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Walden chosen to chair House Energy and Commerce Committee

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon has been elected to serve as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in Washington, D.C.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the appointment will give Walden oversight of federal departments in charge of consumer protections, food and drug safety, public health, environmental quality and energy policy, among others.

The post also means Walden will be a key player in the debate over the fate of the Affordable Care Act, which President-elect Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans have said will be repealed and replaced in the next Congressional session.

Walden said in a statement he’ll “focus on what’s best for consumers, on creating better paying jobs and providing patient-centered health care” in his new role.

Walden represents Oregon’s expansive 2nd Congressional District, which includes much of the electorate east of the Cascades as well as much of Southern Oregon.

Wheat growers oppose dam breaching during public scoping meeting

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BOISE — Breaching four dams on the lower Snake River would cause significant harm to the Pacific Northwest agricultural industry, Idaho wheat industry leaders said Nov. 29 during a public meeting.

The meeting is one of 15 being held around the region by federal agencies to get input on the operation of the hydropower dams on the Columbia-Snake River system, a process initiated by a federal judge handling a lawsuit brought by dam removal supporters.

It’s critical that agriculture, especially the wheat industry, makes its concerns known during the public comment period, said Idaho Wheat Commission Executive Director Blaine Jacobson.

“The dams are absolutely crucial to the health of the Idaho wheat industry,” he said. “Wheat is a global market and it’s a very competitive market and if we have to rail it to Portland, it would make a number of the growers uncompetitive on the world market.”

The U.S. district court judge earlier this year ordered the federal agencies that operate the Columbia-Snake River hydropower system to review all reasonable options for operating it in order to minimize the impact on endangered salmon.

That decision came in response to a lawsuit by conservation groups in favor of breaching the dams to improve salmon runs. They challenged the biological opinion for operating the system and the judge required the agencies to update the environmental impact statement on how the system is operated.

The agencies are holding scoping meetings around the Pacific Northwest to gather public comment and a draft environmental impact statement on the system’s operation is expected to be published for public comment in 2020.

Breaching those dams would make the rivers unnavigable for barges that move wheat and other products to port for export.

According to the Port of Lewiston and Northwest River Partners, about 10 percent of all U.S. wheat exports move through the lower Snake River dams and more than 50 percent of Idaho’s wheat is exported through the Columbia-Snake River system.

In addition, more than 42 million tons of commercial cargo valued at more than $20 billion moves through the system each year and 60 percent of the energy produced in Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington is generated by the rivers’ dams.

Jacobson said it’s almost inconceivable that the dams would be removed but a vocal minority that supports that is making their voices heard and it’s important the agricultural industry also weigh in on the issue.

“I think the facts are on the side of keeping the (system) the way it is,” he said. “But if the silent majority doesn’t turn out and lets the vocal minority rule the day, then it will be bad for the entire PNW.”

North Idaho farmer Eric Hasselstrom said that without the ability to use the river system to transport wheat to port, his transportation costs would likely double.

“If we lost the dams, I don’t think we’d be competitive and in business any more,” he said. “We have to have our voices heard because there are going to be a lot of comments against (the dams).”

Comments must be received by Jan. 17 and can be submitted by email to: comment@crso.info

Hermiston Farm Fair blossoms at EOTEC

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

HERMISTON, Ore. — The 43rd annual Hermiston Farm Fair debuted Wednesday at its new home at the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center with a series of lectures on potato research in the Columbia Basin. And despite setting out more than 200 chairs in two meeting rooms, space was still limited to standing room only.

It is a testament to how much the event and trade show has grown over the decades. When the Farm Fair was created in 1974, its original location was at Thompson Hall before moving into the larger Hermiston Conference Center. Now, the agricultural showcase has moved once again to EOTEC in search of expansion.

Phil Hamm, director of the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center and member of the Farm Fair Committee, said having a bigger building means they can host more vendors and presentations, which in turn draws more people to learn about Eastern Oregon’s farm industries.

“This is a great place,” Hamm said of EOTEC. “We have more sessions and more opportunities for learning.”

One of those additions included Wednesday’s first-ever seminar targeted specifically to small farmers. The lineup featured talks on beekeeping, how to apply pesticides without harming pollinators and integrating chickens onto a small farm.

Colleen Sanders, who coordinates the Umatilla County Master Gardener Program for Oregon State University Extension Service, organized the session and said she was impressed by the turnout. In particular, she said there has been a growing interest in bees over the past few years, both as pollinators and for making honey and beeswax.

Likewise, chickens can help out small farmers not only by producing eggs and meat, but by naturally tilling the ground and controlling garden pests such as slugs and snails. Chris Schachtschneider, livestock extension agent for OSU in Umatilla and Morrow counties, led the discussion on poultry while Andony Melathopoulos, with OSU’s Pollinator Health Extension Program, talked about basic beekeeping with the group.

The overall goal of the small farm seminar, Sanders said, was to provide something for people who may have felt left out of the Farm Fair in the past.

“A lot of the aim of the Farm Fair is those large producers,” she said. “We wanted to target those people with smaller acreages and more diverse production.”

Other additions to this year’s Farm Fair lineup include a livestock management seminar led by Schachtschneider, and a second session on growing cereal crops such as wheat and canola. Both are slated for Thursday afternoon from 1-5 p.m.

Along with more room for experts to share research, EOTEC has made way for more vendors to showcase their wares at the trade show. Sixty businesses are on hand to discuss the latest in farm technology, and tools to increase yield.

Richard Scott, with Elmer’s Irrigation in Hermiston, said it seemed like more people were checking out the booths than in previous years.

“It’s been pretty positive,” Scott said. “I think they’ve done a nice job on this building. It fits the bill quite nicely.”

Kalie Davis, manager of the SAGE Center in Boardman, noticed that with more space, people were more inclined to stop and have longer conversations without feeling like they were in the way or being herded around the room.

“It’s definitely easier to navigate in here,” Davis said.

Kevin Cochrane, retail account manager for DuPont in Kennewick, said this is his first year attending the Farm Fair. And though he never experienced the event in the Hermiston Conference Center, he said plenty of people were excited about the new setup.

“It’s a comfortable spot to be,” Cochrane said. “It’s a lot larger, with room to grow.”

The Hermiston Farm Fair continues Thursday and Friday. EOTEC is located 1705 E. Airport Road.

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.


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