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Pumpkin seeds could be future cash crop for Oregon, Idaho

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

ONTARIO, Ore. (AP) — Eastern Oregon and western Idaho already produce many of the nation’s decorative pumpkins. Now an economic development official is exploring whether the area could support production of pumpkin seeds for healthy snack foods.

At least one food company is seeking a U.S. producer of pumpkin seeds, said Kit Kamo, director of the Snake River Economic Development Alliance. American retailers prefer to buy domestic foods, but most pumpkin seeds in snack foods come from China, she said.

Kamo says there are local farmers interested in growing the seeds, and a researcher from Oregon State University is developing a cost estimate for producing and handling them. The findings will help determine whether seed pumpkins — which are distinct from decorative pumpkins and those grown for pumpkin pie — would be economically viable in Malheur County, Oregon and southwest Idaho.

“We feel there is a potential,” she told The Argus Observer of Ontario, Oregon.

Kamo said she met with officials from Kathie’s Kitchen, which produces the SuperSeedz brand of seasoned or flavored pumpkin seeds.

The seeds are harvested wet and will need to be washed and dried so they can be stored, she said. The seeds can be substituted in some applications for soy products, for people who are allergic to soy.

Pumpkin seeds aren’t the only potential new crop for the Western Treasure Valley. Most sunflower seeds used in snacks are also grown in China and may present another opportunity for farmers in the Treasure Valley, Kamo said.

Stripe rust found early in Willamette Valley wheat

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

At an wheat and seed production meeting Jan. 6, Oregon State University plant pathologist Chris Mundt warned growers that stripe rust could strike wheat early this year.

Those concerns now have materialized.

Mundt and three extension researchers issued an alert Jan. 19 informing growers that they have found stripe rust in early-planted experimental plots and commercial fields, beginning with sightings Jan. 7-12, three weeks earlier than ever previously recorded. The alert described “early-planted fields” as those planted in September through the first 10 days of October.

The researchers found rust on individual leaves of the wheat varieties Goetze, WB 1529, Foote and Kaseberg. Also, Mundt, Extension Cereals Specialist Mike Flowers, and Willamette Valley Extension agents Nicole Anderson and Clare Sullivan reported that rust had not developed in easy-to-spot hot spots, so it may be difficult for growers to identify infected fields.

Doing so, however, may be vital for growers to maximize yields.

With mild winter temperatures creating an ideal environment for early rust development, Willamette Valley wheat could be highly susceptible to significant yield losses this year, Mundt said.

“The largest field losses occur when stripe rust starts early,” he said. “You don’t want the rust to get ahead of you.”

The researchers are recommending that fields planted prior to Oct. 15 to susceptible or moderately susceptible varieties, such as Goetze, Tubbs 06, Mary, Kaseberg, SY Ovation and LCS Art Deco should be scouted and may require an early fungicide treatment.

“Early sprays will likely not be required on resistant varieties such as Bobtail and Rosalyn,” according to the alert, “but these varieties should still be scouted to guard against the potential for new rust races to appear.”

The alert noted that December temperatures were 5 degrees above normal, and that December temperatures are “a crucial driver of stripe rust.” Mild December temperatures facilitate pathogen survival and shorten its generation time, according to the alert.

“The early start to the rust season may allow for an extra generation of disease increase, a critical factor for rapidly spreading rusts,” the alert states.

The researchers noted that rust has not been seen in later-planted, direct-tilled fields nor in the northern Willamette Valley, but that it is expected to occur in both.

“Weather in the remainder of the year can still influence rust, but the early start of the rust season suggests that vigilance be called for in 2015,” the alert states.

Doornink named cherry king

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

YAKIMA, Wash. — A Wapato cherry grower and long-time chairman of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, Jim Doornink, has been crowned 71st king of the Pacific Northwest cherry industry.

The honor was bestowed by past cherry kings at the annual Cherry Institute, in Yakima, Jan. 16. Doornink was chosen for years of commitment and service to the industry.

