the county’s decision demonstrated a “plain case of bias,” pointing to one commissioner’s remarks supporting stronger restrictions on solar facilities that were later adopted.

The county also effectively required the solar development to have “zero impacts” from soil compaction, which is an excessively high standard that misinterprets Oregon’s land use law, Hall said.

Pilings driven into the ground to support solar panels aren’t much different from the fence posts that are commonly seen throughout rural areas, he said.

“They do not create compaction in any way that’s unfarmable,” Hall said, noting that such a high threshold would effectively preclude solar facilities anywhere in Yamhill County.

Opponents of the installation have incorrectly indicated the project would “pave over” farmland when it would actually be eventually decommissioned after 30 years, he said.

“There are no impervious surfaces proposed beneath the panels,” Hall said.

The developer argued that solar panels wouldn’t adversely affect surrounding farm uses, but the county nonetheless found the facility was a “character-changing use” that would hinder the success of the wine industry, which relies on a pastoral landscape.

Not only is this interpretation of state land use law overly broad, but the county had no evidence of wineries or agritourism in the project’s near vicinity, Hall said. “There is no agritourism.”

Atticus Wine, an opponent of the project that intervened in the case, argued that Yamhill County properly supported the denial of the conditional use permit and wasn’t biased in its decision.

The statement made by one commissioner about a proposed ordinance for solar facilities was simply a political sentiment that elected officials are allowed to express, said Jennifer Bragar, attorney for the intervenor.

Bragar said findings that the project didn’t meet the standards necessary for a conditional use permit were well back-up with evidence by the county.

For example, the county wasn’t compelled to accept the developer’s plan for mitigating soil compaction and erosion as complying with its standards, she said.

“There were open questions that were never responded to,” Bragar said.

Driving pilings into the ground every few feet isn’t the same as a fenceline, and it’s unclear what the long-term impacts would be, she said.

Yamhill County correctly interpreted land use criteria in deciding preserving farmland weighed stronger in this case than expanding renewable energy production, particularly since there’s “plenty of other land” for development, she said.

“The county didn’t ignore anything the petitioner brought up,” Bragar said. “There are many reasons to deny this application.”

An opinion in the case is expected to be issued by LUBA by Oct. 3.

Funding available to curb sudden oak death in SW Oregon

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Tue, 09/18/2018 - 05:56

The Oregon Department of Forestry and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service are partnering to help private landowners in southwest Oregon slow the spread of an invasive tree-killing disease known as “sudden oak death.”

Since the mid-1990s, the disease has devastated millions of susceptible trees in California, including tanoak, coast live oak, Shreve’s oak and California black oak. The disease was first discovered in Curry County, Ore., in 2001. The Oregon Department of Agriculture immediately quarantined a 9-square-mile area, which has since grown to 525 square miles, roughly one-third of the county.

NRCS Oregon has requested up to $500,000 through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to reimburse landowners for removing infected trees. Priority will be given to landowners within the quarantine area, which stretches from Brookings north to Gold Beach, though anyone who has the disease on their property is eligible to apply for assistance.

Known by the initials SOD, the disease is caused by the fungus-like pathogen Phytophthora ramorum. The disease thrives in wet forest environments, and spreads via airborne and waterborne spores. Symptoms include bleeding cankers on the tree’s trunk and dieback of foliage, eventually killing the tree.

Randy Wiese, the lead forester working on SOD for the Oregon Department of Forestry, said there is no cure for the disease. Infected tanoaks are cut down, piled and burned, along with all tanoaks in a 30-foot radius.

While SOD can infect adjacent Douglas-fir trees, Wiese said the disease is generally non-lethal in conifers.

“Most species, it will get into them and it’s just sort of there,” he said.

Wiese, who joined ODF in 2010, said the problem in Curry County is getting worse every year. They are now battling two strains of sudden oak death, including the North American strain and an even more aggressive European strain. The top two areas for treatment he said, are along the Winchuck and Pistol rivers.

“The European strain is our focus,” Wiese said. “If we can, we’ll do a larger treatment because of the aggressiveness and the concern.”

SOD is a hazard for landowners because dead trees pose an increased fire and safety risk, Wiese said. From an economic perspective, the quarantine has burdened Curry County with restrictions severely limiting firewood sales and other forest products.

The state quarantine prohibits harvesting tanoak from known infested areas, though producers can request a “pest-free production site” permit within the quarantine from ODA and ODF.

