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High winds to hit Oregon coast, move inland

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — High winds are forecast to hit the Oregon coast Thursday morning and move inland Thursday afternoon and evening.

The National Weather Service says the winds will be strong enough to bring trees down onto power lines, causing outages. Holiday decorations could go flying.

Forecasters are warning of winds gusting as high as 85 mph on the coast, including the coast of southwest Washington.

Winds in the Willamette Valley and Portland-Vancouver area are expected in the 20 mph to 30 mph range with gusts up to 60 mph possible.

Forecasters also are warning of 25 mph to 40 mph winds and gusts to 60 mph in parts of central and eastern Oregon, including Bend.

Oregon Farm Bureau adds to its legislative team

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

As a youth, Mary Anne Nash had a front-row seat to the devastation environmental regulations can inflict on a natural-resource business.

She watched as the federal government booted her parents off their Central Oregon grazing allotment to protect salmon. Then, after relocating to what she described as “the driest part of the Oregon,” she watched as her parents struggled to obtain a county building permit in sage grouse country.

“It was tough to deal with,” she said, “particularly for my parents, who weren’t interested in the legal side of running a ranch. They just wanted to run their operation.”

Nash, the new public policy counsel for the Oregon Farm Bureau, today is embracing an opportunity to help ease regulations for farmers and ranchers who, like her parents, just want to run their operations.

She and Jenny Dresler, the Farm Bureau’s new government affairs associate, joined Oregon’s largest farm organization earlier this month. Dresler replaced Ian Tolleson, who left the Farm Bureau to take a similar position with Northwest Food Processors Association. Nash replaced Mike Freese, who left to join Association Oregon Industries as vice president of government affairs.

“One of the biggest reasons I wanted to work with Farm Bureau is to see if we can’t make it a little less frustrating to be in this business,” Nash said.

Nash traces her interest in natural resources policy to the experiences of her youth. In high school, as a member of FFA, she even won a state public speaking contest, speaking about opportunities for the environmental community and the natural resources community to work together.

“I think it still is one of the biggest challenges (for the two communities to work together), but I don’t think the solution is as easy as I thought it was when I was 18,” she said. “There is such a fundamentally different perspective about the right way to use the land.”

Nash graduated from Oregon State University, where she studied environmental economics, then from the University of Oregon’s School of Law, before joining the Portland law firm Schwabe Williamson and Wyatt, where she advised clients on natural resources issues.

Nash said she thoroughly enjoyed working with individual farmers and ranchers while at Schwabe Williamson, but she believes she can better affect natural resources policy at the government level than at the court level.

“I thought that working on the front end, and seeing if we can’t actually fix some policies that can be ineffective, would be the most effective way to serve the industry,” Nash said.

Dresler, formerly policy analyst for the Senate Republican Caucus, brings an equal interest in natural resources industries to her position as government affairs associate.

“I have focused on agriculture and natural resources policy throughout my career to date,” she said. “I see this (position) as a really good fit.”

In addition to working with Senate Republicans, Dresler said she has also worked extensively with Senate Democrats.

“Being in the caucus office gave me a lot of exposure on the floor,” she said. “I was on the floor every day with all the members, and I have built relationships on both sides of the aisle.”

Katie Fast, vice president of public policy at the Farm Bureau, said she is looking forward to working with both Nash and Dresler.

“Both have the perfect combination of life experience and work experience, and they are able to hit the ground running at Farm Bureau,” Fast said. “We’re excited to have them on board.”

Wimmer is new president for Far West

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

KENNEWICK, Wash. — The new president of the Far West Agribusiness Association wonders why he waited so long to get involved.

“I’ve been working for 35 years and the first 31 years, we reaped the benefits and other than paying dues, never giving anything back,” said Tom Wimmer. “The networking opportunities, the educational opportunities — I’ve gotten more involved on our state issues, committees with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, regional deals and finding out what’s happening nationally and internationally. It’s a global society. It’s been fantastic.”

Wimmer, business manager for Marion Ag Service, Inc., in St. Paul, Ore., assumed the presidency from Brian Becker of the McGregor Company during the association’s winter meeting in Kennewick, Wash.

Wimmer expects legislative issues in Idaho, Oregon and Washington to take precedence in the next year, including GMOs and water quality.

He wants to maintain extended hours of service for commercial truck drivers during prime agricultural times.

“Agriculture can be a highly seasonal occupation,” he said. “You have a window of opportunity to get crops in, to do the maintenance to the crops and for harvest. Sometimes that involves long hours.”

Wimmer hopes to keep the organization’s momentum going to maintain a favorable legislative and regulatory environment for agricultural retailers

“We want to provide the latest information to our members, to keep them current, to meet the fast-changing environment we do business in,” he said.

Wimmer also hopes to inform youth about career opportunities in the industry. Far West offers a program to connect businesses with college students seeking internships.

Wimmer intends to reach out to the general public about the benefits of agriculture.

“We’re good neighbors, we’re responsible,” he said. “We want to continue to provide a healthy environment around us, because we live in it too.”

