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DOL, farmers in talks to resolve ‘hot goods’ lawsuits

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The U.S. Department of Labor said it’s negotiating a possible end to litigation with Oregon blueberry farms the agency accused of “hot goods” labor law violations.

The agency has asked a federal judge to postpone proceedings in its lawsuit against the growers while they try to reach a resolution.

In 2012, the agency claimed that Pan-American Berry Growers and B&G Ditchen paid pickers less than the minimum wage, rendering their blueberries unlawfully harvested “hot goods” that can’t be shipped in interstate commerce.

The farms agreed to pay $220,000 and waive their right to challenge DOL’s findings so the agency would lift the “hot goods” objection, thus preventing their crop from rotting.

Those deals were found to be unlawfully coercive earlier this year by a federal judge who vacated the settlements and re-opened the litigation.

Since then, the legal conflict has escalated. The farmers demanded their money back, plus $150,000 in damages for the shipping delay that hurt fruit quality.

DOL countered that it couldn’t return the money that had already been disbursed to workers and refused to pay damages or attorney fees.

The agency also upped the ante in its complaints against the farms, seeking to add new defendants and additional charges of wrongdoing stretching back further in time.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin was set to hear oral arguments on DOL’s motion to broaden the charges against the farms on Dec. 3 and to accept court briefs regarding the payment of restitution and attorney fees.

The agency has now asked him to postpone that hearing until Jan. 13, 2015 and delay court briefing of the other legal issues.

DOL and the farms “have exchanged proposals for resolution of all the combined cases in this matter” and it may conserve the resources of everyone involved if the proceedings were delayed, the agency said in court documents.

The DOL’s documents claim that Tim Bernasek, the farmers’ attorney, has agreed to postpone the oral arguments and briefings but Capital Press was unable to reach him for confirmation.

Researchers work to help growers with FDA rules

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

NAMPA, Idaho — Farmers alarmed by the FDA’s proposed produce safety rule shouldn’t panic because a number of universities and organizations are preparing to help them wade through the complex proposal, a researcher involved in that effort says.

“It’s OK to hit the ‘huh?’ button but don’t hit the ‘panic’ button because a lot of groups are gearing up to provide the support system in a variety of ways,” said University of California-Davis extension research specialist Trevor Suslow, who focuses on produce quality and safety.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 152-page revised produce safety rule is difficult to understand but it’s a big improvement over the original rule, he said.

“There’s a lot of support that’s being put in place to help growers become familiar with the proposal, understand what it means and understand how to approach it within their operations,” Suslow said.

Speaking to Idaho fruit growers during the Idaho State Horticultural Society’s annual convention Nov. 20, Suslow focused his presentation on a part of the FDA proposal that would set limits on how much bacteria could be present in irrigation water.

Under the original proposal, growers whose water didn’t meet the standards would have to immediately stop using it. The revised rule allows growers whose water doesn’t meet the standards to comply through other means.

That includes establishing an interval from the last day of irrigation until harvest that would allow for potentially dangerous microbes to die off. This “die-off” provision could also apply to the time between harvest and when produce leaves storage.

Because the rate at which bacteria die off on produce is under-researched, Suslow said, he and others will ask the FDA to place that provision in a guidance document rather than the rule itself.

This would allow flexibility as more research in that area is done, he said, because “it would take an extraordinary effort to change once they’re locked in.”

“It’s a right idea,” he said, “I just think it needs to be tweaked and refined quite a bit more.”

Suslow said tests performed by researchers on well, reservoir and canal water in California and Arizona found that 95 percent of the water easily complied with the proposed water quality standards.

But in some places, such as the Treasure Valley area of Southwestern Idaho and Eastern Oregon, where some canal water is reused several times, the water would not meet the standards.

Onion growers in that area have been particularly vocal in their criticism of the proposed rule but they have been encouraged by the “die-off” provision.

The revised rule will allow growers a lot more latitude when it comes to meeting the water quality standards, Oregon State University researcher Clint Shock told the Capital Press.

But he said onion growers are still concerned about a provision of the produce safety rule that would require them to replace the wooden bins they have used for decades with plastic bins.

