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Updated count shows 36 homes destroyed by Oregon wildfire

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Grant County Sheriff’s Office says 36 homes have been destroyed by an Eastern Oregon wildfire — 10 more than previously reported.

Gov. Kate Brown plans to meet Wednesday with victims of the fire near John Day and visit the command post where crews are overseeing the effort to contain the blaze that has charred 67 square miles, mostly on the Malheur National Forest in Eastern Oregon.

The Oregonian reports that fire commanders told a community meeting at Grant Union High School that crews have concentrated on protecting a string of homes tucked in a small river canyon south of John Day. Shifting winds pushed the fire toward homes earlier thought safe.

Oregon cranberry harvest gets off to the earliest start in North America

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

At this rate, the Thanksgiving turkey will show up on Halloween.

At least one cranberry grower on the Southern Oregon coast began harvest this week, up to two or three weeks earlier than normal. Grower Charlie Ruddell of Randolph Cranberries Inc. believes his harvest will mark the earliest date commercial cranberries have ever left the Bandon receiving station, which he said wasn’t scheduled to open until Sept. 21. A spokeswoman for Ocean Spray, the cooperative of which Ruddell is a grower-member, said his harvest is the first in North America for 2015.

Spokeswoman Kellyanne Dignan said Ocean Spray has no issue with opening the receiving station so early. “If the berries are ready to come in, as a co-op we are open to receiving them,” she said.

Cranberries are judged ready for harvest based on color, size, firmness and sugar content, which is expressed in the term “brix.” The timing of reaching that stage varies, Dignan said. “Mother Nature makes that decision.”

Ruddell attributes the early harvest start to three things: The new variety he planted, Demoranville, which was developed by Rutgers University, is earlier than other varieties. Second, the plants are two and three seasons old, and young plants tend to bear fruit sooner than more mature cranberries. Finally, like many other crops in the Pacific Northwest, warm weather has pushed harvest up by a couple weeks.

Unlike many other parts of the Northwest, Bandon has adequate water this summer, Ruddell said. At harvest time, growers typically flood cranberry bogs with about 18 inches of water and churn the water to loosen the berries. The berries float to the surface, where growers gather them up.

After cleaning at Ocean Spray’s Bandon receiving station, the cranberries will be trucked to a company processing plant in Markham, Wash. Dignan, the co-op spokeswoman, said they’ll either be processed into “craisins,” which are dried, sweetened cranberries, or used to make cranberry juice or sauce.

The USDA has projected strong cranberry harvests for Oregon and Washington. Oregon growers may top the 500,000 barrels they produced in 2014. Washington growers may produce 186,000 barrels, the most in a decade. A barrel equals 100 pounds of cranberries.

Prices vary, but Oregon’s cranberry production is ranked 38th in value among the state’s crops and was worth about $12 million in 2013.

Celebration of life planned for Chauncey M. Hubbard

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

MONROE, Ore. — Friends and family are welcome to a celebration of life in honor of Chauncey M. Hubbard at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 23.

He died April 24 at age 96.

He was born Oct. 27, 1918, in Spur, Texas, to Chauncey Mulks Hubbard and Mary Jane (White) Hubbard. In 1939, the family moved to Monroe, Ore., where young Chauncey lived for the rest of his life. He farmed and raised Hampshire sheep with his father before starting out on his own.

Chauncey was preceded in death by daughter Marilyn Hubbard Reedy; mother and father Chauncey Mulks and Mary Jane Hubbard; and wife Kleva June (Lindseth).

He is survived by the mother of his children, Ruth Kaye (Cooper) Hubbard; daughters Suzanne and Julianne Hubbard; sons Kerry and Steven Hubbard; 10 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

His shepherd, Gus Cuevas, and his family were Chauncey’s legs, arms and back in the later years.

The celebration will be held at Hubbard Memorial Park, 27511 W. Ingram Island Road, Monroe, Ore. For more information, call Cuevas at 541-554-1439.

Medical records sought in pesticide lawsuit

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The lead plaintiff in a lawsuit over off-site pesticide spraying in Oregon’s Curry County has allegedly ignored requests to turn over his medical records.