Curry County is the only location of sudden oak death in Oregon forests, though ODA has also found the disease in a small number of nurseries since 2003. More than 135 plants have been proven to be hosts, with the five most common including camellia, pieris, rhododendron, viburnum and kalmia. If SOD is found, a nursery must follow a strict USDA protocol that includes a quarantine, destruction of infected plants, tracing the source of host plants and three years of inspection and sampling to assure SOD is no longer present.

For more information, or to apply for NRCS funding to remove trees stricken with sudden oak death, contact district conservationist Eric Moeggenberg at 541-824-8091.

Legal pot business owner sentenced for federal tax crimes

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Mon, 09/17/2018 - 13:18

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A part-owner and operator of medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon was sentenced to seven years in prison Monday, marking what a prosecutor called the county’s first federal sentencing of a legal pot business owner for tax crimes.

Matthew Price also was ordered to pay $262,776 restitution to the Internal Revenue Service during sentencing in federal court in Portland, the Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Price, 32, pleaded guilty to four counts of willfully failing to file income tax returns in connection with his Cannabliss stores in Portland and Eugene. Price admitted that he didn’t file individual tax returns from 2011 through 2014 for income received from the operation of the dispensaries.

An investigation into Price started after the IRS discovered he hadn’t paid employment taxes for his employees.

Price failed to report nearly $1 million of income and disregarded advice from three different certified public accountants who warned him not to use his business money to pay personal expenses, Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Uram said. Price did anyway, spending $67,000 in cash on a sports car, $15,000 in cash on a Rolex watch, and other income on vacations, homes and season tickets to the Portland Trailblazers, Uram said.

Price’s defense lawyer, Whitney Boise, had urged probation for Price, saying he has no prior criminal record, has accepted responsibility, has nearly paid off the restitution and already has suffered. Price wasn’t sure what could or couldn’t be deducted from his taxable income, was unorganized and wasn’t comfortable with the advice he received from his accountants, Boise said.

U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman said he didn’t fully accept the defense’s explanation that Price didn’t comprehend his tax obligations.

“It’s true you didn’t walk into this with an MBA,” Mosman said. But it’s also clear Price has the intelligence to understand “one of the most basic obligations of running a business,” the judge said.

Price, who apologized in court, must turn himself in on Nov. 1.

Whether he’ll be able to continue in his marijuana business until then, or after prison, will be decided at a hearing Friday. The matter arises because use or sale of marijuana remains prohibited under federal law and is a standard prohibition during federal supervision.

There was a tax-related prosecution 12 years ago in Detroit of a “back-door”’-type marijuana dispensary, but not a legal business such as the one Price ran, Uram said.

Heat, smoke not expected to diminish Oregon potato harvest

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Mon, 09/17/2018 - 07:12

Months of intense heat and smoky skies are not expected to diminish Oregon’s potato crop, with farmers across the state predicting average to above-average yields heading into the bulk of harvest.

Bill Brewer, CEO of the Oregon Potato Commission, said the overall impact of wildfire smoke is yet to be determined in spuds, but he has not heard of any major setbacks or problems with quality.

Hot weather can be hard on certain potato varieties, such as Russet Burbank — the gold standard for french fries — though in general, Brewer said he anticipates a roughly average harvest statewide and good quality potatoes.

“The higher heat during the summertime has been a bit of an issue, only on select varieties,” Brewer said. “So far, I have not heard any other negatives about other growing conditions.”

About 70 percent of Oregon potatoes are grown in the Columbia Basin around Hermiston and Boardman. Potatoes ranked as the seventh-most valuable agricultural commodity in the state in 2017, raking in $176.9 million.

Marty Myers, general manager of Threemile Canyon Farms near Boardman, said the growing season got off to a good start with warm weather early in the spring. Crews began harvesting early season potatoes on July 10, and Myers said yields have generally been very good.

Threemile Canyon Farms grows 9,000 acres of mostly conventional and some organic russets, all for local food processors. Myers said it is still too early to tell if triple-digit heat and smoke in July and August has impacted full season potatoes. Harvest just began Sept. 12, and will likely run through Oct. 20-25.

“Early season was very warm, and things looked pretty good,” Myers said. “Then summer heat comes in like it does every year and knocks us back a little bit. ... We always know it’s going to get hot over the summer, and at periods we’re going to have smoke.”

Brewer said he believes the smoke does have an effect on potato production, blocking sunlight needed by the plants and possibly altering taste, but more research is needed to back up anecdotal evidence.

