By JEFF BARNARD
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — The State Land Board is scheduled to vote on a plan to find an unusual buyer for the Elliott State Forest: one that will 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, meets Thursday in Salem to consider the 315-page proposal.
The 140-square-mile forest in the Coast Range north of Coos Bay was created in 1930 and 90 percent of it generates money for schools. It once produced $8 million a year but lately has been running $1 million a year in the red. Attempts to ramp up logging to produce $13 million annually for schools failed. Lawsuits continually blocked timber sales on grounds they failed to maintain habitat for federally protected coho salmon and the marbled murrelet, a seabird that nests in big old trees.
Department of State Lands spokeswoman Julie Curtis acknowledges that finding such a buyer is a tall order, but a series of hearings identified all those elements as priorities for Oregon residents. The board rejected two other alternatives, to find a new manager for the forest, and to develop a new plan for protecting threatened salmon and wildlife that would produce more timber.
Curtis said the department has been meeting with representatives of local governments and agencies, timber companies and conservation groups, but so far all are keeping their intentions to themselves. If no buyers emerge, the department goes back to the board in December 2016. Two options would be to retain the forest while accepting losses of $1 million a year, or selling it without the conservation and public access restrictions.
Josh Laughlin of the conservation group Cascadia Wildlands Project said it would favor a public land trust buying the forest and selling it back to the federal government, so it could be returned to the Siuslaw National Forest. That would retain public access and conservation protections, particularly on the half of the forest that has never been logged.
Bob Ragon, director of Douglas Timber Operators, said he could not imagine a private timber company being interested in buying the forest, because of all the conditions being imposed.
“I think (the board has) struggled so hard trying to find a happy ground that would meet everybody’s interest, that the simplest solution would be to sell it to the highest bidder, and put restrictions on it like no log exports, which would keep the highest return for the School Fund,” he said.
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Firefighters across the Northwest are bracing for thunderstorms that have the potential to produce several large new wildfires.
The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland on Monday posted red flag warnings for thunderstorms across the region through Thursday.
The highest risk for new fires is in southwestern, central and northeastern Oregon, with an elevated risk throughout the region.
Forecasters say a low pressure system is dropping south off the coast and will kick inland on Thursday. There will be showers with many of the storms, but some dry lightning as well.
There are currently eight large fires burning in Oregon.
Pacific Ag, a Hermiston, Ore.-based business that sells wheat, corn, grass seed and other crop residue to biofuels plants and other uses, received a $7 million funding boost from Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners.
Pacific Ag will use the investment to continue its growth in the Northwest and elsewhere, including Kansas, North Carolina and North Dakota, company CEO Bill Levy said in a statement.
Levy said the company is seeing rapid growth in demand for large quantities of crop residue, and is positioned to respond to the market.
In addition to providing cellulosic feedstock to make ethanol, the company also sells crop residue as livestock feed and to make mushroom compost, erosion control products to “tree-free” pulp and paper.
In an April 2015 interview with the website Biofuels Digest, Levy said his company partners with 600 growers across the country and this year will harvest more than 450,000 tons of biomass. He said the company owns the largest fleet of harvesting equipment and supplies cellulosic refineries operated by companies such as DuPont and Abengoa.
The investment is part of a USDA effort to steer funding into agricultural enterprises. Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners, based in St. Louis, is a $154 million fund licensed as a rural business investment company by the USDA. The fund is a joint venture by Advantage Capital Partners and nine banks or other lending organizations that are federally chartered to serve ag businesses through Farm Credit Services.
Pacific Ag, founded in 1998, first focused on providing crop residue as cattle feed for domestic and export markets. In the Biofuels Digest article, Levy said the company recognized about six years ago that “feedstock supply for bio-refineries was a huge market opportunity, and one that we are uniquely able to serve.” The company now describes itself on its website as the nation’s biggest supplier of agricultural biomass supply chain solutions.
A dead ewe found dead in Northeast Oregon Aug. 4 was killed by members of the Mt. Emily wolf pack, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Investigators said the sheep was mostly consumed when they examined the scene and probably had been killed the previous night. Bite marks on the carcass and large paw prints found around it were consistent with wolves, according to an ODFW report.
Data from GPS collars showed three wolves from the Mt. Emily pack were in the area when the attack is believed to have occurred. The same pack was blamed for a June 22 livestock attack 5.4 miles away, according to ODFW.
