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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.

Click here for more details

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.

Summer jobs on the farm offer more than a paycheck

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

HARRISBURG, Ore. — Agriculture’s influence in Oregon apparently goes well beyond the food it brings to people’s tables and the positive impact it has on the state’s economy.

Agriculture, according to farmers and the youths they hire, has a positive impact on high school and college students across the state who help farmers harvest their crops each summer.

Mikayla Sims, who has spent the past eight summers driving combine for Tydan Farms in Harrisburg, Ore., characterized the experience as “invaluable.”

“It has taught me so much,” said the 21-year old. “Especially being a girl and being able to drive big equipment, knowing how to fuel a combine and stuff like that is really cool.

“And the long hours helped me pay for school,” Sims said.

“For me this is more than just about the money,” said Ethan Brock, 17, who works alongside Sims on Tydan Farms. “Farming is what I want to do, so I am learning as much as I can.”

According to the Oregon Employment Department, farmers hire the 14- to 18-year-old age group at a much high percentage than the rest of private industry. The age group represented 6.2 percent of agricultural workers in the third quarter of 2014, compared to just 2.9 percent for all private industries.

Farmers also frequently apply for permits that allow their young workforce to work more than 44 hours a week.

The Bureau of Labor and Industries issues more than 40 of such permits annually, with 42 issued in 2015 and 48 in 2014, according to BOLI statistics.

Even permitted employees under the age of 18 are limited to 14 hours a day and 72 hours a week, limitations that can become an issue during harvest, when long hours are the norm.

Nevertheless, farmers said they are willing to abide by the hour limitation and the extra paperwork involved in bringing youthful workers onboard.

“When you have seasonal labor requirements, it almost requires you to go to somebody who frees up during summer months, and that is basically your high school and college kids,” said Harrisburg farmer Wayne Kizer.

“We’re looking for a quality seasonal person,” he said, “and most quality adults are not looking for seasonal work. They’re looking for full-time work.”

Seasonal student workers often start with little to no farm experience, Kizer said.

“You have to do a good job of training and educating them,” he said.

Once trained, however, students, particularly those who return to the farm year after year, are excellent workers, said Nick Bowers of Tydan Farms.

“After a while, I can turn them loose on certain projects and they know what to do, and that allows me to be more efficient with my time, because I don’t have to micromanage them,” Bowers said.

Most students that work seasonally on farms aren’t looking to make agriculture their career, Kizer said. But the lessons they learn on a farm can last a lifetime.

“It has taught me so many different things that I can use throughout my life,” Sims said.

“Long hours. Hard work. Problem-solving. It is all stuff you use in life,” Brock said.

“I’ve had some kids come in that had academic problems in school,” Kizer said. “One year on the farm and they went back and hit the books hard. They decided they didn’t want to do this type of work for the rest of their life.”

Occasionally, Bowers said, former employees come up and thank him for providing them an invaluable working environment.

“They grow up to be adults and raise their own families and establish their own careers, and they say, ‘Thank you for the experiences that I had on the farm,’” Bowers said, “and it makes you feel good.”

Some employees even stick around after finishing their schooling. Kizer has one seasonal employee, Stephanie Sather, a teacher at Harrisburg High School, who has worked with him for 19 years.

“She started working when she was 15 and she’s still here,” Kizer said. “She has more time in the combine than I do.”

Sims, who graduated from George Fox University this past spring and will be teaching at an elementary school in Junction City next year, could follow Sather’s path.

“I’m going to have summers off,” she said when asked if she’ll return to Tydan Farms. “So why not come back and work.”

E. Oregon camelina trials look more promising during persistent drought

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

ONTARIO, Ore. — After four straight years of drought conditions in Eastern Oregon, there’s growing interest in camelina, which can be grown without irrigation water.

Because water has been scarce, about 20 percent of the farmland in Malheur County has been left fallow the past two years.

Camelina won’t make farmers much money, but the oilseed crop could help growers cover some of the fixed costs they have on their land, said Clint Shock, director of Oregon State University’s Malheur County experiment station.

Growing camelina on farmland that otherwise would be left fallow would also help keep the ground from eroding, Shock said.

“We need to be thinking about what we’re going to do without water,” he said. “This is not a big money maker but it is a way of taking care of your farm ground. Also, consider that the return on the land will be negative without a crop.”

If the drought continues, more farmers are going to be taking a serious look at camelina, said Owyhee Irrigation District Manager Jay Chamberlin.

“If this is a trend we’re stuck with for awhile, camelina could be something that brings in some income and protects your soils,” he said. “The whole mind-set of growers needs to change; the traditional things aren’t going to continue to work.”

A camelina field trial at the OSU experiment station yielded 1,500 pounds of seed per acre, Shock said. No irrigation water was applied to the field and the crop received 4.17 inches of precipitation between the time it was planted in late January and harvested in late June.

With camelina seed currently selling for 20 cents a pound, the field would have brought a grower about $300 of income per acre, Shock said.

By comparison, onions, the region’s main cash crop, are worth more than $4,800 an acre.

The crop wouldn’t fetch nearly as much as onions would, “but if the drought continues, perhaps it may help you to hold the farm together,” said Oregon farmer Bruce Corn.

If camelina is grown on a large scale in this area, farmers would have a buyer in Willamette Biomass Processors, which is near Salem.

The company, which crushes camelina into oil and sells the high-protein meal as feed to the beef and poultry industries, currently gets most of its product from Montana and Canada.

“We’d absolutely be interested in buying camelina from Eastern Oregon,” said Tomas Endicott, WBP’s vice president of development.

Bill Buhrig, an OSU cropping systems extension agent in Ontario, estimates it would cost a farmer in this region about $150 an acre to produce camelina.

Even though the net for camelina would be small compared to what farmers can make from some other crops, it would still provide growers a little bit of income, Corn said.

“Ground doesn’t just sit there idle without costing anything,” he said.

Winemaker sues, claiming herbicide from neighbor destroyed crop

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon winemaker has filed a lawsuit against a neighboring farmer, claiming herbicide drifted from the grass-seed field and destroyed one of his grape crops.

The Oregonian reports that Willamette Valley Vineyards filed suit Tuesday in Polk County Circuit Court against Five Cent Farm, saying he lost 12.7 tons of Pinot Noir grapes.

According to the lawsuit, the Oregon Department of Agriculture investigated and found that herbicide drift had occurred.

Five Cent Farm’s Jeff Nichols says the agriculture department could not prove where the herbicide came from. Nichols says the grapes could have been damaged by nearby homeowners using weed killers.

Willamette Valley Vineyards contracted with Elton Valley Vineyard about 20 miles northwest of Salem, just east of fields leased by Five Cent Farms.


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