Dan Chin, who runs Chin Family Farms Organic outside Merrill in the Klamath Basin, said they were socked in by smoke from wildfires raging in southern Oregon and northern California for a solid month and a half.

“A lot of times, you couldn’t see more than a couple of miles, or a mile,” Chin said. “It was pretty intense.”

However, Chin theorizes the smoke actually helped his potatoes this year by lowering the heat and causing the plants to put more energy into the tubers. He started harvesting Sept. 12, and said both size and quality are looking good.

“Just looking at it last year and this year, we’re seeing a little trend that the smoke didn’t really hurt our sizing and yield as much as we thought it might,” Chin said. “As far as our crop is concerned, we’re pretty happy with it.”

That being said, Chin said they definitely do not want smoke every year, which makes it harder for employees to work outside.

Mark Ward, chairman of the Oregon Potato Commission, farms 160 acres of potatoes on the north edge of Baker City. He is targeting Sept. 24 to begin harvest, and like others, expects to see solid yields.

Ward exclusively supplies potatoes to Simplot for making french fries. He said this summer’s heat, including five days of triple-digit temperatures, may increase the likelihood of sugar ends, a defect in potatoes that results in unappealing brown ends.

“We won’t know that until we deliver some potatoes,” Ward said. “If you were managing your water properly, you should be OK.”

The Baker Valley also experienced 10 days of smoke so thick the surrounding Elkhorn Mountains couldn’t be seen, Ward said, which may affect potato yields, though he does not see it being a tremendous problem.

“Just what I’ve seen doing our little hand-digs, they look good,” Ward said.

Attack prompts questions on whether to kill more cougars

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Mon, 09/17/2018 - 06:51

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — What happens now?

In the wake of Oregon’s first fatal attack by a cougar — and the second deadly attack in the Northwest this year — the question of how best to manage the state’s big cat population has reached the forefront.

Even before a cougar attacked and killed 55-year-old hiker Diana Bober in Mount Hood National Forest last week, mountain lions were already in the public eye.

Their increasing numbers — an estimated 6,600 statewide — have pushed the predators closer to Oregon’s population centers, officials said. That’s led to a series of high-profile incidents in The Dalles, Ashland, Silverton and Dallas.

Complaints about cougars have tripled in the Willamette Valley since 2011. And the number of cougars killed due to human or livestock conflicts reached 169 animals in 2016, according to state records.

Hunters say they’ve seen the problem coming for years, ever since a ballot initiative in 1994 outlawed the use of hounds to hunt cougars.

They say it eliminated the most effective tool for managing cougar numbers and allowed the population to skyrocket.

“This is a statistical problem now,” said Jim Akenson, a longtime cougar biologist now working for the Oregon Hunters Association. “The more cougars you have on the landscape, the greater the chance of a negative encounter. If their numbers continue to grow, you do worry about this happening again.”

Akenson said reinstating hound hunting would not only bring cougar numbers down to healthier levels — around 3,500 animals statewide, he said — it would also reestablish a greater fear of humans in animals increasingly brazen about showing up in populated areas, he said.

Akenson said he’d take a county-by-county approach, looking to cap cougar numbers based on local conditions.

Environmental groups strongly disagree. They point out how rare fatal attacks by cougars are and say hunting causes more problems than it fixes.

“This is an absolute tragedy — a person has died — but we have to remember that this is very, very rare,” said Dr. John W. Laundre, a professor at Western Oregon University and a board member of the environmental group Predator Defense.

This is Oregon’s first confirmed fatal attack over a long history, he noted.

Three people have been killed in California and Colorado in cougar attacks, while two have died in Washington, including earlier this year, when a cougar attacked two mountain bikers near North Bend, killing one of them.

“If you look at it objectively, how few incidents occur really speaks to how well cougars live with us,” Laundre said. “Deer kill far more people than cougars by being on the highway and getting hit by a car. Should we wipe out every deer seen near a road?”

In terms of management, hunting is actually among the worst ways to control a population, Laundre said.

Oregon sport hunters killed an average of 261 cougars each year during the past decade, according to state numbers, even as cougar numbers kept increasing.

“There’s no evidence that hunting reduces cougar numbers,” Laundre said.

Even worse, he said, “using sport hunting as a way of controlling them kills animals that aren’t causing any problems, it disrupts the social order, so you have these young male cats that don’t get the training they need.”

