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Portland hosts national Women in Sustainable Agriculture conference

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND — A national conference of Women in Sustainable Agriculture wasn’t the place to go looking for traditional farm wives. Try farm operators, owners and ag researchers, brokers, marketers and educators instead.

The conference, to be held Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Portland, attracted 400 women from across the country, and two dozen speakers and panelists. The event, held this year for the first time on the West Coast, provided extensive networking and education opportunities, said Maud Powell, a small farms specialist with Oregon State University Extension in Jackson and Josephine counties.

“Women are increasingly important in agriculture across the country,” Powell said. Once marginalized as farm wives, she said, women can now be found in every agricultural sector.

Oregon saw the early formation of two women farmers networks, one in Southern Oregon and one in the Willamette Valley, Powell said. Similar organizations developed in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Vermont and elsewhere, and the national organization of Women in Sustainable Agriculture grew from there.

Within the organization, “sustainable” means farm operations that support long-term success in economic, environmental and social aspects, Powell said. That includes supporting the local community and local businesses, she said.

“For me it’s always fascinating to see how the issues of sustainable agriculture are similar, with local flavor,” she said.

The conference began with tours of farms in the Columbia River Gorge, Willamette Valley and the Portland area.

Other events included a “Trailblazers Panel” in which three women who assumed leading roles in ag early on described their experiences.

Among the scheduled panel speakers was Jeanne Carver, who with her husband, Dan, operates the historic Imperial Stock Ranch in North Central Oregon. Wool produced by the ranch took the spotlight when the Ralph Lauren clothing line found them while looking for American yarn with which to make USA uniforms for the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.

Other speakers were to be Diane Green of Greentree Naturals, a small acreage and CSA farm near Sandpoint, Idaho; and Joan Thorndike of Le Mera Gardens, a fresh-cut flowers operation in Southern Oregon’s Rogue River Valley.

Thirty percent of U.S. farmers are women, according to the USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture, but the number has been in flux. The census counted 969,672 women farmers in 2012, a 2 percent decrease from 2007. The reason for that is unclear, but some in ag speculate that the deep recession that hit in 2009 forced some new farmers out of the profession.

Women made up 14 percent of principal operators in the 2012 census, but they tend to be older than principal operators overall. Only 4 percent of women principal operators were under 35, according to census.

Marijuana testing poses regulatory quandaries

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

WILSONVILLE, Ore. — Marijuana testing is creating several quandaries for Oregon regulators at a time of overall uncertainty for the newly legalized crop, according to a state official.

Testing for pesticides poses one challenge, as the necessary instrumentation is expensive and complicated, said Jeff Rhoades, senior adviser on marijuana policy for Gov. Kate Brown.

While state regulators want to protect public health, testing is a large barrier to entry into the legal recreational marijuana market, he said during the Oregon Board of Agriculture meeting in Wilsonville, Ore., on Nov. 30.

An overly strict testing regime would be a disadvantage to small growers while favoring large out-of-state companies, Rhoades said.

“It’s a very delicate balance with testing here,” he said.

One pesticide that’s commonly used on grapes, for example, breaks down into hydrogen cyanide when set aflame, he said.

Meanwhile, marijuana is sold not just as a flower, but also in the form of various tinctures and extracts that require specific testing methods, Rhoades said.

“It can’t be just a one-size-fits-all approach,” he said.

There are also no federally approved pesticides that are specific to the psychoactive crop, Rhoades said.

Currently, Oregon has 18 laboratories accredited to test marijuana, but just four are able to test for pesticides.

Other marijuana traits that are tested for include microbial contamination, solvents and potency.

Potency testing has also encountered problems since it became mandatory on Oct. 1, said Rhoades.

Marijuana growers were receiving greatly variable results from different labs, and so were flocking to those providing the highest potency ratings, he said.

“Lab shopping was happening all over the place,” he said.

Regulators are now trying to create a standardized testing protocol for potency so growers can expect uniform results, Rhoades said.

Taxes from marijuana sales in Oregon are expected to be a boon to state coffers, but first the Oregon Liquor Control Commission must be repaid for its extensive work in creating a regulatory system for the crop, he said.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture has also been heavily involved in regulations involving pesticides, food safety and accurate scale systems, Rhoades said.