Replacing the estimated 1 million wooden onion boxes in Idaho and Eastern Oregon with plastic would cost about $200 million, based on estimates by OSU researchers. But OSU’s research showed no traces of E. coli bacteria on onions in wooden boxes that weren’t cleaned.

Despite this data, the FDA chose to retain the provision in its revised rule, Shock said.

“There would be a tremendous expense to replace all the bins, yet there would be no public health benefit,” Shock said.

Kitzhaber’s office says water deal imminent

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A tentative agreement to pump more irrigation water from the Columbia River into northeast Oregon farmland could be just weeks away, according to Gov. John Kitzhaber’s natural resources policy director.

But such a plan would still require bipartisan support and funding in the upcoming legislature before local farmers can tap into any new water supplies.

It’s a complex process following months of face-to-face negotiations between conservation groups and the Northeast Oregon Water Association, which is applying for three water rights to significantly expand irrigated agriculture while allowing badly stressed groundwater aquifers to recharge.

If successful, the deal could put thousands of acres of highly productive farmland into full production near Hermiston and Boardman, with potential economic benefits in the billions of dollars.

That’s a lot of zeros and a lot of promise, but forgive Eastern Oregonians if they’ve heard it before. Kitzhaber, who was re-elected in November, has said the effort is a high priority and continues to monitor the Columbia River-Umatilla Solutions Task Force, which he convened in 2012. Yet results are slow to come.

Richard Whitman, who is the governor’s top natural resources adviser, said this time around feels different.

“We are very close to an agreement that will provide significant expansion of irrigation agriculture, with environmental interests on board,” Whitman said.

The difference now, Whitman said, has been the strong organizational commitment of NOWA and constructive talks on both sides of the negotiating table. Representatives of NOWA — including executive director J.R. Cook — have been traveling twice, sometimes three times per week for meetings in Salem, as well as hosting key legislators from across the Cascades.

What NOWA wants in the long run is three water rights adding up to 500 cubic feet per second of water from the Columbia, which it would pump into three critical groundwater areas spanning 40 miles of river from the Port of Morrow to just east of Hermiston.

Cook knew it wouldn’t come easy. The law requires NOWA mitigate the new irrigation with a bucket-for-bucket replacement of water back into the river in order to protect endangered fish runs. And, as history shows, the Umatilla Basin has a poor record of pumping resources dry — the “sins of our fathers,” as Cook has called them.

The keys to finding a solution, Cook said, are vision, patience and incremental gains. NOWA is working with environmental groups to identify projects that can account for the mitigation piece of their proposal, and making sure those benefits are clearly explained to constituents outside their base.

That takes time, but Cook is confident it will pay dividends.

“People start to get it, that this is a much bigger benefit than just our northeast Oregon neck of the woods,” he said. “Just having that dialogue with folks ... it doesn’t mean they’ll agree with everything we propose, but the best part is they understand it and they can make a weighted opinion on it down the road.”

On Nov. 8, members of NOWA and state Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, made the trip to northeast Portland to meet with Sen. Michael Dembrow and about 30 of his constituents, where they discussed water needs and the impacts of local agriculture statewide.

Dembrow, who works with Hansell on the Senate’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, already visited Eastern Oregon in May for an up-close look at the project area and various ag-based industries. Since then, Cook said the Portland democrat has become an important ally to reaching across the urban-rural divide.

“It’s the best thing we can be doing as a region,” Cook said.

That bipartisan political backing will be important next year when it comes to funding any new water projects. It is likely the governor’s budget will include some resources to help the Columbia River supply start flowing, Whitman said. He declined to get into specifics, but said part of the funding could come from the $10 million Water Supply Development Account created by the legislature in 2013.

Once a concrete proposal is agreed upon, NOWA can move forward with applying for the water right and recruiting new members to join the organization. Membership will help pay for whatever mitigation and infrastructure costs are necessary to pump water onto their property.

“We’re spending significant time and resources trying to pull together a consensus here,” Whitman said.

Though Whitman said they are working on an arrangement that wouldn’t require any new laws, Hansell said he and his partners in Salem will be ready to step up with their support.

“It’s something we’ve worked on for many years, and I’ve tried to pick up the mantle and move it forward,” Hansell said. “I believe we will have something that is meaningful out of the next legislature.”