Farm Bureau leader recounts ‘whirlwind year’

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

LINCOLN CITY — Oregon Farm Bureau President Barry Bushue said a “whirlwind year” for agriculture will be followed by more of the same, as the state’s and nation’s farmers face continuing challenges over water, pesticides, GMOs, labor and other issues.

Speaking at the bureau’s annual convention on an appropriately blustery day at the Oregon Coast, Bushue said agriculture is often at odds with regulatory agencies, lawmakers, activist groups and a public that either doesn’t understand it or wants to change it.

“People love farmers but they do not trust agriculture,” Bushue said. “We have a battle on our hands with public perception. We have become the scapegoat for the evils of agriculture.”

Bushue said the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to extend its authority over waterways, for example, “may be the most dangerous threat U.S. agriculture faces.”

“There’s a stream in Arizona that’s had water in it for seven minutes in the last seven years,” and the EPA wants to declare in a navigable waterway, he said.

The bureau must work within the political structure and accept that it won’t get its way with the Legislature every time, he said. Policy decisions are not always clear and easy, he said, and in the upcoming Oregon legislative session “We will not be able to be all things to all people.”

Bushue praised the efforts of bureau members who battled against the mandatory GMO labeling measure in the November election and are trying to overturn the “draconian” biotech crop ban in Jackson County.

The organization’s work with Oregon’s congressional delegation to say “not only no, but hell no” to the U.S. Department of Labor in the “hot goods” blueberry case was a high point of the year, Bushue said.

On other issues, Bushue said he is concerned about divisions among farmers and “attempts to protect one market at expense of another” — an apparent reference to wine grape growers complaining that spray drift from other producers has damaged vineyards.

“Somehow we have descended into discussions of, ‘My crop is more valuable than yours,’” he said. “We are better than that, we have to be.”

Bushue also said the bureau is facing declining numbers, with county seats unfilled nationally and in Oregon. The organization must work harder to connect with young farmers and to help members bring issues forward and share information, he said.

“I am always optimistic and excited about the future of agriculture, it’s a great place to be,” he said.

Expiration of farm property tax exemptions proposed

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — A bill that would end property tax exemptions for crops, livestock and farm machinery in 2018 will be considered by Oregon lawmakers next year.

Legislative Concept 1674, which the House Revenue Committee recently voted to introduce as a bill in 2015, would sunset numerous exemptions that apply to agriculture, potentially driving up property taxes for farmers.

“It’s one of the top bills we have to stop this next session,” said Katie Fast, vice president of public policy for the Oregon Farm Bureau.

Currently, many on-farm items are indefinitely excluded from the assessed value that farms are taxed upon in Oregon, including:

• Nursery stock, whether growing in the ground or in containers.

• Annual and perennial crops.

• Christmas trees.

• Harvested crops that are in the farmers’ possession, including hay, grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and dairy products.

• Poultry, livestock and bees.

• Farm machinery and equipment.

Under the legislative concept, these exemptions would effectively expire on July 1, 2018 unless they’re renewed by the Oregon legislature.

The value of roads on farming, grazing and forest land isn’t currently assessed as taxable property, and this exemption would be removed permanently by the proposal, which makes many other changes to Oregon tax law.

For agriculture groups, the bill is worrisome because even the exemptions subject to renewal would require the passage of new legislation.

The exemptions are thus vulnerable to ceasing, which creates tax uncertainty for farm businesses.

“It is a huge hit for farming operations,” said Fast, noting that the bill could burden farmers with mountains of paperwork on top of tens of millions of dollars in added tax liability.

Similar proposals were floated twice in the Oregon legislature over the past decade and soundly defeated but Democrats strengthened their majority in the legislature in the November election so there’s a different dynamic, she said.

Increased revenue generation is likely to be a major point of discussion during the 2015 session, so farm advocates can’t take the bill’s defeat for granted, Fast said.

“We’re taking it seriously because of the impact it would have on family farms,” she said.

Judge: No added ballots for Measure 92 recount

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND — About 4,600 contested ballots will not be added to the current recount involving Measure 92, which would require labeling of food sold in Oregon containing genetically modified organisms.

Judge Henry Kantor denied the request by Measure 92 supporters after a hearing Tuesday in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

Supporters filed suit Monday, arguing that county elections officials erred in excluding the 4,600 ballots on the basis that the signatures on the return envelopes did not match those on their registration cards.

The suit contended that some voters were not notified of the discrepancies in signatures, and others did not have a chance to explain to officials that disabilities or mental problems may have affected their signatures.

Oregon has used mail ballots for all elections starting in 2000.

The denial of a temporary restraining order allows a recount to proceed, although about two-thirds of Oregon’s 36 counties — including Multnomah County, the state’s most populous — have already completed their recount. Secretary of State Kate Brown ordered the recount Nov. 24 after tallies showed Measure 92 failing by 812 votes of 1.5 million cast, well within the 3,000 required under law to trigger an automatic recount.

The recount so far has resulted in little change in the initial results, although both sides gained votes.

Brown has set a completion deadline of Friday.

Recounts in three previous statewide races dating back to 1992 have not reversed the initial results of the election. Two involved candidates, and one in 2008 involved a ballot measure.

