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Idaho vineyards producing large fruit loads Thu, 30 Oct 2014 16:39:50 -0400 Sean Ellis CALDWELL, Idaho — Wine grape production in Idaho this year is shaping up to be well above normal and substantially more than last year.

“The quality is great and yields were heavy this year,” said Williamson Orchards co-owner Michael Williamson. “It looks like an excellent year for Idaho wine.”

Idaho growers produced 2,472 tons of wine grapes last year, well below the five-year average of 2,816 tons. But yields this year are at least 20 percent above last year, said winemaker Martin Fujishin.

A bitter January cold snap and unusually hot temperatures last year reduced the size of the 2013 crop, said Fujishin, who teaches viticulture at Treasure Valley Community College.

There have been some weather issues during 2014, “but nothing quite as bad as we saw last year and, boy, that sure makes a big difference in yields,” he said.

Fujishin hasn’t harvested his Riesling crop yet and he said that crop looks big and could push his overall yields up to 20 percent above normal and more than 30 percent above last year.

Weather conditions were almost ideal this year, said Huston Vineyards owner Gregg Alger.

“We have huge fruit loads. Everything just blew the forecast numbers out this year,” he said. “It was a really, really optimum year. We had the right conditions at the right time.

However, fruit loads in some cases have been too high for Alger, who still has 5 tons of Riesling grapes hanging in his vineyard but has no container space left.

“It may just rot on the vine,” he said.

Idaho’s 51 wineries produce about 180,000, 12-bottle cases of wine per year.

Idaho’s wine grape harvest, which typically starts in September and pushes into November, is quickly wrapping up, with the exception of some late-season varieties and grapes used to make ice wines.

“The crop looks good,” said Maurine Johnson, winemaker for Ste. Chapelle, by far Idaho’s largest winery, which contracts about 500 vineyard acres. “There is plenty of quantity and quality is really good.”

The majority of the state’s vineyards and wineries are located near Caldwell in Southwestern Idaho, but wineries in North Idaho are also reporting large crop loads.

“It looks stellar,” said Mike Pearson of Colters Creek Vineyard and Winery near Lewiston. “Crop loads are ... on average, 50 percent over what they were last year. Across the board, quality is as good as we’ve (ever) seen.”

Court expands Rangen call to whole aquifer Thu, 30 Oct 2014 16:12:53 -0400 John O’Connell BOISE, Idaho — A district judge’s recent ruling may expose an additional 322,000 Eastern Idaho irrigated acres with groundwater rights junior to 1962 to curtailment under a Hagerman trout farm’s water call.

In his Oct. 24 decision, rendered on an appeal, Fifth District Judge Eric Wildman ruled Idaho Department of Water Resources Director Gary Spackman erred in January when he limited the Rangen call just to junior Magic Valley area groundwater users.

Wildman remanded the case back to Spackman to make revisions accordingly.

Wildman’s ruling challenges the department’s use of trim lines, which limit water calls only to geographic areas in which curtailment would significantly improve a senior user’s flows.

“I do perceive this to be a monumental issue,” said Fritz Haemmerle, an attorney for Rangen. “I think it’s probably one of the most significant water decisions to come in a long time.”

Based on the margin of error in the state’s former groundwater model, IDWR had limited calls to areas in which 10 percent of curtailed water would reach a senior user, prior to the Rangen call. With an updated groundwater model, Spackman relaxed the trim line for Rangen, determining 157,000 acres in the aquifer’s western reach were sufficiently connected with Rangen’s spring to be encompassed by a call. Spackman reasoned model uncertainty was too great and flow augmentation would be too trivial to justify curtailment east of a geologic feature known as the Great Rift. The rift comprises a series of fractures with less permeable basalt, running 50 miles north to south from Craters of the Moon National Monument to just west of American Falls Reservoir.

The model shows curtailing junior wells east of the rift would yield 1.5 cubic feet per second of water.

“While 1.5 cfs may not seem like a meaningful quantity of water, when compared to the average annual flow Rangen currently receives through (its spring) the meaningfulness of the quantity becomes readily apparent,” Wildman wrote.

Wildman also emphasized that limiting calls based on model uncertainty unconstitutionally places the burden of proof on the holder of a senior right rather than a junior right. The parties may still file for Wildman to reconsider or clarify his decision, and then may appeal it to the Idaho Supreme Court. Idaho Ground Water Appropriators may also consider a legislative remedy.

