Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon

Growers assess freeze damage

A mid-November freeze damaged vineyards in Walla Walla, high-elevation winter wheat around Waterville, Wash., and fruit trees in The Dalles and Hood River, Ore.

The extent of the damage in those and other parts on the eastern sides of both states will be more fully known in the spring, when damage is more evident. But growers have made early assessments.

It appears cherry and pear trees may be the hardest hit in The Dalles and Hood River, according to Jay Pscheidt and Lynn Long, Oregon State University Extension specialists.

Trees damaged by cold are more vulnerable to disease and pests.

Pscheidt and Long advised growers copper-based pesticides could be used to prevent bacterial canker if an orchard and those around it do not have a history of copper use or resistance.

Removing damaged and diseased wood by winter pruning may help trees recover and slow or stop the spread of disease, they wrote in an advisory to growers. Summer pruning in diseased blocks should be considered, they said.

Temperatures dropped to single digits in many parts of the region, Nov. 10-17. The impact was accentuated by it being a sudden drop from much higher temperatures, plants did not have time to build much winter hardiness, said Tim Smith, Washington State University Extension tree fruit specialist emeritus in Wenatchee.

“It’s worrisome. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some damage,” Smith said.

Everyone looks for bud damage and that’s what occurs in spring frosts, he said. But fall and winter freezes damage tree trunks and lower limbs, he said. Trees flower in the spring and then collapse from trunk damage, he said.

Younger trees have more vigor and are slower to go dormant so they are more susceptible, and cherries and peaches are among the most vulnerable, Smith said.

“We had a little more cooling and winter hardiness leading into it in the north, but fieldmen are concerned about some cherry damage,” said Dan McCarthy, Okanogan County Pest Control agent.

Andy Gale, manager of Stemilt AgServices in Wenatchee, said Sweetheart cherry buds show some browning. “My hunch is it did a little damage, some thinning and that will be a good thing overall for the market,” he said.

So far sampling hasn’t shown any damage to rootstock and one-year trees at Willow Drive Nursery, said Neal Manly, sales manager at the nursery south of Ephrata. He said he doubts there’s any damage at neighboring fruit tree nurseries in the northern Columbia Basin. Temperatures were lower farther south, he said.

Winegrape vines were damaged in Walla Walla but sampling shows the rest of the region in good shape, said Kevin Corliss, vice president of viticulture, Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Woodinville.

“The hardiness level was 6 to 10 degrees lower than the temperature, so vines were fairly hardy when the freeze came,” Corliss said.

While some growers in Walla Walla will be hard-hit there shouldn’t be much of an overall crop reduction, he said.

Some club and newer varieties of soft white winter wheat are showing poor color in certain places on the Waterville Plateau, said Kevin Whitehall, manager of Central Washington Grain Growers Inc. in Waterville.

It’s the highest wheat region in the state at about 2,500 to 2,800 feet. That makes it colder. The freeze, winds and lack of snow cover for insulation did the damage that doesn’t appear widespread so far, Whitehall said.

3-year sentence for starving alpacas

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The owner of a Willamette Valley alpaca ranch who was convicted of neglecting a herd of more than 200 animals was sentenced Tuesday in Polk County Circuit Court to three years in prison.

Robert Silver also was ordered to pay more than $15,000 in restitution with his wife, Jocelyn Silver. She previously pleaded guilty to neglect charges and was sentenced to three years of probation.

The Statesman Journal reports the couple owned Jocelyn’s Alpaca Ranch in Falls City.

Deputies and veterinarians found 58 dead alpacas at the ranch in December 2013 and moved 175 malnourished animals to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University for emergency care.

About 150 of the alpacas survived and were adopted.

Coast Guard rescues man injured in logging accident

NESKOWIN, Ore. (AP) — A Coast Guard helicopter crew has rescued a man injured in a logging accident near the north Oregon coast community of Neskowin.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg says the Astoria-based crew flew about 60 miles Tuesday, hoisted the man aboard the chopper and took him to a hospital in Lincoln City.

Local emergency responders had been unable to reach the man due to his location.

The Coast Guard spokesman says the man was reported in stable condition when he was transferred to the care of local emergency medical workers. He was not identified.

Kitzhaber proposes sage grouse measures

SALEM — Gov. John Kitzhaber has proposed millions of dollars in state spending to boost sage grouse conservation work and land use planning, in anticipation of a 2015 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act.

