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ODA schedules meetings on gypsy moth spraying plan

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The Oregon Department of Agriculture proposes to spray 8,674 acres in North Portland this spring to head off a potential infestation of destructive gypsy moths.

Aerial sprayings tend to cause public scrutiny and worry, however, even when it involves a biological insecticide that’s been successfully used against gypsy moths for more than 30 years. For that reason, the department is hosting a pair of meetings to explain the project. The first is Wednesday, Feb. 17, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at James John Elementary School, 7439 N. Charleston Ave., Portland. The second is Saturday, Feb. 20, from 9 a.m. to noon at the same place.

Gypsy moths are voracious eaters and multiply rapidly. Unchecked, they could kill trees and or heavily damage Pacific Northwest forests and crops such as Christmas trees. Agencies monitor their presence with traps and spray from time to time to control them.

Two Asian gypsy moths were found in North Portland traps this past summer and another was found across the Columbia River in Washington. Asian gypsy moths are more mobile than the European variety sometimes trapped in the Northwest.

The area proposed for spraying includes Hayden Island, St. Johns, and Forest Park in Portland. ODA proposes three aerial applications in late April and early May, using Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki, commonly known as Btk.

An environmental assessment of the project will be available Feb. 12 from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. It can be seen at www.aphis.usda.gov/planthealth/ea/. A comment period ends March 14. Comments should be directed to Christopher.Deegan@aphis.usda.gov or gypsymoth@oda.state.or.us.

Btk kills gypsy moths in their caterpillar stage. A publication from Purdue University said the product has several advantages over other means. First, caterpillars killed or sickened by Btk aren’t dangerous to birds or other animals that feed on them. The product breaks down within three to five days after application, so it doesn’t multiply or accumulate in the environment, according to the Purdue bulletin. Btk does not appear to pose a significant threat to humans or pets, according to Purdue.

Former Malheur occupier arrested on unrelated warrant

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A man who had been with the armed occupiers at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has been arrested on an unrelated warrant.

The Oregonian reports that 31-year-old Brandon Dowd is being held in the Harney County Jail under a warrant from Kansas in connection to a theft case. He was not arrested for anything he might have done while on the refuge. He was arrested Monday.

Dowd was seen about three weeks ago guarding the main entrance to the refuge. He is not among the last four holdouts still occupying the space.

A Riley County, Kansas, Police Department spokesman says Dowd is accused of stealing a firearm worth about $600 from a 65-year-old man last May.

Oregon lawmakers rethink biotech pre-emption

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — Local government authority over genetically engineered crops is being reconsidered by Oregon lawmakers roughly three years after they prohibited most city and county seed restrictions.

Critics of biotechnology claim that lawmakers haven’t enacted meaningful policies for genetic engineering since adopting a 2013 law pre-empting local governments from setting their own seed rules.

The pre-emption bill was included in a broader legislative package that included public employee retirement system reforms that the Oregon Supreme Court later invalidated.

Proponents of House Bill 4122, which would repeal statewide pre-emption specifically for genetically engineered crops, claim local governments should be permitted to prevent cross-pollination between organic, conventional and biotech cultivars.

“In an ideal world, farmers will work together, but in reality, people are stubborn and do as they please,” said Jared Watters, a Jackson County farmer, during a Feb. 9 hearing before the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Government Effectiveness.

“Transgenic contamination” is recognized as an economic threat to organic and conventional producers who sell into markets that don’t accept biotech traits, according to supporters of H.B. 4122.

While opponents of the bill claim that genetic engineering is best regulated at the state level, supports of H.B. 4122 claim that local governments are in the best position to understand how farmers in their area are affected by biotech crops and restrictions on them.

“You don’t have to deal with any of that. This bill puts that decision with the local government,” said Elise Higley, director of Our Family Farms Coalition, which supports stronger regulation of biotech crops.

Physical barriers, geographic distances and staggered plantings can prevent cross-pollination among conventional crop varieties and work just as well with biotech cultivars, according to opponents of H.B. 4122.

“Farmers need to work that out among themselves, not by voters at the ballot box deciding what can grow on their own property,” said Scott Dahlman, policy director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, an industry group that opposes the bill.

