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Feds seek input on 305-mile transmission line

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Federal agencies are seeking input on the plan for a new 305-mile electric transmission line from the Boardman area, to a substation southwest of Boise.

The Bureau of Land Management and other agencies are in the midst of an environmental review of the Idaho Power Company project, because roughly one-third of the transmission line would pass through federally managed public lands. In addition to the BLM, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation also manage land along the proposed route.

A draft environmental impact statement that the BLM released Dec. 19 includes suggestions for Idaho Power Company to alter the proposed route in three locations to minimize environmental impacts, in particular to avoid destruction of sage grouse habitat.

Officials in Oregon and other states have been expecting a decision in 2015 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act, although recent a recent bill passed by Congress could delay that decision. Federal lawmakers attached a provision to a recent $1.1 trillion spending bill, in an attempt to prevent the Interior Department from spending any money on rules to protect the greater sage grouse and three related birds, The Associated Press reported.

The BLM also examined the potential impacts of the transmission line on agriculture, historical resources in the area such as the National Historic Oregon Trail and ongoing use of public lands by American Indian tribes.

The transmission line would add capacity for times of peak demand, and it is one of the transmission projects prioritized by the Obama administration to improve the power grid and allow for integration of more renewable energy sources, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

Although the White House wants to speed up permitting of transmission projects, the project still faces a lengthy approval process.

The Bureau of Land Management is accepting comments on the draft environmental report. The agency plans to analyze comments and prepare a final environmental document by early 2016. If the power company begins construction in 2018, it could complete the project by 2020.

Stephanie McCurdy, a communications specialist with Idaho Power Company, said the utility is simultaneously going through a process with the Oregon Department of Energy to gain approval for the project. The public will have an opportunity to comment in Oregon’s process once the utility has completed its application.

J.R. Cook, director of a group called the Northeast Oregon Water Association that represents water users in the area, said the route initially proposed by Idaho Power Company would not have much of an impact on irrigated agriculture in the area. But an alternative route proposed by federal agencies in the draft environmental document would cut through valuable agricultural land.

“It’s irreplaceable,” Cook said of irrigated farmland that would be affected. “We’ve stressed the fact you can relocate a line, and you can route around this ground.”

It could be difficult for farmers to convince federal agencies that the transmission line should follow a different route, because the transmission line cannot interfere with activities at the nearby Naval Weapons Systems Training Facility Boardman. However, Cook said he believes it is still possible to design a better option.

The public can comment on the draft environmental document until March 19, 2015.

For more information or to submit comments online, visit www.boardmantohemingway.com.

If you go

Boardman to Hemingway transmission line open houses

When: Jan. 5, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Port of Morrow Riverfront Center, 2 Marine Drive, Boardman

When: Jan. 6, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Convention Center, 1601 Westgate, Pendleton

When: Jan. 7, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Blue Mountains Conference Center, 404 12th Street, La Grande

When: Jan. 8, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Best Western Sunridge Inn, 1 Sunridge Lane, Baker City

When: Jan. 9, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Durkee Community Hall, 28716 Old Highway 30, Durkee

When: Jan. 12, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Four Rivers Cultural Center, 676 SW 5th Avenue, Ontario

Oregon Ag Department hopes bird flu cooped up

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A bird flu outbreak that has barred U.S. poultry from some overseas markets has apparently been contained to one southern Oregon backyard flock, Oregon Department of Agriculture spokesman Bruce Pokarney said Dec. 30.

“We feel very good. Nothing has spread from that site,” he said. “We’re pretty confident any danger of spreading from the original premises is over.”

A contagious and lethal avian influenza strain was confirmed Dec. 19 in a 100-bird flock in Winston in Douglas County. The highly pathogenic H5N8 virus killed 20 guinea fowl and two chickens.

It was the first outbreak of highly pathogenic bird flu in U.S. poultry in a decade and came three days after the virus was confirmed in a wild duck and captive falcon in Washington.

Although the virus has not appeared in commercial flocks, several countries have restricted U.S. poultry imports.

“It’s been a catastrophe — that one backyard flock,” USA Poultry & Egg Export Council President Jim Sumner said Dec. 31. “It’s cost us a few hundred million dollars.”

Pokarney said the other birds in the Winston flock were euthanized, and the premises have been disinfected.

The owner had not been moving birds off his property, Pokarney said. “He wasn’t introducing the birds to anywhere else.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will continue checking other backyard flocks in the area for several more weeks, according to USDA spokeswoman Joelle Hayden.

South Korea, Thailand, South Africa and Russia have banned U.S. poultry and poultry products from their countries. Canada, Japan and Singapore have imposed restrictions on Oregon poultry. Hong Kong banned poultry and poultry products specifically from Douglas County.

Sumner said other countries have halted issuing import permits, effectively banning U.S. poultry.

South Korea alone imported U.S. raw poultry products worth $78 million between January and September of this year, according to the export council.

The USDA issued a statement Dec. 30 accusing countries of overreacting and ignoring “sound science.”

“Unfortunately, some countries have decided to place far more restrictive measures than necessary on U.S. poultry, including, in a few instances, bans on imports of all U.S. poultry and poultry products,” the USDA stated. “We disagree with these actions and are taking a number of steps to address them and help support the U.S. poultry industry.”