Now 63, Doornink ran his first cherry harvest at his family’s orchard when he was 14, thrust into the role one summer morning when the ranch foreman quit.

Doornink worked on the ranch through high school. When attending Washington State University, he would put on his work clothes before leaving Pullman so he could jump right into work the moment he was home, B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, revealed in announcing Doornink’s coronation.

“Put simply, our king has a passion for God, family and tree fruit,” Thurlby said, also noting his enthusiasm for technology.

“It’s a great honor to get some recognition from the industry you love,” Doornink said in accepting the award.

“It’s been a great ride and I hope to enjoy it for a long time to come,” he said.

He then quickly issue three decrees.

That 2015 is the year of the cherry. That it will be a good cherry year and that it won’t rain on the crop.

PNW cherry growers expect smaller crop

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

YAKIMA, Wash. — Celebrating their largest crop and profitable prices from the 2014 season, Pacific Northwest cherry growers expect a slightly smaller 2015 crop because of freeze damage to cherry trees in Oregon.

The region produced a record 23.2-million, 20-pound boxes of cherries in 2014. It likely will be closer to 20 million this year, B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, said at the trade association’s 72 annual Cherry Institute at the Yakima Convention Center, Jan. 16.

“Oregon was over 4 million boxes of cherries last year. It’s hard to say where it will be this year. I would expect 2.5 million,” Thurlby said.

Temperatures crashed as much as 60 degrees in just a couple of days in mid-November killing flower buds, spurs and even 1-, 2- and 3-year-old wood in cherry trees in The Dalles, Hood River and Milton-Freewater, said a panel of speakers led by Lynn Long, Oregon State University Extension tree fruit specialist at The Dalles.

Snow cover, not present farther north, contributed to the heat loss, Long said.

Severity of damage depends on winter, spring and early summer weather, said Gip Redman, a Wapato, Wash., grower and vice president of field services for Oregon Cherry Growers, the region’s largest briner in Salem.

“We know the damage is more severe than in a long time. I don’t think it will be quite as bad as 1955,” he said.

Severity should be pretty well known two to four weeks after spring bloom, Redman said. Fruitlets could form and drop off and cherries that do make it could be too small, he said.

A late February freeze in 1956 compounded a November 1955 freeze to damage many orchards, he said.

Bacterial cankers and other disease can set into trees from such a freeze and take years to overcome, Long said.

Cherry trees in the lower Yakima Valley suffered lighter damage, Redman said, urging growers there to sample buds and spurs.

Mike Omeg, a grower in The Dalles, said thoroughly sampling buds and spurs was more depressing than paying bills and that he will reduce pruning to try to have more crop to hopefully make picking worth the cost.

The institute luncheon speaker, Chris Balzer, associate director of Nielsen Perishables Group, Chicago, said an extra 45 million pounds of cherries sold between late July and early August in 2014 shows consumers are ready for more.

Health-conscious, middle-income to affluent couples, age 55 to 75, make up most of the 25 percent of consumers who buy cherries, he said. As consumer demand for fresh produce grows there are more touch points for cherries, he said.

For example, research shows consumer purchasing of ice cream, yogurt and mustard rises and falls with cherries, he said. So ads that feature cherries with ice cream or yogurt should resonate with consumers, he said. Mustard fits with hot dogs and hamburger grilling on the Fourth of July when shoppers usually buy cherries, he said. So ads tying cherries to barbecues with mustard are appropriate, he said.

Another example is using cherries at juice, yogurt and cereal or breakfast bars becoming more common in stores, he said.

Another issue, Balzar said, is driving demand to the 75 percent of consumers who don’t buy cherries. They are budget shoppers who view cherries as too expensive, he said. Smaller, more convenience packaging might reach them, he said.

James Michael, promotions director of Northwest Cherry Growers, said overall ad pricing was strong in 2014, averaging $3.52 per pound for dark, sweet cherries in stores in June, $2.95 in July and $3.80 in August.