Exactly how the agency will be repaid for these efforts is currently unclear, though the issue is being discussed and will likely surface during the 2017 legislative session, he said.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which has made banks leery of dealing with marijuana companies — a complication that raises additional issues, Rhoades said.

“It’s an all-cash business at this point, which creates public safety concerns and tax collection concerns,” he said.

Regulators in Oregon and the seven other states where recreational marijuana is now legal were hoping for clarity from the federal government that would enable more banking involvement, he said.

With the recent election and upcoming change in presidential administrations, however, there’s great uncertainty about federal marijuana policy, Rhoades said.

The Obama administration’s approach — which allows recreational marijuana as long as it’s kept out of the black market and away from children, among other measures — can be immediately reversed by the Trump administration, he said.

Hunting and fishing licenses available online again in Idaho

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho officials say online sales of hunting and fishing licenses are up and running again following a three-month shutdown due to a computer breach at the vendor that handles those sales.

Idaho Fish and Game announced Tuesday that more security features have been added that will require additional steps by those seeking to make purchases online.

Dallas, Texas,-based Active Network reported a computer breach in August with the possibility that millions of records in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, including Social Security numbers, might have been compromised.

Idaho Fish and Game spokesman Mike Keckler says it’s still not clear if any personal information was stolen, and that the FBI continues to investigate.

Oregon resumed online sales in early September with added security, and Washington state is also back online.

Food producers looking to go big have to deal with institutional hurdles

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Truitt Family Foods, a Salem, Ore., processing company, recently spread the word it is looking for subcontractors who can provide ingredients it uses to make hummus and vegetable dips.

On the surface it’s a fairly routine development; a processor looking for suppliers of garbanzo bean puree, sesame seed paste, lime and lemon juice concentrate, garlic powder and puree, and sugar and salt.

But the back story takes off on a number of tracks.

First, Truitt is in the process of bidding to sell its hummus and veggie Dippers to the Houston Independent School District, which with 215,000 students is the largest in Texas and seventh largest in the nation.

Institutional food service departments, especially in school districts, have in recent years sought to offer more healthful food, preferably locally produced. That’s created an opening for companies such as Truitt Family Foods, which already sells to the San Diego and Portland school districts, among multiple school system customers in Oregon and elsewhere.

“Our goal is to create something healthy but also appetizing to kids,” said Peter Truitt, company founder and CEO. “It’s a little more difficult than meets the eye.”

To comply with extensive nutritional regulations and make food that is appetizing to children at the same time is “a real challenge,” he said.

So is the process. The Houston district’s request for proposals (RFP) is about 100 pages long, and among other things requires applicants to show they’ve made good faith efforts to do business with women- and minority-owned suppliers.

That requirement caused Truitt to question its practices and issue a call for ingredient subcontractors. Peter Truitt said, however, that the company won’t lower its quality or food safety standards just to take on women- or minority-owned business partners.

To put out the word, Truitt went through the Food Entrepreneur Network operated by Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center in Portland, which helps small and beginning companies take products to market.

Sarah Masoni, product development manager at the Food Innovation Center, said Oregon has some ingredient producers. Stahlbush Island Farms, in Corvallis, makes vegetable purees for processors. Kerr Concentrates, in Salem, makes fruit and berry concentrates.

Sourcing sufficient product ingredients is just one step in the process of selling to institutional buyers. Processors who bid on school food service and similar-scale jobs also have to solve problems ranging from distribution to getting past the institutional gatekeepers.

“The first step is to satisfy an interest of the actual food service director,” CEO Truitt said. “Sometimes that takes six months or a year. If you want to sell product to Houston today, you needed to start a year ago.”

Private businesses aren’t necessarily faster. Truitt said he’s heard anecdotally that McDonald’s has a two-year timeline for bringing on new menu items.

Still, institutional buyers represent an opportunity for what Ecotrust, a Portland nonprofit, referred to as “ag of the middle” producers — the ones too small to compete at the commodity level but too large to survive by selling at farmers’ markets.

In Oregon alone, prisons, hospitals, care centers and schools serve about 40 million meals a year, but lag well behind restaurants and retailers in buying local food, according to a 2015 Ecotrust report.