“There are a lot of people who have been on the outside who are now in the crosshairs,” said IGWA attorney T.J. Budge. “If one drop of water in a well in Ashton makes it to Rangen in 50 years, it’s now being curtailed.”

On Oct. 29, IDWR approved IGWA’s plan to mitigate for pumping by piping spring water from the nearby SeaPac of Idaho facility. Factoring in Wildman’s ruling, the annual water obligation could be as much as 11.6 cubic feet per second, phased in over five years. Construction of the pipeline is underway, with a Jan. 19 completion deadline before past mitigation credits expire.

IGWA Executive Director Lynn Tominaga said the silver lining for his members is that Wildman affirmed Spackman’s ruling that Rangen had been illegally diverting about 17 cubic feet per second a bit downstream from its spring source. IGWA filed for that water right before Rangen also applied to remedy the situation.

Fundraiser raises $14,000 for Ag Against Hunger Thu, 30 Oct 2014 16:04:50 -0400 SALINAS, Calif. — A fundraiser held in New York raised more than $14,000 to help feed California’s hungry.

Ag Against Hunger coordinates an annual fundraiser called the “New York Express” every October. This year, a truckload of donated iceberg lettuce, celery and cauliflower from Salinas was sold at Hunt’s Point in New York City, raising $14,034 for the Salinas based nonprofit.

Ocean Mist Farms, The Nunes Co., Steinbeck Country Produce, Taylor Farms, Tanimura and Antle and Dole Fresh Vegetables donated pallets of the vegetables for the fundraiser, which benefits Ag Against Hunger’s fall and winter produce distribution programs, according to a press release.

The funds raised will also help to fill the salad bars for local schools through AAH’s More Produce for Schools program.

C.H. Robinson donated the transportation costs to New York. M&R Tomato Distributors, Inc. of New York sold the product, which was coordinated through Denise Goodman, of M&R Tomato, free of charge to benefit Ag Against Hunger.

“On behalf of the board of directors of Ag Against Hunger, I would like to express our heartfelt ‘Thank you’ to everyone involved again in our annual fall fundraiser,” Alicia Cask, board member for Ag Against Hunger and Transportation Planner for Fresh Express-Chiquita, said. “The proceeds from this event will help us to continue to serve the local needy communities with healthy and nutritious choices of fruits and vegetables.”

The money raised represents nearly 351,000 servings of fresh vegetables and fruit for the needy.

Since 1990, Ag Against Hunger has collected over 218 million pounds of surplus produce from over 50 grower-shippers and distributed it to food banks throughout the West Coast. The produce is distributed in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties first, where it feeds over 158,000 low-income people each month through local food banks.

After local needs are satisfied, the produce is then made available to over 240 agencies for distribution to millions more in need. To learn more, visit

Family farm operations win OSU awards Thu, 30 Oct 2014 11:02:42 -0400 Eric Mortenson Stahlbush Island Farms Inc., of Corvallis, is the winner of Oregon State University’s Family Business Leadership Award for 2014.

Third-generation owners Bill and Karla Chambers will be honored by OSU’s College of Business at a dinner Nov. 20 in Portland.

The awards are coordinated by the Austin Family Business Program at OSU and highlight family business achievements in entrepreneurship, community involvement and multi-generational planning.

Other winners this year include:

• Family Harmony Award — Second Glance Inc., Corvallis, and Unger Farms Inc., Cornelius. Finalists were Jag Forms, West Linn; and WSC Insurance, Forest Grove.

• Generational Development Award — Glory Bee, Eugene. Finalists were Advanced Wealth Management, Portland; and Blue RaevenFarmstand, Rickreall.

• Business Renewal Award — Willamette Valley Pie Co., Salem. Finalist was Viewpoint Construction Software, Portland.

• Student Award — Jake Thompson, Thompson Timber, Philomath.

The awards dinner is at the Sentinel Hotel, 614 S.W. 11th Ave., Portland. Tickets are $85, $25 for children age 3 to 10. Reception is 5:30 p.m., dinner at 6 p.m. and the program begins at 6:45 p.m.

To register and reserve a seat by Nov. 7, email or on-line at

USDA officials tour Portland juniper wood business Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:49:53 -0400 Eric Mortenson PORTLAND — Improving the market for western juniper wood products could result in a cascading effect that helps solve one of the west’s most vexing environmental problems, a touring group of USDA Rural Development directors learned Wednesday.

