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OSU specialist mentors small farmers

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

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.

Lauren Gwin

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.”

Oregon warns marijuana growers against illegal pesticides

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

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.

Cattle industry tops Oregon’s ag production list

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

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.

Berry producers keep pace despite drought, summer heat

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SACRAMENTO — Grappling with drought and heat, growers of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries in California and the West have been fighting to keep pace with last year’s production.

With the Golden State’s blueberry season having wrapped up, producers had shipped about 8.2 million flats as of July 29, down from 8.7 million at the same point last year, according to the industry-compiled National Berry Report.

California produces more than 40 million pounds of blueberries per year, according to the California Blueberry Commission.

Oregon production is ahead of last year’s pace, with 2.6 million flats so far this year compared to a little more than 2 million at the end of July 2014, the report states. Production is up worldwide with nearly 70 million flats produced compared to 62.5 million a year ago.

Nearly 19.23 million flats of raspberries have been produced in California, down slightly from 19.27 million at the end of July 2014. Global production is up significantly, with nearly 42.3 million flats produced this year compared to 36 million for the same period in 2014.

Raspberries in California are typically picked through the summer months, according to the crop information website PickYourOwn.org.

Blackberry production is finishing ahead of last year in California, with nearly 2.2 million flats compared to 1.9 million at the same point last year. Globally, growers have produced 28.8 million flats compared to 26.2 million at the same point last summer.

Blackberry season typically begins in mid-May and runs through the end of July.

Hermiston delivers watermelons, goodwill to Portland

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND — Jokes and seed spitting contest aside, there was a polite edge to Hermiston’s renewed tradition of handing out free watermelons and potatoes in downtown Portland.

This time, Hermiston’s growers and civic leaders stood in Portland’s Pioneer Square as representatives of Eastern Oregon’s biggest and fastest growing city and one of the state’s agricultural powerhouses.

As a line formed for the giveaway Friday, Hermiston Mayor David Drotzmann acknowledged the two cities vary greatly in scale — Portland has about 570,000 more people — but said they share issues such as public safety, livability, transportation and water.

“Those are all common things, regardless of size,” he said.

Drotzmann said he hoped the event reminded Portland residents of Hermiston’s agricultural prowess. Umatilla County ranks second in the state, behind Marion County, with about $500 million in annual gross farm and ranch sales. The region is best known for Hermiston watermelons, but grows a wide variety of irrigated vegetables as well.

“We provide the fruit and vegetables you pick up in the grocery store every day,” Drotzmann said.

In his remarks to the crowd at Pioneer Square, Drotzmann said the eastern side of the state gladly extends its hand to Portland.

“We know when Portland is successful, all of Oregon is successful,” he said.

The watermelon delivery and accompanying melon seed spitting contest began in 1991 with a friendship between longtime Hermiston mayor and councilor Frank Harkenrider and colorful Portland Mayor Bud Clark.

The event ran for 17 years then faded, but was renewed this year by civic leaders and the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce. Harkenrider and Clark attended Friday’s renewal, and Harkenrider admitted the city slicker bested him at seed spitting. “He got me all the time,” he said with a laugh.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said the exchange “was a good idea then and is a good idea now.”

“This is what good neighbors do for each other,” Hales said, “they share their bounty.”

Hales presented Drotzmann with a tie embossed with a depiction of Portland’s new Tilikum Crossing bridge, which opens in September and will carry light-rail trains and bikes over the Willamette River, but not cars and trucks.

The melons and potatoes, donated by Walchli Farms, Bellinger Farms and Bud-Rich Potato Inc., disappeared in about 20 minutes as a long line of pleased Portlanders took advantage.

For the record, Hermiston swept the seed spitting contest. City Councilor Doug Primmer took first, and Drotzmann was second. Both sent seeds flying more than 300 inches. Hales showed he was no slouch with a 296-inch launch, and Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman managed to spit one 126 inches.

Primmer indicated the city boys didn’t have a chance against people who grew up in watermelon country.

“You live in Hermiston, you get into competition when you’ve got brothers,” he said.