Oregon voters rejected a similar measure in 2002.

Similar ballot measures failed in California in 2012, Washington in 2013, and Colorado on Nov. 4. Vermont has such a requirement, but it is being challenged in federal court.

Land board seeks sale of Elliott State Forest

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — Members of the Oregon State Land Board said Tuesday they want to sell the Elliott State Forest to another government agency or public-private partnership.

The proposal would provide the State Land Board with a way out of the long-running arrangement of logging the Elliott State Forest to generate money for public schools. That system has generated more controversy and less revenue in recent years, as the state scaled back timber harvests following lawsuits over federally protected species in the forest.

Environmental groups and members of the public have also urged the state to manage the forest for conservation and recreation, goals that clash with the State Land Board’s duty under the Oregon Constitution to maximize timber revenue for schools.

The three members of the board, Gov. John Kitzhaber, Secretary of State Kate Brown and State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, said during a meeting Tuesday that they want employees of the Department of State Lands to continue to proceed with an option to request proposals from entities interested in purchasing the 84,000 acres in the Elliott forest which the state manages to benefit schools.

In a report to the board, Department of State Lands employees wrote that any new owners of the forest should include “some component of continued ownership by a public entity,” such as a local, state, federal or tribal government. John Potter, the Department of State Lands project manager overseeing analysis of options for the Elliott State Forest, said the agency outlined a broad proposal in order to leave it open to a variety of potential purchase arrangements.

The catch is that any buyer, whether it be a government or a consortium of government, nonprofit and timber entities, must pay fair market value for the Elliott State Forest because of its connection to the Common School Fund. The goal would be to “decouple the Elliott and its timber harvesting business plan” from public school funding, according to the state report.

That goal resonated with the land board. Wheeler said he heard from members of the public who want the state to find a better balance between economic, environmental and recreation interests on state forest lands. Some of those priorities clash with the current state system to manage the Elliott State Forest for the benefit of schools.

“I think the box the three of us find ourselves in is a hopelessly antiquated model,” Wheeler said, adding it is possible the Legislature could set aside funding and create a new entity to take ownership of the forest.

Brown said the state should continue to develop the process to solicit proposals for new ownership of the forest, but officials should also take the time to make a thoughtful decision.

“I’m not feeling like we need to make a decision tomorrow,” Brown said, adding that she was impressed by the importance of the forest as a spawning ground for coastal Coho salmon.

Kitzhaber said the current management of the forest to generate school revenue does not make sense, and the Department of State Lands should further develop the option to request proposals for ownership, then solicit more public input.

The land board also considered three other options for the Elliott state forest, which the Department of State Lands outlined in a report. This included continuing state ownership of the Elliott state forest but requesting proposals from parties interested in managing the forest. The state could also continue to have the Oregon Department of Forestry manage the land, or it could transfer the forest to a federal agency or tribal government.

Revenue from timber sales on the Elliott state forest historically helped pay for public schools, as part of a system set up by the U.S. Congress when it granted the land to the state. Oregon is required to manage the forest to benefit schools, both as a condition of accepting the federal land and under the state constitution.

The money goes to Oregon’s Common Schools Fund, which provides approximately 1 percent of revenue in the state education budget and is managed by the State Land Board. As a result, the state must receive the market value for any part of the forest that is transferred to new owners.

The Elliott State Forest has been losing money since 2013, when the state changed the way it manages the land in response to a lawsuit over the federally protected marbled murrelet habitat.

The forest lost $3 million in fiscal year 2013 and although it did better in 2014, the state still lost nearly $392,000 because management costs exceeded revenue, according to a state report. The state expects the forest will continue operating at a loss in the future. As recently as 2012, the forest district earned $5.8 million for the state school fund.

Earlier this year, the state auctioned off three parcels of land in the forest to offset lost revenue due to changes in management of the forest. Additional auctions are now off the table, according to the state report.

During public testimony Tuesday, representatives of the timber industry urged the State Land Board not to discard the option to sell off part or all of the Elliott State Forest in a public auction.

But a majority of people who spoke before the board said the state should shift the way it manages the forest, to focus more on conservation and recreation. According to the Department of State Lands, streams in the Elliott State Forest provide spawning habitat for more than 20 percent of the coastal Coho salmon in Oregon.

Potter said staff could bring back more details to the State Land Board on the process to solicit new ownership proposals as early as this spring. The current goal is for the state to have an agreement in place with new owners by January 2016.

‘Goose Patrol’ tries to keep birds at bay

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

HILLSBORO, Ore. — Ron Dobbins backs his red GM Sierra pickup into the field, climbs out and lets down the tailgate. “Go get ’em, girl!” he shouts, and his chocolate Lab, JD, springs to the ground. Within seconds the dog is pelting across the field toward a squad of geese 200 yards distant.

With noisy complaint, the birds rise up and whirl away, falling into V formation as they go. JD, tall, rangy and muscular, rounds off her chase as the last of the stragglers reluctantly leave the feeding ground.