Social media, in-store radio ads, print ads and in-hand demos of product, stressing cherries as low-level anti-inflamatory health protection help drive sales, he said.

Oregon State University offers a pot policy class

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Talk about higher education. Oregon State University — once known as “Oregon Straight” compared to the supposedly hipper school 40 miles south — is offering a marijuana policy class this winter.

About 50 students are enrolled in “Marijuana Policy in the 21st Century,” a sociology course developed by Seth Crawford, an instructor in the School of Public Policy within the College of Liberal Arts.

Students will produce a collectively-authored paper of their recommendations on how marijuana should be produced, sold and distributed when recreational pot use, possession and cultivation becomes legal in Oregon July 1.

Oregon voters approved a measure in November that legalized possession and sale of pot and pot products, and allows people to grow limited amounts of marijuana as well. The class recommendations will go to the Oregon Health Authority and to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which will set the state’s pot rules.

Crawford, the instructor, is considered an expert on policies and the marijuana market structure in Oregon. He’s a member of the state’s Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana.

In a news release, Crawford said students “will be working with policymakers and stakeholders to help answer some of the biggest questions facing the state following the passage of Measure 91.”

No word yet on whether OSU’s Crop Science experts will be involved.

Water, virus issues top potato conference agenda

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The Washington-Oregon Potato Conference offers updates from state and national agencies, researchers — and a chance to become one of the best potato peelers in the West.

The annual conference will be Jan. 27-29 at the Three Rivers Convention Center and neighboring Toyota Center in Kennewick, Wash.

The trade show has expanded to include another 40 vendors, up to 140 from 100 last year, said Ryan Holterhoff, director of marketing and industry affairs with the Washington State Potato Commission in Moses Lake, Wash.

Holterhoff expects roughly 1,800 people to participate in the annual event.

“The Washington-Oregon Potato Conference is one of the premier potato shows in North America,” Holterhoff said. “Each year we are able to provide a lineup of speakers that have relevant topics and who cover timely issues that the industry cares about.”

Charles Fishman, a former reporter for the Washington Post and Orlando Sentinel, will deliver the keynote address. Fishman is the author of “The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water” and “The Wal-Mart Effect.”

“As a result of his efforts in writing (“The Big Thirst”), he has investigated and explored water issues around the globe,” Holterhoff said. “He will bring an interesting view and share some of the experiences from his work.”

USDA Agricultural Research Service researcher Stewart Gray and University of Idaho researcher Alex Karasev will present the latest research and developments with potato virus Y, potato mop top virus and tobacco rattle virus that can cause damage in potato tubers, said Andy Jensen, manager of the Northwest Potato Research Consortium and president of the Potato Association of America.

The Jan. 29 agenda includes new information about potato psyllid that may help with zebra chip management, Jensen said. Jensen and the USDA ARS researchers Jenita Thinakaran and Rodney Cooper are slated to talk about psyllids.

The event features the first annual potato peel-off at 2 p.m. Jan 27 in the Toyota Center exhibit hall. Teams of three will have 90 seconds to see how many potatoes they can peel.

The event “is a chance for one team to be crowned as the best potato peeling team in Washington and Oregon,” Holterhoff said. “The winning team will take home a lot of bragging rights and a traveling trophy.”

To enter, contact Brandy Parker at the potato commission, at 509-765-8845.

DOL drops ‘hot goods’ charges against growers

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The U.S. Department of Labor will return money previously paid by Oregon blueberry growers and drop lawsuits accusing them of “hot goods” labor law violations.

The agency will also pay an additional $30,000 to each of the two farms — Pan-American Berry Growers and B&G Ditchen — as part of a recent legal settlement.

The farms have agreed to withdraw their counterclaims against DOL and neither party is admitting to any liability under the deal.

Tim Bernasek, attorney for the growers, said his clients are relieved the dispute has finally ended and are satisfied with the settlement terms.

“They are very appreciative of the support the industry has given them,” Bernasek said.

Capital Press was unable to reach DOL for comment.