Lower temperatures aid firefighters in SW Oregon

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

CANYONVILLE, Ore. (AP) — Clouds and the end of triple-digit heat helped firefighters battling the Stouts wildfire in southwest Oregon.

Fire spokesman Dave Wells says the blaze is only 3 percent contained, but crews made good progress on the fire lines and some evacuated residents were able to return.

The fire burning in forestland east of Canyonville has scorched 23 square miles, and kept about 35 families from their homes.

Another 100 families along the Tiller Trail Highway have been told to prepare to leave.

The flames have yet to burn any homes. No injuries have been reported.

More than 1,000 people have been assigned to fight the wildfire that started Thursday. The cause has not been determined.

High temperatures this week are forecast to be in the 80s and 90s.

Oregon State Fair recruiting 400 workers

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon State Fair is looking to hire 400 workers.

The Salem Statesman Journal reports that there will be a recruitment day Tuesday at the fairgrounds looking for people to work as ticket sellers, parking attendants, ticket takers, cashiers, food handlers, bartenders and grounds crew members.

Most of the jobs last from Aug. 28 to Sept. 7, the duration of the fair.

Fair spokeswoman Mary Agnew says all jobs pay minimum wage but bartenders also make tips.

Onion field trial seeks optimal thrip-control program

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

ONTARIO, Ore. — Oregon State University researchers in Eastern Oregon are trying to help onion growers figure out which mix of insecticide treatments is most effective, and economical, for controlling thrips populations.

Researchers are rotating chemistries, using them at different times of the season and applying them in varying intervals, said Stuart Reitz, an OSU cropping systems extension agent.

Onion thrips cause feeding damage and are also a vector for the iris yellow spot virus, which can significantly lower onion yields.

There are no good biological controls for the insects and onion growers say that not spraying for them in this region isn’t an option.

“Onion thrips are a bigger problem than anything else in onion production,” Reitz said. “If you don’t do anything to manage thrips in the Treasure Valley, you’re not going to have very good onions.”

Onion growers used to spray three or four times a year for thrips but in recent years they have had to spray as many as eight to 10 times in a season, said Nyssa farmer Paul Skeen.

“The key ingredient in controlling thrips is getting on it early and keeping their populations down,” he said. “When in doubt, you spray.”

But each treatment costs money and the main goal of the OSU trial is to try to find a season-long control program that will allow growers to reduce the number of times they spray, Reitz said.

Researchers are also trying to determine if products have a longer residual effect at certain times of the season. If they do, growers could get by with spraying less often.

“It’s getting so costly to control them and we want to see if we can reduce that cost for growers,” he said.

There are only six products that are effective for controlling onion thrips and researchers also want to develop a treatment program that allows growers to rotate chemistries often to avoid insect resistance, Reitz said.

Malheur County farmer Bill Johnson said the ongoing OSU trial is helping growers zero in on the optimal treatment program for thrips.

“We continue to have issues with flexibility in some of the chemistries we work with,” he said. “We’re just trying to find the right mix of chemistries. There are a lot of complexities (involved).”

This year’s trial includes some experimental onion varieties that could have resistance to thrips.

The varieties come from New Mexico State University’s onion breeding program, which wants to see how they perform in an area with strong thrips pressure, and the early results are encouraging, Reitz said.

“We seem to be seeing lower numbers of thrips on some of these experimental lines,” he said.

If any of the varieties do have genetic resistance to thrips and that trait can be bred into commercially acceptable lines, that would help onion growers in this region immensely, Reitz said.

“It would have huge benefits all around, helping growers’ bottom line as well as avoiding problems like insecticide resistance,” he said.

SW Oregon wildfire spreads quickly in scorching heat

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

CANYONVILLE, Ore. (AP) — Record-breaking heat and parched forestlands fueled a southwest Oregon wildfire that rapidly spread to nearly 10 square miles.

The Stouts fire started Thursday afternoon in the unincorporated community of Milo — east of Canyonville. A few hours later, helicopters were dumping pond water on the hillside flames and aerial tankers dropped retardant.

Gov. Kate Brown invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act so the Oregon fire marshal can mobilize resources from around the state to protect homes. About 450 firefighters were on the scene Friday.