Lawmakers passed a bill last year that allows farmers of potentially conflicting crops to seek mediation, which the Oregon Department of Agriculture is now in the process of “fleshing out,” said Greg Loberg, manager of the West Coast Beet Seed Co. and president of the Oregon Seed Association.

H.B. 4122, by contrast, is meant to give preferential treatment to non-biotech crops, he said. “It’s not about co-existence. It’s about exclusion.”

Supporters of the bill say they’re not opposed to mediation, but claim it’s not enough to guard against cross-pollination or compensate for the lack of regulation by the state and federal governments.

However, the idea that rules for biotech crops would vary across county lines is one of the main arguments against H.B. 4122.

“Cities and counties are not equipped to micromanage which crops can and cannot be grown in the State of Oregon,” said Anna Scharf, whose family farms in the Willamette Valley.

Another proposal recently considered by the committee, House Bill 4041, would effectively have reversed statewide pre-emption entirely, not just for biotech crops but for all seeds.

However, that bill will not receive further hearings and would have to be resurrected in a future legislative session, said Shemia Fagan, D-Clackamas, who chairs the committee.

H.B. 4041 was written so broadly that it could have applied to non-biotech crops, including grass seed, said Marie Bowers Stagg, whose family farms in Lane and Linn counties

Crop decisions are based on soil conditions, market demand and available equipment but should not be complicated by government interference, she said during a recent hearing on the bill.

“We already have enough risks in our day-to-day life,” Bowers Stagg said.

Oregon, Idaho onion farmers inducted into hall of fame

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

ONTARIO, Ore. — Two long-time leaders of the Idaho and Oregon onion industries who worked side by side on many issues important to onion growers in both states have been inducted into the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Hall of Fame together.

Reid Saito, past president of the Malheur County Onion Growers Association, and Ron Mio, past president of the Idaho Onion Growers Association, were inducted into the group’s joint hall of fame on Feb. 2.

Both farmers said it was appropriate they entered the hall together since they worked together on issues important to the onion industry for almost 14 years while they served as presidents of the states’ respective onion growers associations.

“It was an honor to go into the hall of fame with Reid,” said Mio, who farms in the Fruitland, Idaho, area. “We worked side by side for so many years and I really appreciated going into the hall of fame with him.”

“I was really honored to be considered for the hall and going in with Ron made it even more special,” said Saito, who farms in Nyssa, Ore.

Saito, who grew up on his family’s farm, plans to retire from farming this year.

Mio stopped growing onions in 2013 because pressure from the iris yellow spot virus, an onion disease, has greatly reduced onion acreage in that area, but he still grows mint, seed beans and wheat.

Saito said the two worked closely on several issues that were critical to the industry, including a successful effort to bridge the once wide communication gap between onion growers and shippers.

That paid off in a major way nine years ago, he said, after several growers in the area were investigated and fined for using carbofuran, a pesticide that controlled onion thrips but wasn’t approved for onion use.

“Growers worked with shippers, the state and EPA and got that worked out,” Saito said. “The way we worked that out, it was the best outcome for consumers, for growers and for shippers.”

More recently, onion growers and shippers worked together to provide input to the Food and Drug Administration on the agency’s proposed produce safety rule. Onion industry leaders said the rule’s strict agricultural water standards would put many onion farmers in the region out of business.

But the FDA altered those rules after hearing the outcry from onion farmers and shippers in the region and visiting the area in 2013 and the rules are now something the industry says it can live with.

Paul Skeen, current president of the Malheur County Onion Growers Association, said Saito’s and Mio’s practical and forthright leadership skills were most evident during the carbofuran crisis.

“They are real leaders who stood up and called a spade a spade and did what we had to do,” Skeen said. “On top of that, they are both really good farmers.”

Affordable housing bills encounter farmer objections

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — With advocates for the poor lamenting Oregon’s “affordable housing crisis,” lawmakers are considering altering land use laws to allow more home-building.

The proposals have encountered resistance from agriculture and conservation groups, which claim cities should focus on building within existing “urban growth boundaries” rather than expanding onto farmland.

Young and beginning farmers face a problem similar to that of urban residents who can’t find affordable housing, as farmland ownership is often financially out of reach, said Peter Kenagy, a farmer from Benton County.