Working under NOWA, Cook said irrigators have a cohesive and clearly defined vision of success. The next step is coming up with a game plan to matches that vision.

“I think we’re doing it right,” Cook said. “We’ve defined success locally. I think the state’s thinking from the top down what their needs and priorities are. Hopefully, we can meet somewhere in the middle.”

Grant helps Oregon company develop biochar product

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A biochar product applied to fields increased red winter wheat yields 26 to 34 percent in preliminary trials and earned a Portland-area company a grant to pursue commercial production.

Walking Point Farms, a veteran-owned agri-tech business based in Tigard, Ore., received $91,000 from Oregon BEST, a non-profit that coordinates funding, research and development of clean-tech enterprises. Walking Point is working with Marion Ag Services of Salem to produce Pro-Pell-It, lime pellets coated with biochar, the charcoal-like substance produced by heating woody biomass such as logging slash.

Biochar is considered a quick fix for depleted soils and up to now has been favored by small, organic operations or home gardeners. It replenishes carbon in the soil, retains water and nutrients, makes soils less acidic and reduces erosion and leaching, Biochar essentially mimics organic matter that fallow wheat fields in Eastern Oregon and Washington lack, said Stephen Machado, a dryland cropping agronomist at Oregon State University’s Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center in Pendleton. He conducted the preliminary yield research.

“Biochar brings all that back,” Machado said. As an added benefit, “Once you apply it, that’s it,” he said, adding that repeated applications don’t appear to be necessary.

Backers also say biochar application also is a way to sequester carbon that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere.

Walking Point Farms and Marion Ag plan to release the product next spring. It will be the first large-scale commercial marketing of the pellets. Summit Seed Coatings, of Caldwell, Idaho, verified that biochar coating could be done at commercial levels.

Walking Point was founded by Howard Boyte, a Vietnam War Marine veteran who is retired from the Portland Fire Bureau. Chris Tenney, a Marine Corps combat veteran of the Iraq War, is vice president of business development, and William Wallace, an Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq, is chief financial officer. Boyte and Wallace were wounded in action.

Boyte has sold fertilizer in the past, capitalizing on requirements that government agencies buy a certain percentage of material from veteran-owned businesses. The biochar product, he said, has the potential to be a much bigger enterprise but will require investment partners.

“By spring planting we want to be locked, loaded and ready to go” with commercial production,” Boyte said. “Our number one biggest need is money.”

Oregon BEST, which provided the $91,000 grant, has increasingly focused on precision ag ventures, including a Wilsonville company that makes aerial drones for farm data collection. Since it was founded by the 2007 Oregon Legislature, the agency has secured more than $135 million for clean technology research from federal, foundation, and industry investors.


Walking Point Farms http://walkingpointfarms.com

Farms fight DOL bid to broaden ‘hot goods’ case

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Oregon blueberry farms accused of “hot goods” labor law violations are asking a federal judge not to allow the U.S. Department of Labor to expand the charges against them.

The agency wants to revise the original complaints filed in 2012 against Pan-American Berry Growers and B&G Ditech that accused them of paying pickers less than the minimum wage.

DOL is now asking to change the complaints to include new allegations of wrongdoing in 2010 and 2011 and to add Pan-American’s CEO and three labor contractors as defendants. The agency also wants to charge them with violating the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, in addition to the previous allegations of Fair Labor Standards Act violations.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin will hold oral arguments on the DOL’s motion to amend the complaints during a telephone hearing on Dec. 3.

The farms agreed to pay the DOL $220,000 in 2012 to settle the charges but later convinced a federal judge to overturn the deals because they had been signed under economic duress.

DOL had threatened to block shipments of their fresh blueberries as unlawfully produced “hot goods” unless they agreed to pay alleged back wages and penalties and waive their right to challenge the allegations.

With the settlements invalidated, DOL’s lawsuits against the farms have been re-opened and the agency wants to add the new allegations.

The blueberry farms say it would be unfair to include new allegations about alleged wrongdoing in 2010 and 2011 because they were not investigated by DOL in those years and thus had no reason to maintain records or preserve witness statements from that time.

