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Biologists: Second set of pups for wandering wolf OR-7

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Biologists have found evidence that Oregon’s famous wandering wolf, OR-7, has fathered a second set of pups.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Tuesday that when biologists were picking up trail cameras set to record OR-7s Rogue Pack in the Cascades east of Medford, they found fresh scat confirming a second set of pups, though just how many is not known.

The trail cameras captured pictures June 24 of two yearlings from OR-7’s first set of three pups born last year.

OR-7 became famous when he left northeastern Oregon and traveled across the state and into Northern California in search of a mate. He eventually found one and fathered the first wolf pack in southwestern Oregon in more than six decades.

Nine-day heat wave finally breaks in Treasure Valley

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Treasure Valley farmers say their crops suffered some heat stress during a brutal nine-day heat wave but for the most part made it through OK.

But researchers and growers are concerned the prolonged stretch of hot days will lead to higher insect and disease pressure.

“The more heat units you have, you have more generations of insects and diseases,” said Saad Hafez, professor of nematology at the University of Idaho’s Parma research station. “We expect (we’re) going to see a lot of diseases and insects.”

Stuart Reitz, an Oregon State University cropping systems extension agent in Ontario, Ore., said there is significant concern about spider mites, which proliferate in hot, dry conditions and affect several crops grown in the region.

The high temperatures in Boise and in Ontario topped 100 degrees for nine straight days through July 4 and several records were set during that stretch.

The nine-day streak of 100-degree temps was a record in Boise, matching the previous record set in 2006 and 2003.

On July 5, the high temperature in Ontario only reached 95 and the forecast for the region has highs mostly in the low to mid-90s for the rest of the week.

“We’ve had a lot of heat for a long time,” said Nyssa, Ore., farmer Paul Skeen. “The heat’s tough on everything, including the people out working in it. This cool-down, if you can call it that, will help quite a bit.”

The tips of some onions in the valley are burned on the end of the leaves, which is a sign of heat stress, said Reitz.

But other than that, “the crops (in the valley) made it through better than I anticipated,” Skeen said.

The entire year has been unusually hot.

It was the hottest June ever in Boise, according to the National Weather Service.

According to Clint Shock, director of OSU’s Malheur County experiment station, the growing degree day index — an accumulation of heat used to predict when crops will bloom and mature — is at a record level.

There were 1,718 growing degree days from Jan. 1-July 5, far more than the typical 1,300 or fewer that could be expected by now during an average year, Shock said.

Farmers said the unusually warm year has resulted in crops at a growth stage far ahead of normal.

Skeen began harvesting wheat on June 30.

“That’s absolutely unheard of around here,” he said.

Middleton, Idaho, farmer Sid Freeman said he was detasseling corn on July 4 for the first time ever.

“Some farmers have corn that is 8, 9 or 10 feet high. Unbelievable,” he said. “The biggest thing we’re seeing from the heat right now is that the growth stage for crops is way ahead of where we normally are. Corn, sugar beets, everything is ahead of normal. There’s never been anything like this year.”

How Oregon’s legislative session impacts farmers

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — With the conclusion of Oregon’s 2015 legislative session, numerous bills impacting agriculture will go into effect.

Some of the most controversial proposals — including a prohibition against aerial spraying, new restrictions on antibiotics in livestock and regulations for planting genetically engineered crops — failed to pass muster at the committee level.

Of the bills that passed, some required major revisions to overcome opposition while others moved through the legislature with little controversy.

Following is a summary of legislation that will impact Oregon’s farmers and ranchers:

House Bills 5005 and 5030 provide $50 million for water supply development through loan and grant programs. Among the most significant pieces of legislation for agriculture, they were also among the last to receive approval, with lawmakers passing the bills on July 6, the final day of the session. The bond-backed funds will be used for feasibility studies, project construction and technical assistance positions at the Oregon Water Resources Department.

House Bill 5024 provides an additional $14 million for Oregon State University agricultural research and extension programs, which represents the first major increase in funding in more than a decade. OSU’s original proposal would have funded 40 positions with an additional $16 million, so some needs will continue to be unfulfilled under HB 5024. Nonetheless, a university official referred to the bill as “a glass that’s 88 percent full.”