“We also have an affordable farmland issue,” Kenagy said during a Feb. 8 hearing on Senate Bill 1575.

Among other provisions, SB 1575 would “expedite” the process of expanding urban growth boundaries to create more affordable housing, which critics say would create communities without readily accessible services and transportation.

Meanwhile, people who live in areas surrounded by farmland are bothered by common farming practices, said Mary Anne Nash, public policy counsel for the Oregon Farm Bureau.

“We see a continued conflict between urban and rural issues,” said Nash.

Mary Kyle McCurdy, policy director of the 1,000 Friends of Oregon conservation group, said directing affordable housing development to grow onto farmland “does not work for either side of the UGB.”

The costs of bringing water, roads and other infrastructure onto such rural properties costs about $100,000 per housing unit, so housing development makes more sense on undeveloped land within cities, she said.

“We’re picking on agricultural land because there are fewer people there and it’s cheaper compared to urban land,” McCurdy said.

Proponents of easing the UGB expansion process argue that restrictive land use rules have contributed to the lack of affordable housing in Oregon and must be part of the solution.

Oregon’s land use statutes have improved livability and preserved agriculture but “they have not come without costs,” said Jon Chandler, CEO of the Oregon Home Builders Association.

The impact of SB 1575 would be complicated for home builders. While the bill would speed up the process of expanding UGBs, it would also allow cities to adopt a form of “inclusionary zoning,” under which a portion of housing units must be priced to fit the median income of local families.

Home builders have traditionally opposed such zoning as posing a threat to real estate markets, and the practice is currently prohibited in Oregon.

Chandler said he’s willing to have a “thoughtful conversation” about inclusionary zoning in SB 1575. If the legislature sets the right parameters for such zoning, his group may not object to the proposal and even support it, he said.

In testimony supporting another proposal, House Bill 4079, Chandler said that Oregon should be generating about 25,000 housing units a year to keep up with population growth.

In 2015, though, only about 15,000 units were built, and the state has developed a backlog of about 100,000 units in recent years, he said.

Under HB 4079, the legislature would allow two 50-acre pilot projects in which the UGB expansion process would be expedited to accommodate affordable housing — one located in a community with fewer than 30,000 residents, and the other with more.

The bill would allow developers to demonstrate that their ideas can alleviate the housing shortage, but if the pilot projects harm the agricultural economy, “you’re out 100 acres,” Chandler said.

Farm and conservation groups oppose HB 4079, arguing that it will “short-circuit” the UGB process rather than focus on land where suitable infrastructure already exists.

Key committee approves Oregon wolf delisting

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — The removal of wolves from Oregon’s list of endangered species has been approved by a key legislative committee, potentially jeopardizing a lawsuit that challenges the delisting.

Last year, Oregon wildlife regulators found that wolves had sufficiently recovered to delist them under the state’s version of the Endangered Species Act.

Because wolves remain protected by the federal Endangered Species Act across much of Western Oregon, the state delisting only has effect in the eastern portion of the state.

Several environmental groups, which worry that delisting will eventually lead to wolf hunting, filed a legal complaint accusing the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission of ignoring the best available science.

That lawsuit prompted two lawmakers from Eastern Oregon to propose House Bill 4040, which would ratify the commission’s delisting decision as having properly followed the state’s endangered species law.

On Feb. 9, that bill passed the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources 8-1 and is now heading for a vote on the House floor with a “do pass” recommendation.

Chair Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, noted that H.B. 4040 was amended from its original version to eliminate language that would require wolf populations to decline substantially before the species could be re-listed as endangered.

Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, said that worries the delisting will lead to “automatic slaughter” of wolves are unfounded.

“This does not mean we’re going to hunt wolves to extinction again,” he said.

Rep. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, was the committee’s only member to vote against the bill.

While he doesn’t have a problem with the delisting, Gorsek said he was concerned about the precedent set by the legislature inserting itself into the process.

Environmental groups that are fighting the delisting in court — Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands and the Center for Biological Diversity — fear that a ratification by the legislature will hamstring their lawsuit.

Sean Stevens, executive director of Oregon Wild, recently argued that if the commission’s decision was scientifically sound, there is no reason to pass H.B. 4040.

