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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.

Idaho, Oregon lawmakers push new way to pay for wildfires

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A bipartisan effort seeking to change the way the country pays to fight disastrous wildfires has been renewed after stalling repeatedly from lawmakers hesitant to approve letting firefighting agencies use dollars meant for natural disasters rather than money set aside for fire prevention.

Over the years, firefighting agencies have been forced to borrow money set aside for forest thinning and other fire prevention projects as wildfire seasons have ballooned in activity and costs.

Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon announced Wednesday that they are getting ready to pitch bipartisan legislation to Congress this fall.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Risch said at a news conference at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. “Our eastern and southern colleagues don’t necessarily have the same world view. Fire has always been part of the landscape out West and we’ll always have to deal with it.”

Crapo acknowledged that prior attempts to get similar bills through Congress have stalled, but he says this year supporters have the backing of key congressional committee leaders to help move it through.

The bill has also been deemed budget-neutral from the Congressional Budget Office, which has helped ease fears that it would create a “blank check” approach to fighting wildfires, Crapo said.

“It is an emergency, but it is an emergency we can solve,” Crapo said.

According to the legislation, firefighting agencies could use federal natural disaster funds for wildfire suppression, but only if nationwide firefighting costs reached 70 percent of the 10-year average.

This would prevent firefighting agencies like the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service from borrowing funds that pay for projects that help reduce fire-prone regions. This would include removing trees, clearing underbrush and clearing out overgrown forests

Lawmakers at Wednesday’s news conference noted that while natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes qualify for emergency federal funds, it’s up to firefighting agencies to pay for battling the big blazes from their own budgets.

And as wildfires have grown in size and frequency, federal agencies have been spending more than ever to try to keep up. For example, in 1995. wildfire costs were just 16 percent of the U.S. Forest Service’s budget. In 2015, wildfire costs consumed more than half of the overall budget, and by 2025, the agency predicts it’ll take up nearly 70 percent.

Wildfire claims sage grouse habitat in Idaho

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Here’s a look at wildfires burning Wednesday around the West:


A blaze in southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon fanned by shifting winds quickly grew to 185 square miles, causing about 50 homes to be under an evacuation notice and burning key sage grouse habitat.

The fire blew across U.S. Highway 95 and moved a mile and a half in 8 minutes, said fire spokeswoman Carrie Bilbao of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The road later reopened.

With no sign of the fire dying down, Owyhee County Sheriff officials sent an evacuation order. As of 3:30 p.m., roughly 30 homes had been evacuated, with that number expected to rise later in the day.

There were no reports of injuries, and just one structure has been lost in the sparsely populated area. No cause has been determined for the fire was about 20 percent contained.

About 40 square miles of the fire is in Oregon.

Authorities are expected to decide this fall whether sage grouse need federal protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Habitat loss is a key consideration.

Elsewhere in Idaho, lighting strikes in forests have started numerous fires. Most have been quickly contained.

In eastern Oregon, dozens of homes south of Baker City have been evacuated in the path of two growing wildfires. Officials say people who live in a rural community and surrounding ranchland were told to leave.

In the central part of the state, officials closed some recreation areas in the Umpqua National Forest because of wildfires.

Also, wildfire near Warm Springs was caused by sparks when an RV’s trailer lost a wheel. Officials said the fire grew quickly to nearly 8 square miles, forcing the closure of a stretch of U.S. 26 and destroying a trailer home.



A wildfire burning near Spokane has scorched 150 acres, and evacuations are in effect.

Department of Natural Resource officials say the fire is threatening 15 to 20 structures, including homes, and residents should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.



High temperatures and low humidity caused the rapid growth of a new wildfire in a remote part of Glacier National Park.

Park officials say the blaze has burned more than 23 square miles and was threatening the Upper Nyack cabin, a historic patrol cabin. Some trails and campsites were closed.

Dozens of homes evacuated in wildfire path in Eastern Oregon

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BAKER CITY, Ore. (AP) — Dozens of homes in a rural area south of Baker City have been evacuated in the path of two growing wildfires in eastern Oregon.

Officials at the Baker County sheriff’s office and the Bureau of Land Management say people who live in a rural community and surrounding ranchland were told to leave Wednesday afternoon and evening.

Fire officials say the Windy River Fire was moving quickly to the northwest because of high winds. The fire burning in steep rocky terrain had grown to about 9 square miles by Wednesday evening.

Another fire nearby has burned about 23 square miles. Further to the east and north on the Oregon-Idaho border another fire has burned more than 300 square miles.

In central Oregon, U.S. Forest Service officials have closed some recreation areas near Diamond Lake in the Umpqua National Forest because of wildfires.

Another fire, in Warm Springs, Oregon, was sparked Wednesday when an RV’s trailer lost a wheel. The fire quickly grew to nearly 8 square miles and closed a stretch of U.S. Highway 26. A fire spokesman said the fire has destroyed one trailer home.

Beetle swarms invade Portland neighborhood

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Beetles are invading areas of Portland and it turns out the government really is to blame.

KGW-TV reports that residents of the Portland neighborhood of Sellwood have reported swarms of tiny beetles taking over yards, gardens and even homes.

Officials say the bugs were released by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the city of Portland in nearby Oaks Bottom Refuge to combat an aggressive and invasive weed called purple loosestrife.

Officials say they have been releasing them successfully for years, but it appears this year the population has skyrocketed. The beetles have eaten all of the invasive weeds and instead moved into nearby neighborhoods in search of food.

Oregon Department of Agriculture officials say the hot and dry weather may be to blame for the spike in populations.


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