Avian influenza has not caused human health problems in the U.S. Health officials say infected birds are safe to consume if properly cooked.

Even if the outbreak is contained, there may be more trade restrictions coming, and bans could be in place for several months, Sumner said. “Some countries look for an excuse to stick it to us,” he said.

To guard against further outbreaks, agriculture officials have been urging backyard flock owners to keep wild birds away from their poultry.

The Winston guinea fowl and chickens ranged free outdoors on property with a pond and marsh. Officials suspect the domestic birds contracted the virus from migratory waterfowl.

A northern pintail duck found dead in December at Wiser Lake in Whatcom County in northwest Washington tested positive for highly pathogenic H5N2. A captive gyrfalcon fed wild duck shot at the same lake died and tested positive for highly pathogenic H5N8.

Washington Fish and Wildlife waterfowl section manager Don Kraege said more than 200 wild birds have been tested since then, but none had bird flu.

Officials plan to continue testing migrating waterfowl in northwest and southwest Washington for a few more weeks. The birds have largely stopped for the winter and won’t range far unless pushed south by harsh weather, Kraege said.

“We just have to wait and see the results from this to see where we go next,” he said.

Wild birds commonly carry avian influenza, but it’s rarely fatal to them. Even the wild duck that had the highly pathogenic virus, died of another disease.

Low pathogenic bird flu, less contagious and less deadly to poultry, is more common but still inspires trade restrictions.

New highly pathogenic bird flu cases continue to break out in Asia and Europe.

On Dec. 29, a Japanese broiler breeder farm reported a high mortality rate. Authorities quickly identified highly pathogenic H5N8 as the cause. Some 37,000 chickens were destroyed, according to the World Organization for Animal Health.

Other countries reporting highly pathogenic bird flu outbreaks this month are Italy, Vietnam, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, India and Canada.

Highly pathogenic H5N2, which shares gene segments with H5N8, has claimed 245,600 birds at 11 British Columbia commercial poultry farms in December. In addition, an 85-bird noncommercial flock of ducks, chickens, geese and turkeys was infected. The last outbreak was reported Dec. 19.

Coba: GE crop debate isn’t solely an urban vs rural issue

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Oregon agriculture emerged from the recession to an era of good prices, high quality and expanding markets, but challenges over pesticide use and GMO crops dog the industry and will feature prominently in the 2015 Legislature.

In her annual in-house interview carried on the Oregon Department of Agriculture website, Director Katy Coba noted the narrow defeat in November of a measure that would have mandated labeling of products containing genetically engineered material. Although urban residents heavily supported the measure and rural farming regions opposed it, Coba said the issue shouldn’t be defined solely in terms of urban vs. rural.

The tight farming confines of the Willamette Valley complicate the issue, she said.

“Our diversity of crops makes this more challenging and there are also some geographic locations that have a mixture of small operations, medium operations, and large operations, organic, conventional, and genetically-engineered agriculture,” Coba said in an interview with department spokesman Bruce Pokarney.

“It’s that kind of mix on the production side that tends to create more potential challenges for co-existence. The Willamette Valley is a prime example. We have organic producers of all sizes, conventional producers of all sizes, and a growing number of genetically engineered producers all in the Willamette Valley with that diversity of product.

“Frankly, it’s a relatively small geographic area, which causes more pressure than, perhaps, you would find in Northeastern Oregon. The growing region of Morrow and Umatilla County has agricultural diversity, but because the acreage is much bigger, you have the potential to do more kinds of production practices that allow co-existence, including isolation distances.

“So we are struggling, frankly, in the Willamette Valley about how to embrace our philosophy of supporting all kinds of agriculture regardless of size, regardless of production practices. How do we go about doing that when you have such a mixture in a relatively small geographic area? We will continue to work on the issue in 2015.”

For the full interview,go to http://odanews.wpengine.com/oda-director-reflects-on-agriculture-at-years-end/

An audio version is available as well.

USDA clears GMO tall fescue

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The USDA has cleared the way for cultivation of genetically modified tall fescue without conducting an environmental review of the new crop.

The Scotts Miracle-Gro company developed the glyphosate-resistant turfgrass variety with genes from other plants through a process known as “biolistics,” in which a “gene gun” essentially shoots DNA-coated metal particles into the plant cell.

Because the method does not involve the use of a plant pest for gene transfer, the USDA has no authority to regulate the tall fescue, according to a document recently released by the agency.

Controversial biotech crops that are also resistant to glyphosate herbicides — such as “Roundup Ready” alfalfa and sugar beets — were made using a soil pathogen, which required USDA to study the plants before deregulating them.

Scotts began to re-orient its biotechnology program after a regulated variety of genetically engineered creeping bentgrass escaped a field trial in Central Oregon in 2003, which eventually resulted in a $500,000 civil penalty from USDA.

Since then, the bentgrass cultivar has been stuck in regulatory limbo as the USDA has not approved it to be grown commercially without restrictions.

However, over the past four years the company has persuaded the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that several biotech varieties of Kentucky bluegrass and St. Augustinegrass did not come under its regulatory jurisdiction.

“They’re able to get around APHIS’ authority with their new techniques,” Carol Mallory-Smith, a weed science professor at Oregon State University.