While the plaintiffs groups seek judicial review to determine if the commission acted correctly, they have not asked for an injunction and so the delisting will remain effective while the litigation is pending, he said.

Laurel Hines, a member of Oregon Wild, said that wolf management in Oregon has emphasized the protection of the livestock industry, so conservationists should be allowed to proceed with the lawsuit to protect their interests.

The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association disagrees with the claim that H.B. 4040 will preclude environmental groups from obtaining judicial review, said Rocky Dallum, the group’s political advocate.

H.B. 4040 would not prevent the plaintiff from filing a lawsuit, and since their complaint has already been filed, its merits will still be decided in state court, Dallum said.

A judge may find the commission acted properly regardless of the legislature’s action, or may decide that the question about the delisting’s legality was answered by H.B. 4040, if it passes, he said.

“It’s up to a judge to decide whether the case is moot,” Dallum said.

Oregon stops sales of Guardian Mite Spray after lab finds contamination

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The Oregon Department of Agriculture stopped sales of a pesticide statewide Feb. 5, a follow-up from the mid-January report that a private laboratory testing cannabis found an active ingredient that wasn’t listed on the pesticide label.

The lab, Oregon Growers Analytical of Eugene, found a commonly used insecticide, abamectin, in Guardian Mite Spray. Its label says its active ingredients are cinnamon oil and citric acid, and that it is 100 percent natural, according to the ag department.

The insecticide was found on cannabis intended for eventual use by medical marijuana patients.

In January, the ag department took Guardian off the list of products approved for use on marijuana while it investigated. Washington and Colorado, which like Oregon have legalized marijuana, followed suit. Oregon’s stop-sale order, issued last week, is the regulatory hammer.

The order means people can’t sell, buy, use or distribute the Guardian pesticide until the ag department and fellow regulatory agencies such as the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the Oregon Health Authority take a closer look. In Oregon, it’s against the law to adulterate a pesticide product, misbrand it and make false or misleading claims about it, according to the ag department.

The stop-sales order is vindication for Rodger Voelker, Oregon Growers Analytical’s lab director and a former ODA chemist.

Sensing an economic opportunity as Oregon and other states moved to legalize pot for medical and recreational use, Voelker and others joined Executive Director Bethany Sherman in founding the testing lab in Eugene about 2 1/2 years ago.

Voelker said he began finding abamectin in cannabis samples in October 2015, and again in November and December. Some growers went ballistic when he told them, and insisted the lab made a mistake or introduced the contamination itself.

“I was pulling my hair out,” Voelker said. “Could we be doing something wrong in the lab?”

But the growers with problems had been using Guardian. When he tested the product directly, Voelker found abamectin as an active ingredient. “Sure enough,” he said.

Voelker said Eugene-area pot growers have a strong organic ethic, and want to use natural products such as Guardian claimed to be. It seemed to work “amazingly well,” he said, and word spread.

He reported his findings to the Department of Agriculture, which seemed skeptical at first, but removed Guardian from the list of approved pesticides as it began its own investigation. Two and half weeks later, the department confirmed Voelker’s findings and issued the stop-sale order.

“They did a great job of moving on it,” Voelker said. “That is the government working at record speed.”

Voelker said pesticide testing is complicated, and state employees understand the potential liability involved. “You’ve really got to get this thing right.”

Guardian Mite Spray is made by All In Enterprises, Inc. of Machesney Park, Ill. The company could not be reached for comment, but a man who identified himself as the owner spoke to The Oregonian/Oregonlive.com in mid-January. The news outlet reported the man said he wasn’t aware he had to list all active ingredients on the label.

Voelker, of Oregon Growers Analytical, said that explanation doesn’t make sense.

It’s unclear whether abamectin poses a health hazard to people who may have smoked it or consumed it in other forms. It is highly toxic by itself, but most formulated products containing it are of low toxicity to mammals, according to a pesticide profile developed by Cornell University.



Drought reversal: Southeast Oregon has strong snowpack

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

ONTARIO, Ore. (AP) — What a difference a year makes.

Portions of southeastern Oregon are experiencing the highest snowpack levels due to above-normal precipitation that fell as snow throughout January, according to a report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Oregon.