In 2013, a helicopter company sprayed residential properties near Gold Beach with herbicides intended for nearby forestlands, resulting in the Oregon Department of Agriculture suspending its applicator license.

Seventeen residents filed a complaint against the helicopter company, Pacific Air Research, as well as the logging firms overseeing the operation and the owners of the timber properties that were treated.

They claim to be suffering from serious health problems from being sprayed with 2,4-D and triclopyr and seek at least $100,000 per plaintiff in damages.

Two of the defendants, Crook Timberlands LLC and Barnes & Associates, recently filed a motion to compel the lead plaintiff, John Burns, to turn over medical records and other documents related to the injuries he allegedly suffered from the herbicide incident.

The motion claims that Burns has failed to respond to the request for information since May, necessitating a court order.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Aug. 28 and a trial in the overall case is set for Jan. 11-27, 2016, in gold Beach.

Capital Press was unable to reach Burns’ attorney for comment.

The legal dispute caught the attention of Oregon’s agricultural industry because it initially challenged the constitutionality of the state’s “right to farm” law, which prohibits lawsuits against common farming and forestry practices.

The judge dismissed that earlier version of the complaint because the defendants hadn’t raised the “right to farm” law as a defense, so allowing the plaintiffs to challenge the statute was premature.

The plaintiffs refiled their complaint without raising the “right to farm” issue, and it’s currently unclear whether the defendants will rely on the statute.

Aside from spurring litigation, the Curry County spray incident also prompted lawmakers to propose new restrictions on pesticides in Oregon.

A bill that heightened fines for violations, created no-spray buffers and devoted more resources to pesticide investigations was passed earlier this year.

More Oregon watersheds receive added regulatory oversight

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Oregon’s farm regulators will be paying closer attention to water quality problems in seven new watersheds under an expansion of their “strategic implementation area” program.

Traditionally, the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s water quality investigations were driven by complaints, but the agency worried that this approach didn’t consistently uncover problems.

The agency has more recently been self-initiating its water quality compliance efforts in “strategic implementation areas,” with waterways in Wasco and Clackamas counties serving as early test cases.

Relying on aerial photographs and other information, regulators identify problems — such as streams denuded of vegetation or impacted by manure runoff — and notify the landowners, who are encouraged to seek help from their local soil and water conservation district.

“There is a regulatory backstop, but in our experience, we don’t typically need to go to that,” said John Byers, manager of ODA’s agricultural water quality program.

The program is now being rolled out in additional watersheds:

• Three Mile Creek in Wasco County.

• Upper Johnson Creek in Multnomah County.

• Indian Ford Creek in Deschutes County.

• Wagner Creek in Jackson County.

• Lundren Creek, Calvin Creek and Fishhawk Creek in Columbia County.

• Lower Salt Creek in Polk County

• Portions of the North Lower Yamhill River in Yamhill County.

Regulators don’t have the resources to increase scrutiny of all Oregon watersheds, so the program is focusing on particular streams and rivers for several reasons.

In some cases, the waterways were chosen because of the need to improve fish habitat, while others were included at the request of the local soil and water conservation district.

Another six or seven watersheds are expected to included in the program next year, Byers said.

State lawmakers bolstered the capacity of local districts to assist landowners with $1 million allocated for watershed enhancement, he said.

“They are the technical assistance on the ground, if needed,” said Byers.

Wildfires stretch NW firefighting resources

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Crews are scrambling to gain control of a nightmarish wildfire that’s devoured more than two dozen homes, scattered livestock and knocked out power less than a mile south of John Day.

The Canyon Creek Complex has grown to 40,132 acres since it was sparked Wednesday by lightning and spread dramatically by high winds that swept through Eastern Oregon on Friday.

At least 26 homes have burned to the ground in the fire’s path of destruction, and the Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative reports the power is still out for 106 John Day-area customers.

On Monday, the fire continued to move down Little Canyon Mountain to the south and east into the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness in the Malheur National Forest. Charli Bowden, fire information officer, said firefighters are digging line around populated areas to protect what structures they can.

“Our number one concern is structural protection,” Bowden said.

More than 200 residents have been told to evacuate immediately or prepare to evacuate. Those who stay must deal with borderline unhealthful air and have been asked to conserve electricity where possible.