The proposed new defendants would also be prejudiced by their inclusion in the lawsuit because they were never put on notice about the allegations between 2010 and 2012, even though DOL could have named them in the original complaints, the farms say in a court brief.

“It is one thing to amend a complaint to make limited changes, but another to add parties, add legal theories, and extend the reach of litigation further back in time — when a party could have done so at the inception of the case,” the brief said. “DOL offers no explanation such as recently discovered evidence which might justify the change in course.”

In a response brief, DOL discounts the fact it could have included the allegations in 2012.

Those charges weren’t included in the original complaints because they were part of a “negotiated settlement” that excluded certain allegations, the agency claims.

“For that reason the original complaint asserted only a portion of the claims for unpaid wages and violations of labor statutes that were included in the settlement,” DOL said in a court brief.

Oregon blueberry growers set sights on S.E. Asia

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

If all goes well, U.S. blueberry growers could be shipping fresh blueberries to Vietnam and the Philippines by 2016.

“You never know about these things,” said Bryan Ostlund, administrator of the Oregon Blueberry Commission, after returning from a trade mission to the two countries. “But we have a desire. They have a desire. At this point, it appears that we are headed down the same path, and it is in all of our countries’ interest that we move through this as quickly as possible.”

Participants in the 10-day mission, which concluded Nov. 5, included representatives of Oregon and Washington potato commissions, Oregon onions and officials from the Oregon and Washington state departments of agriculture, including Oregon Director Katy Coba and Washington Director Bud Hover.

Ostlund, the mission’s sole blueberry representative, asked if he could participate after learning about the mission last fall.

“It was perfect timing on several fronts,” he said. “I knew that there was interest in the blueberry industry to open those two markets for fresh and frozen and that the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council was working with USDA on an application for access.”

The council subsequently submitted the application in September, Ostlund said.

“I wanted to test the waters and see what the reaction was to allowing blueberries to come in to those countries,” he said.

Ostlund said the mission gave him access he couldn’t have obtained were he traveling strictly with industry members.

“For me to be with these two directors with dignitary status really helped open up access to Philippine and Vietnamese governments,” he said.

Government officials in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Manila expressed keen interest in importing U.S. fresh blueberries, Ostlund said. Consumer interest in Vietnam and the Philippines, meanwhile, rivals that of South Korea, he said, which has become Oregon’s largest export market for fresh blueberries in just three years since gaining access.

“Like in South Korea, they read about blueberries in publications and on the Internet,” he said. “They read about the health benefits, and they want blueberries.”

“The demand for Oregon blueberries continues to be one of our best success stories,” Coba said. “We have seen the same kind of enthusiasm and interest from other Asian markets for our fresh blueberries as we saw in Korea a few years ago.

“It’s exciting to see our industry lead the initiative to pursue other markets like Vietnam and the Philippines, and we hope to gain access in those locations, as well,” Coba said.

Oregon shipped approximately 500,000 pounds of fresh blueberries to Korea in 2012, the first year it gained access, doubled that in 2013 and this year shipped 1.5 million pounds into the market.

Japan, formerly Oregon’s largest export market for fresh blueberries, typically imports just under 1 million pounds of blueberries a year.

Oregon is the only U.S. state allowed to ship fresh blueberries into South Korea. It took 10 years and a combined effort of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the USDA and the Oregon Blueberry Commission to crack open the market.

Promotional work by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council and the Oregon Department of Agriculture helped cultivate interest in the market so when it opened, consumer interest was high.

Ostlund is hoping for similar good timing in the Vietnamese and Philippine markets.

“The trick is to get the timing right, so that when you do gain access, you are not starting fresh with trying to build demand,” Ostlund said. “So that when you get the green light, you are already out of the starting blocks and you are ready to go.”

Ostlund doesn’t expect it to be as difficult to gain market access to the Philippines and Vietnam as it was for South Korea, which has domestic blueberry production. Farmers in the Philippines and Vietnam, which have tropical climates, cannot grow blueberries.

“We don’t have those kind of (phytosanitary and competitive) issues with these countries,” Ostlund said.

Recount likely on Oregon GMO labeling measure

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — An automatic recount now appears likely for Measure 92, a ballot initiative that would require labeling of food sold in Oregon containing genetically modified organisms.