Dobbins, with “Goose Patrol” logos on the doors of his pickup, heads to his next field. It’s a 30-mile circuit, picking his way through Hillsboro’s increasingly thick traffic, to keep geese from destroying his newly planted crimson clover, ryegrass, peas and wheat.

“We do this twice a day,” Dobbins said. At the peak of migration, one of his employees is a full-time goose chaser.

Agricultural damage from geese is a decades-old problem, and farmers in the Willamette and Lower Columbia River valleys of Oregon and Southwest Washington don’t expect help with it any time soon.

It’s government policy, they say, to protect and maintain large flocks of migratory birds. And it’s apparent, they say, that farmers are essentially expected to feed them.

They’ve come to believe that federal and state wildlife agencies don’t care if the birds lay waste to crops.

“Why is the burden put on us in the first place?” asks Marie Gadotti, who farms in neighboring Columbia County. “Everybody knows there is damage.”

A 1997 report by the Oregon Department of Agriculture — apparently no one has studied the problem since — estimated geese cause $14.9 million in crop damage annually. Gadotti, who won a 2011 Oregon Farm Bureau award for her work on the issue, estimates geese cost her $50,000 to $60,000 each year in labor and diminished yields.

Farmers would like to see longer hunting seasons and eased restrictions on hazing geese out of fields. Obtaining exploding noisemakers, for example, requires clearance by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Farmers also believe wildlife refuges, established as havens for waterfowl, should plant crops to feed the birds as well. They’ve asked for more hunting check stations, so hunters aren’t discouraged by having to drive far out of their way after shooting geese.

Dobbins would like to be able to leave dead geese in a field after hunting rather than take them to a check station. Coyotes and hawks drawn to the carcass would keep flocks from landing, he said.

The problems may be clear from farmers’ point of view, but changing the status quo is not easy. Roger Beyer, executive director of the Oregon Seed Council, said the situation is complicated by migratory bird treaties and compacts involving Native American tribes, the U.S. and Canadian governments and the states of Oregon, Washington, Alaska and California.

Alaskan natives, for example, are allowed a subsistence-level hunt and oppose any proposal to reduce goose numbers.

“It’s a long, slow process,” Beyer said.

Cackling Canada geese, the ones chased out of Dobbins’ field by JD the dog, are considered the biggest problem. A 2014 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report estimates 281,300 cacklers spend the winter in Oregon and Washington. The 2013 estimate was 312,200. Year-to-year population fluctuations are common; the wildlife service has set a population goal of 250,000 cacklers.

Geese don’t just nibble the tops of young plants, they pull them out by the roots. Even with patrols, Dobbins and Gadotti could point out bare spots in fields. Geese affect the timing of planting and choice of crop rotations as well, the farmers say.

“They like all the young crops,” Dobbins said. “It’s like when we go to the salad bar, we like all the fresh stuff.”

Dobbins and Gadotti say the problem is getting worse because many geese have become year-round residents and no longer migrate. Geese used to arrive for two weeks in the spring and two weeks in the fall, the farmers say.

“We’re saying they’re not leaving,” Gadotti said.

Farmers aren’t giving up, either. Dobbins says the “Goose Patrol” logos on his pickup doors are an effort to keep the issue in front of the public, especially urban residents who don’t make the connection between wildlife and crop damage.

A network of fellow farmers and other landowners help keep an eye on fields, and let Dobbins know when flocks are settling. Landowners allow each other vehicle access between fields to facilitate hazing.

At this point, the farmers will take help wherever they can find it.

Passing by one of his fields, Dobbins nods and smiles.

“In that grove of trees we’ve got a nice family of coyotes that take care of things for us,” he said.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Cackling Canada geese report: http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/NewReportsPublications/PopulationStatus/Waterfowl/StatusReport2014.pdf

Oregon drops idea of selling Elliott State Forest

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — The state has dropped a proposal to sell the Elliott State Forest, where environmental protections have made it impossible to log enough to generate money for public schools.

After seven months of meeting with the public, interest groups and experts, the Department of State Lands issued a report Monday that concludes most people want the forest in the Coast Range south of Reedsport to remain open to the public.

“The one thread that really went through most of the feedback we got from the public was keep the Elliott open to the public,” department spokeswoman Julie Curtis said.

The report, including four alternatives for a way forward, will be presented Tuesday to the State Land Board in Salem.

Among the possibilities are keeping the forest in state ownership while continuing to look for some way to log more without running afoul of endangered species protections, and finding a new owner, such as another state agency, a public-private partnership, a tribe, or the federal government.

Curtis said the Land Board, made up of the governor, state treasurer and secretary of state, is expected to provide some direction for more research. The goal is to come up with a preferred alternative in a year. If the choice is returning the forest to federal ownership, that could take a number of years.

The Elliott covers 90,000 acres and includes some of the last of the older forest in the Coast Range, where most forests are privately owned and heavily logged. As the state tried to increase logging to meet local demand for logs and revenue, it ran into difficulties meeting federal requirements to protect habitat for threatened northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets and coho salmon.

Most of the forest is made up of Common School Fund lands, which since statehood have helped pay for schools. The forest once contributed $6 million to $8 million a year to the fund but has turned into a $3 million expense.