State officials hope that a robust local plan to help sage grouse will prevent a federal listing, although recent action by Congress might also delay Endangered Species Act protection for the bird. A legislative rider tacked onto a recent $1.1 trillion spending bill prevents the Interior Department from spending any money on rules to protect the greater sage grouse and three related birds, The Associated Press reported.

In a budget proposal unveiled earlier this month, Kitzhaber included two new employees at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife: one person to coordinate work by various government agencies and groups to help the birds, and another employee to work on habitat restoration. This could include improving the post-wildlife replanting of sage grouse habitat with native species.

“That happens right now, but it doesn’t necessarily happen in the most strategic way or where you can get the biggest bang for the buck,” said Brett Brownscombe, interim deputy director at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Until recently, Brownscombe was a natural resources policy adviser to the governor.

In total, the governor recommended $1.7 million for ODFW employee salaries and habitat restoration work, according to an ODFW budget document. The governor’s proposal is only a starting point for the state budget. Lawmakers will decide whether to include the governor’s plan when they write budget bills in 2015.

The state is trying to balance protections for sage grouse with the needs of landowners and industries that would like to build in important grouse breeding habitat. One example is the electric transmission line that PacifiCorp, Bonneville Power Administration and Idaho Power want to build from Boardman to Hemingway. Brownscombe said the state’s Land Conservation and Development Commission and Fish and Wildlife Commission will both consider in the near future whether to adopt new policies that would allow at least a little flexibility on development in core sage grouse habitat, if the entities proposing projects demonstrate the cannot be moved to a different location.

Brownscombe said it will be important for the state to focus on “scientific thresholds when the bird really starts to tail spin, that we don’t cross those.”

The governor wants to create a new job at the Department of Land Conservation and Development, for an employee to work with county governments on new land use regulations to balance development and sage grouse habitat.

Finally, Brownscombe, said the governor’s budget includes approximately $1.6 million in the Oregon Department of Forestry to build up local rangeland fire protection associations across the state and remove juniper to improve sage grouse habitat. Although the tree is native in Oregon, dense juniper growth drives out sage grouse. Once Juniper covers more than 4 percent of the landscape, “it’s really not viable for sage grouse any longer,” Brownscombe said.

Judge: Longshoremen’s work slowdowns violate court order

Longshoremen violated a court order by staging work stoppages and slowdowns in 2012 and 2013 at the Port of Portland’s container terminal, according to a federal judge.

The longshoremen’s union has a dispute with the terminal’s operator, ICTSI Oregon, which could disrupt shipping for agricultural exporters who rely on the port.

Hanjin and other ocean carriers have threatened to stop calling on the terminal due to slowed container movements, which would force agricultural exporters to ship through more distant ports in Seattle and Tacoma at greater expense.

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon has found the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to be in contempt of court for violating a previous injunction against slowdowns.

Instead of issuing fines, though, the judge has ordered ILWU to comply with the injunction and to pay attorney fees and investigation expenses incurred by the National Labor Relations Board, which filed a lawsuit against the union.

The NLRB has proved that longshoremen from the union’s Local 8 organization participated in slowdowns between July 2012 and August 2013 that were coordinated or condoned by union leaders, the judge said.

“Multiple ILWU members engaged in the same conduct, such as driving the ‘scenic route’ around the yard, engaging in pretextual safety complaints and deliberately operating cranes more slowly,” Simon said.

However, the NLRB failed to meet the “high evidentiary burden” to prove that lower container terminal productivity since August 2013 was caused by planned work stoppages and slowdowns by longshoremen, the judge said.

Also, any alleged slowdowns may now be caused by the expiration of a labor contract on July 1 with West Coast container terminal operators, he said.

NLRB would have to prove that the slowdowns were caused by the union’s dispute with ICTSI rather than the broader contract negotiations, Simon said.

The ILWU’s dispute with ICTSI Oregon was originally over two jobs that involved plugging in refrigerated containers at the port.

The union believes it was entitled to those jobs but they had been assigned to another union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

In 2013, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber oversaw a deal under which ILWU got those jobs as long as productivity improved.

The agreement unraveled earlier this year because container movements continued to be lower than normal.

The NLRB claims that longshoremen’s union leaders threatened to slow down productivity to drive ocean carriers away from the container terminal, thereby harming ICTSI and forcing it to stop doing business at the port.

Winery founder to help boost rural economic growth

Capital Press

Sam Tannahill, viticulture director and a co-founder of one of the state’s most successful vineyards, has been appointed to a team that will shepherd the governor’s rural economic development budget initiatives through the Oregon Legislature.