The latest unofficial count Thursday from the Oregon secretary of state lists 750,989 votes against it, 749,505 for it. The difference of 1,484 is now within the 3,000 that triggers an automatic recount.

Counties have until Tuesday to certify their totals with the secretary of state, who has until Dec. 4 to certify the state results.

Although statewide recounts are rare, they do occur.

In 2000, Randall Edwards beat Gary Bruebaker for the Democratic nomination for state treasurer by 470 votes of more than 300,000 cast. Edwards went on to win two terms as treasurer.

In 1992, Les AuCoin beat Harry Lonsdale for the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator by 330 votes of more than 300,000 cast. AuCoin lost to Republican Sen. Bob Packwood.

Edwards and AuCoin led in their initial counts.

State law requires a recount at public expense if the difference is one-fifth of 1 percent of the total votes cast. Recounts also can be requested even if the margin is greater than the automatic trigger, but the individual or organization requesting it must pay unless the election result is reversed.

Spending by both sides on Measure 92 added up to nearly $29 million, shattering the record of $15 million set back in 2007.

Similar measures have gone down in California in 2012, Washington in 2013, and Colorado on Nov. 4.

Farm Bureau moves to new building

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — The Oregon Farm Bureau Board of Directors three years ago told the staff to find a new location for its offices. The board wanted a building that was closer to the Capitol, had more meeting space and a less cluttered financial balance sheet.

The Farm Bureau’s new headquarters at 1320 Capitol St. NE meets all three criteria and has another obvious benefit.

“The building is nicer,” Oregon Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Dave Dillon said.

“The thought was to have not just an office but an event space,” said Katie Fast, vice president of public policy for the Farm Bureau.

The building, and specifically its large meeting room that comes complete with a big-screen television and multiple electronic hook-ups for laptop computers and other devices, already has served as the site for an election-night party for two county Farm Bureaus.

“The idea was to have a really nice space for people to meet,” Fast said.

The building also has three other meeting rooms, enabling the Bureau to accommodate multiple meetings at the same time and for different sized groups.

As for its proximity to the Capitol, the building definitely meets that criteria. The Farm Bureau offices had been in a building across Salem on South Commercial Street for 19 years.

“I can walk to the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon Water Resources Department buildings from here,” Fast said, “and it’s five minutes to the Capitol.”

For the record, the Farm Bureau’s new offices are less than a mile from the Capitol. Its old offices were more than three miles from the Capitol. But that’s only half the story. Add in traffic issues on Commercial Street at peak business hours and the time it takes to go to and from the Capitol for Farm Bureau staff has lessened considerably.

Also, Dillon pointed out, getting public officials and legislators to meet with Farm Bureau staff at the offices is now more palatable.

“If you’ve got somebody from an agency or a legislator and they are coming out to meet with your board or another group of members and a half-an-hour of their day is spent driving to the office and back, that is not the best situation for a group that relies on those kinds of meetings,” Dillon said.

Also, Dillon said, Farm Bureau members from around the state will find it much easier to get to the new offices.

Dillon said the new building also unclutters the Farm Bureau’s financial balance sheet. Instead of renting to several tenants, including many not associated with the natural resource industries, the new building will have less than a handful and all will be associated with natural resource industries.

The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association moved in with the Farm Bureau in early October. At most, the Farm Bureau expects to rent to two or three more tenants, Dillon said.

Also, the Farm Bureau is divesting its holdings in residential housing that it purchased along with its old building.

“We were spending too much time and had too much of the balance sheet in real-estate management, which is not really core to our mission,” Dillon said.

The new building is called the Natural Resource Center at Capitol and Gaines.

GMO alfalfa growers challenge Oregon county’s ban

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Oregon alfalfa growers challenging the legality of a county prohibition on genetically modified organisms have hinged their case on the state’s “right to farm” law.

The plaintiffs — Schulz Family Farms and James and Marilyn Frink — claim the GMO ban passed by Jackson County voters in May is precluded by the statute, which disallows local governments from deeming a common farming practice as a nuisance or trespass.