Ned Ratterman, director of engineering and operations for the electric co-op, said it will take an extended period of time to restore power in the region.

There are four transmission lines that feed into John Day and Canyon City. OTEC crews brought in a 2.5-megawatt generator from Seattle as a precaution if all four lines were to go down. So far, the utility’s 138-kilovolt line out of Hines has withstood the heat.

“With the generator on site, we would be able to continue to feed the system enough power for critical emergency services, such as the hospital, gas service station and grocery supply,” Ratterman said. “Hopefully we will not need it now.”

The Canyon Creek Complex is the Northwest’s highest priority wildfire, with more than 400 personnel assigned to the inferno and more on the way.

And, while demand for fire resources has surged across the West, supply is quickly becoming tapped.

The Pacific Northwest is one of three regions nationwide under a wildfire Preparedness Level 5, which means there are more than 14 uncontained large fires exhausting local agencies.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise has given the Northwest top priority, though northern California and the northern Rocky Mountains are also at Preparedness Level 5, and the Great Basin region — made up of portions of southern Idaho, Nevada, Utah and northern Arizona — is at Level 4.

All together, there are approximately 95 large wildfires burning 1.1 million acres in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada and Colorado. Incident commanders are forced to compete for available firefighters and equipment.

“Most of the teams are not getting the support they want because resources are so thin,” said Kari Boyd-Peck, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center.

The situation is so dire that, for the first time since 2006, the Department of Defense has agreed to send 200 active duty personnel from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., to assist firefighters.

In Oregon alone, 12 uncontained large fires are burning nearly 300,000 acres, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.

Spokeswoman Koshare Eagle said the center prioritizes fires based first on threats to public safety, followed by threats to communities and infrastructure. Numerous fires meet those criteria, Eagle said, but because resources are so thin they have 60 orders for hotshot crews that have gone unfilled.

The majority of acres on fire — more than 225,000 — are also on fires that are less than 30 percent contained, Eagle said, which means they have a long way to go.

“The most challenging thing for the folks working here is knowing the need that’s out there, and not being able to get those resources sent out,” Eagle said. “It’s difficult on everyone.”

Given the amount of strain, Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order Monday suspending the hours of service rules that usually apply to trucks hauling fuel for firefighting aircraft.

There are 17 air tankers available for Northwest fires, stationed strategically across the region in Moses Lake, Washington, as well as La Grande and Redmond.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., also weighed in, saying he will work with the state and U.S. Forest Service to make sure all available resources are deployed as quickly as possible.

Jim Whittington, a spokesman for the state Bureau of Land Management and regional Forest Service fire staff, said crews prepared well in advance for a difficult fire season based on a third consecutive year of drought and record-low snowpack last winter.

What’s made this year unusual, he said, is the intensity of the season in such a short period of time, with the region hammered by a perfect storm of lightning and wind over the past two weeks.

“There’s an intensity here that probably has not been matched in a number of years, or ever,” Whittington said.

So far, the Northwest has spent more than $167 million fighting fire in 2015. Nationwide, that total is $1.5 billion.

Joani Bosworth, spokeswoman for the Umatilla National Forest, said they are dealing with two fires, including the Grizzly Bear Complex in southeast Washington and a 70-acre Turner Basin Fire south of Ukiah. No structures are threatened, and she said both of those blazes are staffed with local crews.

But, if they pick up any more fires, Bosworth said they, like other agencies, could quickly outstretch their capacity.

“This year ranks at the top of the list for one of the most challenging years of fire suppression and resources,” she said. “And we still have a couple weeks of fire season ahead of us.”

Oregon State Fair prepares for its 150th anniversary

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — Spokesman Dan Cox has a message for prospective attendees of this year’s Oregon State Fair: It’ll be fun.

“Fun is the No. 1 thing we have to offer Oregonians,” he said.

In honor of the fair’s 150th anniversary, general admission tickets will cost just $1.50 for kids and adults on the event’s opening day, Friday, Aug. 28. A fireworks display will be held nightly.

For agriculture fans, the fair’s biggest draw may well be the return of the Western Dairy Expo, and Jersey breeders are having their Western National in Salem, and expect to bring about 200 head of cattle to the fair, according to Dairy Superintendent Paul Lindow.