“The Owyhee Basin in Malheur County measures the highest in the state today for snow water equivalent at 153 percent of normal,” the report said.

Snow water equivalent is the amount of water that is stored inside the snowpack.

That is the good news.

The bad news is that most of Oregon’s major reservoirs were storing below-average amounts as of the end of January, the report said.

The southeast corner of the state has been hit the hardest with a multi-year drought, resulting in current reservoir storage volumes of less than 30 percent of average, the report said.

Lake Owyhee and Warm Springs reservoirs in the Owyhee and Malheur basins are among the lowest in the state with 28 percent and 23 percent of average, respectively, according to the report.

However, with the good snowpack area farmers should have water this year, Jay Chamberlin, Owyhee Irrigation District manager, said.

“I think we are going to have a good water year, he said, but the jury is still out on whether Owyhee Reservoir will fill, he said.

Chamberlin said he flew over the Owyhee Basin recently and saw snow everywhere, even on lower valley floors at the southern end of the county, where he does not usually see it.

“Stock ponds are full and running over,” he said. “The ground is saturated.”

Rock Springs SNOTEL site, in the Malheur Basin, recorded the second highest Feb. 1 snowpack since records began in 1981, the report said. The site had 7.2 inches of snow water content, 26 inches of snow depth and was 153 percent of normal.

Water reports in Idaho are also good.

Precipitation since the water year started Oct. 1 closely mirrors the snowpack percent of averages,” said Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, in the Idaho report.

The West Central Mountains along with the Panhandle Region have received 110 percent to 120 percent of normal, he said.

The highest water year precipitation totals are 130 percent to 155 percent of average in the Owyhee, Bruneau and Salmon Falls basins, he said.

January precipitation in the Southside Snake River basins were less than the previous two months, but still above average for January, with the Owyhee Basin receiving the least precipitation in January at about 108 percent of average, according to the report.

The Southside Snake River basins continue to lead the state with the best snowpack with respect to normal, with all basins coming in at about 140 percent to 155 percent of normal for Feb. 1.

Remaining occupiers release defiant videos mocking FBI

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The last four occupiers of an Oregon wildlife refuge have posted a series of defiant videos in which one of them calls FBI agents losers, shows a defensive perimeter they have built and takes a joyride in a government vehicle.

The videos were posted Sunday on a YouTube channel called Defend Your Base, which the armed group has been using to give live updates. The holdouts are among 16 people charged with conspiracy to interfere with federal workers in the armed standoff over federal land policy that has surpassed five weeks.

In one of the new videos, occupier David Fry says the FBI told him he faces additional charges because of defensive barricades the four have built.

“We just got done talking with the FBI,” said the 27-year-old Blanchester, Ohio, resident. “They consider fortifying a crime.”

Fry said he, Jeff Banta of Nevada, and husband and wife Sean and Sandy Anderson of Idaho have “every right” to defend themselves from the “oncoming onslaught of people with fully automatic rifles (and) armored vehicles.

“I’m tired of you guys telling us what we can and can’t do,” he says.

Then Fry shows government vehicles they have been using without permission. He walks up to a white truck and says, “I think I’m going to take it on a little joyride.

“Now you’ve got another charge on me FBI. I’m driving your vehicle.”

FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said the agency had no comment on the videos.

The four have refused to leave the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon since the compound nearly emptied out after the Jan. 26 arrests of group leader Ammon Bundy and other main figures. The group seized the property on Jan. 2, demanding federal lands be turned over to locals.

The traffic stop on a remote road outside the refuge also led police to shoot and kill Robert “LaVoy” Finicum. The FBI says the Arizona rancher was reaching for a pistol in his pocket, but Finicum’s family and Bundy’s followers dispute that and say his death was not justified.

Authorities surrounded the refuge after the arrests. The FBI has been negotiating, but the holdouts have said they won’t go home without assurances they won’t be arrested.

In another video posted Sunday, Sean and Sandy Anderson are sitting together and the husband says they feel like hostages because they can’t leave without being arrested.

“What are they to do with us?” Sean Anderson says. “They either let us go, drop all charges because we’re good people, or they come in and kill us. How’s that going to set with America?”

Three-tier wage plan set for Senate vote

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — A bill to set three different minimum wage rates in the state is headed to the Senate floor next week.