The complaint asks the Jackson County Circuit Court to stop the GMO ban from being enforced, or in the alternative, for $4.2 million in damages that the farmers would allegedly suffer if they must destory their biotech alfalfa crops by June 2015.

Schulz Family Farms grows 105 acres of “Roundup Ready” alfalfa that has been genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate herbicides, while the Frinks cultivate 200 acres of the biotech crop.

Alfalfa is a perennial crop with a 10-year lifespan, so the plaintiffs will lose out on several years of harvests if they’re forced to tear out the plants, the complaint said. Furthermore, they would have to replant the fields with other crops for about four years to ensure that any biotech alfalfa volunteers aren’t allowed to survive.

The plaintiffs say they sell alfalfa for roughly $200 to $300 per ton and would lose a major portion of their income if they had to switch to less profitable crops for several years — in the case of the Frinks, the disruption would likely drive them out of farming.

The county ordinance tries to circumvent Oregon’s right to farm law by designating the cultivation of biotech crops as a “violation” rather than a “nuisance,” the complaint said.

However, the ordinance is substantively a nuisance rule because it attempts to protect non-GMO farmers from being affected by pollen from biotech crops, the plaintiffs claim.

For this reason, the ordinance is prohibited under the right to farm statute despite its “semantic maneuvering,” the complaint said.

Jackson County, which is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, does not comment on pending litigation, said Joel Benton, counsel for the county.

The Center for Food Safety, a non-profit group that supported the GMO ban, believes it’s well crafted to comply with Oregon law, said George Kimbrell, attorney for the group.

“This lawsuit is without any merit or basis,” he said.

The complaint’s sole reliance on Oregon’s right to farm law to defeat the ordinance is notable. Typically, lawsuits offer multiple legal theories because they generally can’t be refiled to include new arguments.

Similar county ordinances in Hawaii that seek to regulate GMOs are being challenged under several theories, including pre-emption by federal laws.

The alfalfa plaintiffs could not likely raise such objections to the ordinance if they lose the right to farm case.

However, there is a possibility that other growers in the county could file lawsuits that take a different legal approach.

When asked about the reliance on the right to farm statute, an attorney for the alfalfa growers said it wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss the legal strategies of similar cases in other jurisdictions.

Oregon’s the secret for Swedish Gin

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

For years, foresters and conservationists have been trying to create new markets for western juniper in Oregon. The species has overrun some parts of  the state, and is sucking scarce water from Oregon’s high desert. 

A handful of custom sawmills that are willing to work with the small knotty tree have experimented with juniper fence posts and juniper cabinets and juniper shavings for pet bedding.

Meanwhile, in a tiny town in Sweden not far from the Arctic Circle, master distiller Jon Hillgren wondered what gin would taste like if it were aged in a juniper barrel.

Hillgren is the founder of Hernö Gin Distillery, and claims to be the world’s northernmost gin maker.  

Many craft distillers had tried aging gin in oak barrels and old whiskey casks, but Hillgren thought a juniper barrel would be the perfect compliment to the juniper berries that give gin its distinctive bite.

“In Sweden we make small butter knives out of juniper wood, and just smelling one of these knives you get a great juniper smell. I wondered, if we make a big barrel out of this, what would we get out of it taste-wise?” Hillgren says.

To make a traditional Swedish cask, Hillgren needed thick juniper staves with as few knots as possible, to prevent leaks. His distillery is located just a few miles from Sweden’s largest sawmills, but he couldn’t find juniper wood anywhere in Europe that met his specifications. So he searched Google, and found the In The Sticks sawmill in Fossil, Oregon.

Kendal Derby, a rangeland ecologist, founded the mill so that juniper cut during range restoration projects wouldn’t go to waste. Few of Oregon’s larger sawmills are willing to work with it.  Hillgren began emailing Derby, and was delighted to find another small artisan business halfway across the world.

“We  haven’t met each other, but we’re doing business very well. It’s all about trust. It’s a perfect cooperation,” Hillgren says.

Derby agrees. “It was fun. When we first started talking about it, I was headed out the door to go elk hunting. Jon promptly wrote back and said ‘we go elk hunting in Sweden too,’” he remembers.

