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Car Talk: It's safe to use seat heaters if stranded in snow

Dear Car Talk: I know it's hot out, but I have a winter question. All my life I've heard that if you get stuck in the snow and don't know when you'll be rescued, in order to keep from freezing…

Judge hears oral arguments in Klamath Tribes lawsuit

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Fri, 07/20/2018 - 13:01

A federal judge in San Francisco heard oral arguments Friday in a case filed by the Klamath Tribes of southern Oregon seeking greater protections for endangered sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake.

The lawsuit, which names the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service as defendants, requests an injunction to hold more water in the lake for shortnose and Lost River suckers, a culturally significant food for the tribes.

Farmers and ranchers, however, worry the injunction would essentially shut off surface water irrigation in the Klamath Project, costing roughly $400 million in lost annual economic value.

District Judge William Orrick did not issue a ruling from the bench, and is considering a motion to transfer the case to a different court. There is no timetable for a decision moving forward.

Mark Johnson, deputy director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said the non-ruling means irrigators in the Klamath Project will be allowed to continue watering their crops — for now.

“We’ll find out hopefully in a few days what the ruling will be,” Johnson said.

The KWUA, along with the Sunnyside Irrigation District and California farmer Ben DuVal, jointly filed to intervene in the tribes’ lawsuit. They argue an injunction would have a devastating effect on agriculture, and furthermore there is no evidence linking higher lake levels with healthier sucker populations.

“A lot of it is weather-driven, regardless of lake levels,” Johnson said. “Overall, lake levels do play into it, but they’re not a huge driving factor.”

Water levels in Upper Klamath Lake are managed by the Bureau of Reclamation under the 2013 biological opinion, or BiOp, which also balances water deliveries to the Klamath Project for irrigation.

Both the shortnose and Lost River suckers — known by the tribes as C’waam and Koptu — were listed as endangered in 1988. Fish harvests decreased from more than 10,000 to just 687 suckers between 1968 and 1985, according to the tribes, and today just two fish are harvested for ceremonial purposes.

The lawsuit claims that, despite the Endangered Species Act listing, the Bureau of Reclamation continues to operate the Klamath Project “in a manner inimical to the continued existence and ultimate recovery of the C’waam and Koptu and in direct violation of the ESA.” It further states that, “Dramatic changes to the Klamath River Basin’s hydrology and the rise of agricultural activity within the area since the Project’s inception have caused (Upper Klamath Lake) to change from eutrophic to hypereutrophic, that is, from a lake with high nutrient levels to one that is excessively rich in them.”

Don Gentry, tribal chairman, could not be reached Friday for comment.

In addition to maintaining levels in Upper Klamath Lake, Orrick ruled last year that more water was needed in the Klamath River to flush away a deadly salmon-killing parasite known as C. shasta. The bureau released 38,425 acre-feet of water April 6-15 and 50,000 acre-feet May 7-28 to comply with the order, delaying the water allocation for irrigators until June.

If the Klamath Tribes succeed with their injunction for more water in Upper Klamath Lake, Johnson said it would essentially shut down surface water irrigation for 230,000 acres in the project.

“People wouldn’t be able to irrigate at all,” Johnson said. “It would be catastrophic.”

Feds seizing Oregon mega-dairy citing owner’s behavior

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Fri, 07/20/2018 - 10:40

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice is taking over an embattled Oregon mega-dairy, citing the owner’s continued drug use, gambling, out-of-control spending and pending criminal charges.

The Statesman Journal reports Lost Valley Farm, located near Boardman, supplies milk to the Tillamook County Creamery Association, which produces Tillamook Cheese.

It is the second largest dairy in the state.

The 11-square mile (29-square kilometer) dairy has had issues including financial and regulatory problems since it opened over a year ago.

Owner Greg te Velde is facing criminal charges in California for meth possession and trying to bribe an officer.

He declined to comment on Thursday.

The Justice Department is also handling te Velde’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which was filed in an effort to stall a bank foreclosure sale of his cattle.

Oregon farmers scramble to save crop from Substation Fire

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Fri, 07/20/2018 - 08:09

A massive 70,000-acre wildfire burning east of The Dalles, Ore. is putting the region’s wheat harvest in jeopardy as farmers rush to save their crop from the fast-moving and unpredictable blaze.

The Substation fire started July 17 and grew quickly to become the top priority wildfire in the U.S. Authorities say the cause is “incendiary in nature,” and one Wasco County farmer has died trying to fight the fire.

Firefighting is part of the job for wheat farmers in north-central Oregon, especially around harvest with heavy machinery working in dry, combustible fields. But Darren Padget, a farmer in Grass Valley, said they have never seen anything like the Substation fire.

“We’ve had plenty of fires before,” Padget said. “(This) was unlike anything we’ve ever seen out here.”

Gov. Kate Brown declared the fire a conflagration on July 18, pulling in resources from across the state to contain the blaze. As of July 20, 278 firefighters from 73 agencies had arrived on scene and had the fire 15 percent contained.

The Wasco County Sheriff’s Office identified John Ruby, 64, as the man who died in the fire. Ruby’s body was found near a burned tractor, and he was reportedly trying to protect his neighbor’s property by digging a firebreak.

Padget, who also serves as a member of the Oregon Wheat Commission, said Ruby’s death was a tragedy. It is normal for farmers in the area to team up and help fight fires, he said, keeping water trucks and disc plows on hand for such emergencies.

“The first thing you do is get the discs going,” Padget said. “Normally, that would be enough to slow it down.”

The Substation fire, however, raced 18 miles its first run, feasting on standing wheat, grass and brush in Wasco and Sherman counties, fanned by wind gusts of 35 mph. Padget said the smoke was so thick he could barely see his hand in front of his face, and flames jumped over fire lines “like they weren’t even there.”

“We didn’t know what the right move was, at times,” he said.

Alan von Borstel, a fellow Grass Valley farmer, told the Associated Press that it has been day after day of horrendous winds, and the fire also creates its own wind.

“As the fire gets closer, you actually start to feel threatened, and if it gets too close, we realize we can’t do it, (and) we get the hell out of Dodge,” von Borstel said.