Tannahill is among people appointed by Gov. John Kitzhaber to four “alignment and coordination” teams. The teams are intended to guide the governor’s initiatives through the Legislature’s 2015-17 budget adoption process. In addition to the rural economic development group, other teams will focus on budget proposals regarding mental health, “age three to grade three” education and what is called the “pathways connecting education to career.”

Tannahill is viticulture director and one of four co-founders of A to Z Wineworks in Newberg, Ore., which they started in 2002. The group — joined by investor Gregg Popovich, coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs — also owns Rex Hill Vineyards and Winery in Newberg.

Tannahill said much of rural Oregon has not shared in the state’s economic recovery.

While Portland and other urban areas hum with activity, “You can’t leave out a large section of Oregon,” he said.

Urban Oregon’s food and beverage industry has been a “real bright spot” in the economy, he said, with a strong link to the state’s farms and ranches.

“It’s a good bridge for the rural and urban areas, fueled by high-quality agriculture,” he said.

Tannahill said the team has met only once but will be sharpening its focus as the legislative session approaches.

Marion, Linn Extension offices moving

The Marion and Linn county offices of the Oregon State University Extension Service are packing decades of history into moving vans and relocating their offices.

The Linn County Extension office is moving from the Old Armory Building in downtown Albany, a site it has leased since the mid-1980s, to 33630 McFarland Road in Tangent.

The Marion County Extension office is moving from 3180 Center St. NE in Salem to a building the Oregon Farm Bureau purchased earlier this year at 1320 Capitol St. NE, also in Salem.

Pamela Rose, leader of Marion County Extension, said the service is moving to accommodate the needs of Marion County Health Department, which plans to take over the current extension office as part of expansion plans.

The service has leased an office from the county at the Center Street locale since the mid-1970s, according to John Burt, former chair of Marion County Extension Service.

“It’s a lot of work,” Rose said of the move. “We’re all trying to use it as an opportunity to recycle materials and clean out things and make the best use of items we’re taking with us.”

Between 16 and 18 extension personnel will be relocated as part of the move, Rose said. The new office also will provide shared offices for master gardeners and other volunteers, she said.

The county will continue with its current arrangement of funding the service’s office-rental costs, Rose said.

The service is looking at a late-January move-in date.

Linn County Extension also is looking at a late-January move from its current office to the former Farm Service Agency building in Tangent.

The move has several upsides, said county leader Robin Galloway.

The location will provide easier access for farmers and others who use the service, both because of its more centralized location and because of parking.

“We have huge problems now with parking,” Galloway said, “especially with so many of our clients driving pickups.”

Even 4-H folks with horse trailers now will be able to easily access the more rural extension office, Galloway said.

The site also is “a straight shot” from Harrisburg, Sweet Home, Lebanon and other departure points for extension clientele, Galloway said.

The county purchased the building earlier this year with the service in mind, Galloway said.

“On the downside,” Galloway joked, “there are no coffee shops, and we can’t walk down to the river on our breaks.”

Rent is essentially the same, Galloway said. The service pays its rent and other basic expenses with tax revenue from a service district that voters passed in 2008.

About 13 extension personnel are involved in the move, Galloway said.

Farm regulators increase scrutiny of water quality

A project aimed at restoring riparian habitat along several creeks in Oregon’s Multnomah County has hit a roadblock.

Despite numerous entreaties from the local soil and water conservation district, most landowners have refused free streamside tree planting that would reduce temperatures in the creek.

“Some people are just not interested in having someone else working on their property,” said Julie DiLeone, rural lands program supervisor for the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District.

Even though the trees are planted at no charge, people are reluctant to have crews come onto their land and to relinquish control over the management of streamsides, she said.

Only about 25-30 percent of stream miles targeted by the district are enrolled in the restoration program, DiLeone said.

“We don’t know if that’s going to be enough or not” to bring down temperatures, she said.

Increased scrutiny of water quality by Oregon’s agriculture regulators may help the state’s soil and water conservation districts overcome such resistance among landowners.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture plans to expand its oversight of streams and rivers that flow through agricultural lands next year, which may spur interest in voluntary riparian improvement projects, experts say.

“If more people come in the door, at least in our district, that’s great because we have the capacity to help more people,” said Laura Masterson, an organic farmer and board member of the East Multnomah S&WCD.

For decades, the agency’s strategy for compliance with the federal Clean Water Act on farmland was largely complaint-driven, said John Byers, manager of ODA’s agricultural water quality program.

This method is only reliable to a point, however, since some water quality problems — like manure piles near waterways or streams denuded of vegetation — may never be reported, he said.