The controversy was sparked in 2012, when the agency claimed the farmers had paid pickers less than the minimum wage and threatened to block their shipments of blueberries as unlawfully harvested “hot goods.”

Rather than fight DOL’s findings in court — and risk losing millions of dollars of fruit — the growers agreed to pay $220,000 in alleged back wages and penalties so the agency would lift its “hot goods” objection.

Last year, however, a federal judge overturned those consent decrees because they had been signed under economic duress by the farmers, who had to waive their right to challenge DOL’s minimum wage violation claims.

When those deals were overturned, the farmers were prepared to fight the DOL’s allegations that they employed unrecorded “ghost workers” who helped other pickers harvest berries. Because pickers are paid on a piece rate, the agency claimed they received less than the minimum wage.

Agency records uncovered by the Oregon Farm Bureau showed that DOL based its accusations on a formula that assumed pickers who harvested more than a certain amount of blueberries per hour were assisted by such “ghost workers.”

The Farm Bureau claimed the formula was flawed, since workers can actually pick much larger amounts, and said DOL had scant evidence of wrongdoing by the growers.

Records show that DOL was unable to identify the vast majority of the 1,000 “ghost workers” that it claimed worked at the farms.

Even so, the legal dispute between DOL and the farmers threatened to escalate last year.

The agency argued that it couldn’t return $73,500 that had already been disbursed to workers while the farms demanded full repayment and $150,000 in damages for diminished fruit quality.

DOL also refiled complaints against the farms, adding new charges of wrongdoing going back farther in time and naming additional defendants.

In November 2014, though, the agency asked for the litigation to be delayed because it had entered settlement talks with the growers.

Miller crowned Oregon dairy princess-ambassador

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM, Ore. — Emma Miller, representing Linn and Benton counties, was crowned the 2015 Oregon Dairy Princess-Ambassador during ceremonies Saturday night.

The 56th annual coronation was hosted by the Oregon Dairy Women at the Red Lion Hotel in Salem. Miller was among six county contestants vying for the 2015 title. Megan Sprute, representing Washington County was named first alternate, according to a press release.

Miller, 20, originally from Independence, is a student at Oregon State University where she is studying agricultural sciences in hopes of becoming a high school agriculture educator.

“I am passionate about agriculture,” Miller said in the press release. “I hope to help students find their passion as well.”

In college, she is actively involved in the Oregon State Dairy Club, the Agricultural Education Club and is second vice president of Sigma Alpha, a professional agricultural sorority.

Her speech during the contest, titled “Dairy Farming and America’s Future Generations,” discussed her passion and appreciation for the hard-working dairy farmers who produce one of her favorite things, milk. Miller spent two days in interviews, giving impromptu speeches and interacting with the three judges before she was selected.

Miller will spend the next 12 months traveling statewide attending fairs, town meetings and public events as a representative of Oregon’s dairy farmers. Much of her reign will be spent in Oregon elementary schools delivering educational presentations about life on a dairy farm and the nutritional benefits of consuming dairy products.

Upon being crowned, Miller received over $3,000 in scholarships. Outgoing Dairy Princess-Ambassador Danielle Bull received over $14,000 for her year. She met with over 15,000 students, telling them of the benefits of dairy products and about life on a dairy farm.

Megan Sprute, representing Washington County, was named first alternate Oregon dairy princess-ambassador. Also a recipient of scholarships, Sprute will assist in the promotion of the dairy industry throughout the state in the coming year. Courteney Ellis of Clackamas County was voted by her peers to receive the congeniality award, .

The other finalists included Teri McGettigan of Columbia County, Sara Pierson of Marion County and Charish Ingram of Tillamook County.

Oregon Dairy Women is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization with the main objective to promote the dairy industry.

Deal on Oregon water fund struck

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

An agreement about the key functions of a $10 million Oregon water supply fund was struck recently, but the specific rules have yet to be ironed out.

Two task forces spent five months negotiating over the basic operations of the fund, which state lawmakers approved in 2013.