Monday’s report was cheered by conservation groups, which had forced the state to withdraw timber sales that would have cut trees favored as nesting sites by the marbled murrelet, a threatened sea bird.

“I think they recognized the days of clear cutting old growth to fund schools is over,” said Josh Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands. “There is no public appetite for it.”

Bob Ragon of Douglas Timber Operators said his organization suggested keeping the forest state owned and a Common School Fund asset, but managed by some outside entity to provide money for schools and meet environmental laws.

If none of the alternatives works, the forest would ultimately have to be sold, he said.

Columbia County ranchers fined $107,000 for neglect

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

ST. HELENS, Ore. (AP) — Two Columbia County cattle ranchers convicted of animal neglect were fined $107,000.

William Holdner and Jane Baum were convicted in October and sentenced Friday to five years’ probation and the fine. They also are banned from owning livestock.

The Oregonian reports 170 cattle were rescued two years ago after an investigation by deputies and the Oregon Humane Society found many of them were malnourished and suffering from eye diseases and other illnesses.

PNW cherry growers sell record crop

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

YAKIMA, Wash. — Pacific Northwest cherry growers sold a record 23.2-million-box crop in 2014 at reasonably good prices proving the industry can successfully handle large crops and that there’s room to grow, says the president of Northwest Cherry Growers.

“Only 28 percent of produce shoppers buy cherries. That’s 76 million people out of a U.S. population of 319 million. People say our domestic market has plateaued. I don’t agree,” said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, an industry trade group.

The Northwest, mainly Washington, hit a new June record of more than 10 million, 20-pound boxes which led retailers to lower prices earlier than anticipated, Thurlby said.

“But overall prices were as good as could have been hoped for and better than 2012 and way better than 2009,” he said.

Those were the previous record years — 22.96 million boxes in 2012 and 20.46 million in 2009.

The average wholesale price per box was $28.49 in 2009, $35.67 in 2012 and $43.50 in 2011, Washington Growers Clearing House Association has previously said. It’s replacement, the new Washington State Tree Fruit Association, does not release prices.

Thurlby said he does not know average wholesale prices for 2014, but that a lot of growers moved twice the tonnage as the year before so “most get to stay in business for another year.”

U.S. retail prices averaged $3.52 per pound in June, $2.95 in July and $3.80 in August, he said.

The crop was compressed into 77 days instead of a more normal 90 days. The 2009 crop came off in 45 days, glutting packers, retailers and causing some fruit to be dumped.

A key to moving the 2014 crop was good volume in June instead of it being bottled up in July, Thurlby said.

Shipments averaged an unprecedented 34 days averaging 502,000 boxes per day from the end of June to late July, he said. A new single-day record was set at 665,936 boxes on July 11. More than 2 million boxes of Rainier cherries were shipped, a large amount.

Rain was the main weather issue in 2009 through 2013 crops, but growers spent more time trying to manage heat in 2014, Thurlby said. There were 19 days in July and 10 in August that exceeded 100 degrees, he said.

A record 7.5 million boxes were exported, 32.4 percent of the crop. Of that, 2.4 million was Canada, 1.2 million was China and 1.1 million was South Korea.

The crop and aspects of growing and selling sweet cherries will be discussed at the 72nd annual Cherry Institute at the Yakima Convention Center, Jan. 16. Pre-registration is available through Dec. 29 at www.nwcherries.com.

The luncheon speaker will be Chris Balzer, an associate client director at Nielsen Perishables Group, Chicago, on trends and opportunities in cherry marketing.

Measure 92 supporters file lawsuit over recount

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND — Supporters of Measure 92 said Monday they are going to court to compel officials to count an estimated 4,600 ballots from voters who say they were denied inclusion.

They are asking a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge to halt a statewide recount of the ballots until a question is resolved over whether the signatures of those voters must match those on file with county elections offices. They also say those ballots should be deemed valid anyway and included in the recount.

Measure 92 on the Nov. 4 ballot would require labeling of food sold in Oregon that contains genetically modified organisms.

Before the start of the recount, which Secretary of State Kate Brown ordered Nov. 24, the measure failed by 812 votes of about 1.5 million cast. The difference was well within the margin of 3,000 — one-fifth of 1 percent — to trigger an automatic recount.

The lawsuit against Brown and Tim Scott, the Multnomah County elections director, was brought by eight people who say they followed all the instructions, but their signatures do not match those on file with county elections offices because of disabilities or mental conditions. Under Oregon’s mail ballot system, signatures on the backs of return envelopes are compared with file signatures before the ballots are processed.

Christine Seals, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement that she has been using a stamp as her legal signature — and it was only after this election that officials said there was a problem.

“I take my right to vote very seriously, and I think it is very wrong that elections officials are disenfranchising me in this election because they’ve suddenly decided not to accept my stamp,” she said. “That is why I am joining this lawsuit. I cast a valid ballot, and it should be counted.”

Some said they were never told their ballot would not be counted, or that they tried to offer their signatures but were rejected.