“Neighbors don’t always want to turn in neighbors,” said Byers.

About two years ago, ODA decided to “self-initiate” compliance with water quality rules, relying on publicly available information like aerial photographs and topographical maps, to identify potential problem areas and notify the landowners.

Since the agency doesn’t have the resources to conduct in-depth monitoring of the whole state, the new approach was first tested in Wasco and Clackamas counties.

“We can’t be out on everybody’s ground in every month of the year,” said Doug Krahmer, a blueberry farmer and member of the Oregon Board of Agriculture, which advises ODA.

In mid-2015, ODA intends to roll out the program in six to 12 new “strategic implementation areas” once Byers prioritizes where water quality improvements are most needed.

The decision is heartening for conservationist groups like the Oregon Environmental Council, which say the program will help ODA defend its water compliance efforts in the future.

“It sounds like the outreach they did has been really effective,” said Allison Hensey, agriculture and watersheds program director at OEC. “I really hope they will do a lot more in the future now that they’ve worked out a few kinks and learned some things.”

Water quality degradation from agricultural activity is often related to a lack of vegetation, as bare ground can cause sediment runoff into streams and a lack of trees and shrubs may destabilize streambanks and raise water temperatures, Byers said.

The new compliance approach has worked in Clackamas and Wasco counties, where ODA sent letters to landowners letting them know water conditions on their properties were being evaluated, he said.

The agency also told landowners of particular water quality concerns and advised them to fix the problem, he said. For example, ODA had significant or serious concerns about four parcels in Wasco County, and the notice convinced the owners to take action.

“It’s about compliance, not enforcement,” Byers said. “We have that regulatory backstop but we have been successful in not having to use it.”

ODA simply tells landowners they can’t pollute but the solution is up to them. For technical assistance, though, they can seek help from their local soil and water conservation district.

Although the districts can help landowners achieve compliance, it’s important to note they don’t have a regulatory function, said Masterson, who also serves on the Oregon Board of Agriculture.

The distinction is important because people shouldn’t be afraid to come to districts for help, she said. “That firewall is critical.”

While there has been concern that landowner requests for assistance may overwhelm some smaller districts, it’s probably wise to cross that bridge when we come to it, said Krahmer, a board member of the Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District. “To date, there has been no evidence that is the case.”

Hop growers adjust to meet demand of craft brewers

MOXEE, Wash. — The growth of U.S. hop production slowed this year, up just 3 percent compared with a 13 percent increase in 2013.

But the industry continues to expand as demand grows for more hops, said Ann George, administrator of Hop Growers of America and the Washington Hop Commission, both in Moxee near Yakima.

George attributes reduced growth to number of factors.

Producers are replanting hop yards to grow more aroma varieties for craft breweries rather than alpha varieties for large breweries. Aroma varieties yield less than alpha varieties, and immature plants in replanted yards yield less than mature plants.

Summer heat hurt yields, particularly in Oregon, George said.

Oil in the hop cone or flower is used for flavoring and stabilizing beer.

Craft breweries project 20 percent growth through 2020, George said. That means hop growers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho likely will continue increasing acreage, she said.

Washington produced 79 percent of the 2014 U.S. crop, Oregon 11 percent and Idaho 10 percent, according to a National Agricultural Statistics Service report issued Dec. 17. Washington’s production is in the Yakima Valley. Oregon is in the Willamette Valley.

Production increased 18 percent in Idaho, 2 percent in Washington and dropped 4 percent in Oregon, NASS said. Acreage increased in all three states.

Idaho likely will surpass Oregon in the next year or two as it has been expanding acreage at a faster rate due because land is more readily available with less competition from other high value crops, said Pete Mahony, director of supply chain management and purchasing for John I. Haas Inc., Yakima. Haas is a leader in hop processing, research and development.

Total U.S. acreage is expected to surpass 40,000 in 2015 with virtually all of the expansion being in aroma varieties that now account for 60 percent, Mahony said.

Cascade, the leading aroma variety, is now 16 percent of U.S. production and closing in on CTZ, a high alpha variety complex, that’s 23 percent of the crop, he said.

The U.S. hop industry is strong and should remain so for the next several years, Mahony said.

Michigan and New York are leading 14 additional states that are getting into hop production, George said. The U.S. and Germany are the top producers in the world.

Total U.S. production was 71 million pounds in 2014 compared with 69.2 million in 2013, according to NASS.

The crop was valued at $272 million, up 17 percent from a revised 2013 value of $232 million. The average price per pound was $3.83 versus $3.35 in 2013 and $3.17 in 2012.