Brian Tuck, the local dryland crops specialist for Oregon State University Extension Service, said wheat harvest began earlier this month but has been interrupted by the fire while growers feverishly work to protect their crop.

Tuck said he is not certain how many acres of unharvested wheat have burned, but commiserates that some farms in the two counties were anticipating higher-than-average yields thanks to timely spring rains. Fields that normally would have cut 55-60 bushels per acre may have yielded upwards of 80-90 bushels per acre, he said.

“The sad part is this (fire) is burning up a bunch of wheat that wasn’t harvested,” Tuck said.

Per the 2012 Census of Agriculture, Sherman and Wasco counties grow a combined 186,135 acres of wheat. The predominant variety, soft white wheat, is used to make things like cakes and crackers, and most of the crop is exported to Asia. The current price for soft white wheat trading out of Portland is $5.90 per bushel.

Firefighters are targeting Aug. 3 to have the Substation fire fully contained. Once the fire is extinguished, Tuck said the main concern will shift to soil erosion on the charred landscape, stripping fields of vital nutrients.

“Erosion for this winter is going to be a concern,” he said. “If we avoid a hard, severe winter, that will be to our advantage.”

Wes Jennings, farm program chief for the USDA Farm Service Agency in Oregon, said they do offer emergency relief for farmers and ranchers, but it is still too early to tell which programs will kick in after the fire.

“It’s going to be on a case-by-case basis,” Jennings said. He advised producers to call their local county FSA offices as soon as possible to determine the next steps to take. Wheat farmers will likely have to lean on crop insurance, he said.

Neither Padget nor von Borstel have lost any wheat to the fire, but they know how quickly that can change. Farmers will continue to look out for one another, von Borstel told the AP.

“Without the help of the farmers, this thing wouldn’t get stopped,” he said.

Padget said their number one priority is to protect themselves, their neighbors and their livelihood.

“We’ll be talking about this for a long, long time to come,” Padget said.

Anyone with information about the Substation fire is asked to call the Oregon State Police tip line at 1-800-452-7888.

Oregon farmers scramble to fight Substation Fire

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Thu, 07/19/2018 - 12:57

Firefighting is part of the job for dryland wheat farmers in north-central Oregon, especially around harvest time with heavy machinery working in hot, combustible fields.

But Darren Padget said they have never seen anything quite like the Substation fire, which started Tuesday east of The Dalles and spread over 50,000 acres by Thursday morning in Wasco and Sherman counties.

“We’ve had plenty of fires before,” said Padget, a farmer near Grass Valley. “(This) was unlike anything we’ve ever seen out here.”

The Substation fire started on private land before racing out of control through grass, brush and standing wheat. On Wednesday, Gov. Kate Brown declared the fire a conflagration, pulling in resources from across the state to try to corral the blaze. So far, 178 firefighters from 32 agencies have arrived on scene, and more are on the way.

During a press conference Thursday, Brown said the fire is being investigated for possible arson. Anyone with information is asked to call the Oregon State Police tip line at 1-800-452-7888.

One person, a 64-year-old farmer identified as John Ruby, died while trying to fight the fire, according to the Wasco County Sheriff’s Office. His body was found near a burned tractor, and was reportedly trying to protect his neighbor’s property by digging a firebreak.

Padget, who also serves on the Oregon Wheat Commission, said it is normal for farmers in the region to team up and help fight fires, keeping water trucks and disc plows on hand for emergencies.

“The first thing you do is get the discs going,” Padget said. “Normally, that would be enough to slow it down.”

The Substation fire, however, spread 18 miles during its initial run, pushed south and east by wind gusts up to 35 mph. At times, Padget said smoke was so thick he could barely see his hand in front of his face, and flames easily jumped their fire lines.

“Nature has a way of letting you know who is in charge,” Padget said.

Brian Tuck, the local dryland crops specialist for Oregon State University Extension Service, said wheat harvest began earlier this month but has been interrupted by the fire while growers feverishly work to protect their crop.

Tuck said he is not certain how many acres of unharvested wheat have burned, but commiserates that some areas in the two counties were anticipating higher-than-average yields thanks to timely spring rains. Fields that normally would have cut 55-60 bushels per acre may have yielded upwards of 80-90 bushels per acre, he said.

“The sad part is this (fire) is burning up a bunch of wheat that wasn’t harvested,” Tuck said.

Soft white wheat, the predominant variety grown in Eastern Oregon, is currently trading at $5.90 per bushel out of Portland. Per the 2012 Census of Agriculture, Sherman and Wasco counties grow a combined 186,135 acres of wheat — which ranks third and fifth in the state, respectively.

While Padget said he has not personally lost any wheat to the fire, he knows that can change quickly given the fire’s unpredictability.

“Right now, as long as the winds don’t do something stupid or anything like that, Grass Valley should be fine,” Padget said on Thursday. “But after yesterday, all bets are off.”

Once the fire is extinguished, Padget and Tuck both said the main concern will shift to soil erosion on the charred landscape, stripping fields of vital nutrients.

Tuck said agencies will need to gather and discuss what resources are available to help farmers mitigate those risks.

“Erosion for this winter is going to be a concern,” he said. “If we avoid a hard, severe winter, that will be to our advantage.”

Wes Jennings, farm program chief for the USDA Farm Service Agency in Oregon, said they do offer emergency relief for farmers and ranchers, but it is still too early to tell which programs will kick in after the fire.

“It’s going to be on a case-by-case basis,” Jennings said. He advised producers to call their local county FSA offices as soon as possible to determine the next steps to take. Wheat farmers will likely have to lean on crop insurance, he said.

Until then, Padget said the number one priority for farmers is to protect themselves and their property.

“We’ll be talking about this for a long, long time to come,” Padget said.

Christmas tree growers narrowly approve checkoff

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Thu, 07/19/2018 - 11:34

Christmas tree farmers have narrowly approved a national checkoff program that raises about $1.8 million a year to promote and research the crop.

Though 51 percent of growers voted in favor of continuing the Christmas Tree Promotion Board during a recent referendum, the program continues to face uncertainty.