Laundre suggested California’s model, which removes mountain lions that cause problems but hasn’t allowed sport hunting since 1990. California’s population is estimated at between 4,000 and 6,000 animals.

Hunters say they could control the population, but need hounds to achieve that goal.

“The harvest of (cougars) would be doubled if hounds were allowed,” Akenson said. “Plus, they impart a man-fear response from cougars that tends to keep cats more wary.”

Cougars were once abundant in Oregon, but similar to other predators, such as wolves, that started to change with the arrival of settlers in the 1800s.

Before Oregon was even an official state, bounties were placed on cougars. The bounty was $10 per animal in 1911 and $25 by 1925.

“The most effective and devastating method was poison,” Derek Broman, carnivore coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the Statesman Journal earlier this year.

The number of animals dropped sharply to an estimated 200 by the 1960s.

But, unlike wolves, cougars never went extinct in Oregon. A few pockets remained, mostly in the southwest and northeast.

“My belief is that unlike wolves, which are pack animals and easier to find, cougars are solitary and prefer really difficult terrain for humans,” Broman said. “They likely persisted because there were pockets of them where humans just couldn’t reach.”

In 1967 cougars were declared a “game animal” and subject to regulation by state officials. Bag limits were established for hunting cougars, which allowed their numbers to rebound to around 2,000 animals by 1987, according to ODFW.

Should there be a statewide cap on cougars?

Once the number of cougars rebounded, their numbers continued to grow and expand into just about any place with a food source — mainly, deer and elk.

The number of cougars increased at a consistent clip, growing steadily to today’s estimated total of 6,600.

A big question has been whether the state should establish a hard cap on cougar numbers.

Broman told the Statesman Journal earlier this year that they project Oregon being able to support around 7,600 cougars statewide, although that wasn’t a number they necessarily believe they’ll reach.

“The arrival of wolves has brought a lot of uncertainty, so trying to pick a hard number right now would be tricky and might end up being inaccurate in the future,” Broman said.

For the moment, state officials haven’t commented on whether the current situation will mean any change in cougar management policy going forward.

Trustee to take over management of troubled dairies

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Fri, 09/14/2018 - 09:47

A bankruptcy judge in California will appoint a trustee to operate Lost Valley Farm, Oregon’s second-largest dairy, after finding owner Greg te Velde is “unwilling, or unable to comply with his duties as a fiduciary.”

The ruling, handed down Sept. 12, states te Velde has continued his long-standing pattern of drug use and gambling while owing creditors $160 million — including $68 million to Rabobank, a Netherlands-based agricultural lender.

In addition to Lost Valley Farm near Boardman, Ore., te Velde will lose control of his two dairies in California — GJ te Velde Ranch in Tipton, and Pacific Rim Dairy in Corcoran — with a combined total of 53,382 cattle.

When reached Friday, te Velde said he had no comment on the ruling.

The U.S. Department of Justice asked Judge Frederick Clement to appoint a trustee for all three of te Velde’s dairies, citing his alleged drug use, gambling and lack of financial transparency. Since filing for bankruptcy, te Velde has continued to use methamphetamine two or three times per week, and has gambled away $2,000 to $7,000 per month, according to court documents.

Te Velde has blamed his financial problems not on his lifestyle, but rather on market forces outside his control, such as low milk prices and construction cost overruns at Lost Valley. But creditors in court papers say they believe that “darker forces have caused his insolvency, or if not the cause, preclude te Velde from effectively resolving his debt problems.”

Te Velde also does not abide by the orders of the bankruptcy court, Clement stated in his ruling. For example, after declaring bankruptcy, te Velde borrowed $205,000 from Pasco Farms without court approval. Between May 8 and June 2, te Velde was authorized to personally withdraw $10,000, but instead took $38,420, explaining he was “unaccustomed to personal bank accounts, took the cash he needed, and authorized his bookkeeper to pay his personal bills from the dairy accounts.”

Lost Valley Farm opened in April 2017 after receiving a wastewater management permit from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Agriculture, which jointly manage the state’s confined animal feeding operation, or CAFO, program.

Almost immediately, the dairy began racking up permit violations, including 32 infractions related to waste storage between June 28, 2017 and May 9, 2018. The state attempted to revoke the permit in June, though a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge ruled in August that Lost Valley Farm could stay in operation while te Velde and regulators worked out an agreement to get the dairy back in compliance.