Producers hung on through years of red ink from the late 1990s to 2007, George said. Better prices since then have allowed growers to upgrade harvest equipment, needed to handle many aroma varieties that mature at the same time, she said.

Hop Growers of America is holding its 59th annual convention and Hop Research Council Winter meeting at Rancho Bernardo Inn, San Diego, Calif., Jan. 20-23. More information:

Drone company CEO envisions the future farm

CLACKAMAS, Ore. — Stephen Burtthas seen the future and it’s. ... wait, let him ask you: Have you seen “Star Wars?”

Drones are everywhere in those movies, Burtt says. Doing jobs in the background, delivering goods, fixing things — their presence is so routine that no one even notices.

And that, he says, could be the future of American farms. A drone, perhaps one of his Aerial Technology International multi-rotored Quadcopters, launches itself in the morning to carry out pre-programmed tasks. Flying over the field, it uses sensors and cameras to look for diseases and pests, take inventory, check irrigation, assemble yield information or make harvest decisions.

Returning to its charging station, it downloads the information to the farmer or even to other machines, which move out on their own to pick, spray, water, cut or till.

“It’s terrestrial and airborne robots that run the farm of the future,” Burtt says.

Burtt’s three-year-old company, founded with his boyhood friend Lawrence Dennis, is among the startup tech firms aiming to get a piece of the action. Doubters question the cost and usefulness of the technology, but multiple companies and universities are engaged in research while waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to set rules for commercial use of drones.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates drone technology will produce an $82 billion economic impact and create more than 100,000 jobs by 2025. Many in the field see agriculture as a key opportunity for growth, in part because farmers eagerly seek data and are early adopters of technology that can save them time and money.

The Pacific Northwest is home to major drone developers such as Insitu Inc. and other companies. A fledgling company in Wilsonville, Ore., HoneyComb Corp., makes a fixed-wing AgDrone that it is marketing to farmers. Burtt’s company uses miniature helicopters; he believes the vertical take-off and landing capability makes it easier to launch, control and land.

He and partner Dennis, whom he’s known since seventh grade and who worked on helicopters in the military, teamed up in business about eight years ago.

They originally were drawn to the idea of using drones for mapping and shooting films. “The idea just grabbed me,” Burtt says. “If we can get a camera in the air, we can have a business.”

The development of brushless motor gimbals, which hold a mounted camera steady even if the craft carrying it bucks and bobs, provided video that was “beautiful and cinematic,” Burtt says.

ATI, the company they founded three years ago, has nine employees and concentrates on building and selling unmanned aerial systems; some custom, some out-of-the-box ready to fly. The company prides itself on training users.

“If someone buys an ag drone from us, we better make sure they succeed with it,” he says.

While some copters go for mapping and filming purposes, agricultural uses appear to hold promise, Burtt says.

Agronomists “all seem to think it’s invaluable,” he says. Most demonstration requests have come from vineyard operators, who appear to be keenly interested.

Bugs need to be worked out, starting with FAA approval. Business privacy is another concern to address. “Some farmers are very concerned about where their data goes,” Burtt says. “They don’t want their data to leave their farm.”

But Burtt is confident his company is on the right track.

“The vision of the future farm is robotic,” he says.

Stephen Burtt

Occupation: CEO and co-owner of Aerial Technology International in Clackamas, Ore. Boyhood friend Lawrence Dennis is co-owner and chief technology officer.

Age: 34

Background: Born in England, moved with his family to the U.S. as a child and grew up in Milwaukie, Ore.

Education: Not an engineer, holds a bachelor’s degree in conflict resolution from Portland State University. “You have no idea how much conflict there is in this industry,” he says with a laugh.

Entrepreneurial spark: The excitement, challenge and element of risk that comes from doing “something that no one has ever done before.”

Avian flu found in Southern Oregon

A highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza has been found in guinea fowl and chickens in a small backyard flock in Southern Oregon, the state Department of Agriculture said today.

The H5N8 virus was confirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is similar to the virus that killed a captive gyrfalcon this week in Whatcom County, Wash., in the northwest corner

The flock of approximately 100 birds in Douglas County had access to the outdoors, according to ODA. A pond and marsh on the premises are frequented by migratory birds.

The falcon in Washington died after eating a wild duck shot by a hunter at Wiser Lake 3 miles southwest of Lynden, Wash. Another wild duck found dead at the same lake tested positive this week for H5N2 avian influenza.

The H5N8 virus struck Asia flocks earlier this year and was detected in European commercial poultry for the first time in November. The virus has never been detected in commercial poultry in the United States.