Farmers will exhibit more than 100 Holsteins and 65 specialty breeds, including Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Milking Shorthorn and Ayrshire. All six breeds will compete for the title of Supreme Overall Champion, and the winning cow’s owner will take home a $750 grand prize.

Lindow, whose family has exhibited at the state fair since 1923, said families should remember that an expo is not the same thing as a petting zoo.

“If people ask, most exhibitors don’t have a problem with petting,” he said. “There will also be six animals in individual stalls. If they want to be petted, they’ll stick their head out and let you. There are some pretty friendly animals in there.”

In the same vein, all dogs are welcome at the fair, except in the concert venue and livestock barn. Dog Town — a showcase of canine competition, agility and health and training expertise — has been relocated to a more central area this year.

“I haven’t seen a comment on cats,” said Cox, the spokesperson.

Musical performances will be held on 10 out of the 11 days, including four country acts, a faith group, ’80s rocker Pat Benatar and Portland alternative rock band Everclear. About 6,000 seats will be available on a first come-first served basis at no extra charge for each performance at the L.B. Day amphitheater.

VIP reserved seating is available for $25 to $35, depending on the show. So far, tickets for comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias have been the most popular, according to Cox.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5, the Fair’s Historic Horse Stadium will host a special performance of the BlackPearl Friesian Dance Troupe, a choreographed horse show set to music, The stadium was resurfaced early in 2015 to improve the footing.

Gerry Frank’s Chocolate Layer Cake Competition, which is itself celebrating its 56th anniversary, has been moved to the Creative Living Stage in Columbia Hall at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 6

Frank takes at least one bite out of every cake and keeps up a steady stream of entertaining commentary, according to Cox. He also keeps a bottle of Pepto-Bismol by his side, in case of emergencies.

“I think for folks who live in urban areas.… it’s a great opportunity to appreciate the ag role, which maybe doesn’t get its due,” Cox said. “If someone misses out on this part of the story and Oregon’s history, then they’re really missing out.”

The 150th Oregon State Fair starts Friday, Aug. 28 and runs through Labor Day weekend, ending on Monday, Sept. 7. The fair is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for seniors (age 62 and up) and kids aged 6 through 11. Younger children get in free. Parking is $5.

DNR calls out National Guard to battle Central Washington wildfire

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The Washington Department of Natural Resources on Friday called out the National Guard to help battle an 18,000-acre blaze burning in southcentral Washington on the southeastern slopes of Mount Adams.

The Cougar Creek fire was one of many Northwest blazes that were stretching firefighting resources thin, according to the Northwest Coordination Center, which manages interagency firefighting. With the risk of fire high heading into the weekend, especially in Eastern Washington, the center warned that firefighting resources could be exhausted.

Other major Washington fires burning Friday included the 37,792-acre Wolverine fire near Lake Chelan and the 3,500-acre 9 Mile fire 6 miles east of Oroville near the Canadian border. The fire was started by a small plane crash that killed two people, The Associated Press reported.

Besides the Blackhawk helicopters, five 20-person National Guard hand crews were to arrive Sunday evening to join 350 firefighters already on the Cougar Creek fire. This is the first time this summer DNR has requested help from the National Guard, DNR spokeswoman Carrie McCausland said.

The fire was sparked by a lightning strike Aug. 10 about 6 miles northwest of Glenwood. The blaze has grown rapidly, with winds and a heavy load of bug-killed trees fueling its spread, according to DNR.

Also in Washington on Friday, the Paradise fire was burning 2,440 acres inside Olympic National Park. The 7,400-acre Stickpin fire was burning 14 miles northeast of Republic, and the 1,200-acre North Star fire was burning east of Omak.

In Oregon, the County Line 2 fire was burning 36,154 acres near Madras. Officers issued a voluntary evacuation notice for people at Kah-Nee-Ta Resort. Visitors to the Diamond Lake area in southern Oregon were told to prepare to leave if the 2,971-acre National Creek Complex burning 10 miles southwest of the lake spread.