House Bill 2509 encourages farmers with conflicts over biotech crops to seek mediation through the Oregon Department of Agriculture or the USDA. The bill initially met with little controversy but biotech critics later rallied against it, claiming it would prevent organic and conventional farmers from obtaining legal remedies. In response, the language was toned down. Originally, farmers who refused mediation would be liable for legal costs if they lost a lawsuit. Now, their refusal will simply be considered by a judge when imposing sanctions.

House Bill 3549 represents several ideas that were agreed upon by environmental and agribusiness groups, though pesticide critics claim the bill doesn’t go far enough to protect people from health risks. Aerial applicators must pass specific tests and obtain special certification under the bill. Fines for pesticide violations double, procedures for investigations must be established, and a new hotline for complaints will be created. Forestry applications are now subject to 60-foot buffers around schools and homes. However, the bill doesn’t require prior notification of applications, which environmentalists supported.

House Bill 341 absolves farmers from liability for accidents that occur at their agritourism operations, as long as they post notices informing visitors of dangers. House Bill 2038 extends similar protection to farmers for aviation-related injuries that occur on their land. Both bills were opposed by trial lawyers until revisions specified that farmers who act negligently could not avoid liability.

Landowners can petition their county governments for enhanced predator control under House Bill 3188. Areas with enough support will become special districts in which landowners are assessed $1 an acre to raise additional funds for USDA Wildlife Services, which provides predator control. Those landowners who choose not to pay cannot benefit from the program. The bill was opposed by animal rights advocates who argued that wildlife management decisions should not be made at the local level.

Under House Bill 3382, canola growers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley will be able to grow 500 acres of the crop through 2019 despite an overall moratorium in the region. In 2013, lawmakers decided to halt most canola production in the area for six years while OSU studied the potential for cross-pollination and diseases affecting related seed crops. The research required 500 acres a year to be grown. With the passage of HB 3382, that limited production is extended for another three years. Specialty seed growers opposed the bill, claiming it will expand the “seed bank” of potential canola volunteers.

Harvest of juniper trees, which is intended to improve sensitive habitats and create rural jobs, won broad bipartisan approval with the legislature allocating $1.15 million to assist with the undertaking. House Bill 2997 provides $900,000 in loans, grants and technical assistance to companies that cut and process the trees. House Bill 2998 designates $250,000 for cooperative efforts run by Portland State University.

A $3.3 million increase in funding for the farm-to-school food program was included in Senate Bill 5507, a broader appropriations bill. The farm-to-school program, which reimburses schools for part of the cost of buying from local producers, will now be available in every school in the state. Previously, school districts competed for grant funding.

A longstanding ban on advertising raw milk was overturned with the passage of House Bill 2446, which came as the result of a dairy farmer challenging the law as unconstitutional. Under a legal settlement, the Oregon Department of Agriculture recognized that the advertising prohibition likely violates free speech rights and lobbied lawmakers to remove the provision from statute. All other restrictions on raw milk, such as herd size limits, remain in place.

House Bill 206 gives farmers in the Klamath Basin more flexibility at a time they’re struggling with drought. They may now lease or transfer water rights before formal adjudication of water rights in the region is complete. The benefit of such leases is that water can be designated for in-stream uses without endangering the farmer’s water rights due to forfeiture. Companion legislation, House Bill 264, provided state regulators with authority to engage in a water use settlement in the Upper Klamath Basin. Both bills faced opposition from critics of the proposed removal of four dams in the region, who claimed the legislation was a necessary component of that deal.

Oregon farm regulators will be able to revoke the shipping permits of nurseries they find to violate plant health standards under Senate Bill 256. The legislation was supported by the Oregon Association of Nurseries, which believes this new authority is necessary to prevent negligent companies from causing disease outbreaks in other states. Increased license fees for nurseries are also authorized by the bill.

Cities and counties will be encouraged to standardize their rules for beekeeping in urban and residential areas under House Bill 2653. OSU will draft “best practices” to minimize the potential for nuisance problems, which will be distributed to local governments. The bill was intended to create uniformity across the state, which currently has rules of varying stringency depending on city and county. Beekeeper groups opposed the original version of HB 2653, which would have made the rules mandatory. They feared it would result in new fees and other restrictions, so the bill was amended to make the “best practices” voluntary.

Umatilla wolf pack blamed for Oregon sheep attack

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Three sheep died and a fourth was injured in what state wildlife officials said was a wolf attack.