A combination of federal grants and public-private collaboration has created a burgeoning market for juniper products ranging from landscape timbers and signposts to decking, butcher block and siding. Half a dozen Rural Development state directors toured a Portland business, Sustainable Northwest Wood, to learn more about the Oregon project.

Tamra Rooney, director of operations for the business, said juniper sales are growing at 50 percent a year and will approach $500,000 in 2014. “We can sell juniper all day long,” she said.

Buyers like juniper for its strength and appearance, and it is naturally rot resistant and doesn’t have to be chemically treated. It’s proving popular as row end posts for organic vineyards, and the Portland Parks Bureau uses juniper posts as well, Rooney said.

“The word is really getting out,” she said.

Increased juniper sales could pay off in unexpected ways for rural producers.

Removing juniper — Oregon alone has an estimated 9 million acres of it — allows native sage and grasses to recover and improves habitat for greater sage grouse, which is up for endangered species consideration in 2015. Hawks and other sage grouse predators perch in western juniper trees, which also suck up prodigious amounts of water — up to 30 gallons a day, by some estimates.

If sage grouse are listed as endangered, it could bring severe grazing restrictions and regulations for western cattle ranchers.

A USDA grant announced in mid-October will pay for Oregon State University and the West Coast Lumber Inspection Bureau to certify juniper’s engineering values. Such certification is required before state agencies such as the Department of Transportation can use juniper posts for signs, guardrails and other uses.

Portland daily grain report Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:12:17 -0400 Portland, Ore., Thursday, Oct. 30

USDA Market News

Bids for grains delivered to Portland, Oregon during November by unit trains and barges, in dollars per bushel, except oats, corn and barley, in dollars per cwt. Bids for soft white wheat are for delivery periods as specified. Hard red winter wheat and dark northern spring wheat bids are for full November delivery. Bids for corn are for 30 day delivery.

In early trading December wheat futures trended mixed, from 2.25 cents lower to 0.25 of a cent per bushel higher than Wednesday’s closes, with the greatest decline in Minneapolis and the advance in Chicago.

Bids for US 1 Soft White Wheat for November delivery in unit trains or barges were not fully established in early trading but bids were indicated as mixed compared to Wednesday’s noon bids for the same delivery period. The fractionally higher Chicago December wheat futures supported cash bids, however a lower basis bid by some exporters pressured bids.

Bids for 11.5 percent protein US 1 Hard Red Winter Wheat for November delivery were not fully established in early trading, but were indicated as lower compared to Wednesday’s noon bids for the same delivery period.

The lower Kansas City December wheat futures pressured cash bids.

Bids for 14 percent protein non-guaranteed US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat for November delivery were not fully established in early trading but were indicated as generally lower compared to Wednesday’s noon bids for the same delivery period. The lower Minneapolis December wheat futures pressured cash bids.

Bids for US 2 Yellow Corn delivered to Portland and the Yakima Valley were not available.

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White Wheat - delivered by Unit Trains and Barges

Nov mostly 6.8675, ranging 6.8300-6.9350

Dec 6.8300-6.9350

Jan 6.9000-6.9575

Feb 6.9000-7.0075

Mar 6.9000-7.0075

US 1 White Club Wheat - delivered by Unit Trains and Barges

Nov mostly 9.2325, ranging 8.8300-9.4350

Not fully established and limited.

US 1 Hard Red Winter Wheat - (Exporter bids-falling numbers of 300 or


Ordinary protein 7.3800-7.5800

10 pct protein 7.3800-7.5800

11 pct protein 7.4600-7.6600

11.5 pct protein

Nov 7.5000-7.6500

12 pct protein 7.5000-7.6500

13 pct protein 7.5000-7.7100

Not fully established and limited.

US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat (with a minimum of 300 falling numbers, a maximum of 0.5 part per million vomitoxin, and a maximum of one percent total damage)

13 pct protein 7.7025-7.8525

14 pct protein

Nov 9.2325-9.3025

15 pct protein 10.0525-10.2325

16 pct protein 10.8525-11.2325

Not fully established and limited.

US 2 Yellow Corn in dollars per CWT

Domestic-single rail cars

Delivered full coast-BN NA

Delivered to Portland NA

Rail and Truck del to Willamette Vly NA

Rail del to Yakima Valley NA

Truck del to Yakima Valley NA

US 2 Heavy White Oats in dollars per CWT 13.2500

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Sep 2014

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges 6.7500

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 7.0200

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 7.1500

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 8.3400

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, OR

A wacky ballot measure in Josephine County Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:03:05 -0400 Our view

Voters in Oregon’s Josephine County have a wacky measure on their ballot.