The bill would hike wages to $14.75 in the Portland metro area, $12.50 in rural and coastal areas with struggling economies and $13.50 in the rest of the state by 2022. The rates are based on median income and cost of living in those regions and what it takes to be “self-sufficient” — to pay basic expenses such as food, housing and transportation, said Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, chairman of the Senate Workforce and General Government Committee.

The committee passed the proposal Friday 3-to-2.

“Passing minimum wage is not going to be a silver bullet for problems faced by low-income Oregonians,” Dembrow said.

Dembrow said lawmakers still need to increase the earned income tax credit, address the cost of child care and find ways to increase affordable housing in the state, where prices, particularly in the Portland area, have skyrocketed.

The vote fell along party lines with the committee’s two Republicans, Sens. Tim Knopp of Bend and Kim Thatcher of Keizer, voting no.

“I really feel the impact of this is going to negative in many ways,” Knopp said. “I think it is going to hurt the people you’re trying to help.”

He said small businesses would take an economic hit and employees would lose jobs.

The Republicans said they plan to write a minority report and offer an amendment to the bill on the Senate floor. The bill could reach the Senate floor as early as Tuesday, Dembrow said.

Dembrow authored the bill after months of meeting with stakeholders and consulting research on self-sufficiency thresholds for every county in the state, he said. The bill was intended to offer an alternative to ballot initiatives that would raise the minimum to $15 or $13.50 statewide and would repeal a ban on municipalities and counties from setting a higher wage.

The first pay bump would start in July, increasing the wage from $9.25 to $9.75 statewide.

The minimum gradually will climb to $14.75 in 2022 in the Portland urban growth boundary, which includes parts of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties. It will rise to $13.50 in Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Deschutes, Hood River, Jackson, Josephine, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk, Tillamook, Wasco, and Yamhill counties, and parts of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties outside Portland’s urban growth boundary.

In rural areas, the minimum will increase to $12.50. Those areas include Malheur, Lake, Harney, Wheeler, Sherman, Gilliam, Wallowa, Grant, Jefferson, Baker, Union, Crook, Klamath, Douglas, Coos, Curry, Umatilla and Morrow counties.

The Legislative Fiscal Office determined that the cost of raising minimum wage for the state and local governments is indeterminate because it’s impossible to know how many positions will affected by the time the increases take effect in the next seven years.

Dembrow’s amendment, first offered Wednesday, nudged out a proposal by Gov. Kate Brown that would have set two minimum wage rates in the state.

No polling has been done in the Senate on Dembrow’s specific proposal, according to Senate President Peter Courtney’s Office. Lindsey O’Brien, spokeswoman for House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said Kotek supports raising minimum wage but is still reviewing the Senate proposal before taking a stance on it.

The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.

Oregon bill would increase scrutiny of wetland conversions

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Oregon farms shouldn’t be converted to wetlands unless county governments agree they won’t disrupt nearby agricultural operations, according to growers who support a bill before the Legislature.

Wetlands are currently allowed in Oregon farm zones, but Senate Bill 1517 would require local governments to first determine they won’t significantly change local farm practices, drive up costs or alter agricultural land use patterns.

“Farmers don’t have a meaningful opportunity to engage in that process right now,” said Mary Anne Nash, public policy counsel for the Oregon Farm Bureau, which supports the bill.

Farmers who testified in favor of SB 1517 during a recent legislative hearing listed numerous problems created by wetlands, which are often created in agricultural areas to offset the impacts of development elsewhere.

Wetlands can increase the frequency of flooding and impede the drainage of nearby farmland, as well as attract birds and noxious weeds to an area, according to growers who support the proposal.

Joe Rocha, who farms near the Tillamook Bay, said the changes in hydrology can kill grasses that dairies depend on for feed.

“They brought the saltwater closer to us,” he said.

Kathy Hadley, a farmer in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, said a 500-acre wetland bordering her property increases erosion during the wet season and attracts elk that damage fences.

Such problems can discourage potential buyers when farmers are looking to sell property, said Sharon Waterman, whose farm in Coos County is near a 400-acre wetland.

“Can we even sell our property? I don’t know,” she said.

Supporters of the bill emphasized that it would not block wetland conversions, but would enable a collaborative process in how they’re sited and designed.