The Portland area has a couple major exceptions. Oregon Health and Science University, the teaching hospital, provides locally sourced meals to patients, staff and visitors. Among other purchases, OHSU buys 1,000 pounds of beef and bones a week from a pair of Northeast Oregon cattle ranches.

AirBNB, the international vacation rental hub, provides free meals to employees at its downtown Portland call center. Local, seasonal food makes up most of the menu.

Beef company recovers from rough patch

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

EUGENE, Ore.— An Oregon beef processing facility is re-opening after rough patch that included an operating suspension ordered by the USDA and an expensive equipment upgrade.

Bartels Farms, an organic and grass-fed beef company based in Eugene, Ore., planned to restart its slaughter facility in late November after shutting down for several weeks.

The interruption in operations has cost the company roughly $8 million to $10 million in lost revenues, as it has been unable to process about 11,000 head of cattle, said Chris Bartels, the firm’s president.

The shutdown also created problems for livestock producers who expected to sell cattle to Bartels Farms, as well as retailers who couldn’t get their orders for meat filled, he said.

“The ripple effect is tremendous,” he said.

Despite some negative attention in the local media, retail buyers have stuck by the company after the suspension, said his wife, Kandi Bartels.

“If we had lost our customers, it would have been a different story,” she said.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service began enforcement action against Bartels Farms in September after several incidents in which cattle weren’t immediately rendered unconscious from a stun with a captive-bolt gun, requiring a repeated stun, according to agency documents.

The agency suspended inspections at the facility — effectively stopping operations — in mid-October, citing “continued failures to maintain and implement humane handling controls” after finding a cow had become trapped in a head restraint.

Bartels Farms appealed that decision, arguing the cow simply pulled back against the head restraint, which was not a violation.

The USDA ultimately rescinded its suspension in early November after finding the “events described did not rise to the level of a non-compliance per the regulations,” but the facility remained closed for improvements.

Chris Bartels said the suspension resulted from an inexperienced USDA veterinarian misinterpreting regulations, but he nonetheless decided to invest $150,000 on upgrades to the facility to ensure humane handling.

The company installed a serpentine “drive alley” leading cattle to the facility that avoids sharp corners and thus reduces stress on the cows, he said.

The alley was also covered in panels to prevent contact with humans and distresses to livestock. A new restrainer was installed to prevent cattle from moving their heads prior to stunning, rather than simply holding their necks, he said.

The system was based on designs from Temple Grandin, a well-known animal scientist at Colorado State University who specializes in humane handling, and inspected by a former USDA veterinarian, Bartels said.

The improvements to the facility’s “knock box” are aimed at preventing future mis-stuns, he said.

A mis-stun is considered inhumane if a cow is hoisted into the air for processing before it’s rendered insensible, but that never occurred at the facility, said Kandi Bartels.

Bartels Farms allows cattle to feed, water and rest for 24 hours after delivery, instead of directing them immediately into the facility, said Chris Bartels.

“The idea we would mistreat the animals at the end of the process is ludicrous,” he said.

News outlets want standoff juror names

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Three media organizations, including The Associated Press, have filed a motion asking a federal judge to unseal the identities of the jurors who acquitted all seven defendants involved in the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in rural southeastern Oregon.

The motion filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland seeks to modify a protective order that was in place during the trial of brother Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five others.

The Oregonian/OregonLive and Oregon Public Broadcasting are the other media groups.

The jury acquitted all defendants on Oct. 27 of conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, 300 miles southeast of Portland.

The motion says there’s no longer a threat to jurors because the case is over.

Calf euthanized after wolf attack in northeast Oregon

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

An 8-month-old calf found injured on private land in northeast Oregon Nov. 21 was attacked by wolves, according to an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife investigation.

The calf was euthanized the following day. The size and location of numerous bite wounds found on the calf were consistent with a wolf attack, ODFW said. The wounds were on the hindquarter above the hock, with “deep tissue shredding” in the rectal area.

Three fresh wolf tracks were seen near a gate and fence that the cow herd apparently had broken down while running. In addition, GPS tracking collar data showed OR-41, a member of the Shamrock Pack, was less than half a mile from the cows’ location on Nov. 21.