Another referendum would normally be required in seven years, but the USDA — which oversees the research and promotion checkoff — has announced that growers will again vote on its continuation in about one year.

The agency hasn’t specified why another vote will occur so soon, but a referendum may be held at the request of the secretary of the USDA, the Christmas Tree Promotion Board or by more than 10 percent of eligible farmers.

Roughly 1,500 Christmas tree growers across the U.S. who sell more than 500 trees a year and pay 15 cents per tree to fund the program are eligible to vote in the referendum.

“I’m pleased we’re going to be able to go forward,” said Betty Malone, a farmer near Philomath, Ore., who spearheaded the effort to start a checkoff for Christmas trees.

Even so, Malone said she’s surprised by the narrow margin of victory, since an internal “head count” of growers had indicated stronger support.

Holding another referendum in a year will create uncertainty at a time when the checkoff program needs to be making long-term decisions about research and promotions, she said.

“It’s absolutely crucial for our industry to do that kind of planning,” Malone said.

Frans Kok, a Virginia farmer who organized opposition to the checkoff, said he was disappointed by the result because he’d been cautiously optimistic growers had voted against continuing the program.

It’s likely USDA decided to hold another referendum next year because the vote was so close, he said.

“It gives us a chance,” Kok said. “A swing of 15 votes shouldn’t be so hard but we will get significant opposition working against us as well.”

Kok said he must discuss the situation with other growers who funded “Farmers Against Christmas Tree Taxation” to see if they’re willing to orchestrate a similar campaign in the future.

Many growers oppose the checkoff both because they feel it’s ineffective — consumers aren’t likely to grow more aware of Christmas trees — and because they feel the program was foist upon them, he said.

The checkoff program was first allowed to operate for three seasons before a referendum was held, partly so organizers could compile a list of eligible farmers. Opponents, however, discount that rationale.

“Given the vote, you can see it’s extremely controversial,” Kok said.

Gebbers testifies against tariffs on Northwest fruit

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Thu, 07/19/2018 - 08:04

If tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports don’t end soon, the federal government should consider all options to help growers, packers and shippers, the world’s largest sweet cherry producer told a congressional subcommittee.

Cass Gebbers, president and CEO of Gebbers Farms near Brewster, Wash., was one of five farmers who testified July 18 before the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade regarding the impact of tariffs by foreign governments in retaliation to Trump administration tariffs on foreign steel, aluminum and other goods.

Subcommittee Chairman Don Reichert, R-Wash., said while President Donald Trump is correct to stand up to unfair trade practices, consequences to farmers and ranchers were predictable and are “severe” and “devastating.”

When cherry harvest began in June, cherries still went to China but growers got less money because of Chinese tariffs now at 50 percent on U.S. cherries, apples and pears, said Gebbers, who also spoke on behalf of the Northwest Horticultural Council.

“China is a unique market for our cherries. There is strong demand for the largest and highest quality and it is difficult to get anywhere close to the same price for these elite cherries in other markets,” Gebbers said.

Last year, more than 11 percent of the Northwest cherry crop and 32 percent of the exports, valued at roughly $130 million, went to China, he said.

Trade barriers to China will seriously depress cherry prices to other countries and domestically, he said.

Pear shipments to China were mostly complete for the season when tariffs were imposed but apples continued in small amounts and then were shut out when China imposed a 100 percent inspection causing fruit to sit at ports for days to weeks awaiting clearance and rejected on illegitimate phytosanitary concerns, he said.

“The risk was simply too great to continue to ship,” Gebbers said.

Cherries are beginning to face similar delayed inspections, which can cause them to rot before they are sold, he said.

Gebbers Farms and Chelan Fresh Marketing sell 4.5 million to 5 million, 20-pound boxes of cherries per season with about 1.5 million going to China, he said. It is the largest cherry export program in the country, he said.

Tariffs have caused canceled orders and “redirected our program downward by approximately 1 million boxes” forcing more fruit onto the domestic and other foreign market, pushing prices down, he said.

“These customers and accounts have been developed through years of hard work and relationship building and will be difficult to simply start up again if or when the tariff situation is ever resolved,” Gebbers said.

He said tariffs in China, India and Mexico will all hurt apple sales this fall and into next winter. Mexico, which is Washington’s largest apple export market, imposed a 20 percent tariff on apples and the last time there was a tariff at that level over a trucking dispute it cost Washington apple growers an estimated $44 million per season, he said.

Growers have no ability to pass on tariff costs so they cut into already “razor-thin margins,” he said, adding he is looking at lowering costs by laying off employees, canceling capital expenditures and stopping planting plans. All of that negatively impacts communities that depend on Gebbers Farms, he said.

While Canada and Japan have not imposed tariffs, Gebbers said he’s watching them because Canada is Washington’s No. 2 apple, pear and cherry market and Japan is important in cherries.

Owyhee irrigators conserve, hope for heavier winter

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Thu, 07/19/2018 - 06:28

Capital Press

Owyhee Reservoir doesn’t have much water to spare, which makes Eastern Oregon farmer Bruce Corn think of the dry 2012.

Except that this time around, farmers are in better position to conserve water.

“After what we had been through in 2012, we are a lot more water-conscious than we used to be and there is not a farmer out there not trying to maximize and conserve as much storage as they can,” Corn said. Many since converted to sprinkler and drip irrigation systems that use less water than traditional gravity infrastructure, he said.

Eastern Oregon irrigators are doing what they can to save water as they head toward harvest. More are using water-saving systems and strategies. This year’s low snow accumulation was partly offset by “carryover storage” water left in the reservoir from the snowy 2016-17. That left growers in mostly good shape this season — Owyhee Irrigation District gave them full allotments — but hoping for better snowfall.

“It’s definitely on growers’ minds already,” said Jeff Aldred, senior sales specialist with Clearwater Supply in Ontario. The business offers drip-irrigation products and services. “As early as this winter, when the snow didn’t come, guys started making plans for 2019.”

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on July 17 reported Owyhee Reservoir was 56 percent full. In the separate Malheur River Basin north and west, the Bully Creek, Beulah and Warm Springs reservoirs were 31, 32 and 37 percent full, respectively.