Under Measure 17-63, licensed corporate and government applicators would be prohibited from using pesticides on land in Josephine County. The ban would not apply to residential properties.

The problem is, the measure is pre-empted by state law. Only the Oregon Department of Agriculture can regulate pesticides and herbicides in Oregon.

But that didn’t stop the activists who drafted the measure and got it on the ballot. Anticipating the county won’t enforce the ordinance, they’ve authorized citizens to take action.

If local governments and courts refuse to enforce the ban, the ordinance would allow people to take “direct action” and use “any activities or actions carried out to directly enforce the rights and prohibitions contained within this ordinance.”

The measure prohibits any civil or criminal action against the enforcers.

None of this is legal, but that won’t stop it from emboldening activists to damage private property — or worse.

Putting a measure on the ballot strictly pre-empted by state law is crazy. Giving vigilantes the illusion they have protection from prosecution is dangerous and irresponsible.

Ballot measure campaigns rack up donations Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:02:33 -0400 PETER WONG Bureau Contributions and spending have increased in three ballot measure campaigns as the Nov. 4 election nears.

The most expensive ballot-measure campaign in Oregon history is now Measure 92, which would require labeling of food containing genetically modified organism sold in Oregon. Combined contributions from supporters and opponents top $23 million; combined spending, close to $19 million, as of Monday.

The previous record was $15 million, $12 million of it from tobacco companies, in a 2007 campaign over a proposed increase in cigarette taxes. Voters defeated the measure, intended to fund an expansion of children’s health services; lawmakers funded the expansion by other means in 2009.

As of Monday, Measure 92 supporters raised $6.7 million and spent $6.4 million. Opponents raised $16.3 million and spent $12.5 million.

Largest donors to the campaign for the measure are Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, $1.15 million, and the Center for Food Safety Action Fund, $1 million. Largest donors to the campaign against it are DuPont Pioneer, $4.5 million, and Monsanto Co., $4.1 million.

Neither of the two other top-spending campaigns are close to those amounts.

For Measure 91, which would legalize marijuana for recreational use and delegate regulation and retail sales to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, supporters have collected $3.26 million, and opponents $168,532. Supporters have spent $2.1 million; opponents, $125,256.

Largest donors to the campaign for the measure are Drug Policy Action, New York, $1.39 million, and New Approach PAC, Washington, D.C., $850,000. Largest donors to the campaign against it are the Oregon State Sheriffs Association at $145,000, and the Oregon Narcotics Enforcement Association, $20,000.

For Measure 90, which would advance the top two finishers in a primary to the general election regardless of party, supporters have collected and spent $3.8 million; opponents have collected $990,141 and spent $667,412.

Largest donors to the campaign for the measure are Michael Bloomberg, business magnate and former New York City mayor, $1.65 million, and John Arnold, natural-gas trader, $1.75 million, channeled through the Open Primaries political committee.

Largest donors to the campaign against it are the union-backed Defend Oregon, $600,000; Local 503 of Service Employees International Union, $120,000; Oregon Education Association, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and American Federation of Teachers, $50,000 each; Nurses United PAC and United Food and Commercial Workers, $30,000 each. The latter three also gave $1,200 each in noncash contributions.

Farmer seeks to add value to his poultry Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:02:04 -0400 Eric Mortenson PORTLAND — Mark Anderson bends at the waist to look closer at the store’s meat display, because that’s where the money is. Look at that behind the glass: lunch meat, sausage, ground this and that. Cordon bleu? They sliced open that chicken breast, stuck some cheese in it and jacked up the price. How hard is that?

Anderson straightens and puts a name to it: value-added processing. That’s what he wants to do with his turkeys, at his farm.

“And what I need to make that happen,” he says a couple days later, “is 1,000 people on my mailing list.”

Anderson, 36, is a big guy bubbling with what he refers to as “five years worth of ideas.” Right now he’s the guy in the big white van who shows up at the back of 11 New Seasons Markets and seven Grand Central Bakery outlets once a week, delivering chicken eggs.

“We’re not city folks, but that’s who we’re selling to,” Anderson says.

He’s not complaining about the 35-mile drive from his farm in St. Paul, Ore., because it gives him a toehold in Portland’s lucrative foodie marketplace. Between them, the businesses buy about 1,200 dozen eggs a week. At New Seasons, Anderson’s Champoeg Farm eggs, labeled “All Natural” and “Pasture Raised,” sell for $6.99 a dozen.