The groups have now answered fundamental questions about the level of environmental scrutiny for water storage projects and the process for developers to obtain money.

In the coming months, though, a new committee must turn those concepts into detailed rules that meet the approval of state water regulators.

Only then can the $10 million fund begin disbursing grants and loans to water projects in the state.

The funds were originally supposed to become available by the spring of 2015 but that timeline now looks onerous under even the most optimistic scenario.

A rulemaking advisory committee, which is expected to consist of former task force members, will try to hammer out the specifics by early April, then receive public comments and submit its proposal to the Oregon Water Resources Commission in June.

This schedule is particularly challenging because the rulemaking process will coincide with the upcoming legislative session, a busy time for task force members who lobby for various interest groups.

While task force members have outlined concepts for governing the fund, tricky details must still be haggled over.

For example, the system for determining whether projects are worthy of funding is subject to further debate.

During the final task force meeting on Jan. 16, members agreed they have not yet reached consensus on scoring and ranking methods and decided to temper recommendations for such a system in a report to legislators.

They also decided to shelve discussions about handling projects that request a disproportionately large portion of the $10 million in available funds.

Recommendations for how lawmakers should vet future state-funded water projects were scrapped from the report after some members said such suggestions exceed the scope of the task force.

“We can’t tell folks in the capitol how to do things,” said April Snell, executive director of the Oregon Water Resources Congress.

The most contentious aspect of the water supply fund pertains to the amount of water that can be withdrawn from streams during peak flow periods.

The topic is controversial because irrigators don’t want burdensome environmental hurdles to discourage developers from using the fund.

Most task force members have agreed that projects will be analyzed based on a “matrix” of possible environmental impacts and available stream data. Those with major potential effects on streams that haven’t been closely studied will receive the most scrutiny.

A couple of task force members who represent irrigators did not endorse this strategy, but they remained neutral and so the proposal will now move forward to rulemaking.

Researcher-farmer named Nut Grower of the Year

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A retired USDA researcher turned farmer has been named the 2015 Nut Grower of the Year.

Harry Lagerstedt, who worked for the agency’s Agricultural Research Service, is known for his popularization the Ennis hazelnut variety.

The cultivar produces high yields of large nuts and continues to receive a premium price from buyers due to its size, said Dave Smith, an Oregon State University researcher.

After retiring from USDA in 1987, Lagerstedt decided to “put his money where his mouth is” and planted orchards of Ennis hazelnuts and peaches in the Corvallis area, Smith said.

Lagerstedt was unable to accept the prestigious award at the recent annual conference of the Nut Growers Society in Corvallis on Jan. 13 due to a recent death in his family.

The society hopes to present him with the honor at its summer tour later in the year.

Hay exporters warn of ‘stale’ market

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

KENNEWICK, Wash. — West Coast hay growers have enjoyed brisk markets and strong prices for several years but that’s likely to end this summer as exporters buy less hay because they’ll have too much left over from 2014 due to the longshoremen’s work slowdown.

That was the warning three exporters left with hundreds of growers Jan. 15 at the end of the Northwest Hay Expo at Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.

“We will have a lot of carryover unless things turn around at the ports right away,” said Chris Carrow, of the Ellensburg division of AXC Global.

“Yes, we will be like the Maytag repairman. You won’t see us around,” quipped Mike Hajny, vice president, Wesco International, Ellensburg.

“Milk prices are sliding so that takes away from dairy demand. It’s setting up to be a stale market at the start,” he said.

Most West Coast hay exporters are losing about 50 percent of their business per month since the port slowdown started Nov. 1, said Blaine Calaway, of Calaway Trading, Ellensburg. It’s tens of million of dollars and could reach hundreds of millions if it continues, said Shin Sasaki, vice president of Japan sales at Calaway.

“Very few people out of agriculture want to admit it, but it (the slowdown) is historically bad,” Sasaki said.