ALBANY, ORE. — SnoTemp Cold Storage, which added 100,000 square feet just five years ago, will break ground this month on the eighth expansion of its Albany plant since 1974.
The work, expected to be done by May 2016, demonstrates the company’s continued commitment to production agriculture and local food and beverage processors, CEO Jason Lafferty said.
The company freezes and stores bulk vegetables and ingredients for repackers such as NORPAC Foods Inc., the farmers’ cooperative, and provides frozen or cold storage for other customers ranging from ice cream and dessert makers to craft breweries.
The company’s storage capacity is the equivalent of 15 football fields, each piled 25 feet high with frozen food, Lafferty said.
SnoTemp, which began in Eugene in 1957 and still has storage facilities and administrative offices there, will expand the Albany cold storage plant by about 20,000 pallet positions arranged in vertical racks. The work will make it easier to accommodate small to mid-size processors that struggle to gain a foothold in the marketplace.
“In a bulk warehouse environment, bringing in a pallet or two or three is a challenge,” Lafferty said. “We’ve had to say no to the smaller folks. We’ve been protecting space for our core customers.”
The additional storage space may benefit processors, for example, who have put all their capital into kitchen facilities.
“What they need to get to the next step is cold storage,” Lafferty said. “In Albany, we’ve had to turn people away.”
Adequate and accessible cold storage is among the problems hampering “ag of the middle” producers and processors, according to a recent report by Ecotrust, a Portland nonprofit.
Small processors “always run out of cold storage first,” said Amanda Oborne, Ecotrust’s vice president of farms and food and lead author of “Oregon Food Infrastructure Gap Analysis.”
The report examines the hurdles faced by small- to mid-size growers and processors who are too big to survive by farmers market and CSA sales but too small to joust with commodity and corporate competitors.
Additional cold storage is critical to support regional food systems, Oborne said. She is familiar with SnoTemp’s relationship with small processors. “They’re willing to work with very small players,” she said. “I can’t overstate how important that is.”
Stahlbush Island Farms, of nearby Corvallis, has used SnoTemp for off-site cold storage of its vegetable, fruit, grain and legume products since 1990. Co-founder Karla Chambers cheered SnoTemp’s expansion, calling the company “a really good family and a really good business.”
The expansion also appears to be part of a continuing economic success story for Oregon food processors. A labor trends report issued by the state Employment Department in December 2014 showed that from 2007 to 2012, the depth of the recession, Oregon’s manufacturing sector lost 15.8 percent of its jobs. But food manufacturing jobs increased 7.8 percent during that same period.
Lafferty, the CEO, said SnoTemp has doubled the combined employment at its Albany and Eugene plants in the past four years.
Lafferty is part of a third-generation wave that has assumed control at SnoTemp. His cousin, Caroline Lafferty, is accounting and resource manager; Willie Lafferty is facility engineer and Paula Lafferty, is vice president of finance and technology head.
About 10 years ago, an unscrupulous importer taught the F.C. Bloxom produce company a pricey lesson about the hazards of doing business in China.
After paying for multiple shipments, the importer unexpectedly stiffed the Seattle-based distributor for $180,000 and skipped town to avoid legal consequences, said Antonio Esteves, its export director.
The experience didn’t entirely sour F.C. Bloxom on the Chinese market, but the firm is now more wary about potential customers.
“We are trying to be more careful,” Esteves said.
As part of that cautiousness, the company recently sought out new Chinese buyers for fruits and vegetables during an inbound trade mission organized by the state agricultural departments of Oregon and Idaho, as well as the Western U.S. Agricultural Trade Association, or WUSATA.
“At least we have a good start, because they do some due diligence,” said Esteves.
Representatives of six Chinese food companies recently arrived in the U.S. to tour farms and food processors in Oregon and Idaho from Aug. 4-7.
The Chinese firms were investigated by the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service as well as a contractor hired by WUSATA, a non-profit that’s funded by the federal agency.
“We check out the track record. We do our best to vet them before we ever bring them over,” said Andy Anderson, WUSATA’s executive director.
Aside from providing Northwest food producers with a measure of security, the trade mission allowed them to present their products to multiple Chinese buyers at once.
“Chinese business people generally want that face-to face. This is the way to do it,” said Aaron Foster, who handles technology and sales for All Berry & Fruits, which sells a variety of dried, frozen and puree products.