Genetically modified tall fescue, which Scotts has also altered to grow “shorter, thicker and darker green,” is the latest grass crop to be cleared by USDA after Scotts notified the agency that it planned to begin field testing the variety.

Capital Press was unable to reach Scotts for comment, but some in the grass seed industry say the company’s activities have sparked concerns.

Resistance to glyphosate — while potentially convenient for homeowners — can turn grasses into troublesome weeds for farmers.

Naturally occurring resistance from repeated glyphosate spraying has already caused problems for Northwest hazelnut growers and farmers in the Midwest who use annual ryegrass as a cover crop, said Bryan Ostlund, administrator of the Oregon Tall Fescue Commission.

“There is concern about resistance in general in grass seed production,” Ostlund said.

Turf-type tall fescue is typically planted on golf courses and lawns and isn’t usually considered weedy, he said.

While Ostlund isn’t sure what Scotts has planned for its glyphosate-resistant grasses, he urged the company to “proceed with caution.”

Unlike Kentucky bluegrass, which largely produces seeds asexually, tall fescue is much more likely to cross-pollinate with other grasses of its variety, according to a breeder who declined to be named. “If it’s anywhere near any other tall fescue, it will outcross.”

While the potential for cross-pollination can be mitigated during commercial seed production, it would be much harder to control the biotech crop’s gene flow if it’s released to homeowners, the breeder said.

“It’s a perennial crop. It’s not going to die out,” the breeder said.

Export markets that object to biotech crops, such as Europe, are also unlikely to differentiate between Scotts’ biolistic glyphosate-resistant cultivar and other biotech crops that were made with plant pests and previously regulated by USDA, the breeder said.

“It’s still genetically modified. It’s still transgenic,” said Mallory-Smith of OSU.

For the new tall fescue to be a viable product, its resistance to glyphosate would have to be strong, she said.

For farmers, such resistance would mean switching to other herbicides or weed control methods if they want to remove the variety, Mallory-Smith said.

Wet December gives E. Oregon wheat farmers hope

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PENDLETON, Ore. — December has been a wetter-than-usual month around Pendleton, offering a glimpse of relief to the area’s parched farms and reservoirs.

Nearly 2.7 inches of precipitation fell since Dec. 1, which is 1.35 inches above average for the month. The storms also boosted mountain snowpack up to 74 percent of normal in the Umatilla Basin, compared to just 50 percent at the end of November.

That’s a welcome sign for wheat farmers who saw their harvest take a hit following a particularly dry spring. Pendleton had below-average precipitation every month between March and August, costing local growers about 2.5 million bushels against last year’s production.

The vast majority of wheat in Umatilla County is not irrigated, meaning farmers count on every drop of moisture from Mother Nature to retain in their soil. Jeff Newtson, a wheat and canola farmer near Helix, said the December rains are a nice start but there’s still plenty of catching up to do.

“We’re still at a pretty good deficit now, compared to past years,” Newtson said. “You’ll still have to have good rains in January, February and March to really make a difference.”

Overall temperatures are supposed to remain slightly above average heading into the new year, while precipitation is once again expected to dip below average, according to the National Weather Service in Pendleton. Hydrologist Marilyn Lohmann said the average highs in January are forecasted at about 45 degrees, and 30 degrees for the lows.

It is too early in the growing season to tell how much wheat will survive the winter, cautions farmer Tyson Raymond. Dry conditions made for poor stand quality when seeding began in September, and the moisture in deeper soils was already mediocre at best.

“It was incredibly dry going into fall,” Raymond said. “We’ll take the most moisture we can get.”

Meanwhile, the wet December has McKay Reservoir filled to 90 percent of average, versus just 52 percent at the end of November, said Mike Ladd, region manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department. It will be up to the spring rains and slow-melting snowpack to keep that momentum up through the season.

“It’s certainly a good start,” Ladd said. “I feel good about this. We want to see this trend continue.”

Oregon sportsmen want ‘right to hunt’ in state constitution

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

An alliance of sportsmen is leading the charge to make hunting and fishing a constitutional right in Oregon.

The Oregon Outdoor Council announced Thursday it will draft a ballot measure for the 2016 election that would guarantee the rights of all Oregonians to hunt, fish and trap under the state constitution.

Eighteen states have already amended their constitutions to protect hunting and fishing, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Dominic Aiello, president of the outdoor council, said they would like to see Oregon become the 19th.

“This has been a goal of ours since our inception in 2011,” Aiello said. “It would protect the lifestyle permanently.”

In past years, the council — which represents about 700,000 Oregon sportsmen — has worked with lawmakers in the Oregon Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus to push a “right to hunt” bill through the legislature. Both Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, and Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, are members of the caucus.

But like the council’s other major proposal to end a statewide ban on hunting cougars with hounds, Aiello said they failed to get so much as a hearing in the Senate. A ballot measure would instead take the issue directly to the voters.

Aiello is confident the public would support such an initiative. He cited a 2006 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that showed 78 percent of people support an individual’s right to harvest wildlife.

“It’s a way of life for us,” Aiello said. “(Hunting) is ingrained in our culture as Oregonians.”

The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife did not comment on the proposed ballot measure, and said it also does not take sides on legislation. Aiello said the initiative would not interfere with ODFW’s duty to regulate existing hunting, fishing and trapping laws, but would suppress the influence of special interest groups seeking to place further restrictions on sportsmen.