Truckloads are turned around at ports and sent home, drivers are getting one trip a day from Ellensburg to Seattle instead of two, but Wesco is paying drivers for part of the missing trip, Hajny said.

“We can absorb it for a small amount of time but we’re going on three months now. Cash flow is extremely tight. We’ve been fortunate to not lay people off but we have cut back hours,” he said.

Timothy shipments to Japan are down 24 percent and may never fully recover, Hajny said. Japan is turning to other sources, he said.

John Szczepanski, direcctor of the U.S. Forage Export Council, reviewed how the $1 billion per year industry grew from much smaller beginnings in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s. As recently as 2007, Japan was 91 percent of U.S. hay exports, but now it’s 51 percent as China and the United Arab Emirates have taken off as new markets, he said.

There was much discussion of sales to China being hurt by its zero tolerance for residue of genetically engineered alfalfa.

About 50 to 60 percent of new alfalfa plantings in California are Roundup Ready for domestic dairies, said Dan Putnam, University of California-Davis Extension forage specialist.

Growers need to make sure they use tested, non-detect seed and keep GE and non-GE hay inventories separate, he said. Hay dust in storage and residue on equipment can be problematic, others said.

Matt Fanta, of Forage Genetics International, Shoreview, Minn., and Rob Newell, vice president of North American sales of S&W Seed Co., Five Points, Calif., talked about levels of testing their companies do to ensure non-detect seed.

Luncheon speaker, Michele Payn-Knoper, an agriculture advocate from Lebanon, Ind., challenged growers to get proactive in telling their personal stories of how they grow food.

If they don’t, she said, they will lose their right to farm because environmentalists will be setting the agenda in regulations affecting how food is grown.

She urged growers to shoot video clips to show on social media and tell their stories, person-to-person, whenever they get the chance.

Swanson Group says it will rebuild Oregon mill

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. (AP) — Swanson Group Manufacturing says it will rebuild at the Springfield, Oregon, location where a spectacular fire destroyed its plywood and veneer mill last July.

The Register-Guard reports that the family-owned business said Thursday it will start construction on an upgraded mill this summer and hopes to have it mostly complete by mid-2016. The company plans to hire back as many displaced workers as possible.

The fire displaced 250 workers. The company says the new mill will employ between 180 and 190, due to increased automation.

Chuck Wert is chief operating officer of parent company Swanson Group. He says the company likes the existing site because of its proximity to ready labor, to the type and quality of logs it needs, and a pulp mill to take wood waste. Also, several major pieces of equipment survived the fire and would be expensive to duplicate elsewhere.

Wert says the new mill will focus on specialty plywood products, such as forms for pouring concrete, and hardwoods for cabinet and furniture construction.

Timber county payments shrink after expiration of subsidy

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — The Obama administration is telling governors in 41 states how much money they are losing after Congress ended subsidies paid the past 20 years to counties that contain national forest land.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday that the U.S. Forest Service is sending more than $50 million to 746 timber counties in February, with Oregon and other Western states the biggest recipients. That compares to about $300 million paid out last fiscal year under the Secure Rural Schools subsidy program.

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell sent letters to governors detailing how their payments would be cut.

Since 1908, the Forest Service has paid a quarter of its logging revenues to counties to be used for roads and schools. That law was enacted to win support for the newly created national forest system.

When logging was cut by 90 percent on federal forests in the Northwest to protect the spotted owl and salmon, Congress started approving the subsidies.

As logging cutbacks spread around the country to protect fish, wildlife and clean water, Sen. Ron Wyden, R-Ore., sponsored the Secure Rural Schools bill, which expanded the subsidies.

They include payments to counties in western Oregon with U.S. Bureau of Land Management timberlands, which are at a higher rate, and used largely for sheriff’s patrols and jails.

The president’s budget included a five-year renewal of the program, but it died in the last days of Congress.

Wyden could not get it attached to a must-pass appropriation in the Senate. The House attached a one-year extension to a bill ramping up logging on national forests, but that bill had no traction in the Senate and a veto threat from the White House.

