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‘So far, so good’ on Oregon organic farm’s weed control plan

Sherman County’s warning to Azure Farms earlier this summer ignited a social media outburst that stunned and angered county residents.
Eric Mortenson

Capital Press

Published on September 7, 2017 8:39AM

Sherman County weed district Supervisor Rod Asher, left, and Azure Farms Manager Nathan Stelzer, right, spoke to the county court May 17 about the farm’s proposed weed control plan. County officials say the farm seems to be living up to it’s side of the agreement.

Eric Mortenson/Capital Press

Sherman County weed district Supervisor Rod Asher, left, and Azure Farms Manager Nathan Stelzer, right, spoke to the county court May 17 about the farm’s proposed weed control plan. County officials say the farm seems to be living up to it’s side of the agreement.

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Azure Farms, the organic operation that was at the center of a weed control argument in Sherman County this spring, is responding quickly to complaints and generally living up to its side of an agreement with county officials, Commissioner Tom McCoy said.

“So far, so good,” McCoy said in an email update. “I explained that I considered the weed agreement like a farm lease — not so important as a legal document, but important as a written statement of what each party should expect of the other.”

Neighboring wheat farmers, especially those who grow certified seed, have complained for years about weeds blowing onto their ground from Azure Farms, which as an organic operation would not use conventional chemical herbicides to deal with the problem. County officials said they would ask the Oregon Department of Agriculture to quarantine the farm’s production and warned they would spray herbicide and bill the 1,922-acre farm for the work if the weeds weren’t controlled.

Azure Farms and its parent company, Azure Standard, of Dufur, Ore., appealed to supporters on social media. County officials were flooded with anguished, angry telephone calls and nearly 60,000 emails from around the country and even internationally.

The issue came to a head at a county court meeting in May, held at the local high school gym because the crowd was so large. Brothers David and Nathan Stelzer, who head the farm and product distribution company, apologized for the social media response. They ultimately agreed to keep weeds in check using methods that won’t cause them to lose organic certification.

McCoy, the commissioner, said the county has received several complaints about noxious weeds flowering at Azure Farms and being close to producing seeds.

“When we contacted the Stelzers, they responded quickly — usually by mowing down the weeds,” McCoy said by email. “They have always seemed to accept their responsibility to keep noxious weed seeds from blowing into their neighbor’s fields.”



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