A sheepherder working on private land in the Weston Mountain area of Northeast Oregon found three injured sheep July 2. One died shortly after being found, one was euthanized due to its injuries and the the third was treated. A dead lamb, partially consumed, was found the next day in the same area.

Based on the size of bite marks and the nature of wounds inflicted, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife investigators concluded one or more wolves were responsible.

An ODFW news release said the site is within the home range of the Umatilla River pack, which has attacked sheep in the past. No radio collar or GPS tracking information was available, but investigators believe the attack was done by sub-adult members of the pack.

Crews, helicopters tackle wildfires in Oregon

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

DAYVILLE, Ore. (AP) — Slightly cooler than expected temperatures and higher humidity have helped firefighters get a better handle on a massive fire burning in central Oregon about 11 miles south of Dayville, fire officials said Sunday.

One cabin has burned and other structures on scattered ranches are threatened, fire incident spokesman Brian Ballou said.

The blaze had burned nearly 26,000 acres, or about 40 square miles, on the west side of the South Fork John Day River. It was about 10 percent contained.

Crews are setting new fire lines and improving ones already in place as they battle the Corner Creek Fire, Ballou said. “It’s getting more favorable as the temperature drops and humidity inches up,” he said Sunday afternoon.

A forest closure has been issued for a part of the Ochoco National Forest. Several roads, trails and campgrounds are also closed.

To the west, helicopter and air tankers were slowing the growth of a fire that broke out Saturday and spread rapidly through forested hills above Big Cliff Dam along Highway 22.

The cause of that 70-acre fire west of Detroit Lake is under investigation.

Russ Lane, the incident commander, said Sunday’s goal is to knock down the fire by air and get a containment line around it on the ground. About 100 people are working the fire, with help from five helicopters.

The Oregon Department of Forestry said Sunday that there are no road or recreational closures caused by the fire. But the agency cautioned the public to be careful when traveling in the area. It says fire-related traffic is heavy in the vicinity of the Big Cliff Dam.

Oregon House backs higher speed limits

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon House is getting behind a plan to boost speed limits on Eastern Oregon highways.

The House approved the hike in a 52-5 vote on Wednesday, sending it to the Senate.

Most of the highways in Eastern Oregon would have a speed limit of 65 mph outside city limits, up from 55. Interstate 84 from The Dalles to Idaho would rise to 70, as would all of Highway 95 in the state’s southeastern corner.

According to legislative staff, Oregon is one of just 11 states with a top speed limit of 65 mph. Twenty-two states have a 70 mph limit.

Supporters say higher speed limits would more closely match neighboring states and drivers’ behavior. Critics worry about the potential for accidents.

Increased institutional food buying could bolster local farms

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND — At Oregon Health & Science University recently, the lunch offerings included sandwiches made with organic chicken breast — locally sourced — on focaccia bread, baked locally and delivered daily. Plus salad made from local greens. Not a pre-packaged, mass-produced item in sight.

This is hospital food?

Providing minimally-processed, nutritious food at a hospital, where the clientele includes patients, doctors and nurses, medical students and visitors, seems like a solid idea. And OHSU, the teaching hospital that employs 13,700 people and has one of Oregon’s biggest economic footprints, was an early adopter of the practice.

The greater impact, however, could be to what a recent study referred to as “Ag of the Middle.” That is, the farmers, ranchers and processors who are too big to make a living selling solely at farmers’ markets and CSAs, but too small to compete at the commodity level.

The study by Ecotrust, a Portland non-profit, identified institutions as a prime market opportunity for middle-sized producers.

Ecotrust estimated Oregon’s hospitals, schools, prisons, assisted living facilities and other institutions serve 40 million meals a year.

Institutional food service departments have immense buying power and purchase large quantities, the report pointed out. Even a relatively small tweak toward buying more Oregon grown and processed products would have a “significant ripple effect across the domestic food system,” the Ecotrust report said.

It paid off for a pair of Northeast Oregon cattle ranches. Carman Ranch in Wallowa, in partnership with McClaren Ranch, sells about 1,000 pounds of beef and bones a week to OHSU. The ranches take about five cows a week to a processor in Brownsville, 90 miles south of Portland, and sell the hospital 500 pounds of ground beef, 200 pounds of rounds, 100 pounds of steaks and 200 pounds of bones for soup and broth.