Derby custom cut an order of juniper staves for Hillgren. Some of the lumber didn’t make the grade, so Derby used the leftovers to make butcher blocks and wooden blanks for flute carvers.

In Sweden, Hillgren hired a cooper to build each barrel by hand using traditional techniques, heating the wood to make it easier to bend. Hillgren let his gin age in the barrels for 30 days. He says that gave it a deep, complex flavor and a slight yellow color. He released the first bottles in 2013. This year, the Juniper Cask Gin won a gold medal at the International Wine and Spirits Competition.

“This mix, we thought would be fabulous, and we’re selling out,” Hillgren says. He believes he is the only person in the world making gin in juniper barrels.

Hernö exports gin to eight countries, but it isn’t distributing it in the U.S., though it’s available on Amazon’s website in the United Kingdom. Kendal Derby says he hasn’t had a chance to try the finished gin yet. He’s more of a beer guy, but he loves what Hillgren has made.

“It’s a great idea, and now he’s winning awards. The wood is a real ingredient for his success and that’s pretty exciting to be part of,” he says.

Derby primarily mills landscape timber and furniture grade lumber, and struggles to stay in business. The state has invested heavily in juniper, creating an Oregon Solutions project to help develop new markets for it. Nevertheless, Derby says most juniper sawyers go out of business eventually. He says he’s trying everything, hoping to hit on a way to make In The Sticks profitable.

“Whatever someone calls and says they want, I do it, but I still don’t pay myself. I just work,” he says.

Report: Unauthorized immigrants growing in Idaho

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Idaho was among seven states where the number of unauthorized immigrants increased between 2009 and 2012, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.

The report also found the number of unauthorized immigrants decreased in 14 states, including Oregon, in that time period. The number stayed relatively stable in the remaining states, including Washington.

Nationally, the number of unauthorized immigrants remained stable at 11.2 million between 2009 and 2012, the report found. The number of such immigrants peaked in 2007 at 12.2 million, the report said.

But changes occurred within states. Idaho, for instance, grew from 35,000 unauthorized immigrants in 2009 to 50,000 in 2012, an increase of 15,000 people. Idaho’s growth was “driven by increases in unauthorized immigrants from countries other than Mexico,” the report said.

Other states that saw increases were Florida, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the report said.

Meanwhile, Oregon saw the number of unauthorized immigrants drop from 140,000 in 2009 to 120,000 in 2012, a decrease of 20,000 people.

In most states, the losses “were due to drops in the number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico,” the report said.

While Washington did not gain or lose a significant number of unauthorized immigrants, the state ranked 12th in the total number of such people living within its borders. There were 230,000 unauthorized immigrants living in Washington in 2012. California had the greatest number, at 2.4 million, the report found.

Washington also ranked 15th in the number of unauthorized immigrants in the labor force in 2012, at 4.9 percent. Nevada has the largest percentage in the labor force at 10.2 percent.

The report also showed the long-term growth in unauthorized immigrants in each state.

Idaho grew from 10,000 unauthorized immigrants in 1990 to 50,000 in 2012; Oregon grew from 25,000 in 1990 to 120,000 in 2012; and Washington grew from 40,000 in 1990 to 230,000 in 2012.

Two farms ask court to end Oregon county’s GMO crop ban

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — Two southern Oregon farms are asking a court to end Jackson County’s voter-approved ban on genetically modified crops or force the county to pay the farms $4.2 million.

The farmers say that’s the value of the Roundup Ready alfalfa crop they’ll have to destroy if the ban stands.

The Medford Mail Tribune reports the lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court on behalf of Schultz Family Farms LLC and James and Marilyn Frink and their family trust. Lawyers say a coalition of farming, agriculture and biotechnology organizations is assisting the Jackson County farmers.

County voters approved the ban in May. The lawsuit claims that the GMO ban conflicts with state law and will require farmers to destroy crops they have already planted and grown for sale. Roundup Ready alfalfa can withstand the application of glyphosate herbicide.

Bruce Schultz estimates he would lose $2.2 million while the Frinks say they would lose $2 million.

A county spokesman was not immediately reachable late Tuesday for comment.

Earlier this month, Oregon voters narrowly rejected a measure that would have required the labeling of genetically modified foods.


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