The investigation began when a range rider came across the injured calf and “agitated” cows in a pasture in the Crow Creek area of Wallowa County.

Big wine company makes a big move in Oregon

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Jackson Family Wines, the California-based company that has purchased four vineyards in Oregon since 2013, is building a 68,000 square-foot wine production facility in McMinnville, in the heart of the state’s Pinot noir region.

The company’s presence in Oregon unsettles a few who wonder about its potential impact on the state’s unusual wine sector. Jackson Family is an international wine company with operations in Chile, France, Italy and Australia in addition to the U.S. In Oregon, the company has bought the Zena Crown, Gran Moraine, Penner-Ash and WillaKenzie vineyards and wineries since 2013.

Gregory Jones, a Southern Oregon University professor who often writes about the wine industry and viticulture climatology, said larger companies entering new territory need to understand a region’s culture.

“One would hope that the new energy drives innovation, bettering the overall health of the industry,” Jones said by email. “Only time will tell.”

Company officials were not immediately available to provide additional details of the construction. Most who are engaged in or follow Oregon’s wine industry don’t appear overly concerned about the company’s arrival.

Jackson Family purchased two buildings that were part of Evergreen International Aviation’s campus and will use them for offices and lab space, according to the McMinnville city planning department. The production facility under construction is adjacent to the other buildings.

The property is across the street from the airplane museum and water park Evergreen formerly operated.

Jackson Family’s presence in Oregon will bring more national and international exposure to the state’s wine industry, said Jody Christensen, executive director of the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership. The organization represents chamber of commerce, utility, city government and business interests.

“It’s a significant development for our community,” Christensen said. “This is a company with a great reputation. They’re very engaged in the Oregon sensibility — inclusive and collaborative. I’m very impressed with the way they approach their work.”

David Adelsheim, one of Oregon’s pioneering grape growers and winemakers, said Jackson Family’s investment isn’t likely to change the Willamette Valley’s reputation for producing high-quality, expensive wines, especially Pinot noir. In the stores, bottles of Oregon Pinot commonly carry $40 to $65 price tags.

“I think we should not plan on them changing the landscape,” he said. “They’re building a larger winery, which Oregon desperately needs because we don’t have the capacity, but they’re not going to make a $15 (per bottle) Pinot noir.”

Adelsheim has a unique perspective; in addition to his own experience, his wife, winemaker Eugenia Keegan, was at Gran Moraine and now is Jackson Family’s general manager of operations.

Adelsheim said the valley produces small crops per acre and the resulting grapes are expensive — costing $3,000 a ton and more. Those grapes have to be sold as expensive wine to be profitable. It’s an unusual formula that nonetheless has worked for 50 years, he said.

“We’re one of the few places in the world that can do that, we’re making only wines at the highest price levels,” he said. “The Willamette Valley is the place where all we make is really expensive wine, and we normally sell it, too.”

Adelsheim said the Willamette Valley’s wine industry began as a collaboration of a handful of Pinot noir novices and “came out of leftfield.” It couldn’t have been created by a single person or a single company, he said.

Instead, “A group of people became a bigger group of people, became a bigger group,” he said.

Jackson Family, he said, just bought into that vision.

“There’s no one thing, there’s no one person, there’s no one winery,” Adelsheim said. “But there is one grape. Maybe that’s what you can say.”

Movement seeks to bring back flood irrigation in some areas

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Chris Colson champions an admittedly antiquated and inefficient method of watering crops — flood irrigation.

The Boise-based regional biologist for Ducks Unlimited is part of a movement that recognizes the wildlife and water-supply benefits of flood irrigation, and the need to make certain it continues to be used in floodplains and other strategic locations across the West.

Ironically, his efforts to preserve flood irrigation often tap the same federal dollars that help farmers install high-efficiency pivots, which threaten to render flood irrigation obsolete.

The attraction for Colson and others is that flood irrigation, with its leaky canals and standing water, helps recharge shrinking aquifers and provides migratory birds with a stopover on their annual pilgrimages between the Arctic and points south.