Cory Carman, a fourth generation cattle rancher, said the relationship has been “phenomenal.” OHSU accounts for 20 to 25 percent of the ranch’s annual sales and is by far the ranch’s biggest account, she said. The business would be “much smaller” without OHSU’s consistent demand for quality and quantity.

She said producers pursuing such relationships must understand they require patience, collaboration and flexibility on both ends.

“The biggest lesson is having that anchor customer,” Carman said.

Carman said OHSU approached her out of the blue when it was looking for grass-fed beef to serve the thousands who are at “Pill Hill,” as the campus overlooking Portland is known, every day.

Fernando Divina, OHSU’s executive chef, said the complex counts about 10,000 food transactions a day at nine outlets within the facility, including cafe and snack kiosk sales and 1,200 meals delivered to patients’ rooms. OHSU’s annual budget for food and beverages is about $5 million, and the hospital made a conscious decision to walk its health talk by seeking out local producers, preferably organic.

“We want to buy everything regionally, if possible,” Divina said. “That’s our goal.”

It isn’t a simple process.

Scott Cochrane, OHSU’s food purchasing agent, said large institutions such as schools often have tight budgets. It’s often cheaper for them to buy the volume they need from large distributors. To purchase in bulk locally at a competitive price point, institutions may have to ask multiple growers to aggregate their production.

“I know they all want to, but there’s a point where they can’t cut their own throat,” Cochrane said. “There’s a lot of willing participants on the outside of the circle who can’t get in.”

Eecole Copen, OHSU’s sustainable foods program coordinator, acknowledged it takes more work to buy food from smaller producers.

“You have to commit to being OK with dealing with multiple vendors,” she said. “The whole system is based on willingness.”

She and others refer to this type of purchasing as a larger version of Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA. It’s ISA in this case: Institutional Supported Agriculture.

Copen said the payoff is a strengthened regional food system.

“We need more farmers,” she said. “That’s about food security, growing the local economy, jobs, income.”

OHSU’s first foray into the local food scene was establishing a farmers’ market on campus. It’s now in its ninth year and serves as an incubator for growers who eventually reach the point where they can sell wholesale to OHSU’s food services department.

The idea isn’t just a Portland foodie thing. Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston, about 180 miles east of Portland, buys vegetables from Finley’s Fresh Produce, berries from another local grower, and pork and chicken from suppliers across the border in Washington. All of the beef purchased by the hospital is raised within 50 miles.

Nancy Gummer, Good Shepherd’s nutrition services and diabetes education director, said she began buying locally about 10 years ago.

Gummer said she wanted to quit buying meat from animals treated with antibiotics or raised in confined feeding operations. It took 10 years to find chicken she felt comfortable feeding hospital patients, staff and visitors.

In addition to buying local, Gummer avoids purchasing products that contain artificial colors, flavors or other additives. Her food budget is about $500,000 annually.

“We feel what you eat has the biggest impact on your health,” she said. “Food that’s really healthy for humans is going to be grown in healthier soil, and handled and processed in a way that has less impact on the environment.”

Gummer said.

Increased institutional buying of locally grown and processed food can reshape the food system, said Amanda Oborne, vice president of food and farms for Ecotrust and the lead author of the “Ag of the Middle” report.

Producer and buyer have to make some adjustments, however, Oborne said.

Institutions have to be flexible enough to partner with farmers and “take what they’ve got when they’ve got it” and pay promptly, she said.

They also should increase their frozen storage space so they can buy in bulk when things are in season and use them over time.

Farmers “have to be able to think like a bigger operation,” she said. They need proper insurance coverage and must comply with food safety regulations.

“Those are barriers for institutional buyers,” Oborne said. “That liability related stuff has to be in order.”

Institutions can’t afford to have employees standing around chopping, slicing and dicing vegetables, she added, and producers should look for creative ways to provide some of that minimal processing.

To fill big institutional orders, farmers can coordinate crop planning and combine production with neighbors, she said.

“This is a partnership and we problem solve together,” she said. “That’s the mindset to bring to it.”

Oregon adds century, sesquicentennial farms and ranches

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Eleven farms and ranches that have been in continuous operation by the same family for 100 years have been added to the state’s list of Century Farms, the Oregon Farm Bureau announced.