Other large Oregon blazes Friday included the 34,774-acre Bendire Complex 15 miles north of Juntura, the 24,181-acre Stouts Creek fire 16 miles east of Canyonville and the 16,000-acre fire west of Durkee.

Owyhee Project Oregon irrigators nearly out of water

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

ONTARIO, Ore. — Farmers who get their irrigation water from the Owyhee Project in Eastern Oregon are almost out of water, nearly two months earlier than normal.

The Owyhee Reservoir’s gates are completely open and the last of the system’s available storage water is flowing out, said Owyhee Irrigation District Manager Jay Chamberlin.

The project provides water for 1,800 farms and 118,000 acres of irrigated land in Eastern Oregon and part of Southwestern Idaho.

“The system might be able to run about another (10 days),” Chamberlin said. “We’re on the last of our water.”

The system, which has 400 miles of canals and laterals, has about 20,000 acre-feet of usable storage water left.

“That might sound like a lot of water but when you have a system as big and long as ours, that’s a small amount,” Chamberlin said.

Farmers in this region can count on receiving irrigation water from the Owyhee system into October during normal years but the water has run out in August the past two years because of a lingering drought.

OID patrons receive an allotment of 4 acre feet of water during a normal year but the allotment was slashed to 1.6 acre feet this year and 1.7 acre feet last year.

Even though water is still flowing through the system, many farmers have already used up their allotment for this season.

This year’s water supply will last about 10 days longer than it did in 2014, mainly due to timely May rains that reduced demand and improved in-flows into the reservoir slightly, OID officials said.

“It’s a little bit better (this year) mainly because of those timely rains we had earlier this (season),” said OID board member and farmer Bruce Corn.

Nyssa farmer Craig Froerer said the fact that water will flow for almost two weeks longer than it did last year will significantly help the long-term condition of his permanent crops like mint and asparagus.

“That will make a huge difference for me,” he said.

Bill Buhrig, an Oregon State University cropping systems extension agent in Malheur County, said the far reaches of the Owyhee system, where he farms, went dry July 22 last year.

“We still had water in the ditch this morning,” he said Aug. 12. “You’re looking at three weeks longer this year than last year. That’s a long time.”

But the water situation in this area is still difficult and the combination of the reduced allotment and early end to the irrigation season has made things challenging for farmers, Corn said.

Corn, like other farmers in the region, left a lot of ground idle the last two years and planted more crops that require less water but are also less profitable.

“It’s not a good situation but people got by the best they could,” he said. “It looks like the crops that are growing for the most part are going to be able to be finished.”

State Land Board approves selling Elliott State Forest

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The State Land Board has approved selling the Elliott State Forest to a buyer who will agree to restrictive conditions: pay a fair market price, conserve older trees, protect threatened fish and wildlife, produce logs for local mills, and leave it open to the public.

The board made up of the governor, the secretary of state and the state treasurer unanimously endorsed a resolution Thursday in Salem to go forward with the sale.

The forest in the Coast Range north of Coos Bay has been running $1 million a year in the red because timber sales have been overturned for failing to protect fish and wildlife habitat.

“This action today comes after years of hard work and thorough consideration of input from a wide spectrum of interested citizens,” Department of State Lands director Mary Abrams said in a statement. “We believe the adopted protocol will allow the Land Board to meet their trustee responsibilities to the schoolchildren of Oregon through a transfer that balances economic and conservation values.”

A meeting is scheduled for Sept. 17 in Salem to provide potential buyers with specifics on the conditions of the sale.

The 140-square-mile forest was created in 1930 and 90 percent of it generates money for schools. It once produced $8 million a year for the Common School Fund. Attempts to increase logging to produce $13 million annually for schools failed. Lawsuits continually blocked timber sales on the grounds that they failed to maintain habitat for federally protected coho salmon and the marbled murrelet, a seabird that nests in big old trees.

Prospects for a timber company buying the forest with all the conditions attached seem unlikely. One potential scenario is that a public land trust would buy it and then sell it to the federal government, returning it to the Siuslaw National Forest, from which it originally came.

Selling even younger timber at a profit has become difficult because habitat protections adopted to dismiss a lawsuit from conservation groups impose buffers that cover young and old trees alike, leaving few blocks of timber suitable for sale, said Jim Paul, assistant director of the Department of State Lands.