Unlikely partnerships of agricultural landowners, conservationists, government officials and water managers are behind efforts to keep farmers flooding fields in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and California. During the past year, Colson estimates the movement has maintained flood irrigation on roughly 4,000 acres across the West.

“For 15 or 20 years or more, the conservation community has been telling people how wasteful flood irrigation is and convert to sprinkler,” Colson said.

Farmers have relied on flood irrigation — using gravity to spread surface water across fields — for thousands of years.

Since the late 1960s, however, growers have been moving away from flooding in favor of more efficient sprinklers. On average, 120,000 acres in 11 Western states were converted from flood irrigation to sprinklers annually between 1995 to 2010, according to a study of U.S. Geological Survey water-use data.

Conservation funding sources, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program under the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, have long supported sprinkler conversions with water-efficiency grants.

But the pursuit of efficiency has had unintended consequences. Migratory wading birds feed in flood-irrigated fields, which have provided an artificial alternative to the natural marshes lost to river damming. And Western aquifer levels have dropped in correlation with the disappearance of flood irrigation — historically a major source of incidental aquifer recharge.

In Idaho’s Eastern Snake Plain, for example, officials say the aquifer has been dropping by 200,000 acre-feet per year on average, due to increased groundwater use and reduced flood irrigation.

Zola Ryan, NRCS district conservationist in Harney County, Ore., says her agency’s goals of improving irrigation efficiency and preserving flood irrigation needn’t be at odds.

Ryan explained efficient sprinklers are ideal for irrigators using groundwater, and watering where benefits of flooding aren’t as pronounced.

“There is a place and time for flood irrigation and a place and time for sprinkler irrigation,” Ryan said.

Colson and his colleagues have been working to understand — and ultimately address — the reasons growers opt to stop flood irrigating.

Often, the problem is the cost of replacing dilapidated head gates or improving canals. Some producers say flood irrigation is simply too labor intensive.

“We’re working with some vendors to develop automated infrastructure, where they can sit in their truck and use their cell phone and open the valves (to flood irrigate),” Colson said.

In Eastern Oregon, Ryan explained many growers quit flood irrigating in the early 1980s, after widespread flooding damaged canals. New wells and sprinklers are becoming increasingly common, she said.

However, NRCS has since 2014 set aside $300,000 a year for a special EQIP program to preserve flood irrigation for benefits to migratory birds in Oregon’s Harney and Lake counties. A half-dozen projects are in the planning stages, Ryan said.

Lake County rancher Joe Villagrana will finish NRCS-funded improvements to retain flood-irrigation later this month. But he’s been working with partners to upgrade his flood-irrigation infrastructure for most of a decade, initially with help from Ducks Unlimited. Villagrana said he’ll soon have the ability to evenly flood irrigate 2,200 acres of meadow grass pasture, and both grass production and water fowl numbers have already risen dramatically on his land.

Without the help, “I probably wouldn’t have done near what I’ve done, and I would have done it over 20 years,” Villagrana said.

In Northern California, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist John Ranlett has tapped U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funds to help several ranches install pipelines to better deliver water for flood irrigation. Ranlett has also overseen the replacements of weirs — shallow dams across rivers that regulate water levels entering flood-irrigation canals.

“If their infrastructure starts to fail, they’re going to lose the ability to irrigate,” Ranlett said. “Then all of a sudden you lose habitat.”

A couple of years ago, Tim Brockish considered installing an irrigation pivot that would replace failing flood-irrigation infrastructure serving a 40-acre field he owns near Rexburg, Idaho.

Then he learned about the plight of the white-faced ibis — a migratory wading bird known as a “marker bird” by people in the Rexburg area, as its presence marks flood-irrigated fields.

Brockish explained that one of the world’s largest ibis breeding colonies utilizes nearby Mud Lake and Market Lake, and the birds forage in flooded fields by day. The supply of flooded fields, however, is running thin, causing problems for the ibis and other migratory birds in one of the continent’s most critical “staging areas.”

More than a decade ago, experts discovered migratory birds were stopping for a few weeks along the Snake Plain in Idaho and in Eastern Oregon, Eastern Washington and Northern California to feed on insects and grass seed from flood-irrigated fields before heading north to breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska. Malnourished birds often won’t breed.