Corn, who farms between Nyssa and Ontario, serves on the Owyhee Irrigation District board and Oregon Water Resources Commission. He said July 18 that Owyhee Reservoir contains nearly as much water as it did at the same point during 2012 even though there was more carryover storage back then. “That is because of the savings,” he said.

“Since then, there has been a significant amount of ground converted to sprinkler irrigation and to drip irrigation,” he said.

The area’s large onion crop is now about 75 percent drip-irrigated compared to 25 to 30 percent before the 2012 drought, Corn said. Converting from traditional gravity to sprinkler irrigation also has become more popular due to water and labor savings, he said.

More farmers, regardless of irrigation system used, are fine-tuning watering schedules and amounts by using sensors that show moisture levels in soil, and watching evapotranspiration levels, Corn said. Meanwhile, Owyhee Irrigation District continues conservation-geared improvements like installing pressurized systems in spots and piping canal laterals.

“We’re just looking ahead to save all we can for 2019.” he said.

Aldred said water-saving strategies for onion growers already using drip irrigation include adding acres to maximize drip coverage, and optimizing tape-like tubing designs and water-flow rates to best serve plants and soils. Producers also may choose to water crops from sources off the reservoir system, such as wells and certain ponds.

“The last time we had a short water year, I had a grower utilize ultra-low-flow tape on traditional bed spacing, and the (onion) crop turned out fine,” he said. This took more maintenance and moisture monitoring by the grower.

Frank Ausman, who owns Dairy of Ozz south of Nyssa, waters his cattle from wells and his feed crops from irrigation supply. Short-watering cattle is a virtual non-option especially for dairy cows, he said. Irrigating feed crops less can reduce yields and make the grower buy feed to cover a shortfall.

He serves on the Owyhee Irrigation District board. He said he expects the reservoir to be “awfully low by the time we get done with this season. We want to be as conservative as possible so we have carryover for next year.”

Water conditions in the Owyhee River Basin are hard to predict, Ausman said.

Brian Sauer, water operations manager for the Bureau of Reclamation Middle Snake Field Office in Boise, Idaho, said there is not much high-elevation area in the Owyhee watershed, so it is more drought-prone than some other basins.

But Owyhee Reservoir is big. That means if it fills, usually there is enough water in the system to meet demands in a current and subsequent year even if the subsequent year gets a below-normal supply, he said.

Tractor operator dies fighting Oregon wildfire

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Thu, 07/19/2018 - 06:18

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A tractor operator who was killed in a wildfire that scorched 70 square miles in little more than 24 hours in the Pacific Northwest appears to have died trying to fight it, police said.

The Wasco County Sheriff’s Office identified the victim Thursday morning as John Ruby, 64, a longtime resident and local farmer.

The blaze near the city of The Dalles started Tuesday and spread into a rural farming area with vast wheat fields.

Authorities found Ruby dead Wednesday near a burned tractor. He was likely trying to use the heavy farm machinery to create a fire break to hold back flames, the Wasco County Sheriff’s Office said.

Dozens of homes have been evacuated because of the fire about 80 miles east of Portland.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency Wednesday, marking the unofficial start to a Pacific Northwest Fire season that’s expected to be worse than normal.

Firefighters moved into the fields in water trucks and attempted to douse the leading edges of the fire from behind as it burned through acres of wheat, with everything behind the flames charred black.

The news of the fatality also came as authorities on Wednesday ordered additional mandatory evacuations in the small communities of Moro and Grass Valley and closed U.S. Route 97 in that area. Grass Valley’s evacuation was eased Wednesday night as firefighters focused on saving structures in that area, Substation fire spokesman Stefan Myers said.

Oregon’s fires come as other states across the American West, including California and Colorado, have struggled with massive blazes that have torn through land gripped by drought.

“In Oregon, very low humidity, high temperatures and winds gusting up to 30 mph made the flames explosive in thin grasses and wheat fields,” said Robin DeMario, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

“These light fuels go up very quickly,” DeMario said. “The grassy stalks are very dry, they have lost the moisture in those stalks, and so if a fire start begins, we call it ‘flashy fuels’ because it burns very fast and very hot.”

Elsewhere in the state, several fires started by lightning over the weekend burned as temperatures flirted with triple digits.

One fire in southern Oregon forced the evacuation of two houses and 33 more homeowners prepared to flee Wednesday after the flames spread near the California border.

Another blaze about 200 miles east of Portland was tamped down after farmers and ranchers used their heavy equipment to help create lines to contain the flames. Some fences and horse corrals burned, but no homes were lost, said Melissa Ross, Morrow County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.

“In some instances, it was very close (and) if not for all those who turned out to help, the end of this story would have been very different,” she said.

Elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, a small fire near Spokane Valley, Wash., prompted evacuation notices for 700 homes Tuesday night. Most were able to return home Wednesday. Several homes caught fire, Spokane Valley Fire Department spokeswoman Melanie Rose said. Two structures were destroyed, officials said.

In California, a deadly forest fire was spreading west of Yosemite National Park, keeping a key route into the park shut down during tourist season and forcing communities to evacuate. But the park’s trails, campgrounds, restaurants and lodges are open, though smoke is polluting the air and limiting visibility.

More than 1,800 firefighters are battling the blaze that started Friday and now spans 27 square miles, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Agricultural water scrutiny increases in Oregon

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Thu, 07/19/2018 - 06:12

Growing scrutiny of agricultural water quality in Oregon is worrying farm advocates who fear a more heavy-handed government role in directing landowner pollution control efforts.

Agricultural water quality was discussed at the two most recent quarterly meetings of Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission, which oversees the Department of Environmental Quality, the state’s chief environmental regulator.

While DEQ is the main agency charged with implementing the federal Clean Water Act in Oregon, it’s the Oregon Department of Agriculture that actually enforces water regulations on farmland.

Officials with DEQ recently showcased mapping tools that display where “designated management agencies” — including ODA, the Oregon Department of Forestry and local governments — have jurisdiction over watersheds with pollution problems.