In particular, Aiello said they are concerned about a possible ban on lead ammunition. Lead ammo is believed to be a chief cause of lead poisoning among endangered California condors scavenging on the remains of game animals.

Hunters can buy bullets made out of brass and copper, but Aiello said those are more expensive and not available in all calibers. Removing lead bullets from shelves would lead to a further drop in hunter participation, he said.

“We’ve seen more and more restrictions put on sportsmen,” Aiello said. “We’re constantly having to defend our way of life.”

All together, hunting, fishing and trapping generated $929 million across the state in 2011, Aiello said.

The council plans to have its ballot language finalized by early 2015. From there, the petitioners will need 1,000 sponsorship signatures to get a ballot title from the state attorney general and move forward with additional signature gathering.

The sportsmen measure will need more than 117,577 signatures to make it onto the 2016 ballot.

Plant pathologist develops nursery worker training

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

AURORA, Ore. — Appearance and health are everything in landscaping and house plants, and Oregon’s $745 million nursery industry is particularly vulnerable to the mistakes of an untrained workforce.

Many nursery workers are Spanish-speaking immigrants with very little formal education, especially in science. Explaining what can happen within the “triangle” of host plant, invading pathogen and susceptible environment is a challenge.

Enter Luisa Santamaria, a Ph.D plant pathologist assigned to Oregon State University’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center. Part of her job takes her to Willamette Valley nurseries, where she trains workers to identify and treat plant diseases or, better yet, prevent them in the first place.

“The literacy of the people is not good,” Santamaria said. “They are smart people who want to learn, but they haven’t had the opportunity.”

Micro-biology, and the action of micro-organisms that can damage or kill nursery plants, are unfamiliar concepts to many of her workforce students.

To break through, she’s developed hands-on teaching techniques. She asks workers to take samples from their tools using cotton swabs, and apply the collected material to petri plates. Seeing the organisms that eventually grow as a result is an eye-opening experience.

“They love that,” Santamaria said. “They see they can spread disease from their tools. They understand the importance of cleaning tools.”

She said workers gain confidence as they grasp the science and recognize problems in the greenhouses. In some cases, workers may have hidden or disposed of sickly plants, fearing they would be blamed and lose their jobs, Santamaria said. With training, they take more of a front-line role in detection and treatment.

“If we have some problem, we have to know it immediately,” Santamaria said. “I introduce all those concepts to them.”

Santamaria’s work came under stronger focus recently when the USDA gave OSU a $3 million grant to battle two bacteria groups that cause severe damage to Oregon’s nursery industry. Santamaria is part of a six-person OSU team that will work on Agrobacterium tumefaciens and Rhodococcus fascians,which inflict deformities on hundreds of common landscaping plants. Deformities such as swollen tumors called galls don’t necessarily kill the host plants, but make them unmarketable for use in landscaping. The diseases are difficult to identify, in part because in early stages they sometimes mimic other problems. Crown galls can resemble a callous that forms at a grafting site. Another infection at first looks like the effect of using too much growth regulator.

Santamaria will handle the workforce training aspect of the grant. It’s a good fit for her, in part because it marks a full circle in her personal life.

Santamaria grew up in Ecuador, the oldest of seven children. Her father, Gerardo Santamaria, an agronomist with a forest engineering degree, had greenhouses at home and specialized in breeding cyclamens, perennial flowers that grow from tubers. Luisa was the only sibling who took interest in the greenhouse work, and worked with her father from an early age.

One of his jobs involved training workers, and he was pleased to see she was doing the same.

A beloved high school biology teacher — one who pushed her students and emphasized hands-on “active” learning — ignited Santamaria’s interest in micro-organisms. She excelled to the point that the USDA offered her a grant to study in the U.S. She studied and worked in Delaware and Tennessee before accepting the OSU Extension position in 2009.

Although the economic benefits of a better-educated nursery workforce might seem obvious, Santamaria said she occasionally runs into someone who gripes about the training being done in Spanish. “They should speak English,” one man told her.

Santamaria shakes off such criticism and pushes ahead. She wants to develop a manual to go with the training, and would like to see pesticide certification tests offered in Spanish as well. In the meantime, she works with nursery managers to customize training sessions.

“I love to teach,” she said.

Santamaria and her husband, Carlos Castellanos,have two grown children. Anna Sophia Castellanos and Juan Sebastian Castellanos.

Growers assess freeze damage

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A mid-November freeze damaged vineyards in Walla Walla, high-elevation winter wheat around Waterville, Wash., and fruit trees in The Dalles and Hood River, Ore.

The extent of the damage in those and other parts on the eastern sides of both states will be more fully known in the spring, when damage is more evident. But growers have made early assessments.

It appears cherry and pear trees may be the hardest hit in The Dalles and Hood River, according to Jay Pscheidt and Lynn Long, Oregon State University Extension specialists.

Trees damaged by cold are more vulnerable to disease and pests.

Pscheidt and Long advised growers copper-based pesticides could be used to prevent bacterial canker if an orchard and those around it do not have a history of copper use or resistance.

Removing damaged and diseased wood by winter pruning may help trees recover and slow or stop the spread of disease, they wrote in an advisory to growers. Summer pruning in diseased blocks should be considered, they said.