A highly pathogenic H5N2 virus has claimed more than 200,000 birds at 10 poultry farms in British Columbia, just north of the Washington border.

ODA is the lead agency responding to the bird flu in Southern Oregon.

The agency is working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Health Authority and USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.

The H5N8 virus found in other parts of the world has not caused any human health problems, according to ODA.

Bird flu does not taint meat or eggs, which are safe to eat if properly cooked, according to officials.

ODA advised commercial poultry growers and backyard flock owners to keep their birds away from wild birds.

“Steps are being taken to contain the disease and we have not diagnosed avian influenza elsewhere in Oregon’s domestic poultry population, but the presence of the virus in migratory waterfowl poses a potential risk to our backyard poultry,” Oregon State Veterinarian Brad LeaMaster said in a written statement.

Backyard flock owners can report sick birds to the State Veterinarian’s office at 1-800-347-7028 or can call USDA toll free at 1-866-536-7593.

Oregon’s commercial poultry industry has an avian influenza testing program, and ODA conducts weekly tests and health inspections at the state’s only live bird market in Woodburn.

In addition, ODFW tests dead birds. Wild bird deaths can be reported to the ODFW toll-free line at 1-866-968-2600.

Northwest food processors plan 101st conference

Members of the Northwest Food Processors Association, who weathered the recession better than other agricultural sectors and pack a surprising economic punch, will gather in Portland Jan. 12-14 for their 101st expo and conference.

The event, at the Oregon Convention Center, includes a trade show with the latest in processing equipment. Educational sessions include presentations on emerging technology, climate change, workforce training, food safety and water regulations. For registration and agenda information, go to

Northwest farms, orchards and ranges may be the most visible facet of agriculture, but food processing plants are a major factor.

In Oregon alone, 637 food processing companies employed nearly 25,000 people in 2012 and added $6.1 billion in value to crops, according to a state report.

From 2007 to 2012, the depth of the recession, Oregon’s manufacturing sector lost 15.8 percent of its jobs. But food manufacturing jobs increased 7.8 percent during that same period.

Cuba is potential market for PNW fruit

YAKIMA, Wash. — With the United States moving to normalize relations, Cuba is a potential market for Washington tree fruit but probably not for some time and not in large volumes.

Cuba only has 11 million people and more than five decades of communist control has resulted in a poor economy and very little middle class, said Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima.

“Down the road when their economy takes off and they get more of a middle class, it should be a good market,” Schlect said.

A turn to democracy or at least some sort of mixed communist-capitalist system, like China or Vietnam, and an increase in tourism would help that happen, he said.

“Tourism is what they have to sell and builds their economy. I envision a huge surge in tourism, of people going who haven’t been there in decades and a build up of resorts,” he said.

Steve Appel, a wheat farmer and president of the Washington Farm Bureau, was part of a Clinton administration trade mission to Cuba in 1999 that preceded a change in law in 2000 that allowed some agricultural exports to Cuba.

Along with other commodities, it resulted in Pacific Northwest apples and pears going to Cuba for a few years.

Northern Fruit Co. Inc., East Wenatchee, sold small amounts of apples to Cuba in 2002 and 2003. The company’s operations manager, Doug Pauly, said he would like to sell there again. If Cuba can develop its economy, it could be a solid market like other Latin American countries of about 200,000 boxes of apples annually, he said.

That would be about $4 million at current prices of about $20 per box. The Dominican Republic leads the region at about 500,000 boxes, roughly $10 million.

“Every new market opportunity is a good market opportunity,” said Rebecca Lyons, export marketing manager of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee. She said she knows of no Washington apple company shipping apples to Cuba since Northern Fruit did. Sales were complicated by Cuba having to pay in dollars through a third party, she said.

Lyons, Schlect and Kevin Moffitt, president of The Pear Bureau Northwest in Portland, all attended a trade show in Cuba in 2002.

The Northwest sold 2,154, 44-pound boxes of pears to Cuba in 2002 and doubled that by 2005, Moffitt said. The U.S. tightened regulations on credit and shipments dropped back to about 2,000 boxes for several years before ending in 2012, he said.

Cuba is allowing some small businesses to open and people to sell produce outside of official stores, Moffitt said. It is building some wealth, although small.

“As people are lifted out of poverty, more will be able to afford pears and apples,” he said. “The retail segment will need to be developed a lot before large volumes can go there.”

It will probably be seven to 10 years before enough middle class emerges in Cuba for it to become a target for Northwest cherries, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima.