Kyle Reed of the Douglas Forest Protective Associations says several homes were threatened, but none burned.

Nearly two dozen residents were told they could go to a crisis shelter at Canyonville Elementary, but the Roseburg News-Review reports that no one was there late Thursday.

The area near Canyonville has a history of explosive wildfires. The 1987 Bland Mountain fire destroyed 14 homes and killed loggers Mark Giles and James Moore.

State seeks solutions to shipping woes at Hermiston workshop

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PENDLETON, Ore. — The recent withdrawal of nearly all container shipping at the Port of Portland has forced businesses throughout Oregon to choose between paying more for exports or risk losing customers overseas.

State officials are now asking what they can do to help.

Business Oregon, the official state agency for economic development, is leading a series of workshops to brainstorm solutions while the Port of Portland attempts to recruit another container shipper to Terminal 6.

More than 100 people attended the first Oregon Trade Solutions workshop last week in Portland. The series shifts to Eastern Oregon on Wednesday with a meeting in Hermiston.

Ryan Frank, spokesman for Business Oregon, said the initiative started earlier this year when Hanjin Shipping and Hapag-Lloyd stopped making stops in Portland, taking the vast majority of the port’s container business with them.

Oregon shippers now pay an additional $500-$1,000 per container to send their goods to Seattle and Tacoma. Not only is the freight more expensive, but it has also led to congestion along the other West Coast ports.

Gov. Kate Brown announced a deal in April providing $300,000 to help small and medium-sized businesses stay competitive in the export market. The goal is to deliver a list of solutions to lawmakers for the 2016 Legislature.

The workshops are co-sponsored by Business Oregon along with the state Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation and Port of Portland.

“We want to hear from private industry to tell us what they need,” Frank said. “The best solutions are going to come from people who live and breathe this business every day.”

Bruce Pokarney, spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, said the team was interested in visiting Hermiston based on the region’s vibrant farm economy.

Umatilla County ranks first in the state for growing fresh vegetables that are shipped in containers, mostly potatoes and onions. Processed and packaged foods, such as french fries from the Lamb Weston potato plant, are also moved in containers.

Wheat, on the other hand, is exported in bulk and not affected by Terminal 6.

In all, about 40 percent of Oregon agriculture is exported out of the country, Pokarney said. With the added cost per container, that’s hitting a lot of small growers in the pocketbook.

“There are ideas out there that we at the state level could certainly be advocates for,” Pokarney said.

Input at the Portland meeting included possibly building a drop yard near Corvallis, where containers could be transferred off trucks and onto rail, saving businesses trucking costs. Companies also proposed a website where the state and local ports could communicate shipping delays in real time.

At the Port of Umatilla, manager Kim B. Puzey has spent more than a decade looking into short sea shipping on the Columbia River which would allow inland ports to bypass Portland entirely. So far, Puzey said he has not been able to find funding for the proposal.

“I think it has merits. Europe and Asia seem to think so, and I haven’t given up on the idea,” he said.

More than 1,000 Oregon businesses rely on container shipping for imports and exports, totaling $101 million in revenue, according to figures from Business Oregon. Frank said there’s a whole range of potential solutions that can come out of the workshops.

“A lot of companies are doing really any workaround to get their product where it needs to go,” Frank said. “Sometimes they’ll pay the extra cost to ship to other ports, and are more or less eating those costs ... That’s not really a long-term sustainable solution.”

Meanwhile, the Port of Portland is continuing to work with Terminal 6 operator ICTSI Oregon to restore container service, though port spokesman Kenny Macdonald said bringing in a company the size of Hanjin might take several years.

National Agri-Women president driving through Oregon

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

American Agri-Women President Sue McCrum is driving through Oregon this week as the organization celebrates 40 years of advocating on behalf of agriculture.

The AAW’s five-month “Drive Across America” began in Maine in June. McCrum, often accompanied by state agri-women officers at each stop, is at the wheel of a Dodge pickup truck donated for the occasion.

McCrum began the week in Central Oregon and will be touring spots in the Willamette Valley by the weekend. She takes breaks from driving to return home to Maine from time to time, them hooks up with the travel crew again. The tour is scheduled to conclude in time for the AAW’s national convention in Maine in early November.