Earlier in October, Anderson sold New Seasons 600 pasture-raised turkeys for the holidays. New Seasons will be able to tell its customers the birds roamed pastures managed in a “graze, rest, grow” rotation, meaning the birds were moved every couple days from spot to spot, kept in wheeled trailers overnight and let out during the day.

Anderson wants customers to learn that from him, as well.

“I want them to come and see where and how their food comes from, and then buy from us,” he says.

A $200,000 grant from the USDA might make that happen. Champoeg Farm was one of nine Oregon grant recipients announced by the agency this summer, part of Value Added Producer Grants to 247 entities that totaled $25 million nationally.

Amy Cavanaugh, Washington, D.C., director of the grants program within the USDA’s Rural Development wing, said the grants run parallel to rising consumer interest in local food. The idea is to help rural entrepreneurs get their products in front of urban buyers.

Cavanaugh acknowledged some might view the USDA grants as a form of picking winners and losers, but said grant applications are reviewed at the state level and get a second look from a pool of independent producers or others with an agricultural background. Money for the grants was included in the Farm Bill, she said, and appeared to have solid support in Congress.

Anderson is building processing space at the farm but said he cannot use grant money for such capital and construction expenses. Instead, he will use the money for marketing, packaging and some payroll expenses.

Anderson grew up in Newberg, Ore., and now lives on the St. Paul farm with his wife, Katy, and their three young daughters. He earned a marketing degree from Oregon State University and worked in that field for several years before turning to farming on property owned by his mother’s family.

In addition to turkeys and chickens, he raises a few cattle, hogs and rabbits. The farm has 50 acres of profitable Marionberries, which Anderson jokingly says finance the rest of the operation.

It’s the prospect of direct turkey sales, however, that gets him going. He believes he can raise and process 500 turkeys on the farm and have customers write the check directly to him.

There’s a “huge” difference in the flavor of pasture-raised birds, even as lunch meat, he says. Having time to explain that to consumers is crucial, and best done on-site, he says.

“Fundamentally, what it’s about is educating consumers to the value of a better product,” he says. “The difference between a garden tomato and a hothouse tomato — that’s what we’re talking about here.”

‘Hot goods’ case takes a darker turn Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:01:37 -0400 Our view

The U.S. Department of Labor is providing us a reminder that tyranny is not the exclusive province of Third World dictators and their jackbooted thugs.

In 2012, the department accused three Oregon growers of violating minimum wage laws and threatened to block shipment of their blueberries as unlawfully produced “hot goods.”

To prevent their fruit from spoiling, the farms agreed to financial settlements with the DOL.

Two federal judges — along with a bipartisan group of congressmen and just about everyone who heard the details — agreed with the growers that the department forced them to cede their due process rights, admit guilt and accept huge fines under the threat of financial ruin.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin recommended vacating the deals because the growers signed them under economic duress.

“Although the government’s use of the hot goods authority is authorized by statute to resolve wage and hour violations, applying such authority in this situation, in effect, prevented defendants from having their day in court,” he said.

The DOL challenged this finding before U.S. District Judge Michael McShane, who also rejected the agency’s arguments and vacated the settlements.

McShane said the situation involved a “highly perishable product at peak harvest,” so any shipping delay “threatened to cripple the growers.”

“Under these circumstances, defendants had no choice but to agree to the consent judgments,” McShane said.

With the settlements vacated, the growers asked for their money back.

Not only is DOL balking at returning the money, it wants to amend the original complaints to claim that the farms also unlawfully withheld wages and hired pickers “off the books” in 2010 and 2011.

Also, DOL wants to add new defendants to the case: Steve Erickson, the CEO of Pan American, and three labor contractors who worked for the farms.

The agency wants a permanent “hot goods” injunction preventing the movement of unlawfully produced crops in interstate commerce.

The growers’ attorney says the department has not provided findings of fact, and conducted no investigation in those years.

What began as a cheap extortion attempt has become something entirely different and more dangerous.

Dare to exercise your right to due process and they’ll ruin you. Prevail in the court of law and they’ll come after your business and you personally, and make you a pariah to your customers and business associates.

The message to others is equally clear: Take the fall and stay down. This can happen to you.

Our democratic government is tasked with protecting the due process rights of its citizens, and respecting the outcome of the process. When instead it tries to repress those rights and takes vindictive police action against its vindicated target, it becomes oppressive and shares the traits of a totalitarian state.