Ultimately, Brockish chose wildlife over improved irrigation efficiency, partnering with the Teton Regional Land Trust to upgrade his flood system. He obtained a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant to replace metal head gates, rebuild canals and build a dike to hold flood-irrigation water longer on the field,

Sal Palazzolo, private lands program manager at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said preserving the staging area is a goal of both his agency and Ducks Unlimited, which have a plan to help water fowl by working with the state’s managed aquifer recharge program. Managed recharge involves intentionally injecting surface water into the aquifer to rebuild groundwater levels.

IDFG and Ducks Unlimited have asked the Idaho Department of Water Resources to design its recharge sites to be more like marshes, spilling shallow water over hundreds of acres rather than deep water over a smaller area.

“We’re definitely looking into that,” said Wes Hipke, IDWR’s recharge coordinator, who also sees the potential to combine resources with wildlife organizations on future recharge efforts. “It’s going to have to be on a case-by-case basis.”

IDWR has also agreed to study the potential for a managed aquifer recharge site at the Market Lake Wildlife Management Area.

Palazzolo said efforts are underway to establish a separate EQIP fund in Idaho for flood irrigation projects, and NRCS is mulling an Eastern Idaho water grant under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program that would cover flood-irrigation infrastructure.

Like many producers in his area, Teton County Farm Bureau Federation President Stephen Bagley stopped flood irrigating his ranch in the southern end of Idaho’s Teton Valley during the 1960s.

Now, Bagley is a leader of a coalition working to restore flood irrigation to the valley as a means of resolving a water shortfall that’s becoming increasingly critical.

Groundwater levels have dropped 55 feet in the valley since the 1970s — before flood irrigation was phased out in favor of sprinklers and neighborhoods sprang up on farmland. Miles of unlined canals went unused that had previously recharged the aquifer with water losses exceeding 40 percent.

As a result, surface irrigation rights that once remained in priority through late July have lately been shut off at the beginning of the month.

In December of 2015 irrigators hoping to improve their own water outlook partnered with Farm Bureau, local cities and counties, Friends of the Teton River, Teton County Soil and Water Conservation District, Water District 1, the Henry’s Fork Foundation and others to form the Teton Water Users Association.

The association is pursuing funds to rebuild flood-irrigation infrastructure, which irrigators will use to flood pastures within their existing water rights during peak spring flows. When flows subside, they’ll resume using only efficient sprinklers. The water they bank through canals and flood irrigation should emerge from springs about three months later, when it’s needed most, extending the irrigation season, cooling the river for native Yellowstone cutthroat trout and replenishing dried marshes.

“Hopefully, I’ll have another week or two of irrigation because they won’t have to call for my water as fast,” Bagley said.

Driggs, Idaho, grower Wyatt Penfold said operating margins are razor thin in the valley, and saving a couple weeks of costly storage water from reservoirs would be a huge benefit.

“The only way to keep the lifestyle we’re all used to is to work together,” Penfold said.

Rob Van Kirk, senior scientist with the Henry’s Fork Foundation, has modeled the Teton Valley hydrology, calculating the association must increase annual aquifer recharge by 30,000 acre-feet to meet its goal of restoring water levels to 1975 conditions. The association will soon conduct an assessment of priority sites on which to restore flood irrigation.

Sarah Lien, an attorney for Friends of the Teton River, said the program’s ultimate goal is to apply about 260 cubic feet per second of water from April 15 through June 15.

“If we’re successful, we’re talking about 40 cfs increases in the Teton River,” Lien said. “It’s really new water.”

The project has been awarded a $50,000 U.S. Bureau of Reclamation WaterSMART grant to cover preliminary planning. They also have a pending $250,000 grant application with the Idaho Water Resource Board, which would provide matching funds to tap additional federal grants.

“The surface water every year is gone sooner and we’re more reliant on groundwater,” said Driggs, Idaho, Mayor Hyrum Johnson, who considers the association to be a template for other Western water users to follow. “I believe this organization is a great example of the way that water rights can be managed proactively around the state.”

State agencies warn marijuana growers of pesticide use

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BEND, Ore. (AP) — State agencies are reminding marijuana producers to limit their use of pesticides in the wake of two recent public health alerts.