“This bill allows rural Oregon and local governments to have a say in what happens in their communities,” said Mark Labhart, a Tillamook County commissioner.

Under current Oregon law, landowners who convert their property to wetlands are protected from legal liability for adverse effects on neighbors, the Farm Bureau’s Nash said.

In some cases, conservation groups that create wetlands also take over ownership of the property and benefit from this protection, she said.

The bill would clarify that this protection does not only apply if the landowner is also the designer or contractor who performs the work, Nash said.

Kelley Beamer, executive director of the Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts, said she’s concerned about this provision because many landowners put in wetlands themselves.

If they’re faced with liability, it may discourage landowners from undertaking wetland projects, said Jerry Nicolescu, executive director of the Oregon Association of Conservation Districts.

Nicolescu said he’s like to see better definitions of key terms in the bill, such as the “significant change” to farmland that can impede wetland projects.

“Significant to one person is not significant to another, he said.

Beamer said she’s also concerned about the level of review that wetlands will be subjected to across different counties. She also questioned why the current approval process by the Oregon Department of State Lands is insufficient.

“Where is that breakdown happening?” she said.

Man charged in Oregon standoff wins jail release

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Latest on an armed group that took over buildings at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon (all times local):

7:50 a.m.

A man arrested in the armed takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge has been allowed to leave jail.

Duane Ehmer must limit his travel and wear an electronic ankle bracelet to ensure he appears at future court dates. He’s one of only two defendants from Oregon and among three people granted release ahead of trial.

The Oregonian newspaper reports that U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart determined Thursday that Ehmer wasn’t a flight risk and appeared to have joined rather than incited the standoff. It began Jan. 2 and continues Friday with four holdouts.

Another judge upheld a decision to keep occupier Pete Santilli behind bars pending trial. U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman says Santilli has made threatening statements about federal agents on his online radio program that can’t be completely dismissed as shock-jock bravado.

Entrepreneurial buzz surrounds pot industry

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND — The thing is, when you attend a cannabis convention in this city, everything starts to sound like Dope Humor of the Seventies.

A seminar MC talks about the rollout of the cannabis industry. The OLCC director says his agency has 1.6 million hits on its website. Whoa.

But there’s no denying an entrepreneurial buzz (see?) accompanied the legalization of weed in Oregon and elsewhere. A stroll down the vendor aisles of the Cannabis Collaborative Conference, held Feb. 3-4 at the Portland Expo Center, makes that clear.

Specialty manufacturers are jumping into the cannabis trade, starting new or adapting their business to take advantage. Bud Bar Displays, based in Gold River, Calif., makes plastic sample pods with a magnifying lens and a row of sniff holes built into the lid. Allows the customer to take a good look at the pot plant bud within, and to smell it. “The way cannabis is sold,” the company said on its website.

Bud Bar is a division of All Plastic Corporation, and the owners started it up 25 years ago strictly for the pot trade.

A Salem company, Adaptive Plastics Inc., makes a brand of translucent, twin-walled greenhouse panels called Solexx. They diffuse light and insulate well, and you can’t see what’s growing inside.

Blair Busenbark, the COO and sales boss, said the company also sells to traditional plant nurseries and to orchardists, but marijuana growers are the new market.

A lot of people attending the trade show were “consumers of the product,” Busenbark guessed.

“We look at it as a business opportunity,” he said. “A significant part of our business is cannabis.”

The next aisle over held a booth for the Oregon Cannabis Association, a non-profit professional organization representing growers, processors, dispensaries and other businesses. The executive director is Amy Margolis of Portland, whose Emerge Law Group specializes in weed work. One of the firm’s attorneys, Dave Kopilak, was the primary drafter of Measure 91, which legalized recreational use, possession and cultivation in Oregon. Voters approved it in 2014 and the law took effect July 1, 2015.

Conventional farmers might respond “Hmm, well...” but Margolis said Oregon’s cannabis trade is, at root level, an agricultural enterprise. Voters said so.

“In 2015 they officially made cannabis an ag product,” she said. “The upshot is, this became a cash crop like any other cash crop.”