AAW describes itself as the nation’s largest coalition of farm, ranch and agri-business women. Oregon Women for Agriculture, its state affiliate, is meeting with McCrum when she swings through the state.

State President Dona Coon said McCrum will have dinner in the field July 31 with her grass seed harvest crew in Linn County. McCrum also will be able to visit a grain mill, mint distillery and Christmas tree operation, Coon said.

“What we’d like to do make people aware that Oregon agriculture exists and how diverse ag is,” Coon said. “Coming to the Willamette Valley is like speaking a different language, there’s so many different crops.”

Lunch on Saturday, Aug. 1, will be at Diamond Woods Golf Course near Monroe. Coon said she hopes McCrum is able to tour the Port of Portland as well.

Sponsors of the tour include seed, chemical and agri-business companies Syngenta, Monsanto and Bayer CropScience.

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Co-op’s huge riverside terminal handles wheat harvest

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

UMATILLA, Ore. — A loaded semi-trailer pulls up to the Pendleton Grain Growers McNary Elevator on the banks of the Columbia River, hauling nearly 35 tons of freshly harvested wheat.

The cargo is dumped over a grated pit that drops down into the bowels of the concrete facility. From there, conveyor belts lift the crop 200 feet into large storage silos, ready and available to exporters.

With Eastern Oregon’s wheat harvest in full swing, PGG is storing grain at a fast clip to sell overseas. The McNary terminal, located just above McNary Dam in the Port of Umatilla, allows the co-op to blend different varieties of wheat into one package for customers, and load the product onto barges.

The vast majority of soft white wheat grown in the Pacific Northwest is exported to countries in Asia, including Japan and South Korea. Soft white wheat is low in protein, making it ideal for products such as noodles and cakes.

Umatilla County grows by far the most wheat in Oregon, anywhere from 14-22 million bushels per year. PGG usually handles 12-13 million bushels through its 1,850 members in Eastern Oregon and Washington.

Of that total, about 90 percent of members’ wheat is shipped out of McNary, said Jason Middleton, PGG’s director of grain operations. Built in the 1960s, the terminal is capable of storing 6.6 million bushels at any given time.

“It definitely gives us capacity at the river, which is where we want a majority of our wheat to land,” Middleton said.

After harvest, Middleton said it is up to the farmer if they want to sell their wheat to the co-op right away, or wait until later in one of PGG’s 14 elevators. The pace of exporting is driven by a number of variables in marketing and price, Middleton said.

Right now, members are facing a double-whammy of difficulty. Three straight years of hot, dry weather are expected to cut into most yields, while the price of wheat is down 23 percent — at $5.82 per bushel — compared to a year ago.

Activity hummed at McNary Thursday afternoon as truck after truck arrived for delivery. The elevator can easily handle up to 300 trucks per day, Middleton said, each carrying approximately 1,150 bushels.

Tiny kernels whoosh and rattle their way down the pit and up the conveyor system, while superintendent Adam Bergstrom mans the controls. He is responsible for knowing what type of grain comes in on every truck, and which container it needs to go to avoid accidental mixing.

Middleton works with exporters to sell a certain package of wheat to Asian millers. Once the deal is signed, it’s up to Bergstrom to make sure that specific product makes it onto the barge.

“What he decides to put on paper, I have to put on an actual barge,” Bergstrom said.

Bergstrom is also in charge of worker safety, no small task at such a large elevator. Dust from the grain can potentially be explosive given an ignition source, and working in tight spaces increases the risk of falls.

McNary does have a dust mitigation system, Middleton said, to reduce the danger of an explosion.

“Once that stuff gets airborne, it’s like a bomb,” he said.

The grain industry has come a long way from its history of wooden elevators, Middleton said, to metal and concrete structures used today. The McNary terminal gives PGG members added strength and durability for storage.

“This is like something you’d see down on the Willamette that an exporter would operate,” Middleton said.

Rick Jacobson, PGG’s general manager, said McNary Elevator was built with money borrowed from the Farm Credit System and is the co-op’s “crown jewel.

“It’s a great story, when you think about what a co-op system can do,” Jacobson said.

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