Five more farms reached the 150-year mark and will be honored as Sesquicentennial Farms during the Oregon State Fair in August.

With the additions, Oregon now has 1,175 Century Farms and Ranches and 33 Sesquicentennial Farms and Ranches.

The Century Farms added this year are: Cheyne Farm, Klamath County; the Louis & Anna Falk Farm and Charles Ludwig Falk Farm, both in Linn County; Hynes Farm, Marion County; Taghon Farm, Washington County; Fisher Patterson Farm, Marion County; Christensen Farm, Linn County; McCready Ranch, Klamath County; Padget Ranches, Sherman County; Gentleacres, Polk County; and Bingaman Enterprises, Union County.

Sesquicentennial Farms added this year are: Mid Valley Farm, Washington County; George W. Smith Ranch, Coos County; James Monroe Hemphill Farm, Umatilla County; Lieuallen Century Ranches, Umatilla County; and John F. Adams Farming Enterprise, Umatilla County.

To be eligible, the farm or ranch has to have remained in continuous family operation and attain a gross income from farm use of at least $1,000 per year in at least three out of five years prior to application. Family members must live on or actively manage the farm or ranch.

Documentation can include photos, original deeds, personal stories or other historic records.

The program is supported by a partnership that includes the Oregon Farm Bureau the State Historic Preservation Office and Oregon State University Archives.

PGG announces new marketing agreement to strengthen selling price

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

When it comes to marketing and selling wheat, Pendleton Grain Growers is banking on greater strength in numbers.

PGG recently announced it will join a growing alliance of Northwest grain cooperatives to improve their overall market access and fetch more competitive bids for members across Eastern Oregon and Washington.

The agreement with McCoy Grain Terminal LLC, a trading company based in Colfax, Wash., lumps PGG’s 10 million to 17 million bushel grain handle under one partnership that will market 50 million to 60 million bushels.

At that volume, wheat can be blended and offered to exporters in larger packages for potentially more money, said Jason Middleton, director of grain operations for PGG.

“By that, we’re able to go out for a better bid,” Middleton said.

A better bid means a better bottom line for the co-op, which gets passed down to members, Middleton said.

McCoy Grain Terminal started as a joint venture in 2012 between Cooperative Agricultural Producers of Rosalia, Washington, and Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative of Genesee, Idaho. Together, they built and co-own a $17 million grain handling facility just outside of Rosalia, a small farm town in the Palouse region of Washington.

Last year, McCoy Grain Terminal added Mid-Columbia Producers of Moro as a partner to boost marketing capabilities. Now with PGG in the fold, the company can market grain from more than 70 countryside elevators and eight river terminals — three on the Snake River, and five on the Columbia River.

Bud Riedner, general manager of McCoy Grain Terminal, said the agreement with PGG provides better collaboration during the 2015 harvest season, which is already expected to be a down due to hot, dry weather.

Indeed, Middleton said the partnership should pull together the most complete information about markets and conditions throughout the region, from The Dalles to Pendleton and Eastern Washington and Idaho up to Canada.

“Information is the most valuable thing you can have in the grain business,” Middleton said. “It’s definitely a bonus to have all that information at our disposal so we can see what’s going on.”

PGG will continue to provide marketing services at their grower trading desk in Pendleton. The marketing department can be reached at 541-278-5018.

Water utility teams up with farmers to fight hazelnut worms

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A three-year research project involving a water utility, growers and university researchers showed pheromone trickery can reduce the use of pesticides 60 to 75 percent in hazelnut orchards.

At orchards along the McKenzie River east of Eugene, Ore., and in the Northern Willamette Valley, researchers placed pheromone-laden rings in the upper-third of the tree canopy. The rings, about 3 feet in diameter with a texture similar to baling twine, release a plume of pheromones in the air space above the orchard. That confuses male filbert moths and makes it difficult for them find females, which attract mates by releasing similar come-hither compounds.

Filbert worms emerging from the moth’s eggs cause severe damage to nuts.

The mating disruption technique reduced the filbert worm population. Some moths find each other by accident, but the process takes longer and weakens the reproductive cycle, Oregon State University horticultural entomologist Vaughn Walton said. Applied at a rate of 10 pheromone rings per acre, the option works as well as spraying and costs slightly more, Walton said.

