ONTARIO, Ore. — Two members of the eastern Oregon onion industry have been inducted into the Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences’ Alumni Hall of Fame because of the work they did to help save the Ontario research station.
Grant Kitamura, a managing member of Murakami Produce LLC in Ontario and president of Murakami Farms Inc., was inducted Oct. 25. Ontario Produce manager Bob Komoto was inducted last year.
Both were chosen because of their leadership on a committee that helped convince Malheur County voters last year to approve a special tax district that will raise $365,000 a year for OSU’s Ontario research station and extension office.
Komoto was chairman of the Malheur Ag and Extension Coalition, a group of farmers, onion packers and livestock operators who educated voters about the measure’s importance.
The money was critical to ensuring the research center’s continued viability, said station director Clint Shock, who nominated both men.
“We’ve lost a very large portion of our state and federal funds over the previous 5 to 6 years (and) it was getting to the point where the station wasn’t economically viable,” he said.
The money from the new taxing district started flowing in this April.
“It’s saved our bacon,” Shock said. “We weren’t going to make it. It’s been instrumental to our survival.”
Voters approved the ballot measure last May by a 56-44 percent margin, 3,392 votes to 2,678. It increased the local property tax rate by 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
Kitamura said he and Komoto ended up with the award, “but it was a group effort.”
Kitamura said the research station is unique in that most of the agricultural research that goes on in other parts of the state doesn’t apply to eastern Oregon because of the types of crops grown there and the different climatic and soil conditions.
Ag industry leaders realized they couldn’t allow the center to close, he said.
“Agriculture is the backbone of our economy here,” Kitamura said. “We (knew) the Malheur County research station was very important to our industry here and our livelihoods and we needed to do what we could to support it.”
Shock said Kitamura and Komoto were also nominated because of their involvement in many ag groups and because they have helped the university and its alumni association a lot over the years.
The agricultural industry in eastern Oregon tends to not get a lot of recognition, “so it’s great to see people involved with the onion industry in this part of the state get that honor,” Komoto said in reference to Kitamura’s induction.
“When an honor like this comes down … it’s recognition that people in our industry are not just doing their job, they’re going above and beyond,” he added.