Inbound trade missions are usually the first step in a business relationship and are intended to facilitate introductions rather than sales transactions, said Theresa Yoshioka, international trade manager for the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Once a Northwest company makes that initial contact, they’re encouraged to participate in an outbound trade mission to demonstrate a commitment to the market, she said.
“That really moves the relationship forward and gets you much closer to a purchase,” Yoshioka said.
Reliability is a major concern for Chinese buyers, who want to be assured that U.S. partners can provide them with a steady flow of product.
Price and quality are prime considerations, but distributors in China also don’t want to frequently replace suppliers in the U.S., said Henry Chen, vice manager of Guangzhou Yangchen Food Co., a large distributor in southern China, through an interpreter.
American products compete with those from Europe, Australia and New Zealand, as Chinese consumers generally consider foreign goods to be of high quality, he said. “People can tell the flavor.”
Jerry Liu, brand manager for the Sinodis food distributor, also cited supplier consistency as a top priority for his company.
Sinodis is looking for partners that are large enough to ship directly — not through a broker — and have a constant volume of goods available, he said.
However, the firm doesn’t preclude working with smaller producers, since major U.S. food manufacturers are often too inflexible to supply the China market, Liu said.
Major brands often aren’t willing to change their labels and meet other requirements unless they’re assured of a quick payoff within the first few years, he said.
“Usually, that’s not the case. You have to really develop the market first,” Liu said.
In China, the U.S. food industry is well known for its jams, chips and cream cheese, he said.
These goods are most famous in “tier one” cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, with the highest population of affluent shoppers, he said.
More recently, though, food distributors have introduced foreign foods to “tier two” cities, which are smaller but where people are also trying to improve their lifestyles, Liu said.
While foreign foods are seen as superior, Chinese consumers aren’t aware of regional differences within countries.
“They really don’t have an opinion as to a specific part of the U.S. or Europe.”
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Trail camera photos confirm that Oregon’s famous wandering wolf, OR-7, has fathered at more pups.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist John Stephenson said Thursday that brings to seven the number of wolves in the Rogue pack, which lives on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in the Cascades of southwestern Oregon. That includes three pups from last year.
Biologists had confirmed the second set of pups last July, but didn’t know how many.
OR-7 became famous as his GPS collar tracked his travels across Oregon and into Northern California in search of a mate. That collar’s batteries have since died, and biologists have been unable to replace them.
Meanwhile, another collared wolf from OR-7s Imnaha pack has come to southwestern Oregon, and is living east of Klamath Marsh.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday designated farmers and ranchers eligible for federal drought relief in 18 Washington counties, seven Oregon counties and five Idaho counties.
Producers in many of the counties were already eligible for assistance because they live in counties that border areas declared disaster zones in prior declarations
The USDA declares disasters in counties that have had severe drought conditions for at least eight weeks.
The designation makes producers eligible for low-interest loans and other programs through the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.
The Washington counties declared disaster areas Thursday are Asotin, Chelan, Douglas, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Lewis, Lincoln, Mason, Pacific, Pierce, Skagit, Skamania, Snohomish, Thurston, Whatcom and Whitman.
The Oregon counties are Benton, Coos, Curry, Josephine, Lane, Lincoln and Tillamook.
The Idaho counties are Boundary, Idaho, Lewis, Nez Perce and Valley.
Farmers and ranchers in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties are now eligible for relief. Only San Juan County has not been included in a disaster declaration.
Some 31 percent of the state is in “extreme drought,” the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday, unchanged from the week before.
Oregon and Idaho also were unchanged. Some 41 percent of Oregon and 22 percent of Idaho are suffering an extreme drought.
CORVALLIS, Ore. — The way Lauren Gwin sees it, helping small farmers and processors thrive is right in Oregon State University’s sweet spot as a land-grant university. It’s all about collaboration, sharing information and wading through the regulatory thicket.
A successful local food system, she says, bridges the gap between farmers and community nutrition and public health in a way that producers don’t get caught in the “price-point conundrum.” Meaning they can make a living while providing people access to an affordable, healthful diet.
It’s a complicated challenge, but it has become part of the College of Agricultural Sciences’ mission at OSU. Gwin is associate director of the college’s Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems. She and center Director Garry Stephenson head up a program that helps beginners and small-scale producers learn how to raise crops, operate machinery, find markets, improve soil, understand regulations and many other lessons.