The subsidy issue is expected to come up again this year.

Timber states in the West are seeing the biggest drop.

Forest Service payments to Oregon counties drop from $67.9 million to $5.9 million; California, from $35.6 million to $8.7 million; Idaho, from $28.3 million to $2 million; Washington, from $21.5 million to $2.1 million; and Montana, from $21.3 million to $2 million.

Expiration of Secure Rural Schools also dries up money for search and rescue operations and conservation projects on national forests. In Oregon, some cash-strapped counties got permission to use road funds for law enforcement.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., has said he has a commitment from House speaker John Boehner to try to renew Secure Rural Schools for one year sometime in the first quarter of this year. But Republicans also are expected to try again to boost logging on national forests.

Expiration of Secure Rural Schools also dries up money for search and rescue operations and conservation projects on national forests. In Oregon, some cash-strapped counties got permission to use road funds for law enforcement.

Karow named next OSU Ag Research Foundation director

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Russ Karow, former head of Oregon State University’s Crop and Soil Science Department, has accepted a position as the next executive director of the OSU Agricultural Research Foundation.

Karow is in line to replace Kelvin Koong, who is stepping down June 30 from the position he has held since September of 2011.

Phil Walker, president of the foundation, said the organization’s personnel committee identified Karow as its top candidate early in the hiring process.

“We had a couple of interviews with Russ and the more we talked to him, the better it looked,” Walker said.

“Russ is a veteran administrator with proven people skills and strong ties to the Oregon State University community,” Walker said. “We just thought he was the best choice for the job.”

Karow retired as head of the Crop and Soil Science Department last fall.

His hiring is pending formal approval by the foundation’s board of directors, which will meet in March. Walker said the board has been consulted throughout the hiring process and to date has been supportive of the personnel committee’s selection. Because of that, he expects the board to endorse the committee’s selection.

“We’ve had no objections from anyone at this point,” Walker said.

The part-time executive director post is one of three staff positions at the foundation. The other two, office manager and manager of finance and research, are full-time positions.

The foundation, which was established in 1934, provides custodial services for research funds by accepting targeted grants from nonprofit organizations, including commodity commissions, and distributing the funds to researchers. In addition, the foundation accepts gifts toward research. It also distributes about $400,000 annually to researchers in competitive grants — funds it accrues through investments.

First Oregon wild duck tests positive for avian flu

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — A wild duck shot by a hunter in the Willamette Valley is the first wild bird in Oregon to test positive for avian flu since the disease showed up recently in Washington.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said Wednesday the female mallard was taken Dec. 20 at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area outside Eugene and was tested as part of a program initiated since avian flu appeared in Washington.

Department veterinarian Colin Gillin said avian flu poses no risk to people or wild waterfowl, but can kill domestic poultry.

Opponents of Oregon’s “right to farm” law can revive lawsuit

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Opponents of Oregon’s “right to farm” law can file a new complaint against the statute by Jan. 23 after a previous constitutional challenge was recently dismissed.

The dispute relates to a 2013 pesticide incident in Curry County in which several rural residents claimed they suffered from medical problems after an aerial applicator sprayed 2,4-D and triclopyr on their properties.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture issued a $10,000 civil penalty against the company, Pacific Air Research, but 17 plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the applicator and related firms last year.

The plaintiffs asked Circuit Court Judge Jesse Margolis to declare that Oregon’s “right to farm” law, which prohibits nuisance and trespass lawsuits over common farming practices, is unconstitutional because it prevents people from seeking a legal remedy for an injury.

Such a ruling would have widespread consequences for Oregon’s farm and forest industries, which have faced previous legal attacks against the law that ultimately proved unsuccessful.

Margolis dismissed the Curry County lawsuit last month but will allow the plaintiffs to submit an amended complaint by Jan. 23.

The judge threw out their original complaint without prejudice — potentially keeping the fundamental legal question alive for the future — because the constitutional challenge is currently premature.