Supporters, including some of the plaintiffs, announced their intentions at a news conference.

Although the hand recount is scheduled for completion by Friday, about two-thirds of the counties have reported their results, including Multnomah County, the state’s most populous, where it passed by a 63 percent majority.

So far the retallied results will not appear to change the outcome.

In a news release, Measure 92 supporters are frank about what they hope from the lawsuit — that inclusion of the 4,600 ballots will change the outcome.

Measure 92 generated the highest spending, at nearly $29 million, for a single ballot-measure campaign in Oregon history.

Similar measures failed at the ballot box in California in 2012, Washington in 2013 and Colorado on Nov. 4. Vermont has such a law, which is being challenged in federal court.

Average price of gasoline in Oregon $2.93

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The AAA auto club reports the average price of a gallon of gas in Oregon has fallen to $2.93.

That’s down 8 cents in a week and 15 cents in a month.

Some metro prices from the AAA’s Monday survey: Portland $2.92, Salem $2.92, Eugene-Springfield $2.92, and Medford-Ashland $2.94.

ODA seeks to double pesticide fines

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The Oregon Department of Agriculture plans to ask state lawmakers to double the maximum fines for pesticide violations during the 2015 legislative session.

The most the agency can fine a pesticide applicator is $1,000 for a first time offense and $2,000 for a repeat offense.

The ODA wants to raise those penalty levels to $2,000 for a first time offense and $4,000 for a repeat violation, said Katy Coba, the agency’s director, during the Dec. 4 meeting of the Oregon Board of Agriculture.

If the increases are approved, the agency will revise its “matrix” system of determining how much to fine applicators for various violations, she said.

The agency hasn’t raised the cap on pesticide fines since the 1970s and believes the increase is necessary to appropriately enforce pesticide rules, according to ODA.

Doug Krahmer, a blueberry farmer and board member, said he reluctantly supports the penalty increase even though he’s unsure the fines need to double.

The doubling of the fines is a fair compromise because some groups will be pressing for much larger hikes in pesticide penalties during the legislative session, said Tracey Liskey, a farmer and board member.

“We’re expecting a lot of legislation related to pesticides,” said Coba.

During the Dec. 4 meeting, the board adopted a resolution related to non-farm uses on agricultural land in anticipation of possible legislative land use proposals.

The resolution seeks to discourage non-farm uses — such as wetland banks, aggregate mines and rails-to-trails projects — on high value farmland.

Such uses are currently allowed outright, but the resolution says it should be determined whether they should be subject to land use review.

The resolution will carry weight with legislators if the ODA is asked to testify about possible legislation next year, said Jim Johnson, land use specialist for the agency.

Genetically modified organisms are a possible subject of legislative proposals next year, though it’s unclear what form they might take, Coba said.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has a GMO “placeholder” bill ready for the 2015 session, but its contents may depend on recommendations from a task force he appointed earlier this year. The task force is in the final stage of drafting a report.

The governor’s office is still reviewing legislative concepts, which are set to become public on Dec. 12, Coba said.

Diagnosing plant diseases is ‘a detective task’

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

It’s not 221B Baker Street in London, but 1089 Cordley Hall on the Oregon State University campus has its own Sherlock Holmesian figure. Like literature’s consulting detective, plant pathologist Melodie Putnam takes a deductive approach as nursery operators, farmers and crop service workers bring cases to OSU’s Plant Clinic.

These sickly strawberry plants, for example, dug up and submitted for examination. Certainly, it’s winter, but they look particularly bad, with brown, withered leaves. The damage is so extensive that Putnam suspects a root or crown pathogen or virus. Testing will tell.

“It’s definitely a detective task,” said Putnam, the clinic’s chief diagnostician. “We know by reading the plant what has happened. The plants don’t lie.”

The clinic, part of OSU’s Extension Service, charges $75 a pop — 50 percent more for out-of-state cases — to figure out what’s gone wrong.

“Things they can’t identify, they bring to us,” she said. “They saw this abnormal growth and said what the heck.”

The clinic’s diagnosis likely determines the producer’s next action: Spend money for spray, perhaps, or simply destroy the plants.

Putnam’s work recently took on a sharper focus. She’s part of a six-person OSU team that will use a $3 million USDA grant to battle two bacteria groups that cause severe damage to Oregon’s nursery industry.

The team will study Agrobacterium tumefaciens and Rhodococcus fascians, which inflict deformities on hundreds of common landscape plants. Deformities such as swollen tumors called galls don’t necessarily kill the host plants, but make them unmarketable for use in landscaping.

Diagnosis can be difficult, because pathogens are difficult to identify. Crown galls, for example, can resemble a callous that commonly forms at a grafting site. Another infection at first looks like the effect of using too much growth regulator, and its true nature may not be discovered until it’s too late.

“Once they’re infected there is no cure,” Putnam said. “The sad news is they’ll have to throw them out.”

The work has a sharp financial edge: Nursery products are Oregon’s leading agricultural sector, with an annual sales of $745 million.

“Sometimes there’s hundreds of millions of dollars at stake,” Putnam said. “We want to be sure of what we’re doing.”