Temperatures dropped to single digits in many parts of the region, Nov. 10-17. The impact was accentuated by it being a sudden drop from much higher temperatures, plants did not have time to build much winter hardiness, said Tim Smith, Washington State University Extension tree fruit specialist emeritus in Wenatchee.

“It’s worrisome. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some damage,” Smith said.

Everyone looks for bud damage and that’s what occurs in spring frosts, he said. But fall and winter freezes damage tree trunks and lower limbs, he said. Trees flower in the spring and then collapse from trunk damage, he said.

Younger trees have more vigor and are slower to go dormant so they are more susceptible, and cherries and peaches are among the most vulnerable, Smith said.

“We had a little more cooling and winter hardiness leading into it in the north, but fieldmen are concerned about some cherry damage,” said Dan McCarthy, Okanogan County Pest Control agent.

Andy Gale, manager of Stemilt AgServices in Wenatchee, said Sweetheart cherry buds show some browning. “My hunch is it did a little damage, some thinning and that will be a good thing overall for the market,” he said.

So far sampling hasn’t shown any damage to rootstock and one-year trees at Willow Drive Nursery, said Neal Manly, sales manager at the nursery south of Ephrata. He said he doubts there’s any damage at neighboring fruit tree nurseries in the northern Columbia Basin. Temperatures were lower farther south, he said.

Winegrape vines were damaged in Walla Walla but sampling shows the rest of the region in good shape, said Kevin Corliss, vice president of viticulture, Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Woodinville.

“The hardiness level was 6 to 10 degrees lower than the temperature, so vines were fairly hardy when the freeze came,” Corliss said.

While some growers in Walla Walla will be hard-hit there shouldn’t be much of an overall crop reduction, he said.

Some club and newer varieties of soft white winter wheat are showing poor color in certain places on the Waterville Plateau, said Kevin Whitehall, manager of Central Washington Grain Growers Inc. in Waterville.

It’s the highest wheat region in the state at about 2,500 to 2,800 feet. That makes it colder. The freeze, winds and lack of snow cover for insulation did the damage that doesn’t appear widespread so far, Whitehall said.

3-year sentence for starving alpacas

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The owner of a Willamette Valley alpaca ranch who was convicted of neglecting a herd of more than 200 animals was sentenced Tuesday in Polk County Circuit Court to three years in prison.

Robert Silver also was ordered to pay more than $15,000 in restitution with his wife, Jocelyn Silver. She previously pleaded guilty to neglect charges and was sentenced to three years of probation.

The Statesman Journal reports the couple owned Jocelyn’s Alpaca Ranch in Falls City.

Deputies and veterinarians found 58 dead alpacas at the ranch in December 2013 and moved 175 malnourished animals to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University for emergency care.

About 150 of the alpacas survived and were adopted.

Coast Guard rescues man injured in logging accident

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

NESKOWIN, Ore. (AP) — A Coast Guard helicopter crew has rescued a man injured in a logging accident near the north Oregon coast community of Neskowin.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg says the Astoria-based crew flew about 60 miles Tuesday, hoisted the man aboard the chopper and took him to a hospital in Lincoln City.

Local emergency responders had been unable to reach the man due to his location.

The Coast Guard spokesman says the man was reported in stable condition when he was transferred to the care of local emergency medical workers. He was not identified.

Kitzhaber proposes sage grouse measures

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — Gov. John Kitzhaber has proposed millions of dollars in state spending to boost sage grouse conservation work and land use planning, in anticipation of a 2015 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act.

State officials hope that a robust local plan to help sage grouse will prevent a federal listing, although recent action by Congress might also delay Endangered Species Act protection for the bird. A legislative rider tacked onto a recent $1.1 trillion spending bill prevents the Interior Department from spending any money on rules to protect the greater sage grouse and three related birds, The Associated Press reported.

In a budget proposal unveiled earlier this month, Kitzhaber included two new employees at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife: one person to coordinate work by various government agencies and groups to help the birds, and another employee to work on habitat restoration. This could include improving the post-wildlife replanting of sage grouse habitat with native species.

“That happens right now, but it doesn’t necessarily happen in the most strategic way or where you can get the biggest bang for the buck,” said Brett Brownscombe, interim deputy director at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Until recently, Brownscombe was a natural resources policy adviser to the governor.

In total, the governor recommended $1.7 million for ODFW employee salaries and habitat restoration work, according to an ODFW budget document. The governor’s proposal is only a starting point for the state budget. Lawmakers will decide whether to include the governor’s plan when they write budget bills in 2015.

The state is trying to balance protections for sage grouse with the needs of landowners and industries that would like to build in important grouse breeding habitat. One example is the electric transmission line that PacifiCorp, Bonneville Power Administration and Idaho Power want to build from Boardman to Hemingway. Brownscombe said the state’s Land Conservation and Development Commission and Fish and Wildlife Commission will both consider in the near future whether to adopt new policies that would allow at least a little flexibility on development in core sage grouse habitat, if the entities proposing projects demonstrate the cannot be moved to a different location.

Brownscombe said it will be important for the state to focus on “scientific thresholds when the bird really starts to tail spin, that we don’t cross those.”