Meanwhile, Gwin has emerged as one of the country’s go-to experts in small-scale meat processing. She co-founded the national Niche Meat Processor Network, an online service that allows small processors to pose questions, offer suggestions, figure out the rules and support each other with peer-to-peer consulting.
She’s also developed an Introduction to Food Systems course at OSU.
To her, the term local food takes on a regional definition. Some food can be grown in close proximity to markets, but others — such as beef — need more landscape.
“When I talk about local food I’m talking about environmentally regenerative, possibly organic, humane and minimizing the use of external inputs,” she said.
The OSU small farms center is expanding its focus beyond ground-level operations to include long-term profitability, Gwin said.
Not every county needs or can support a meat processing plant, for example, but there are ways local producers can cooperate to save money and time. Small producers might share livestock transportation to a plant, so one producer isn’t wasting time and money taking just a few head “over the mountain” for processing.
“We have a vision for agriculture and food in Oregon and the region and the country,” she said. “These farms will persist.”
A combination of technical knowledge, business management and supportive political and consumer environments will help that come about, Gwin said.
“It’s important to our economy that these things thrive,” she said.
Position: Assistant professor and Extension Service food systems specialist, Oregon State University. Associate director of OSU’s Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems.
Personal: 44, two daughters, Lillie and Susannah. Husband Clint Epps is a wildlife biologist and an assistant professor in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.
Background: Grew up in Connecticut, was an English and liberal arts major at Harvard, earned a Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy and Management from the University of California-Berkeley. At OSU since 2008.
Notable: Co-founded and coordinates the Niche Meat Processor Network, an online resource to help small processors wade through regulatory issues, share tips, ask questions.
At a glance: Bubbling with information and enthusiasm for local food systems, small growers and processors and the need to help them thrive. “You ask a simple question, you get a pageant,” she says. “I come from a long line of people who tell very long narratives.”
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Authorities are warning Oregon marijuana growers to be very careful using pesticides.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture said Wednesday it has drawn up a pesticide advisory, which the Oregon Health Authority is sending to registered medical marijuana growers around the state.
The advisory says no pesticides have been specifically approved for use on marijuana, which is still illegal on a federal level, and the health and safety impacts on cannabis workers have not been evaluated.
Department of Agriculture spokesman Bruce Pokarney says rules for pesticide use are being drawn up along with a host of other rules for growing and selling retail marijuana.
Full retail marijuana sales are not to begin until late in 2016, but in October medical marijuana dispensaries can start selling limited amounts to anyone over 21.
SALEM — In a record-breaking year, cattle and calves became the most valuable agricultural commodity in Oregon, ending a 20-year reign in the top spot by greenhouse and nursery products.
The production value of beef jumped to $922 million in 2014 from $669 million in 2013, a 38 percent increase, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The value of Oregon nursery products was up 11 percent, from $754 million in 2013 to $830 million last year.
Cattle last ranked No. 1 in Oregon in 1994.
“In agriculture things go up and down, but beef producers have seen good returns this year,” Oregon Beef Council executive director Will Wise said.
Wise said many factors — from the millennial generation’s fascination with the “paleo” diet to improved market access abroad — helped spur the increase. Thanks to a lobbying effort funded in part by the Beef Council, Japan dropped an onerous regulation in 2013 prohibiting the import of cattle slaughtered after 20 months of age.
According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, beef exports now add $350 of value per head to cattle. That statistic was pegged at just $109 per animal in 2009.
This year’s NASS statistics contained other surprises, too. Wine grapes, valued at $118 million in 2014, joined the top 10 list, passing onions.
Onions, Christmas trees and blueberries all topped $100 million in production value, but didn’t make the top 10.
There are now 34,600 farms in Oregon, a slight dip, with an average size of 474 acres.
On the top 10 list, only wheat and potatoes decreased in value. Wheat’s value dropped 18 percent, from $368 million to $302 million in 2014. Potatoes lost about $6 million in value, from $170 million in 2013 to $164 million last year.
Kathryn Walker, a special assistant to the ODA director, said in a press release that Oregon’s severe drought could negatively affect the value of agricultural commodities this year.
However, she cautioned that it was still too soon to say.
“We are going to have to watch to see how the weather impacts our producers and the yields of their commodities,” Walker said. “But our agriculture industry is resilient. They have faced these kinds of challenges before and typically bounce back.”
All told, Oregon’s farmers and ranchers added $5.4 billion to the state economy. Oregon farmers produce 17 commodities each valued at $50 million or more, and 220 crops overall.