The four-year grant was provided by the USDA’s

National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Researchers will study how pathogens are introduced into nurseries and how they maintain a foothold. Putnam will spearhead work to improve detection; other work includes training nursery workers to recognize problems.

In addition to Putnam, the research team includes molecular plant pathologist Jeff Chang, plant pathologist Niklaus Grunwald, chemist Taifo Mahmud, nursery specialist Luisa Santamaria, and economist Clark Seavert.

Ag board looks at conservation easement strategy

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Agricultural regulators in Oregon are thinking of using conservation easements to steer urban development away from valuable farmland.

The Oregon Board of Agriculture recently discussed the possibility of strategically placing easements instead of the current “scattershot” approach.

Easements let organizations like land trusts pay growers to give up the rights to build housing on their land while still allowing them to farm.

Land trusts have an uncoordinated “wild, wild West” way of buying easements, which is why a broader view is needed, said Tom Salzer, general manager of the Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District.

“What we lack is statewide policy and direction,” Salzer testified at the board’s Dec. 3 meeting.

Compared to other states, conservation easements are relatively rare in Oregon, said Jim Johnson, land use specialist for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, an agency that’s advised by the board.

Easements protect 156,500 acres in Oregon, compared to 322,800 acres in Washington and 1.3 million acres in California, he said. Maryland, which is much smaller than Oregon, has 400,000 acres in easements.

The discrepancy is due to Oregon’s statewide land use planning system, which has prevented farmland prices from rising as much, Johnson said.

In other words, there’s a smaller difference between a property’s fair market price and its value as farmland, so farmers have less incentive to sell easements.

The prospect has to be financially worthwhile to gain farmers’ interest, said Mary Wahl, whose family has sold easements on its ranch in Curry County. “To bring in the owners, you have to be competitive.”

Also, Oregon’s land use system has caused people to think that easements aren’t as necessary in the state, Johnson said.

However, that system doesn’t permanently halt development as cities can periodically expand their “urban growth boundaries,” he said. “There’s no real ultimate stop to that.”

If several easements were bought in a block, that could effectively cause urban growth to spread in another direction, he said.

An effective strategy for protecting farmland must take many factors into account, like whether preserving the best soils should be a priority even if the property is in a limited water area, said Salzer.

“There are tons of questions like this we are wrestling with,” he said.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture needs to explore whether it has a role in guiding easement strategies, or if the shift toward coordination already has enough momentum at the level of county soil and water conservation districts, said Katy Coba, the agency’s director.

It’s uncertain that any strategy devised by ODA would actually be followed by land trusts or other groups, since they’re private entities free to buy easements where they want, said Doug Krahmer, a blueberry farmer and board member.

A source of state money for buying easements could help set a direction, said Don Stuart, former director of the American Farmland Trust’s Pacific Northwest office.

The federal government also has matching funds available for buying easements, he said.

Coba said the topic of state funding for easements is likely to come up during next year’s legislative session.

“Ultimately, the people who will have control over that is the people who have the money,” said Johnson.

Equine influenza outbreak at vet hospital is under control, OSU says

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Oregon State University’s veterinarian teaching facility was scheduled to resume normal operation Dec. 4 following an outbreak of equine influenza. The Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital had stopped receiving horses except for emergencies over the past week.

In a news release, the university said “several” cases of equine influenza had occurred at the facility and three horses are still being treated for infection. They are housed in an isolation unit and don’t pose a risk to other animals, according to OSU.

Equine influenza, like the flu among people, is a contagious respiratory disease. It usually isn’t fatal to horses, but can cause pregnant horses to abort.

Horse stalls in the facility’s Large Animal Hospital have been disinfected and left empty for now, so that any remaining flu virus will die in a dry environment.

The infection apparently spread from an ill horse that was admitted to the hospital.

OCA director settles into ‘dream job’

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -


For the Capital Press

For the better part of a week this past summer, Jerome Rosa’s mind was not on his Gervais, Ore., dairy operation. The veteran dairyman was considering accepting an offer to be the next executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.

A religious man, Rosa said he consulted his wife, Carole, and his son, Greg, and prayed over the decision for a week, even calling Jay Gordon, executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation.

Gordon encouraged him to take the position.

“Jay said, ‘Jerome, the beauty about these positions is you are involved in issues that you care about and know about,’” Rosa said.

Still, Rosa said, there was the 600-cow dairy to run, and no family member prepared to run it. His son, Greg, two years out of college with a degree in business administration, was preparing to accept a job offer that would take him off the farm.

Still, the idea of heading the cattle association was too intriguing for Rosa, and when Greg agreed to stay and run the farm, Rosa made the leap.

“It’s a dream job,” said Rosa, 54. “How many people at this stage in their life get a fresh start in something they are really excited about?”

On the surface, to shift from running a dairy, which Rose did for 27 years, to heading a 2,000-member statewide association, appears a big change. Throughout his adult life, however, Rosa, has participated in administrative boards with an eye on politics.

“I enjoy that part of the job,” he said of the political duties associated with heading the organization. “I plan to be active this coming session, working on our issues at the Capitol with (lobbyist) Jim (Welsh) and Bill Hoyt, who is chair of our legislative committee.”