The plaintiffs want the “right to farm” law declared unconstitutional but they have not yet filed a lawsuit actually seeking damages for nuisance or trespass against Pacific Air Research or the other companies, Margolis said.

At this point, it’s merely hypothetical that the defendants would use the “right to farm” statute as a defense in such a case, the judge said.

Without a “justifiable controversy” underlying the constitutional challenge, the complaint must be dismissed, he said.

The plaintiffs are still deciding whether to file an amended complaint seeking to resolve these jurisdictional issues, said Chris Winter, their attorney.

Bradley Piscadlo, attorney for the defendants, said he could not comment on the case without permission from his clients.

In court documents, the plaintiffs argued that pursuing a nuisance or trespass claim against Pacific Air Research would be financially dangerous unless the court first declared Oregon’s “right to farm” law unconstitutional.

If the plaintiffs lost their nuisance or trespass lawsuit, the “right to farm” statute would require them to pay for the defendants’ attorney fees.

For this reason, the rural residents wanted the law declared unconstitutional so they would not face the “threat of incurring massive liability,” plaintiffs said in a court brief.

Hazelnut farmers squeeze profits from sickly orchards

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

With hazelnut prices at a record high, farmers are trying to squeeze out as much profit from dying orchards as they can, experts say.

Older hazelnut trees across Oregon’s Willamette Valley are gradually succumbing to Eastern Filbert Blight, a fungal pathogen, while growers replace them with new disease-resistant varieties.

However, at a time when farmers are selling hazelnuts for $1.70 per pound — the highest price ever — they are reluctant to remove infected orchard blocks that still generate solid yields.

“We know it’s a matter of time before we lose the orchard but we’re going to keep fighting,” said Dwayne Bush, a farmer near Eugene, Ore., during the annual conference of the Nut Growers Society on Jan. 13.

Bush said he scouts for symptoms of blight and prunes away infected limbs throughout the winter, then sprays fungicides four times per year after bud break to suppress the disease.

Eastern filbert blight can be slowed by cutting away “cankers” that allow the fungus to release spores and infect new trees, said Jay Pscheidt, plant pathology professor at Oregon State University.

Cutting a branch directly below the canker, however, is not sufficient — more wood must be removed to effectively prevent the canker from growing, he said.

Pruning the limb three feet below the canker will offer the most protection but will also significantly dent production, so Pscheidt recommends cutting one foot below the canker.

Cankers can still release spores after a branch is cut, so growers should not allow pruned limbs to linger on the ground below trees, he said.

If piles cannot be burned immediately, they should be moved to an area where prevailing winds won’t send spores toward uninfected portions of the orchard, Pscheidt said.

Grinding the limbs has also been shown to nullify the threat from cankers, he said.

Fungicides help trees fight the fungus and stave off the decline in yields, but the cost of spraying must be weighed against the revenue from the orchard block, Pscheidt said.

“These fungicides are not 100 percent effective,” he said. “You will still find cankers on the trees, but significantly fewer of them.”

Growers with large trees must also contend with the issue of spray coverage.

Garry Rodakowski, a farmer near Vida, Ore., has trees that are 40-80 years old and have grown too big for cankers to be readily spotted.

Apart from pruning problems, the size of the trees impedes the penetration of fungicides, Rodakowski said.

“Your spray coverage has to get up there,” he said.

Rodakowski’s solution has been to remove the overstory between rows with a hedging machine, creating an opening for the fungicide mist to rise and filter into the trees.

“We’re knocking down about 20 feet from where the original canopy was,” he said.

Bruce Chapin, a farmer near Salem, Ore., hires aerial applicators to treat his trees, which allows him to exploit the few “weather windows” of ideal spraying weather in early spring.

“Timing is very important,” he said.

At this point, one of the orchards managed by Chapin’s family is so diseased that the blight has spread to the trees’ trunks, convincing them to stop pruning.

Even so, they hope to keep the block producing nuts for another 3-5 years with the spray regimen, he said. “Keep in mind, this orchard is still producing money.”


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