An appraisal is upcoming, but the forest has been estimated to be worth between $285 million and $400 million, Paul added.

The Department of State Lands has until December 2016 to sell the forest with the conditions, at which point the board would take a new direction, potentially offering it for sale without conditions.

Dozens under evacuation orders near Baker County wildfires

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Department of Transportation has reopened Interstate 84 in Eastern Oregon after the freeway was closed Thursday afternoon in both directions between Baker City and Ontario due to a wildfire.

Residents of 57 homes in the area have been told to evacuate, with dozens more advised to be ready to leave.

Gov. Kate Brown invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act just before 3:30 a.m., mobilizing fire crews from across the state to protect the threatened structures.

Crews were on their way from Yamhill, Clatsop and Columbia counties, said Jamie Knight, an Oregon Department of Forestry spokeswoman. As of Wednesday night, the fire had charred 20 square miles. There were no reports of structural damage, Knight said.

“Fuels are very dry,” she said. “They’re in tough terrain with dry fuels and tough weather conditions, so all those things are lending themselves to the fire behavior that we’ve been experiencing and are expecting to experience.”

Between that fire and another nearby blaze, 57 homes were under immediate evacuation orders, 47 were told to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, and 41 are in areas that could become threatened, said Stefanie Kirby with Baker County Emergency Management.

Meanwhile, officials said U.S. Highway 26 through Warm Springs has reopened to traffic after having been closed Wednesday because of fire. Sparks from an RV’s trailer that lost a wheel ignited over a half-dozen fires along the highway on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, KTVZ reported.

A double-wide home was destroyed, and evacuation orders were issued for several areas, said Clay Penhollow, spokesman for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

USDA forecasts large Northwest cranberry crop

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Oregon cranberry growers are expected to reap a record crop, while Washington farmers will have their largest harvest in a decade, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted Thursday.

Across the U.S., cranberry farmers in five states, already sitting on a price-deflating surplus, will harvest 8.41 million barrels, a slight increase of 12,700 barrels over last year, the USDA forecasts.

Strong recent harvests in the U.S. and Canada have created a cranberry surplus, which the USDA has estimated will equal roughly 90 percent of annual sales a year from now. The surplus has driven prices below the cost of production for some farmers, particularly independent growers who don’t belong to the Ocean Spray cooperative.

Although the harvest isn’t expected to challenge the record-setting 2013 harvest of 8.95 million barrels, most cranberry-growing states will see production rise over last year, according to the USDA.

The USDA says Washington and Oregon growers have enjoyed favorable weather.

Oregon cranberry farmers, concentrated near the coast in Coos and Curry counties, will harvest an estimated 504,000 barrels, edging above last year’s record 500,000-barrel harvest. Each barrel represents 100 pounds.

“Every week they (growers) seem more encouraged by the crop,” said Don Kloft, Ocean Spray receiving station manager in Bandon, Ore.

Bandon cranberry grower Charlie Ruddell said he doubts Oregon’s harvest will set a record. Independent growers slightly outnumber cooperative members, and low prices have forced some to reduce investments in bogs or give up entirely, he said. “Some farms have been abandoned,” he said.

In Washington, where Ocean Spray members outnumber independent growers, the harvest is projected to jump from last year’s 156,000 barrels to 186,000 barrels. That would be the biggest crop since 2005, when farmers produced 187,000 barrels. The state record is 202,000 barrels set in 1994. Recent harvests have been much smaller.

Washington State University horticulturist Kim Patten, who heads the cranberry research center in Long Beach, said he agrees with the USDA’s forecast. “It’s in the ballpark; 180,000 to 200,000” barrels, he said. “It’s going to be a good crop.”

Growers who flood their bogs for harvest could face water shortages, however, he said. The U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday categorized the Long Beach Peninsula and Grays Harbor County, where cranberry growers are concentrated, as being in an “extreme drought.”

Water also will be needed to guard against early fall frosts, Patten said. “It’s getting serious for some of these growers,” he said.

Growers in Wisconsin, the county’s No. 1 cranberry state, reported that a cold winter damaged bogs. Still, most Badger State farmers expected an average or slightly better than average harvest, according to the USDA.