The governor wants to create a new job at the Department of Land Conservation and Development, for an employee to work with county governments on new land use regulations to balance development and sage grouse habitat.

Finally, Brownscombe, said the governor’s budget includes approximately $1.6 million in the Oregon Department of Forestry to build up local rangeland fire protection associations across the state and remove juniper to improve sage grouse habitat. Although the tree is native in Oregon, dense juniper growth drives out sage grouse. Once Juniper covers more than 4 percent of the landscape, “it’s really not viable for sage grouse any longer,” Brownscombe said.

Judge: Longshoremen’s work slowdowns violate court order

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Longshoremen violated a court order by staging work stoppages and slowdowns in 2012 and 2013 at the Port of Portland’s container terminal, according to a federal judge.

The longshoremen’s union has a dispute with the terminal’s operator, ICTSI Oregon, which could disrupt shipping for agricultural exporters who rely on the port.

Hanjin and other ocean carriers have threatened to stop calling on the terminal due to slowed container movements, which would force agricultural exporters to ship through more distant ports in Seattle and Tacoma at greater expense.

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon has found the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to be in contempt of court for violating a previous injunction against slowdowns.

Instead of issuing fines, though, the judge has ordered ILWU to comply with the injunction and to pay attorney fees and investigation expenses incurred by the National Labor Relations Board, which filed a lawsuit against the union.

The NLRB has proved that longshoremen from the union’s Local 8 organization participated in slowdowns between July 2012 and August 2013 that were coordinated or condoned by union leaders, the judge said.

“Multiple ILWU members engaged in the same conduct, such as driving the ‘scenic route’ around the yard, engaging in pretextual safety complaints and deliberately operating cranes more slowly,” Simon said.

However, the NLRB failed to meet the “high evidentiary burden” to prove that lower container terminal productivity since August 2013 was caused by planned work stoppages and slowdowns by longshoremen, the judge said.

Also, any alleged slowdowns may now be caused by the expiration of a labor contract on July 1 with West Coast container terminal operators, he said.

NLRB would have to prove that the slowdowns were caused by the union’s dispute with ICTSI rather than the broader contract negotiations, Simon said.

The ILWU’s dispute with ICTSI Oregon was originally over two jobs that involved plugging in refrigerated containers at the port.

The union believes it was entitled to those jobs but they had been assigned to another union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

In 2013, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber oversaw a deal under which ILWU got those jobs as long as productivity improved.

The agreement unraveled earlier this year because container movements continued to be lower than normal.

The NLRB claims that longshoremen’s union leaders threatened to slow down productivity to drive ocean carriers away from the container terminal, thereby harming ICTSI and forcing it to stop doing business at the port.

Winery founder to help boost rural economic growth

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Capital Press

Sam Tannahill, viticulture director and a co-founder of one of the state’s most successful vineyards, has been appointed to a team that will shepherd the governor’s rural economic development budget initiatives through the Oregon Legislature.

Tannahill is among people appointed by Gov. John Kitzhaber to four “alignment and coordination” teams. The teams are intended to guide the governor’s initiatives through the Legislature’s 2015-17 budget adoption process. In addition to the rural economic development group, other teams will focus on budget proposals regarding mental health, “age three to grade three” education and what is called the “pathways connecting education to career.”

Tannahill is viticulture director and one of four co-founders of A to Z Wineworks in Newberg, Ore., which they started in 2002. The group — joined by investor Gregg Popovich, coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs — also owns Rex Hill Vineyards and Winery in Newberg.

Tannahill said much of rural Oregon has not shared in the state’s economic recovery.

While Portland and other urban areas hum with activity, “You can’t leave out a large section of Oregon,” he said.

Urban Oregon’s food and beverage industry has been a “real bright spot” in the economy, he said, with a strong link to the state’s farms and ranches.

“It’s a good bridge for the rural and urban areas, fueled by high-quality agriculture,” he said.

Tannahill said the team has met only once but will be sharpening its focus as the legislative session approaches.

Marion, Linn Extension offices moving

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The Marion and Linn county offices of the Oregon State University Extension Service are packing decades of history into moving vans and relocating their offices.

The Linn County Extension office is moving from the Old Armory Building in downtown Albany, a site it has leased since the mid-1980s, to 33630 McFarland Road in Tangent.

The Marion County Extension office is moving from 3180 Center St. NE in Salem to a building the Oregon Farm Bureau purchased earlier this year at 1320 Capitol St. NE, also in Salem.

Pamela Rose, leader of Marion County Extension, said the service is moving to accommodate the needs of Marion County Health Department, which plans to take over the current extension office as part of expansion plans.

The service has leased an office from the county at the Center Street locale since the mid-1970s, according to John Burt, former chair of Marion County Extension Service.

“It’s a lot of work,” Rose said of the move. “We’re all trying to use it as an opportunity to recycle materials and clean out things and make the best use of items we’re taking with us.”

Between 16 and 18 extension personnel will be relocated as part of the move, Rose said. The new office also will provide shared offices for master gardeners and other volunteers, she said.

The county will continue with its current arrangement of funding the service’s office-rental costs, Rose said.

The service is looking at a late-January move-in date.

Linn County Extension also is looking at a late-January move from its current office to the former Farm Service Agency building in Tangent.

The move has several upsides, said county leader Robin Galloway.