The Oregon Hazelnut Commission provided about $100,000 and Eugene Water & Electric Board contributed about $60,000 to fund the project. Faculty research assistant Betsey Miller of OSU did much of the field work.

EWEB’s interest is in keeping pesticides out of the McKenzie River, which provides drinking water for the city of Eugene, utility spokesman Joe Harwood said.

Hazelnut grower Garry Rodakowski said he appreciates the utility’s willingness to work with farmers.

“Having that type of help makes you want do more,” he said.

Rodakowski said he’s willing to continue using mating disruption against filbert moths but said growers could use help monitoring traps. That work is key to tracking the presence of moths in the orchard, although it doesn’t tell growers if the moths are mating.

“Any time you’re spraying less you’ve got dollar savings, time savings, equipment,” Rodakowski said.

Walton, of OSU, said growers who use mating disruption may still want to spray around the border of their orchards, because other trees such as oaks can be hosts to the moths. Growers may find it necessary to do a “knock-down” spray every two or three years, he said.

Walton estimated the pheromone method costs about $55 an acre, compared to $52 or $53 per acre with chemical control.

Pheromone mating disruption techniques are widely used to protect crops such as apples, which are attacked by coddling moths, but hazelnuts is a small crop by comparison, Walton said. Chemical companies prefer to develop products that can be used on a wide range of crops, and generate more business, he said.

But the Oregon hazelnut industry has grown significantly over the years, and the moth compound has been found to work in pecans as well, which expands the market, Walton said.

REIT purchases 6,000 acres of Willamette Valley farmland

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

More organic acreage is expected to become available in Oregon’s Willamette Valley due to a recent real estate transaction involving a 6,000-acre farming operation.

The owned and leased properties of Olsen Agricultural Enterprises, a family-owned company, were recently taken over by a real estate investment trust operated by the Farmland LP investment firm.

Much of that acreage will be converted to organic production and rented to other growers who hope to expand their operations.

“The biggest thing holding them back has been access to organically certified land,” said Craig Wichner, managing partner of Farmland LP.

As part of the overhaul, the firm plans to significantly reduce the amount of property devoted to grass seed — traditionally one of Olsen’s staple crops — to use it for higher-value crops.

USDA certification rules require that land be managed without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers for three years before the crops it yields can be marketed as organic.

During that transition period, Farmland LP plans to grow clover on former grass seed acreage or use the fields for livestock pasture.

The real estate investment trust, or REIT, operated by Farmland LP is not the only one dedicated to agricultural properties.

Farmland Partners Inc. owns 53,000 acres, primarily in the Central and Southern U.S., while Gladstone Land Corp. owns about 11,500 acres, mostly in California and Florida.

While these companies are focused on buying land from farmers and then leasing it back to them, Farmland LP is unique in that it invests in organic certification and infrastructure upgrades to allow for more complex and profitable operations, Wichner said.

“We very much focus on adding value,” he said.

Aside from the former Olsen properties, Farmland LP has 1,500 acres near Corvallis, Ore., and 5,700 acres near San Francisco.

In all, the REIT manages 13,500 acres, roughly 10,000 acres of which it owns, and has roughly $100 million in assets.

Though the investment firm’s main business is leasing property to other growers, it will retain the employees of Olsen Agricultural Enterprises to run a farming subsidiary called Green Spring Farms.

The structure is similar to that of the Corvallis operation, where its Vitality Farms subsidiary uses part of the land for livestock production.

The company aims for diversified livestock, seed and vegetable crops to improve productivity, Wichner said. “We have essentially more complex rotations.”

For Olsen Agricultural Enterprises, the deal with Farmland LP provides a timely way to pay off its creditors while keeping its workers employed, said Roger Olsen, the company’s managing partner.

While the terms of the transaction were not disclosed, Olsen said the sale will allow the company to pay off its $34 million in debt.

“It’s a pretty big success after what happened,” he said.

In 2011, Olsen filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, citing a major investment in its winery business at a time when the grass seed industry experienced a severe downturn.

The reorganized company emerged from bankruptcy the following year with a plan for paying off creditors.

While the firm was able to keep up on payments since then, the sale to Farmland LP provided the most straightforward way to “make everybody whole,” Olsen said.

S. Oregon pear growers take steps to keep fruit cool

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — Southern Oregon farmers might be suffering as temperatures soar, but they’re not the only ones — several orchards are taking steps to protect the fruit they’re growing.