The agency projects Wisconsin’s harvest will be 5.028 million barrels, a fraction more than last year’s 5.022 million. Wisconsin’s mammoth 6 million barrel harvest in 2013 was a leading contributor to the cranberry surplus.

In Massachusetts, some farmers are optimistic, while some are battling insects, according to the USDA. The state’s crop is expected to be 2.11 million, a 44,000 barrel increase. Only New Jersey is expected to see production decline, from 652,000 barrels in 2014 to 585,000 barrels.

Nationwide in 2014, a barrel fetched an average of $29.50, down from $46.90 in 2012, according to the USDA.

Idaho, Oregon ranchers fighting one of nation’s largest wildfires

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

HOMEDALE, Idaho — Dozens of ranchers in Southwestern Idaho and Eastern Oregon are helping battle one of the nation’s largest wildfires.

In many cases, they’re fighting to defend their own livelihoods.

The wind-driven Soda fire had reached 200,000 acres as of late Aug. 12 and was spreading rapidly, driven by high winds, temperatures above 100 degrees and low humidity.

It’s burning mainly in Owyhee County but jumped across the Oregon border Aug. 12, where it has scorched at least 25,000 acres.

According to U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials, several breakout fires moved as fast as 1.5 miles in 8 minutes and some spot fires grew to 1,000 acres in 10 minutes.

The fire has destroyed tens of thousands of acres of grazing land and is threatening ranches that are scattered throughout the region.

Rancher Tim Mackenzie, who runs cattle from Homedale to Jordan Valley, Ore., said the fire has destroyed all of his spring range and it has destroyed all of the spring and summer range of eight other ranchers he knows.

He’s one of about 50 ranchers from two Rangeland Fire Protection Associations — one in Oregon and one in Idaho — who are helping fight the fire.

“It’s had a huge impact on me,” Mackenzie said. “It’s the worst one I’ve seen in my lifetime.”

The fire started close to Paul Nettleton’s ranch near Murphy but he has escaped unharmed so far because winds drove it away from his operation.

He said the fire has been devastating to some of his rancher neighbors.

“This fire is pretty scary,” Nettleton said. “Not only have they lost some ground, but probably a lot of cattle grazing in that area as well.”

BLM officials said protecting lives and property are their top priorities and after high winds caused the fire to explode the night of Aug. 11, firefighters fell back into defensive positions to protect ranches and other structures.

Steve Acarregui, BLM’s fire cooperative coordinator in Boise, said the volunteer RFPAs, which consist almost entirely of ranchers, have proven helpful in fighting the Soda fire.

“The (RFPA) program has exceeded my expectations,” he said about the groups’ efforts on this and other fires. “It’s been going really well.”

Acarregui spent part of the last three days with the RFPAs as they conducted burn-out operations and suppressed direct fire lines with fire engines and bulldozers.

“They have a vested interest in protecting the forage on federal land where they have grazing permits,” he said. “They want to keep that fire as small as possible to protect as much of that forage as possible for grazing. It’s a good deal for them ... and for taxpayers.”

BLM officials said much of the area where the fire is burning is considered primary sage grouse habitat.

The fire was likely caused by an Aug. 10 lighting strike, BLM officials said.

Hop estimate up 5.5 million pounds

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

MOXEE, Wash. — This fall’s U.S. hop crop is forecast at 80 million pounds by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

That’s up 13 percent from last year’s 71 million-pound crop and up 7 percent from a 74.5-million-pound estimate for this year given at the International Hop Growers’ Congress in Germany the week of July 27.

The NASS estimate, released Aug. 12, is dated Aug. 1.

Ann George, administrator of Hop Growers of America and the Washington Hop Commission, both in Moxee, said 74.5 million-pound estimate that she gave at the International Congress was based on a survey of growers taken when the crop was just starting to bloom and several weeks earlier than the NASS survey.

She said the NASS number may be more accurate but that no one really knows until the crop is baled.

“I think it will end up being between the two estimates,” she said. “The big message is we don’t anticipate it being smaller (than last year).”

Some national stories speculated about a hop shortage due to heat and drought. In response to that, George said she issued a press release July 29 about the 74.5-million-pound estimate.