Lost Valley is within the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area, established by DEQ in 1990 for elevated levels of groundwater nitrates. A spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Agriculture said regulators continue to inspect the facility routinely, and have conducted 11 inspections since June 1.

Meanwhile, te Velde also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April after Rabobank sought to sell the Lost Valley herd to repay debts. Lost Valley has 10,500 dry and milking cows, along with 4,000 replacement heifers. The dairy is permitted for up to 30,000 animals.

Mallory-Smith reflects on past, sees a future of challenges

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Fri, 09/14/2018 - 07:41

Projecting ahead after a 25-year career, retired Oregon State University weed scientist Carol Mallory-Smith said to expect more regulations in coming decades surrounding the use of herbicides.

“Around the world, they are talking about banning herbicides, and in Europe, a lot of herbicides have already been banned,” Mallory-Smith said. “Even in the last two or three weeks, we have read about talk of banning glyphosate in Brazil. It is real, and it is out there, and we have to look at it.”

In a sweeping discourse at the OSU Extension Seed Crop and Cereal Production Meeting in Salem, Ore., Sept. 12, Mallory-Smith reflected on her career and addressed what growers might expect in the future.

In addition to an increase in herbicide-use regulations, she said growers can expect a buildup of resistance within weed populations and shift in weed populations promulgated by climate change.

“What we are seeing across the U.S. is a lot of the weeds that only used to occur in the South have started to move north,” she said. “We are going to see different weeds in our system than what we see now.”

In many cases, she said, the new weeds will outcompete weeds currently in Western Oregon production systems, which, in some cases, might not be a bad thing.

“But,” she said, “usually the weed that comes in is a worse problem than the weed that you just took out.

“And something to think about is that all of the crops that we grow in Oregon, with the exception of wheat, are minor crops, and it takes a long time to get registration for many of the crops that you are growing, so it is not an easy task to get a herbicide labeled for a new weed,” she said.

Oregon farmers also can expect to see more issues surrounding co-existence in the years ahead, she predicted, as crop diversity continues to increase in the Willamette Valley.

“Off-target pesticide movement is going to continue to be a problem, and it is going to be a bigger problem, both because of the kind of crops that we are growing and because herbicide use, in general, (is coming under attack),” she said. “A lot of people are opposed to any kind of pesticide use, so I think you are going to see more pushback on that.”

In reflecting back on her career, Mallory-Smith identified the discovery of unauthorized Roundup Ready wheat in a field in Eastern Oregon in May of 2013 — a discovery she made in her lab from a sample sent in by a grower and a discovery that shut down some export markets for many months — as one of the biggest issues she faced.

She also identified the escape of Roundup Ready bentgrass in Eastern Oregon and in Central Oregon, and the issue of whether to allow widespread canola production in the Willamette Valley as top issues.

“The last three years of my career have been spent dealing with this issue,” she said of the canola issue. “It is now turned over to the Oregon Department of Agriculture and they will be making a decision by mid-November.”

As for the most difficult weed-management issues she faced, Mallory-Smith listed several grass weeds that are problematic for grass seed growers, including annual bluegrass, Italian ryegrass, roughstalk bluegrass and rattail fescue. She also identified the broadleaf weed wild carrot as a major challenge in weed management and jointed goatgrass, which is a problematic weed in the eastern half of the state, and small broomrape, a problem weed in clover production, as significant weeds in her career.

As for identifying her biggest rewards, Mallory-Smith said working with the agricultural community ranks high.

“Growers have been fantastic,” she said. “We’ve worked on their land. They accommodated us in all kinds of ways. The industry has really helped through the years.”

Mallory-Smith closed her presentation with a call for growers to speak out and educate the public about agriculture.

“We need to become more visible and more vocal,” Mallory Smith said, “and becoming more vocal doesn’t mean becoming louder. It means being there when we should be there.

“I think we have to help the public understand what we do, why we do it, where their food comes from, how safe their food supply is in the U.S.,” she said.

“And remember that we have reduced political clout. When I first came here 25 years ago, agriculture had much more clout in this state than it does now,” she said. “So, making friends on both sides of the aisle is really important. We need advocates wherever we can find them, and the people who are not sympathetic with agriculture are the people we should be sitting down with and explaining: ‘Here’s what we do, why we do it, why we have to do it this way, and why that is important.’

“Agriculture is still extremely important to the economy in Oregon,” she said, “but it doesn’t have the voice that it used to have, and we need to make sure that we keep it out there.”