The location will provide easier access for farmers and others who use the service, both because of its more centralized location and because of parking.

“We have huge problems now with parking,” Galloway said, “especially with so many of our clients driving pickups.”

Even 4-H folks with horse trailers now will be able to easily access the more rural extension office, Galloway said.

The site also is “a straight shot” from Harrisburg, Sweet Home, Lebanon and other departure points for extension clientele, Galloway said.

The county purchased the building earlier this year with the service in mind, Galloway said.

“On the downside,” Galloway joked, “there are no coffee shops, and we can’t walk down to the river on our breaks.”

Rent is essentially the same, Galloway said. The service pays its rent and other basic expenses with tax revenue from a service district that voters passed in 2008.

About 13 extension personnel are involved in the move, Galloway said.

Farm regulators increase scrutiny of water quality

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A project aimed at restoring riparian habitat along several creeks in Oregon’s Multnomah County has hit a roadblock.

Despite numerous entreaties from the local soil and water conservation district, most landowners have refused free streamside tree planting that would reduce temperatures in the creek.

“Some people are just not interested in having someone else working on their property,” said Julie DiLeone, rural lands program supervisor for the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District.

Even though the trees are planted at no charge, people are reluctant to have crews come onto their land and to relinquish control over the management of streamsides, she said.

Only about 25-30 percent of stream miles targeted by the district are enrolled in the restoration program, DiLeone said.

“We don’t know if that’s going to be enough or not” to bring down temperatures, she said.

Increased scrutiny of water quality by Oregon’s agriculture regulators may help the state’s soil and water conservation districts overcome such resistance among landowners.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture plans to expand its oversight of streams and rivers that flow through agricultural lands next year, which may spur interest in voluntary riparian improvement projects, experts say.

“If more people come in the door, at least in our district, that’s great because we have the capacity to help more people,” said Laura Masterson, an organic farmer and board member of the East Multnomah S&WCD.

For decades, the agency’s strategy for compliance with the federal Clean Water Act on farmland was largely complaint-driven, said John Byers, manager of ODA’s agricultural water quality program.

This method is only reliable to a point, however, since some water quality problems — like manure piles near waterways or streams denuded of vegetation — may never be reported, he said.

“Neighbors don’t always want to turn in neighbors,” said Byers.

About two years ago, ODA decided to “self-initiate” compliance with water quality rules, relying on publicly available information like aerial photographs and topographical maps, to identify potential problem areas and notify the landowners.

Since the agency doesn’t have the resources to conduct in-depth monitoring of the whole state, the new approach was first tested in Wasco and Clackamas counties.

“We can’t be out on everybody’s ground in every month of the year,” said Doug Krahmer, a blueberry farmer and member of the Oregon Board of Agriculture, which advises ODA.

In mid-2015, ODA intends to roll out the program in six to 12 new “strategic implementation areas” once Byers prioritizes where water quality improvements are most needed.

The decision is heartening for conservationist groups like the Oregon Environmental Council, which say the program will help ODA defend its water compliance efforts in the future.

“It sounds like the outreach they did has been really effective,” said Allison Hensey, agriculture and watersheds program director at OEC. “I really hope they will do a lot more in the future now that they’ve worked out a few kinks and learned some things.”

Water quality degradation from agricultural activity is often related to a lack of vegetation, as bare ground can cause sediment runoff into streams and a lack of trees and shrubs may destabilize streambanks and raise water temperatures, Byers said.

The new compliance approach has worked in Clackamas and Wasco counties, where ODA sent letters to landowners letting them know water conditions on their properties were being evaluated, he said.

The agency also told landowners of particular water quality concerns and advised them to fix the problem, he said. For example, ODA had significant or serious concerns about four parcels in Wasco County, and the notice convinced the owners to take action.

“It’s about compliance, not enforcement,” Byers said. “We have that regulatory backstop but we have been successful in not having to use it.”

ODA simply tells landowners they can’t pollute but the solution is up to them. For technical assistance, though, they can seek help from their local soil and water conservation district.

Although the districts can help landowners achieve compliance, it’s important to note they don’t have a regulatory function, said Masterson, who also serves on the Oregon Board of Agriculture.

The distinction is important because people shouldn’t be afraid to come to districts for help, she said. “That firewall is critical.”

While there has been concern that landowner requests for assistance may overwhelm some smaller districts, it’s probably wise to cross that bridge when we come to it, said Krahmer, a board member of the Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District. “To date, there has been no evidence that is the case.”

Hop growers adjust to meet demand of craft brewers

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

MOXEE, Wash. — The growth of U.S. hop production slowed this year, up just 3 percent compared with a 13 percent increase in 2013.

But the industry continues to expand as demand grows for more hops, said Ann George, administrator of Hop Growers of America and the Washington Hop Commission, both in Moxee near Yakima.

George attributes reduced growth to number of factors.

Producers are replanting hop yards to grow more aroma varieties for craft breweries rather than alpha varieties for large breweries. Aroma varieties yield less than alpha varieties, and immature plants in replanted yards yield less than mature plants.

Summer heat hurt yields, particularly in Oregon, George said.

Oil in the hop cone or flower is used for flavoring and stabilizing beer.

Craft breweries project 20 percent growth through 2020, George said. That means hop growers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho likely will continue increasing acreage, she said.