A good comparison is Vietnam, he said, which is merging communism and capitalism, developing “a very nice little middle class market for cherries” this year at 35,000 boxes.

Group challenges timber producer’s ‘green’ label

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — A watchdog group is challenging the environmentally friendly “green lumber” certification for Plum Creek Timberlands, one of the nation’s biggest landowners and timber producers.

The Center for Sustainable Economy, based in Lake Oswego, Oregon, filed the complaint Thursday with a nonprofit group that verifies whether timber producers follow standards for environmentally responsible logging, including replanting after harvest, protecting water and biological diversity, and complying with environmental laws and regulations.

The complaint covers Plum Creek logging in Oregon’s Coast Range, citing 11 civil citations over the past six years for violating state logging regulations, including four citations for exceeding the clear-cutting limit of 120 acres. The complaint includes Google Earth images showing landslides in areas stripped of trees by Plum Creek.

The company also was cited for failing to protect riparian zones along fish-bearing streams, allowing logging road drainage into a stream and failing to notify state regulators of changes in logging operations.

Seattle-based Plum Creek did not immediately respond to requests for comment. On its website, it states prominently that all its timberlands are certified by the nonprofit Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

“We have long conducted our business with a strong commitment to the environment,” the site says.

The complaint demands that the Sustainable Forestry Initiative immediately suspend certification for Plum Creek in Oregon and investigate the company’s logging practices throughout the country.

Besides giving companies a way to green up their image, certification can have economic benefits. Some state and federal agencies are required to buy products that are certified as sustainable, and some businesses and retailers have sustainability policies. Home Depot, for example, says on its website that it sells only lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the other major certification body.

The timber industry started the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, but it has since become an independent nonprofit certifying more than 240 million acres of private forests. Outside auditors certify that companies conform to standards for environmentally responsible logging.

Chris Lunde, harvest manager for Blakely Tree Farms LP in Seattle, oversees compliance with Sustainable Forestry Initiative standards in Oregon. He confirmed receiving the complaint, the first in his seven years in the position.

Plum Creek has 45 days to respond, and the complaint will be taken up by an outside auditor, initiative spokeswoman Elizabeth Woodworth said.

John Talberth, president of Center for Sustainable Economy, said the group feels the alleged Oregon violations are part of a larger nationwide problem.

“We think this is the tip of the iceberg, definitely in Oregon, but probably in other states as well,” he said. “As we know, regulations protecting state and private forest lands are far weaker than those for federal lands, and have far less citizen oversight.”

Hermiston farm worker testifies at Senate hearing

Eastern Oregon got some representation in Washington, D.C., last week when an undocumented farmworker from Hermiston testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform.

Raul Esparza de la Paz, who has been in the country since 1998, urged the committee to keep President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration intact while working to come up with a comprehensive immigration reform of their own.

“On a personal level it was something amazing to be among so many senators in Congress, especially representing the city of Hermiston,” he said in Spanish.

The president’s executive orders protect several groups from the threat of deportation, including those who arrived in the country as a child and the parents of immigrants who have been a legal resident for more than five years.

De la Paz said he told the committee about how Obama’s executive action benefited his family. One of his children was already a legal resident and another was covered by the 2012 order to defer action on students who came into the country as a child. But for de la Paz, his wife and three other adult children, Obama’s new executive action removes a sense of fear they have lived with since coming to the United States.

“But a lot more needs to be done,” de la Paz said. “Now it’s Congress’ turn.”

He said even though he had to sacrifice a few days of work to travel to the hearing, he jumped at the chance to represent the United Farm Workers in the nation’s capital.

“I wanted to take the opportunity to manifest my excitement and joy over the executive action,” he said.

He said he was so excited about speaking at the nation’s capital that it only took him 20 minutes to write his speech.

De la Paz spoke at a press conference before the hearing, and said afterward at the hearing Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, ceded his time on the floor to de la Paz to expand on some of the points he made at the conference about the importance of keeping families together through immigration reform.

Immigration reform activist Astrid Silva, a “Dreamer” from Nevada who came to the country illegally at four years old and is now able to attend college thanks to Obama’s 2012 actions, also spoke at the Dec. 10 hearing.

Mint farm’s candy gains a sweet presence in Oprah’s magazine

An Oregon mint farm’s line of candy, started as a side business a few years ago, is featured in celebrity Oprah Winfrey’s magazine this holiday season.

It’s too soon to know whether the spotlight in “O” magazine will result in increased sales of chocolate covered mint patties, but Seely Farms is enjoying the ride.