Pear growers like Talent orchardist Ron Meyer have developed measures to keep their crops cool in threatening triple-digit temperatures, the Medford Mail Tribune reported.

“Generally speaking, pears quit growing when it gets over 100 degrees,” explained Meyer. “So far, that hasn’t happened. We’ve put sun blocker on the varieties that are the most susceptible and the orchards that have overhead sprinklers and water available have been turning them on in the afternoon to keep them cool. If you don’t have that option, then you have to get in the rotation to wait for irrigation.”

Sunblock made from micronized calcium carbonate doesn’t work for all varieties, but it can minimize sunburn and heat stress for two of Jackson County’s mainstay commercial crops, Red Anjous and Comice.

Orchardists caught a break Sunday after a succession of 100-degree days, but forecasts show more triple-digit highs with a peak of 111 degrees on Thursday.

Until this point, growing conditions have been nearly perfect. Meyer said he even pushed harvest dates two weeks ahead of normal and anticipates Bartlett picking to begin August 10 to 15. Normally it is August 20 to September 1.

“We have one of the nicest pear crops we’ve ever had,” Meyer said. “It’s nice and clean with no russeting.”

Meyer remembers scorching temperatures harming family crops in the 1950s, but says modern-day orchards have better protection.

“I’ve seen it reach as high as 114 here, and actually burn pears on the trees,” he said. “That was 60 years ago or more. We didn’t have the sunblocker or irrigation we have now.”

Orchards used to keep the ground bare beneath trees, but that reflected heat and caused problems. Now, Meyer said, there is grass between the rows of trees.

Despite the lowest snowpack on record, Meyer thinks there will be plenty of irrigation water for most growers to make it through the summer, though farmers dependent on smaller stream flows might stuffer.

Still, the orchardist said he expects reservoirs to be empty by the end of growing season and worries about the effect of another abnormally dry winter.

“The demand is high right now,” Meyer said. “I would say we’re using 25 percent more water than usual.”

Two solar farms proposed in Central Oregon

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BEND, Ore. (AP) — The abundance of sunshine east of the Cascade Mountains makes Central Oregon a prime location for generating solar power.

Two adjoining solar facilities have been proposed east of Bend and others could soon follow. Installation costs have dropped in recent years, and requirements for Oregon utilities to use renewable energy increased this year.

But that doesn’t mean solar panels will stretch across every square inch of the High Desert. The purchase price for solar power and the effect of competing energy sources could continue to dissuade some development companies.

A Deschutes County hearings officer will review the two proposed solar farms at a public meeting Tuesday in Bend.

The proposed solar facilities would cover about 70 acres on land zoned for farming and produce a combined 20 megawatts of electricity a year, enough to power 3,000 homes annually.

The solar projects are considered “qualified facilities,” meaning they can sell their power to utility companies at a set rate if they meet certain federal requirements.

Solar farms could be a welcome relief for landowners who are limited in what they can do with their property. Jodi and Harland Hafter own the land being proposed for solar panels north of Neff Road and are planning to lease the property for the facility.

“The reason we decided to do the solar is because our property is not viable for agriculture,” said Jodi Hafter.

“It’s pretty much a perfect deal for us and them,” she said. “Everybody wants a cheaper form of energy, and so we figured it would be a good thing for the area.”

Cathy Jensen lives next to the Hafters. She said some neighbors believe the solar projects will not have enough of a buffer space from property lines and Big Sky Park, which is to the west of the property and popular for its off-leash dog park.

“We would like the county to think very hard about the criteria for these,” said Jensen. “(Deschutes County) needs to think about what the implications are.”

Jensen added that the “massive array of solar panels” will give the area more of an industrial feel instead of rural farmland.

“It’s not that we’re against solar, but we’d like to see it be a more manageable size,” she said.

Cypress Creek Renewables, a Santa Monica, California-based company, is developing the northern project and is co-developing the southern project with Oregon Solar Land Holdings.

“These type of projects are very limited in Central Oregon,” said Jason Carr, a spokesman for Cypress Creek Renewables. “There are a lot of requirements necessary in order to have a site that is viable.”

The company has filed a conditional use permit with the county to develop the solar project. Solar power generation facilities are allowed in the exclusive farm use zone, according to county development code.