Rosa, in fact, eventually planned to seek political office and has built a resume for just such a run.

Rosa has served on school boards, was on the Oregon Dairy Farmers Board of Directors for 12 years, including a two-year stint as president, served eight years on the Oregon Beef Council, and recently served one four-year term on the Oregon State Board of Agriculture.

Rep. Vic Gilliam, R-Silverton, and Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, who represent his district in the Oregon House and Senate, were aware of his intentions, he said.

“The goal was to take a run when there was an opening,” he said.

Like Jer-Osa Organic Dairy, that aspiration, too, now is on the back burner after the cattlemen hired him.

Curtis Martin, immediate past president of the association and one of three association board members who conducted the final interview with Rosa, said he’s known Rosa for several years and has been impressed with him.

“I’ve always been impressed with Jerome’s knowledge and his ability to address issues articulately and directly, yet do it in a way that is not abrasive or controversial,” Martin said.

After the final interview, he said, the three were convinced Rosa was a good fit for the organization.

“We were really impressed with Jerome’s enthusiasm and his knowledge of organizations and his ability to work with agencies, and his understanding of the political landscape,” Martin said.

“After visiting with him, we all thought to ourselves, ‘If we don’t hire Jerome, we have rocks in our head,’” Martin said.

Now two months on the job, Rosa said the position is all he expected and more.

“The depth and amount of legal issues facing our producers is more than I imagined,” he said. “I’m dealing more with lawyers than I thought I would.”

His favorite part of the job?

“The best part is getting on the ground and talking to producers,” Rosa said.

Geese numbers may trigger plan revision

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A new wildlife services report on the number of cackling Canada geese wintering in the Willamette Valley and the Lower Columbia River areas of Oregon and Washington shows the population surpasses the goal set for the migratory birds and may trigger a revision of management plans.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2014 report estimates 281,300 cacklers spend the winter in the two states, where they cause considerable agricultural damage, especially to grain and grass seed fields. The 2013 estimate was 312,200. Year-to-year population fluctuations are common; the wildlife service has set a population goal of 250,000 geese.

Crop damage from geese has been a concern for decades. Farmers argue they are essentially feeding the birds and absorbing damage for the sake of maintaining the population for hunters or nature lovers elsewhere. But the latest report hopefully will open the door to discussions of a longer hunting season or more opportunities to haze geese out of fields, said Roger Beyer, executive director of the Oregon Seed Council.

However, the situation is complicated by migratory bird treaties and compacts involving Native American tribes, the U.S., Canada and the states of Oregon, Washington, Alaska and California, Beyer said. “It’s a long slow process,” he said.

The Oregon Farm Bureau’s wildlife committee will be discussing cacklers – and wolves and Greater sage-grouse – at the bureau’s annual convention next week in Salishan. Wildlife officials have been invited to discuss the population report.

A 1997 report by the Oregon Department of Agriculture estimated annual crop and livestock damage by wildlife at $147 million, with more than $100 million attributed to deer and elk. Damage from geese was estimated at $14.9 million.

Recount of Oregon GMO labeling measure begins

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon election officials began tallying 1.5 million ballots by hand Tuesday, kicking off an automatic recount of a ballot measure that would require labels on genetically modified foods.

Workers have until Dec. 12 to finish the recount, though some of the smaller counties expect to wrap up quickly. The first tally showed Measure 92 was defeated by less than a tenth of a percentage point — 812 votes — following the most expensive campaign in state history. Advocates on both sides of the issue spent nearly $30 million combined.

The recount is conducted by four-person “counting boards” appointed by the county clerk. The counters must be registered Oregon voters, and no two of them can be members of the same political party.

One voter for and one against are allowed to observe, and officials with both campaigns said they had observers.

“Our intent is to make sure that every valid ballot is counted,” said Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesman for the measure’s proponents.

The observers monitor the count and call into campaign officials if they spot problems, Kaushik said.

“As far as we can tell at this point, things appear to be going smoothly,” said Dana Bieber, a spokeswoman for the No on 2 Coalition.

Their level of access varies from county to county, with some counties requiring observers to watch on a television screen or from a window while others allow them to be close to the counting board, he said.

The initiative would have required manufacturers, retailers and suppliers to label raw or packaged foods produced entirely or partially by genetic engineering.

If the defeat holds, Oregon will be the fourth state in the West that has failed to pass a GMO labeling measure. A similar proposal was defeated this year in Colorado, which joined Washington state and California in opposing labeling initiatives.

There’s little science that says genetically engineered foods are unsafe, and agribusinesses fear mandatory labels would spook consumers. Most of the nation’s corn and soybeans are genetically engineered to resist pests and herbicides. Labeling proponents say there’s too much that’s unknown about GMOs, and consumers have a right to know what’s in their food.

In 22 statewide recounts around the U.S. since 2000, the average shift was only 0.03 percentage point, according to FairVote, a Maryland-based advocacy group. Five of them produced a shift that would be large enough to alter the outcome of Oregon’s measure.


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