GMO labeling measure should fail Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:01:11 -0400 This November will mark the fourth time West Coast voters will decide the fate of a measure that would require some foods to carry special labels if any ingredients are genetically modified. Voters in Washington state and California have already rejected similar GMO labeling measures. This is the second time the measure has surfaced in Oregon, where it was overwhelmingly defeated 12 years ago.

During each campaign, the rhetoric supporting the labeling measures has become more vitriolic but has not changed. It centers on a single type of genetically modified crop — glyphosate resistance, popularly called Roundup Ready. This trait allows farmers to spray weeds without damaging their crops and is popular among those who grow corn for feed, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets, canola, alfalfa, squash and papaya.

Not only do proponents of the measure misrepresent how glyphosate resistant crops are grown, they all but ignore other types of GMO crops.

A recent forum held in Portland demonstrated this. Throughout his presentation, a pro-label advocate, David Rosenfeld, executive director of OSPIRG, referred several times to farmers “blasting” their GMO crops with herbicides. It is difficult to imagine that, since farmers are required to follow the Environmental Protection Agency labels on herbicides such as glyphosate. We’re unaware of the EPA ever approving a label that tells someone to “blast” a crop with anything.

When asked about other genetically modified crops that have been developed, he seemed as though he had never even heard of them, although he did mention some salmon that were genetically modified. Yet most GMOs are aimed at reducing waste, the use of water and, yes, the use of agricultural chemicals.

All sides of the GMO issue should be able to embrace those benefits.

When asked whether any of the 64 nations that require GMO labels on food allow a state or province to have its own labeling law, he dodged the question. He also did not adequately explain why only some foods with GMO ingredients would be labeled. For example, restaurant food is exempted.

We all know that political rhetoric is awash in hyperbole. Overstatement is the stock-and-trade of many political proponents. In the case of GMO labeling proponents, the rhetoric is stuck on a single note that fails to recognize the realities of agriculture.

The single fact that remains is that anyone who wishes to avoid food with genetically modified ingredients need only buy certified organic or non-GMO products. Why another label is needed in Oregon only is something proponents could not explain.

Oregon Measure 92, which would mandate GMO labels on some foods sold in the state, deserves to fail. Its proponents demonstrate a woeful lack of knowledge about the subject. Worse yet, such an unneeded label would harm farmers, processors, retailers and consumers by costing them more money.

Driver’s card mitigates federal inaction Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:59:59 -0400 I don’t believe that the editorial board went far enough in coming out against the driver’s card bill. For heaven’s sake, we should certainly dismiss the efforts of the bold politicians and industry groups that are trying to mitigate a problem in our state created by federal inaction.

The editorial board should have gone further and encouraged all of its readers to go back to sitting on their hands waiting patiently for all of their friends in Washington, D.C., to fix our problems for us. Additionally, some criticism of the state politicians that had the nerve to come together in a bi-partisan effort to getting something done would have been welcomed. What were they thinking? Don’t they know that the feds always take care of us? Why would we want insured drivers and safer roads when we can have complete inaction?

The editorial board acknowledged three agricultural sectors that depend on immigrant labor. Well, apparently they don’t get out of the office much because let me tell you, Oregon agriculture is crawling with immigrant labor. Your paper could set a great example buy not purchasing any of the agricultural products produced in Oregon using immigrant labor or accepting any subscriptions or advertising by anyone who sells products to any of these nefarious operators. To ease into it, you could just start with Oregon dairy, fruit, vegetables, beer, wine, nuts, food processors, nursery stock and Christmas trees. Just think how great you’ll feel knowing you are not complicit in the “nodding and winking” that allows Oregon agriculture to exist.

Carson Lord

Silverton, Ore.

Viewpoint on Measure 88 shortsighted Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:57:55 -0400 I’m worried that, if Measure 88 doesn’t pass, Oregon nursery owners and farmers will soon not be enjoying our work. I honestly can’t believe that you and the Capital Press came out against that measure. What do you think will happen to Oregon agriculture, your main supporter, as our workers are denied the right to drive legally to work?

Are you aware that there is a labor shortage in Oregon, that nurseries and farms are scrambling to find enough workers? We had to operate this past year with 40 percent less employees than we needed. I’m sorry to have be so critical, but your position on this issue is very misguided and hurts dearly the people and industry you represent.

Jim Gilbert

Molalla, Ore.