But it is a different animal, for sure. One of the bigger outfits, Chalice Farms, is opening a 24,000 square foot grow, processing and distribution facility near the Portland Airport. It will be in a warehouse.

Other businesses abound. Security firms (CannaGuard) that provide video monitoring and “product transport.” Software (CannaScore) that allows you to check your regulatory compliance. Marketers, electricians, packaging companies and extraction services. The latter extract cannabis oil from fibrous marijuana plant material. The oil is used in edibles consumed by medical marijuana patients.

Some of the businesses crowding into cannabis will no doubt fall by the wayside, but people attending the convention seemed ready to chase what they see as economic opportunity.

Noah Stokes, founder and CEO of CannaGuard, the security firm, opened the conference by noting marijuana is still federally illegal.

“We’re saying screw it, we’re actually going to do this,” Stokes said, “and I love it.”

Oregon seed pre-emption law challenged in Legislature

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — Oregon lawmakers heard a clear message from farmers who oppose local government restrictions what seeds they can use.

The Oregon Legislature pre-empted such local regulation of seed at a time when several counties were contemplating bans against genetically modified crops in 2013.

Lawmakers approved the proposal as part of a broader legislative package that included reforms to the state’s public employee retirement system that was later partially overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court.

Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, has now proposed a House Bill 4041, which would effectively reverse the pre-emption statute but received predominantly negative feedback during a Feb. 4 hearing before the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Government Effectiveness.

Apart from an introduction from Rep. Buckley, most of the people who testified were opposed to the bill.

Marie Bowers Stagg, whose family farms in Lane and Linn counties, said crop decisions are based on soil conditions, market demand and available equipment but should not be complicated by government interference.

“We already have enough risks in our day-to-day life,” she said, noting that H.B. 4041 is written so broadly that it could apply to non-biotech crops, including grass seed.

Rodney Hightower, who grows genetically engineered sugar beets near Junction City, Ore., said the crop has proven to be among the most lucrative on his farm without causing problems to neighboring operations.

If each of the 36 counties in Oregon were allowed to set different policies on seed, it would create an extreme complication for growers, Hightower said. “We can’t move our farm if public opinion moves against one crop that we grow.”

Voluntary cooperation between farmers is the best way to resolve concerns about cross-pollination, said Kathy Hadley, who farms with her father in Polk County and with her husband in Marion County.

Hadley said she grew canola last year and managed to avoid cross-pollination problems with a neighbor who was producing cabbage seed without any involvement from seed companies or the government.

Farmers breathed a sigh of relief when the Legislature passed the pre-emption law in 2013 and it’s disappointing the statute is now being reconsidered even though the reasons to avoid a patchwork of regulations are as relevant as ever, said Brenda Frketich, who farms near St. Paul, Ore.

“It’s very hard to farm across county lines if counties have different regulations,” she said. “You can’t keep pollen behind county lines.”

State pre-emption is also necessary to avoid the burden of county governments having to regulate local seed ordinances passed by voters, which they don’t have the capacity to do, said Craig Pope, commissioner of Polk County.

Lawmakers should not even be contemplating such a major change to state policy during the short month-long legislative session in 2016, he said.

In 2015, the Legislature passed a bill aimed at strengthening mediation that would resolve differences over genetically modified crops and similar issues between neighboring farmers, said Greg Loberg, manager of the West Coast Beet Seed Co., and president of the Oregon Seed Association.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture is now putting together a rule-making committee to flesh out that mediation process, which should be allowed to work before lawmakers try to change the pre-emption statute, he said.

Friends of Family Farmers, a group that supports stronger regulations for biotech crops, is neutral on H.B. 4041 but believes there should be a statewide policy for such crops.

Last year, a bill that would have clarified the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s “control area” authority over biotech crops was called draconian by opponents and never gained traction, he said.

The ODA currently uses that control area authority to prevent genetically engineered bentgrass from being grown in the Willamette Valley, but would lose that power if the crop were deregulated by USDA, Maluski said.

If that were to happen, some form of local control would be needed to protect farmers, he said.

The House Committee on Consumer Protection and Government Effectiveness is scheduled to hear testimony on Feb. 9 on another piece of legislation, House Bill 4122, which also focused on the pre-emption statute but only allows local governments to regulate biotech crops, rather than all seed.


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