The tool can help regulators visualize the potential source of pollution, such as bacteria from pasture runoff, to enlist the appropriate regulators for outreach and enforcement.

When using such tools, the DEQ needs to be careful to avoid a “big brother feel,” said Greg Addington, executive director of the Resource Education and Agricultural Leadership Oregon program and EQC’s newest member.

“A lot of this can be scary for landowners,” he said.

Richard Whitman, DEQ’s director, responded that regulators are simply refining their methods to understand what’s happening on the ground and why, but the data isn’t intended to directly impose conditions on landowners.

“Much of this is not necessarily going to be done through regulation,” Whitman said.

However, environmental groups are pressing DEQ to step up its enforcement of “nonpoint” sources of pollution, such as agriculture.

For example, the Trout Unlimited nonprofit has complained that management plans for agricultural water quality don’t reflect the best science and don’t sufficiently measure whether progress is being made.

The criticism prompted several farmers and agriculture advocates to defend the state’s current approach during the EQC’s most recent meeting in Portland, where they argued the compliance program should remain flexible and outcome-oriented instead of dictating practices to landowners.

Over time, the focus on water quality among regulators and environmentalists has progressed from point sources of pollution — such as factories — to forestry and now agriculture, said Mary Anne Cooper, general counsel for public policy with the Oregon Farm Bureau.

Farm advocates need to proactively address those concerns, such as with DEQ’s ongoing revision of the water quality standard for mercury in the Willamette River basin, she said.

The agency is racing to change that standard, known as the total maximum daily load or TMDL, by next April to comply with a federal court order.

During a recent meeting on the matter in Keizer, Cooper and other natural resource industry representatives objected to a DEQ “brainstorming session” about possible “best management practices” for managing mercury pollution from soil erosion.

Officials with DEQ said the suggestions would simply help the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon Department of Forestry with their compliance programs.

However, industry representatives fear the discussion may signal DEQ will try to bypass local advisory committees on water quality and dictate how ODA and ODF should do their jobs.

“That’s not how it’s supposed to work. It’s supposed to be locally driven,” said Cooper.

Oregon’s existing system for regulating erosion from agriculture and forestry is already effective but isn’t adequately funded, said Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries.

There’s broad support for ODA’s agricultural water quality program among growers, who want to reduce erosion, he said. “No ag operation wants to lose their soil.”

Texas 15-year-old's slime business brings in six figures a year

GARLAND, Texas - Welcome to the "slime house." Jessica Burks' Garland home is oozing with opportunities to get your hands on - and into - the playful, gooey substance that set off an Internet craze. Packaged slime in an array…

Is the Willamette Valley’s proposed intermodal facility on the right track?

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Thu, 07/19/2018 - 05:35

Though Oregon farmers try to avoid Portland’s legendary gridlock, the city’s traffic congestion still slows down the state’s agricultural economy.

For the tens of thousands of trucks moving farm goods and other freight through the Portland area each day, it’s getting tougher to avoid delays as traffic jams become even more prevalent.

“As the mid-day becomes more unreliable, freight is having more problems meeting delivery schedules, and the cost of shipping is increasing,” according to the Oregon Department of Transportation, which added up how long all the vehicles in Portland were stuck in traffic each day. ODOT found the total had increased by more than 22 percent, to 34,600 hours a day, between 2013 and 2015.

Repair work on Interstate 5 through Portland this summer promises even more gridlock.

To help agricultural shippers in the Willamette Valley avoid Portland’s traffic problems, Oregon lawmakers authorized spending $25 million for a Mid-Willamette Intermodal Facility as part of a broader transportation package.

The facility would allow containers of agricultural freight to be loaded from trucks onto trains, which would transport straw, hay, seeds, grains, potatoes, wood products and other commodities that are commonly exported from the state. Those containers would then bypass Portand’s jammed freeways on the way to major shipping terminals in Seattle and Tacoma, where they could be loaded onto ships bound for Asian ports.

“It makes sense for me to pull that traffic away from downtown Portland and pull it south to the Willamette Valley,” said Karla Chambers, co-owner of Stahlbush Island Farms, a grower and processor near Corvallis, Ore.

Roughly 25 to 30 percent of the company’s products are shipped out of the country and the majority are consumed outside Oregon, so reducing its dependence on increasingly scarce truck drivers would be a boon, she said.

“Anything that makes us more competitive on the transportation piece is really valuable,” Chambers said. “Whenever we have a strong dollar, we have to be as competitive as we can in every other area.”

At this point, managers of ODOT’s Connect Oregon transportation grant program have narrowed the applications for the intermodal facility to two locations south of Portland: one about 45 miles away in Brooks, proposed by the Oregon Shipping Group, and another that’s 65 miles away in Millersburg, proposed by the Linn Economic Development Group.

Proponents have until Sept. 27 to submit applications laying out the benefits of the competing sites, such as their proximity to major highways and existing rail lines, among other factors.

“Long term, the region’s got to have something like this,” said Roger Nyquist, chairman of the Linn County Board of Commissioners, who favors turning a defunct papermill in Millersburg into an intermodal facility.

“It’s a known quantity. They’d been doing it here and it worked,” he said. “As a community, we’re committed to repurposing this site.”

While the applicants are focused on the relative advantage of their preferred locations, some question the idea of spending tax dollars on the project at all.

Critics of the state-funded intermodal facility have both ideological and practical concerns.

The philosophical doubts are common regarding government endeavors: Assuming the economic advantages of the project are as obvious as supporters claim, then why haven’t investors jumped at the opportunity?

“If this is worth doing, it’s worth doing with private money,” said John Charles, CEO of the Cascade Policy Institute, a free-market think tank. “If no private party wants to step in, that’s a pretty good sign there’s no social value to doing it.”

Within Portland, there are already two intermodal yards that switch containers from truck to rail owned by private companies — Northwest Container Services and Pacific Container Repair — while the Port of Portland opened a third earlier this year at its Terminal 6 container facility.

Resources are allocated most effectively by those with expertise in an industry, rather than politicians who pick “winners and losers” by distributing tax money, Charles said.