Who will benefit by denying driver’s cards? Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:56:49 -0400 I am writing in response to your editorial regarding Measure 88.

You say that Measure 88 puts the cart before the horse, actually that is not correct at all.

The cart is pulled along the back, and the horse does the pulling. The folks who stick, prune, head, water, feed, pick, dig, wrap, tie, sort, grade, clean, fix, up load, off load, carry, haul, hump, lump, lug, pitch, pull and use all other methods of repetitive hand labor.

Nursery and agricultural industry workers, who are able to show up on time to do these hard manual jobs, day after day, year after year, are many times not U.S. citizens. These people are simply people who want to provide a better life for those they love (an American ideal).

Who is to benefit if these workers are not able to get driver’s licenses and insurance?

Who is to benefit if Oregon producers of goods and services are not able to provide finished goods for sale and export?

Please reconsider your opinion of this vital bill!

Tom Brewer

Myers Industries MYE

Lawn and Garden

Beaverton, Ore.

NW Red, Golden Delicious apples allowed back into China Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:53:47 -0400 Dan Wheat WENATCHEE, Wash. — The Pacific Northwest apple industry has regained access to China for Red and Golden Delicious apples just in time to help sell a record Washington apple crop.

The Washington Apple Commission announced Oct. 29 that USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service gained entry for Washington, Oregon and Idaho apples after a two-year closure.

“It’s fantastic to reacquire China. Full varietal access is the real goal. This is one step in a long process we still have to travel,” Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee told Capital Press.

“Our job is to get to those importers so they know they can directly import our product and we have to get to the retailers,” Fryhover said. “I think we can hit 500,000 boxes of apples, between that and 1 million is my goal.”

China first accepted Northwest Reds and Goldens in 1993 but closed the market in August 2012, citing detection of post-harvest diseases that it wants kept out of its own huge apple industry. At the time, Washington officials believed the real reason was to pressure the U.S. into accepting Chinese apples.

A science-base risk assessment of Chinese apples into the U.S. continues and is a separate issue, said Mike Willett, vice president for scientific affairs at the Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima.

“There will be discussions in China next week to talk about acceptance of all apple varieties from anywhere in the U.S. into China and acceptance of all Chinese varieties from anywhere in China into the U.S.,” he said.

In order to ship Reds and Goldens into China again, PNW shippers will have to hold apples for 40 days at 0 degrees centigrade (32 degrees Fahrenheit) or 90 days at 3.3 degrees centigrade (about 37.9 degrees Fahrenheit), Willett said.

Furthermore, growers must prove that orchard sanitation requirements to reduce disease associated with Manchurian crab apple pollenizers were followed. Packers must prove the fruit was treated with a post-harvest fungicide effective against crab apple decays and that they examined lots of every 300 pieces of fruit from an orchard, he said. Only one piece of decayed fruit can be found per 300 or the lot is out, he said.

“We’re not sure how that will work because it’s never been done. It’s an unknown,” Willett said.

The fruit then has to be sorted and graded and packed and inspected by the Washington State Department of Agriculture for certification for export to China, he said.

“A number of companies plan to make this work. No one thinks it’s the least intrusive procedure. There were probably other less complicated ways to get to the same point,” Willett said. The agreement is effective for one year and “our assumption is that if it’s a success then protocols can be relaxed back to pre-closure protocols with probably the orchard sanitation component retained,” he said.

Most companies have been anticipating the reopening of China and following the new protocols throughout harvest as if they were in place, said Marc Spears, export sales manager at Chelan Fresh Marketing in Chelan.

“I think most shippers are ready. Some may qualify for shipments in two weeks,” he said.

It takes 20 days to ship apples to China by ocean freight, he said. It would have been nice to have reopening a little earlier to get more fruit there before Christmas but timing is perfect for maximum supply for the Chinese New Year in February, Spears said.

“I think we could be back up to volumes of a couple of years ago, if not more. We have a lot of large-size Reds which fits the profile they want,” he said.

China likes red fruit so Goldens are not a big seller there. They mainly go to Mexico, Spears said.

“This is a huge deal for our industry,” said Marc Pflugrath, export sales manager at Columbia Marketing International in Wenatchee.

“It’s a record crop this year so every new market is a huge benefit for us,” he said.

Washington apples have entered China through gray market channels from Hong Kong and Vietnam the past two years, but at double the price, he said. Direct shipments cuts the price in half, making the fruit more affordable to Chinese consumers who hopefully will buy more, Pflugrath said.