Carr said the company has no intention of selling power outside of the area. A Pacific Power substation is not far from the proposed facilities and can be connected. A 10-megawatt facility in Bend would be difficult to do because of the cost and availability of land. If the facilities are set up too far from the city, it would cost millions of dollars to connect to the substation, Carr said.

“There are a lot of issues that go into where and why these can be sited,” said Carr. “There’s very few sites where all those pieces come together.”

There are incentives for companies to develop solar-generating facilities. A solar investment tax credit reduces the amount of income tax paid by solar developers by 30 percent. That will change to 10 percent in December 2016. Facilities have to be operational by then if they want to receive the tax credit at 30 percent.

“It’s being significantly reduced, (but) some people think it might get extended and others think that might not happen,” said Brittany Andrus, a senior utility analyst with the Oregon Public Utility Commission.

Residential and commercial solar system installation costs declined between 1998 and 2013, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a federal research group studying energy technologies. Between 2012 and 2013 the costs dropped by 12 to 15 percent depending on the system size, according to the research group. Analysts expect the cost of installing systems to continue to fall.

Paul Israel, president of Oregon-based Sunlight Solar Energy Inc., said his company has looked at developing a solar facility in Central Oregon that could sell its power to utility companies. The amount paid by the potential purchasers of the power, however, is not enough to pay back investors and receive a profit, he said.

Israel said this part of Oregon is the best in the state for generating solar power and it’s terrible not to utilize it.

The Legislature passed legislation in 2007 requiring utilities to deliver a percentage of electricity from renewable resources. The required percentage from renewable energy jumped from 5 to 15 percent this year for Portland General Electric, PacifiCorp and Eugene Water and Electric Board, the three largest utilities in the state.

Israel said the requirement should be expanded to promote more solar energy in Oregon. The state requirement will increase to 25 percent renewable energy in 2025.

OSU poised to expand research, extension

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — Oregon State University is poised to hire new agricultural research and extension employees with a $14 million funding increase recently passed by the Oregon House.

The hike is part of broader higher education legislation, House Bill 5024, that must still be approved by the Senate.

The bill’s chances of success appear high after receiving unanimous support in the House and previously clearing the key Joint Ways and Means Committee 22-1 with a “do pass” recommendation.

If HB 5024 is enacted, it will result in the first meaningful expansion of OSU’s extension service in many years, said Scott Reed, vice president of university outreach and engagement.

“It’s very encouraging,” he said.

With inflation and increasing costs, the extension service has lost two positions a year on average since 2000, he said.

Of the $14 million in additional funding, about 31 percent is slated for the extension service, 44 percent for the university’s agricultural experiment stations and 25 percent for its forest research laboratory.

Total funding for the three programs is set at $118.5 million under the bill.

The extension service has numerous unfilled positions that are being considered for funding, such as agents specializing in livestock, dairy, pollinators, forestry, nutrient management, watershed research and sage grouse recovery, Reed said.

“We have not yet pulled the trigger on which positions to fill,” he said, adding that administrators would wait until the bill is approved by the full Legislature.

Dan Arp, dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, said it’s premature to discuss the experiment station positions that would be filled due to the funding increase.

However, the university does plan to hire field and laboratory technicians dedicated to pollinator research if HB 5024 becomes law, he said.

At the beginning of the legislative session, OSU asked for $16 million in additional funding for the three programs, Arp said.

The university won’t be able to fill all 40 positions that would have been possible with that level of funding, but it’s nonetheless grateful for the support of lawmakers, he said.

“That’s a glass that’s 88 percent full,” Arp said. “It’s really great news.”

While the details about specific positions remain murky, the university has identified five priority areas for hiring:

• Sustainable management of working landscapes: This category is of most significance for farmers and ranchers, as these positions would focus on helping landowners with on-the-ground problems facing agriculture.

• Promoting public health, food safety and security: Apart from food safety issues, these positions may also support the “community food systems” of local farms and market channels, as well as breeding efforts.

• Ensuring water quality and quantity: These positions would assist with farm and forest practices that improve water quality and managing basins to improve water availability.

• Technologies for business development and value-added manufacturing: Food processing and forest products would benefit from these positions, which are meant to help develop new technologies that create jobs in rural communities.

• Educating the workforce of tomorrow: “Youth development” of pre-college students through real world learning experiences is the focus of this area.


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