“You distort the market and create inefficiencies. It’s bad for the economy but it’s good for them politically,” he said. “Legislators are never going to understand it adequately. Only people who are in the market really understand it.”

A more specific problem identified by logistics experts relates to the relatively sparse population of the mid-Willamette Valley.

Farmers and timber companies in Oregon have a need for empty shipping containers, but the region doesn’t attract enough imports to bring in a sufficient number of them.

About 38,000 export containers are shipped annually from the Willamette Valley and Southern Oregon, which would be expected to benefit from the intermodal facility, while only about 9,000 containers of imports from overseas arrive in those areas each year, according to a study by the ECONorthwest consulting firm.

The imbalance means that agricultural exporters don’t have a readily available source of empty containers at their disposal and must pay to bring them to the area.

Opening an intermodal facility in the mid-Willamette Valley would require empty containers be moved from elsewhere, with the handling costs adding to the overall expense faced by shippers, according to critics. Due to the low profit margins of some farm goods, such as grass straw, using the intermodal facility wouldn’t pencil out financially for many, they say.

“Anything that adds a dollar per metric ton, that’s going to take them out of the game,” according to one transportation industry executive who did not want to be named.

The ocean carrier shipping lines that control containers will not reposition empty ones at no cost, which is why it’s tough to situate intermodal facilities in areas without a lot of paying inbound cargo, the executive said. “You want to follow the path of least resistance.”

Off-loading an empty container at the intermodal facility, reloading it onto a truck bound for a straw-compressing facility or agricultural warehouse and then offloading it again at the site isn’t cheap, the executive said. “It adds cost everywhere along the way.”

Agricultural exporters already have to pay for empties to be brought to their property, with the truck returning full to the point of origin.

It wouldn’t make sense, though, to pay for a round trip only to have the truck return empty after dropping off a container loaded with straw or other farm goods at the intermodal facility.

The only shot at making the mid-Willamette site a success would be finding a way to get loaded import containers delivered to the facility, the executive said. “If they can find that, it might work. Otherwise, they have to pay for empty repositioning into that area.”

ECONorthwest, the consulting firm that completed a preliminary analysis of a mid-Willamette intermodal facility, has now been hired to perform a feasibility study specific to the Millersburg site.

Based on its initial assessment, roughly three-fourths of exporters would have to bear the cost of transporting a container both ways, while one-quarter would benefit from containers brought to the region by importers, said Sarah Reich, a policy analyst with the firm.

“Based on the current flow of goods, there is a mismatch,” she said. “They’re nowhere near the same and it’s not a small difference.”

However, there may be ways to attract new importers or otherwise increase the inflow of containers, which ECONorthwest is now evaluating, Reich said.

Stricter federal time limits on driving for truckers may also affect the economics to the advantage of the intermodal facility, since such interruptions would add costs and delay shipping, possibly causing loads to miss Asia-bound ships, she said.

Such considerations could push exporters to prefer rail, even with the imbalance of import and export containers, Reich said.

Kevin Mannix, director of the Oregon Shipping Group, said he has plans to attract containers with imported cargo to the Brooks site, though he can’t reveal specifics before the proposal is submitted to ODOT.

“We hope to be the more creative problem-solver,” he said.

Without going into detail, Mannix hinted there may be opportunities involving the surfeit of empty containers available at California’s Port of Long Beach.

Currently, those containers are empty as they head back over the Pacific, so sending them over full of agricultural goods would solve that problem, he said.

The intermodal facility could also serve as a stopover point for inbound containers carrying cargo that’s bound for markets in the U.S. interior, he said.

Such freight must often be reconfigured into different containers specific to trucks, potentially freeing up containers compatible with rail, Mannix said.

“Those are the kinds of devilish details we will have to work out ahead of time,” he said.

For Gary Weaver, owner of Weaver Seeds in Crabtree, Ore., the availability of truckers is a top-of-mind concern in getting his company’s seeds to Japan and South Korea, where they’re used for sprouts.

Traffic in Portland and Seattle can force drivers to stop for extended breaks required by regulation, slowing down the process of getting even a single load to those ports, he said.

If a driver simply had to get the seeds to the intermodal facility in Millersburg, he could deliver six or seven loads a day, preventing the containers from being sent across the Pacific Ocean on separate vessels, Weaver said.

“We could get it on one ship,” he said. “This is a big break.”

People are continuing to move to Portland and Seattle while those cities aren’t building major new roads, so congestion is likely to keep growing as a problem, said Shelly Boshart Davis, vice president of international sales for her family’s straw-pressing and trucking businesses, Bossco Trading and Boshart Trucking.

It’s better for Oregon lawmakers to proactively look for a solution to the problem now, before the added costs of shipping delays become prohibitive, she said. “It might be too costly for my trucks to drive to Portland or through Portland.”

The company currently uses intermodal facilities in Portland but trucks containers directly to Seattle for time-sensitive shipments. The mid-Willamette site would provide another option.

“The less we put all our eggs in one basket, the better off we are,” Boshart Davis said.

Festivals

The following list is just an example of the great organizational fetes that take place annually in our little piece of paradise. If there is something you are passionate about and would like to help with, volunteer:

U.S. Wheat hires new technician for South America

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 07:50

U.S. Wheat Associates has hired Andres Saturno as a technical specialist to work with millers, bakers and other customers across South America.

He began July 9 in U.S. Wheat’s office in Santiago, Chile.

U.S. Wheat will pay his salary with its foreign market development budget for South America. Funding from wheat farmers in Idaho, Oregon and Washington will cover his travel and other work expenses.

“This position definitely will help promote all classes of U.S. wheat in South America,” said Steve Mercer, a spokesman for U.S. Wheat. “It’s needed very much.”

Many countries in South America have seen “dramatic” increases in disposable income and population, changing the way consumers buy bread and other wheat products, Mercer said. More customers now buy at supermarkets and big box stores instead of mom-and-pop stores, boosting sales of breads and frozen doughs.

Hard red winter wheat, dark northern spring wheat, soft wheat and soft red winter wheat are used in the growing bread, cookie, cracker and confection markets.