Washington produced 79 percent of the 2014 U.S. crop, Oregon 11 percent and Idaho 10 percent, according to a National Agricultural Statistics Service report issued Dec. 17. Washington’s production is in the Yakima Valley. Oregon is in the Willamette Valley.

Production increased 18 percent in Idaho, 2 percent in Washington and dropped 4 percent in Oregon, NASS said. Acreage increased in all three states.

Idaho likely will surpass Oregon in the next year or two as it has been expanding acreage at a faster rate due because land is more readily available with less competition from other high value crops, said Pete Mahony, director of supply chain management and purchasing for John I. Haas Inc., Yakima. Haas is a leader in hop processing, research and development.

Total U.S. acreage is expected to surpass 40,000 in 2015 with virtually all of the expansion being in aroma varieties that now account for 60 percent, Mahony said.

Cascade, the leading aroma variety, is now 16 percent of U.S. production and closing in on CTZ, a high alpha variety complex, that’s 23 percent of the crop, he said.

The U.S. hop industry is strong and should remain so for the next several years, Mahony said.

Michigan and New York are leading 14 additional states that are getting into hop production, George said. The U.S. and Germany are the top producers in the world.

Total U.S. production was 71 million pounds in 2014 compared with 69.2 million in 2013, according to NASS.

The crop was valued at $272 million, up 17 percent from a revised 2013 value of $232 million. The average price per pound was $3.83 versus $3.35 in 2013 and $3.17 in 2012.

Producers hung on through years of red ink from the late 1990s to 2007, George said. Better prices since then have allowed growers to upgrade harvest equipment, needed to handle many aroma varieties that mature at the same time, she said.

Hop Growers of America is holding its 59th annual convention and Hop Research Council Winter meeting at Rancho Bernardo Inn, San Diego, Calif., Jan. 20-23. More information: www.usahops.org.

Drone company CEO envisions the future farm

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

CLACKAMAS, Ore. — Stephen Burtthas seen the future and it’s. ... wait, let him ask you: Have you seen “Star Wars?”

Drones are everywhere in those movies, Burtt says. Doing jobs in the background, delivering goods, fixing things — their presence is so routine that no one even notices.

And that, he says, could be the future of American farms. A drone, perhaps one of his Aerial Technology International multi-rotored Quadcopters, launches itself in the morning to carry out pre-programmed tasks. Flying over the field, it uses sensors and cameras to look for diseases and pests, take inventory, check irrigation, assemble yield information or make harvest decisions.

Returning to its charging station, it downloads the information to the farmer or even to other machines, which move out on their own to pick, spray, water, cut or till.

“It’s terrestrial and airborne robots that run the farm of the future,” Burtt says.

Burtt’s three-year-old company, founded with his boyhood friend Lawrence Dennis, is among the startup tech firms aiming to get a piece of the action. Doubters question the cost and usefulness of the technology, but multiple companies and universities are engaged in research while waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to set rules for commercial use of drones.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates drone technology will produce an $82 billion economic impact and create more than 100,000 jobs by 2025. Many in the field see agriculture as a key opportunity for growth, in part because farmers eagerly seek data and are early adopters of technology that can save them time and money.

The Pacific Northwest is home to major drone developers such as Insitu Inc. and other companies. A fledgling company in Wilsonville, Ore., HoneyComb Corp., makes a fixed-wing AgDrone that it is marketing to farmers. Burtt’s company uses miniature helicopters; he believes the vertical take-off and landing capability makes it easier to launch, control and land.

He and partner Dennis, whom he’s known since seventh grade and who worked on helicopters in the military, teamed up in business about eight years ago.

They originally were drawn to the idea of using drones for mapping and shooting films. “The idea just grabbed me,” Burtt says. “If we can get a camera in the air, we can have a business.”

The development of brushless motor gimbals, which hold a mounted camera steady even if the craft carrying it bucks and bobs, provided video that was “beautiful and cinematic,” Burtt says.

ATI, the company they founded three years ago, has nine employees and concentrates on building and selling unmanned aerial systems; some custom, some out-of-the-box ready to fly. The company prides itself on training users.

“If someone buys an ag drone from us, we better make sure they succeed with it,” he says.

While some copters go for mapping and filming purposes, agricultural uses appear to hold promise, Burtt says.

Agronomists “all seem to think it’s invaluable,” he says. Most demonstration requests have come from vineyard operators, who appear to be keenly interested.

Bugs need to be worked out, starting with FAA approval. Business privacy is another concern to address. “Some farmers are very concerned about where their data goes,” Burtt says. “They don’t want their data to leave their farm.”

But Burtt is confident his company is on the right track.

“The vision of the future farm is robotic,” he says.

Stephen Burtt

Occupation: CEO and co-owner of Aerial Technology International in Clackamas, Ore. Boyhood friend Lawrence Dennis is co-owner and chief technology officer.

Age: 34

Background: Born in England, moved with his family to the U.S. as a child and grew up in Milwaukie, Ore.

Education: Not an engineer, holds a bachelor’s degree in conflict resolution from Portland State University. “You have no idea how much conflict there is in this industry,” he says with a laugh.

Entrepreneurial spark: The excitement, challenge and element of risk that comes from doing “something that no one has ever done before.”


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