The magazine includes the mint patties among other treats, describing them as a “guilt free” indulgence.

The farm, owned by Mike and Candy (yes, that’s her real name) Seely, is the last mint farm in Columbia County, which used to be one of the state’s major mint production areas. The Seelys, both former electrical engineers, farm with their children. Mike Seely’s parents and grandparents were mint farmers near Battle Ground, Wash., and he left engineering because he felt drawn to the farm life.

Like other mint farmers, they sell oil that is used to flavor gum, candy, toothpaste, breath mints and other products. But the market nearly tanked when companies turned to less-expensive oil blends or synthetic flavorings, and the Seelys began looking for options about eight years ago.

They began diversification by selling mint tea and vials of oil at the Portland Farmers’ Market. Then, aided by Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center in Portland, they set up shop in a Clatskanie restaurant and began making mint candy.

They first made 4,000 candy canes, which quickly sold out. Then came the patties, an intensely flavored peppermint fondant covered in dark Belgian chocolate, and Mint Melt-Aways, a smaller, simpler combination of chocolate and mint oil.

The farm’s candies are carried nationally by Whole Foods Markets and other specialty grocers. Mike Seely said the candy business is breaking even, but only uses about 2 percent of his annual oil production. The rest goes as commercial flavoring.


It’s official: GMO labeling loses recount

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Secretary of State Kate Brown has certified recount results that show the defeat of an Oregon ballot measure to require labels on genetically modified foods.

Brown’s certification on Monday makes the results of the recount official.

They show the measure was defeated by 837 votes out of more than 1.5 million cast. That’s a margin of less than 0.06 percent.

The recount was automatically triggered by the close margin. The hand tally showed an additional 167 votes, with a net gain of 25 no votes.

Oregon becomes the fourth state in the West to reject a labeling requirement for GMOs, following Colorado, California and Washington.

Proponents conceded defeat last week.

Retiring OSU researchers honored

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences said goodbye to seven long-time Department of Crop and Soil Science personnel in a celebration Dec. 12 that drew researchers, crop consultants, farmers and university administrators.

The celebration included a recognition ceremony during which participants honored long-time OSU Extension personnel Bill Young, Glenn Fisher and John Hart, as well as Department of Soil Science personnel Ann Corey, John Baham, Barbara Reed and former department head Russ Karow.

All are retiring from the university in the coming weeks or have recently retired.

Fisher, Hart, Karow and Young, particularly, were well known among Oregon farmers, who utilized their research to improve crop management practices.

New Crop and Soil Science Department head Jay Noller said research conducted by Fisher, an entomologist, was vital in helping farmers battle slugs and insect pests that increased after field burning was phased out in the Willamette Valley.

As for Young, Noller said: “Bill is one of those names that comes up around the world.” In a meeting in France, Noller said a scientist asked him if he knew Bill Young after learning Noller was from OSU.

Noller also read a letter from the International Herbage Seed Group thanking Young for his research and group participation.

Bill Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Potato Commission, was among several to offer comments about Karow. “There is a difference between how growers speak and how the university speaks,” Brewer said, “and Russ understands both languages.

“He has done a wonderful job being part of our industry,” Brewer said.

Noller said the department is in the process of locating a new extension soil specialist to replace Hart and is looking for a new soil landscape scientist to backfill his previous position.

Noller, a soil landscape scientist, replaced Karow as department head earlier this fall.

The department doesn’t have an immediate plans to fill Young’s extension seed specialist position.

“That is still out in the future,” Noller said.

As for replacing the 230 years of institutional memory that were on hand Dec. 12, Noller said that will be impossible.

“We are saddened by the loss,” he said, “but they’ve accomplished so much, they deserve a break.”

Steve Gapp, a consultant for Crop Production Services, may have put the participants’ sentiment best when in addressing the audience, he said: “Myself, and the farmers we work with, are the ones who have been the recipients of the work these people have done.

“Thank you again on behalf of the industry for all your hard work,” Gapp said.

Hermiston extension center hires approved

Phil Hamm, director of Oregon State University’s Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, said College of Agricultural Sciences Dean Dan Arp has approved an emergency replacement for Don Hornek, who died of a heart attack Sept. 28.

Hamm said he hopes to have a new hire on hand in about eight months.

Hornek served as extension agronomist and soil scientist at the station for 14 years.

Also, Hamm said, the station recently named Ken Frost, a research assistant in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as its new plant pathologist. Hamm has maintained plant pathology duties at the station for several years part-time while serving as station director.

Frost will start at the station at the end of January, Hamm said.

— Mitch Lies