“It’s a very rich market, one that we feel providing more direct and consistent technical support for millers and bakers in those areas will definitely help position U.S. wheat as an important ingredient in a lot of different products.”

When millers and bakers are trained to use U.S. wheat classes, demand increases, Mercer said.

The U.S. hopes to grow its South America market share, which has averaged 25 percent over the last decade. The U.S. sends 2 million to 3 million metric tons of wheat to South America per year, primarily hard red winter, soft red winter, soft white, dark northern spring and durum wheat.

Saturno is already highly regarded in the industry, said Ritzville, Wash., wheat farmer Mike Miller, past chairman of U.S. Wheat. Saturno’s father previously did some work for U.S. Wheat and the Washington Grain Commission.

“The pedigree is very well-respected down there,” said Miller, who is also a grain commissioner. “He’s going to be very busy. We’re really excited.”

Darren Padget, U.S. Wheat secretary-treasurer and a Grass Valley, Ore., farmer, said the position was a year in the making. Northwest farmers asked U.S. Wheat staff what they considered their biggest need during a conference in Colorado, he recalled.

“The three states are always looking for something to do together,” Padget said. “It’s exciting — it’s something that’s needed in a region that’s growing and will continue to grow.”

South Asia and South America are two of the largest growing markets for wheat, he said.

Blaine Jacobson, executive director of the Idaho Wheat Commission, cited increasing interest in Pacific Northwest-grown soft white wheat in Latin America. Some mills have discovered that blending soft white wheat with their hard red winter wheat results in a better product, he said.

Increased knowledge of the different functions of the various wheat classes has also boosted interest, Jacobson said.

“In the past, wheat was wheat,” he said. “But now there are more discriminating uses.”

The U.S. Wheat position will help the mills that can’t afford in-house technicians, Jacobson said.

As harvest gets underway, Northwest wheat crop looks ‘superb’

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 07:25

Wheat harvest has begun in the Pacific Northwest, and industry leaders report high yields and good crop conditions.

“Statewide, the crop is looking superb,” said Blaine Jacobson, executive director of the Idaho Wheat Commission. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we have a good four or five weeks of ideal harvest weather.”

The leaders of the region’s other grain and wheat commissions echoed his optimism.

Harvest has begun in three-quarters of Idaho, particularly lower-elevation and high-temperature regions, he said. Farmers are in their fields in North Idaho, Southwest Idaho and South Central Idaho.

Some parts of the state won’t begin harvest until August, at which point it should be in full swing everywhere, he said.

Some hail storms have occurred, but not enough to impact quality, he said.

Yields in general are up, with no low falling number test results indicating starch damage, Jacobson said.

“There’s the typical issues, but I wouldn’t say there’s anything that’s extraordinary,” he said. “The weather was cooperative this year.”

Temperatures mostly ranged in the 80s and 90s, topping 100 in only a few areas, he said.

Oregon wheat harvest kicked off the week of July 9, said Blake Rowe, Oregon Wheat CEO, and will ramp up in the coming weeks.

Rowe cited average to above-average yields on soft white wheat with low protein, good moisture and test weights above 60 pounds.

“Prices are a little better than last year at this time,” Rowe said.

Soft white wheat sells for $5.80 to $5.90 per bushel on the Portland market. Hard red winter wheat ranges from $5.81 to $6.56 per bushel, depending on protein content. Dark northern spring wheat ranges from $5.88 to $6.76 per bushel, depending on protein percentage.

That’s above the cost of production for some farmers, but certainly not all, Rowe said.

Rowe has heard a few reports of lower protein levels in hard red winter wheat, but said there weren’t enough to say much of anything yet.

Higher protein is desired in the red wheats, which is used for bread and rolls, and lower protein is desired in soft white wheat, which is used for sponge cakes and crackers.

Dark northern spring wheat in Washington is averaging a little higher than 14 percent protein, hard red winter wheat 12 percent protein and soft white wheat about 10 percent protein.

“It’s early,” Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission. “Everything’s getting started.”

USDA is projecting a winter wheat yield of 76 bushels per acre in Washington. If that materializes, it would be the second-highest yield for the state, and a slight drop from 78 bushels per acre last year, Squires said.

USDA projects 45 bushels per acre for spring wheat, a mid-way point for the state.

“There have been a bunch lower and a bunch higher,” Squires said.

Squires expects some pockets of low falling number, the starch damage problem that affects the wheat’s baking and noodle quality. The industry is aware and prepared, he said, and will keep wheat with extremely low falling numbers separate from wheat with a higher falling number.

Washington is estimated to produce 146 million bushels, the fourth-highest yield for the state since 2010.

“And it could go higher,” Squires said. “But it could go lower. I think it might go higher.”

Eastern Oregon wheat harvest off to fiery start

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 06:29

Wheat harvest is off to a blazing start in Eastern Oregon — literally.

Emery Gentry, who farms about 500 acres of wheat near the small town of Weston, was taken by surprise when he got the phone call July 12 that one of the fields he leases had somehow caught fire.

“I was working with my harvest partners in the Hermiston area when I got the call,” Gentry said. “There was nothing I could do.”

Flames devoured roughly 50 acres of standing wheat and burned right up to nearby homes, prompting evacuation orders for some residents until firefighters could contain the blaze.

One day later, fire broke out again up the Walla Walla River in Cash Hollow, southeast of Milton-Freewater, torching several hundred acres of dry grass and wheat. The Substation Fire burning east of The Dalles in Wasco and Sherman counties has also grown to more than 29,000 acres as of Wednesday morning and is threatening homes and farms, prompting mandatory evacuations.

The incidents underscore just how hot and dry it has been leading up to this year’s dryland wheat harvest, exacerbating the risk of field and rangeland fires.

Average high temperatures so far in July have reached 90 degrees in Pendleton and Yakima, Wash. and 95 degrees in Hermiston, according to the National Weather Service. A red flag warning indicating heightened fire danger was also in effect through Wednesday evening from Pendleton west to The Dalles and as far south as Bend.

Gentry said he is not certain how the fire started in his unharvested wheat. Casey Kump, deputy state fire marshal based in La Grande, said the fire started in a corner of the property that includes a shop and barn, and appears to be accidental.