The Bend Bulletin reports that a letter from three state agencies warns that cannabis producers whose products test below “action levels” for permitted pesticides may still be violating state regulations if they use pesticides banned by the state Pesticide Control Act.

An action level is a low pesticide measure that the authority requires of testing laboratories as a measure of accuracy. Action levels do not indicate a safe level.

The letter, co-signed Monday by the heads of the Health Authority, Oregon Liquor Control Commission and Oregon Department of Agriculture, says growers that failed test results are referred to the Agriculture Department for further investigation.

Elliott forest purchase plan meets initial criteria

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — The Department of State Lands says the sole plan to acquire an 82,500-acre parcel of the Elliott State Forest meets the department’s initial criteria for acquisition.

A spokeswoman for the department said in an email that some details were not “fully developed and will need to be worked out” during the next phase of the acquisition process.

The plan is part of a process that the Department of State Lands has developed to sell the section of the Elliott State Forest.

The department is responsible for managing the land to generate revenue for the Common School Fund, a state K-12 education fund.

Since 2013, the fund has lost money, and as the holder of fiduciary responsibility for the fund, the state says it has to sell the land. It cites lawsuits that challenged its logging on Common School Fund lands where protected animal species live.

The land is not being sold for a competitive bid but for the fixed price of $220.8 million.

Lone Rock Resources, a Roseburg timber company, was the only entity to submit an acquisition plan by the department’s Nov. 15 deadline. A $100,000 deposit was required.

If Lone Rock’s plan is approved by the Land Board, the company intends to partner with the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians to manage the land, according to documents released by the state lands department Tuesday.

Lone Rock will contribute about 87 percent of the equity, while Cow Creek will contribute about 13 percent. Although Cow Creek will have minority interests in an LLC formed to provide the capital to buy the forest, the Cow Creek band will have the right to participate in votes on “major decisions.”

The Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, assisted by the nonprofit The Conservation Fund, would hold a conservation easement to enforce the four public benefit requirements of the sale.

The public benefits are as follows: that the public have recreational access to half the forest, that 25 percent of old stands remain, that riparian areas are preserved and that the plan create 40 “direct or indirect” jobs for a decade.

Environmental groups have opposed the sale of the land to a private entity and have advocated for keeping it in public hands.

Under a proposed easement agreement, Elliott Forest LLC would reimburse the easement holder up to $5,000 annually for the cost of an independent third-party auditor to verify the promised employment.

The LLC needs to report harvest levels to the Oregon Department of Revenue every year, and those reports can be provided to the easement holder, “with the goal of eliminating the need for audits” if the easement holder — which would be the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians — is satisfied by those reports, according to a draft copy of a proposed employment monitoring easement.

Josh Laughlin, the director of Cascadia Wildlands, a conservation nonprofit in Eugene that’s been one of the leading voices opposing the sale, argued that Lone Rock’s current plan would allow it to clearcut old growth.

“The Lone Rock proposal would ultimately privatize the Elliott State Forest and lock the public out by charging fees to recreate,” Laughlin wrote in an email Tuesday. “And their strategy to protect old trees is toothless. It would allow the timber company to clearcut the remaining valuable old-growth by protecting a subset of younger forest.”

He called on Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, one of the three members of the State Land Board, to oppose the sale.

Jake Gibbs, director of external affairs for Lone Rock, said that the company’s conservation strategy was intended to be “sustainable” and to provide all of the required public benefits while harvesting timber.

He said the company will not know how much board-feet or how many trees it will harvest every year until the company’s foresters “have time to do additional study.”

He said Lone Rock, in partnership with the multiple tribes proposing to manage the land, would be held accountable “now and in the future.”

Gov. Brown is one of three elected officials on the State Land Board.

Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins are leaving their offices at the end of the year.

They will be replaced, respectively, by Treasurer-elect Tobias Read, a Democrat and state representative, and Secretary of State-elect Dennis Richardson, a Republican and former state legislator.

The State Land Board is scheduled to make a decision on whether to move forward with the sale at its Dec. 13 meeting. The state lands department is expected to release a staff report on the acquisition plan one week prior to that meeting.


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