“We wanted to reassure our customer base and the public that we wouldn’t have a tremendous hop shortage,” she said.

At the international meeting, it was evident Europe’s hop crop will be down, perhaps significantly, because of drought and wind, Doug MacKinnon, a Yakima hop broker, said at the time.

A shortage in Europe adds market pressures since there’s more U.S. craft brewer demand for aroma hops than there is supply.

Even though U.S. production is up it remains short relative to craft brewer demand, George said.

Some aroma varieties will be short because demand is growing faster than the varieties can be expanded, she said. It takes about two years to get new hop yards into production, she said.

One reason overall yields are forecast to be down this year is that there are a lot of “baby” acres that are not yet producing, George said.

The switch from alpha to aroma varieties affects yields because aroma yield less, she said.

Heat and drought are additional factors reducing yield this year, she said. The larger was heat affecting more of the crop in the Yakima Valley in June when it was blooming, she said. Some hops entered the heat a little drought stressed, she said. Lack of water has been an issue only in portions of the valley served by the Roza and Wapato irrigation districts, not the entire valley, she said.

NASS estimates 57,969,000 pounds for Washington, 11,571,900 for Oregon and 10,447,500 for Idaho. The three states comprise the U.S. crop.

Total area strung for harvest is 43,987 acres, up 16 percent from 2014, NASS said. Yield is forecast at 1,818 pounds per acre, 50 pounds less than last year.

Between 70 and 80 percent of the nation’s hops are grown in the Yakima Valley. Harvest typically starts in late August and runs through September.

Divers prepare to yank irrigation-clogging weed

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Divers equipped with suction hoses will soon begin removing flowering rush from sites on the Columbia river where the irrigation canal-clogging weed was discovered last year.

The invasive species was first found on the Oregon side of the river near McNary Dam in August 2014, but regulatory hurdles prevented it from being dug out immediately.

Flowering rush is already a problem in Washington, Idaho, and Montana, where its thickly growing leaves impede water movement to the detriment of irrigators and fish.

A team of divers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to spend the final week of August yanking the plants, which were previously covered with plastic barrier mats to prevent the weed patches from spreading.

“This is going to be an ongoing thing for a while and there are no easy solutions,” said Tim Butler, noxious weed control program manager for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets. It’s a difficult plant to control, is the bottom line.”

Before divers were allowed to physically pull the weed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — which has jurisdiction over the Columbia River — had to clear the project under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

With that process complete, further removals will not have to be evaluated under NEPA or ESA, though new sites will still have to be reviewed for cultural resources under ARPA, said Damian Walter, wildlife biologist for the agency.

The upcoming diving project is expected to cost $50,000, which required the agency to shift funds from other invasive management programs, he said.

Flowering rush remains submerged during winter, so the diving team also had to wait until the plants were at their most visible to begin removal, Walter said.

The weed is a concern for irrigators because it can stop water from freely flowing in canals, hindering water delivery. Its capacity to change ecosystems is also a risk for threatened and endangered native fish, as the plant creates the ideal habitat for invasive pike that prey on them.

Treating the weed patches with herbicides is troublesome because of the plant’s aquatic nature — chemicals are difficult to effectively apply in flowing water, can damage crops and face environmental restrictions.

“The physical removal is probably the best technique we have at this point,” said Butler.

In the long term, researchers from Washington State University hope to identify natural predators in Central Europe, where the weed originates, to help suppress it in the Northwest.

At this point, two potential candidates have been found: the beetle species Bagous nodulosus and Bagous validus, which feed on the flowering rush’s rhizomatous roots, said Jennifer Andreas, director of WSU’s Integrated Weed Control Project.

Attacking the rhizomes is important, since fragments break off and allow the weed to infest new areas downstream, she said. “That’s the part that’s causing the biggest damage. That’s the part that moves.”

Before the insects could be released into environment, researchers must conduct extensive studies to show they would not damage native plant species, Andreas said.

Approval must come from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the process usually takes about a decade, she said.

Biological controls are typically deployed against invasives that are already widespread, but WSU hopes to release a natural enemy before flowering rush gets completely out of control, Andreas said.

“This is a weed that is spreading incredibly quickly,” she said.

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