When he first heard the news, Gentry immediately called his father, who went out in a water truck and was soon joined by neighbors bringing additional trucks and disc plows to dig firebreaks.

“We have a truck with water on it all the time. People always have tractors hooked up to discs,” Gentry said. “My friends and neighbors dropped what they were doing and immediately came to the rescue. I’m really grateful for that.”

As a beginning farmer, Gentry said it hurts to lose 10 percent of his crop. He needs every acre he can get, but he knows the situation could have been much worse.

Gentry said it has been at least a month since the area received any significant rain, and farmers need to be on their toes for fires, keeping ignition sources and idling engines away from dry grass and stubble.

“The biggest thing obviously is just common sense,” he said.

Gentry expects to begin harvest by next week. Harvesting is already underway at lower elevations farther south and west, where forecasts seem to be a mixed bag.

Don Wysocki, extension soil scientist for Oregon State University in Pendleton, said most of the lower elevations in Morrow and Gilliam counties were short on rainfall during May and June, and he expects they may cut around 10-15 bushels of wheat per acre below average.

“The fall stands were good, and the crop looked pretty good all through winter and early spring,” Wysocki said. “But (precipitation) didn’t happen in May.”

To make matters more difficult, Wysocki said conditions for spraying grassy herbicides in spring were less than ideal, causing problems with cheatgrass and other weeds in some fields.

Conditions appear to be better at higher elevations in northern Umatilla County. Preston Winn, who grows 147 acres of wheat near Weston, said they received timely rains throughout the spring, and expects an average crop around 100 bushels per acre.

Interestingly enough, Winn said the early moisture had him prepared to spray for fungal diseases like stripe rust, though it never showed up in his fields.

“The growing conditions have been really quite good,” Winn said. “That always portends a good harvest.”

Two positions opening on Oregon Board of Agriculture

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 06:28

Farmers and ranchers are being encouraged to apply for two positions that are opening on the Oregon Board of Agriculture, a 10-member body that advises the Oregon Department of Agriculture on policy.

Candidates must be actively engaged in producing agricultural commodities and have until July 30th to submit applications to the Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s executive appointments office, along with a resumé, biography and statement of interest.

Application materials can be found online at www.oregon.gov/gov/admin/Pages/How_To_Apply.aspx. Board members can serve up to two terms of four years.

Alexis Taylor, ODA’s director, said she the board is intended to represent the diversity of Oregon agriculture and also reflect diversity in age, gender, race and sexual orientation.

The board provides “invaluable” insights and leadership to the department, she said. “Having that touchpoint with real farmers and ranchers keeps us grounded at ODA.”

Agricultural water quality, solar developments on farmland and regulation of canola are among the key issues that the board will likely be advising the agency in the near future, she said.

As she makes recommendations to the governor, Taylor said she hopes to put forth a candidate from the Klamath basin to replace outgoing member Tracey Liskey, a farmer from that region.

The board does have members from Central and Eastern Oregon, but the Klamath area faces distinct challenges, she said. “That’s the amazing thing about Oregon but also challenging sometimes.”

Managing conflicts between different crops and types of agriculture — such as marijuana and hemp, canola and related crops as well as genetically engineered organisms and organic crops — will probably continue being one of the major challenges facing the board, Liskey said.

“Coexistence is the big issue,” he said.

During his eight years on the board, Liskey has seen ODA shift its water quality enforcement from being complaint-driven to more proactive.

Board members should ensure the agency ensures regulations are workable and landowners receive help with compliance, he said. “More carrots and less hammer.”

Liskey said he hopes his replacement will have come from a rural part of Oregon and have a conventional agricultural background.

“I think we need to ensure the niche markets aren’t over-represented,” he said.

Laura Masterson, the other outgoing member and farmer near Portland, likewise said her seat should be filled by someone who’s experienced with small, organic and direct-market agriculture but also has “curiosity and diplomacy” about other farming sectors.

During her eight years on the board, Masterson said she’s tried to expose other members and ODA staff to farmers serving organic and niche markets, who often have a different perspective on policy issues.

“The flip side is I got to see types of production I never would have,” she said.

While membership on the board helps “build bridges” between various types of farmers, it’s still tough for members to “balance natural resources and economic vitality in the state,” Masterson said.

Wildfire expands in north-central Oregon

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 06:11

The Latest on fires in the Pacific Northwest (all times local):

8:30 a.m.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act in response to a wildfire burning in the north-central part of the state.

The action announced early Wednesday allows the Oregon fire marshal to mobilize resources from around the state to protect homes.

The fire burning in two counties east of The Dalles expanded overnight to more than 45 square miles.

One home has burned, along with some other structures.

Roughly 75 households have been told to evacuate.

7:25 a.m.

Authorities say a small fire that prompted evacuation notices for 700 homes near Spokane Valley, Wash., began in a building and then spread to grass and trees.

KREM-TV reports that the so-called Upriver Beacon Fire died down a bit overnight, and all of the most urgent evacuation notices had been downgraded by Wednesday morning.

The state Department of Natural Resources has been helping fight the fire with water drops from a tanker plane, and more state firefighting teams have been arriving after Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste approved their mobilization Tuesday night.

The fire has burned about one-third of a square mile and has damaged some electrical transmission lines.

Strike gold at the Bandon Historical Society Museum

BANDON - Visitors can strike gold at the Bandon Historical Society Museum on Sunday, July 29, through the inspiration of a new-to-the-museum volunteer and the support of a business sponsor, The Sunset Motel and the Coquille Tribal Community Fund.

ODFW says coyote, not cougar, likely attacked Portland dog

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon - Tue, 07/17/2018 - 05:42

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says a small dog attacked in Portland last week was likely bit by a coyote, not a cougar as initially reported.

According to the Portland Police Bureau, a woman reported that the dog was in her yard when a cougar attacked early Thursday. The dog suffered two puncture wounds, but survived and is expected to make a full recovery.

The Fish and Wildlife Department later examined the bite marks and determined they were likely inflicted by a coyote, which are more common in Oregon.

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