While most companies ship some apples to China, the main ones are Evans Fruit Co., Cowiche, Oneonta Trading Corp., Wenatchee, and Chelan Fresh Marketing.

Prior to the closure, China typically took 500,000 boxes of Washington apples annually, worth roughly $10 million. The peak was 975,000 boxes in 2006. It’s been a 3 million-box market, including Hong Kong, and Fryhover believes that with full varietal access it can reach 5 million.

“I’m very happy with all the hard work of the Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service, Northwest Horticultural Council, Northwest Fruit Exporters, the Washington Department of Agriculture and all the shippers to make this happen,” he said.

Amy’s Kitchen factory bodes well for Idaho organic ag Thu, 30 Oct 2014 08:47:29 -0400 John O’Connell POCATELLO, Idaho — State officials say a large, organic convenience food manufacturer’s recent decision to open a plant in this city’s former Heinz Frozen Foods facility should have major implications for Idaho organic agriculture.

Amy’s Kitchen, which touts itself as the nation’s leading maker of organic, non-genetically modified convenience food, plans to invest $75 million in plant upgrades, with local production of macaroni and cheese dinners commencing in December.

The company will initially staff the 500,000-square-foot plant with 200 full-time workers. As new product lines are added, Amy’s expects its workforce to reach 1,000 employees.

Heinz bought the plant from Kraft Foods in 1980 and announced plans to close last November.

Amy’s CFO and Vice President of Business Development Mark Rudolph said his company will make about $500 million in sales this year and has been growing so fast it maxed out its production capacity in January.

Amy’s made only vegetable pot pies when Rachel and Andy Berliner founded it in Sonoma County, Calif., in 1988. It now offers 250 products, including frozen meals and snacks, candy bars, cookies, canned soups, salsa and pasta sauce.

It’s named for the founders’ daughter, who now works for the company. Rachel Berliner vowed Amy’s will remain family owned.

“We had no idea we would be successful like this. It was a shock,” she said. Expansions are also planned to Amy’s plants in Medford, Ore., and Santa Rosa, Calif. Amy’s hopes to open a fourth U.S. plant in New York within three to four years.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter believes Idaho will have to step up its organic certification efforts to meet the company’s demand. The state certifies more than 200 diverse organic operations.

“One of my meetings this afternoon is going to be with Celia Gould, the secretary of agriculture for the state, to say, ‘You’d better go sit down with Amy’s Kitchen and find out what kind of volumes they’re going to need because we’re going to have to have these farmers certified within three years to grow organic potatoes, onions, carrots and beans — you name it,’” Otter said.

Rudolph said Amy’s also considered locating the new plant in California or New Mexico but wanted an existing facility to expedite its plans.

Rudolph said Amy’s, which will benefit from state and local tax incentives, likes the pool of qualified workers in Pocatello and the proximity to many of its organic potato, bean and onion growers. Rudolph hopes to find more regional organic dairy sources, noting his company will use 7 million pounds of organic cheese this year.

In New York, Amy’s has established a grant to help conventional growers through the three-year process of converting to organic production. Rudolph said something similar may be considered in Idaho.

Shoshone, Idaho, organic grower Fred Brossy has raised crops for Amy’s for 18 years, including 22 acres of spuds this season, and is delighted they’ll have a local presence. He said they pay well, especially on organic dry beans.

“Amy’s dry bean needs have been expanding for years,” Brossy said. “We try to bring new growers on, and sometimes they stick and sometimes they drop off.”

Kellogg’s cereal sales fall yet again Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:24:49 -0400 BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) — Kellogg reported a lower quarterly profit Thursday as cereal sales fell again in the U.S.

The company, which makes Frosted Flakes, Pop Tarts and Eggo, said core sales in its cereal division declined 4.7 percent. To turn around its performance, CEO John Bryant said the company planned to revamp its Special K line, including with varieties that address food trends, such as gluten-free and added-protein varieties.

The company, based in Battle Creek, Michigan, is contending with growing competition in the breakfast category, with people turning to alternatives such as Greek yogurt or breakfast sandwiches from fast-food chains. Kellogg has already made some efforts to boost cereal sales, such as marketing cereal as a nighttime snack, with boxes of Mini Wheats and Froot Loops showing the moon and stars.

In the meantime, Kellogg is also slashing costs and said late last year it plans to cut its global workforce by 7 percent.

Despite the continuing declines in cereal sales, Bryant said during a conference call that he was confident the category would eventually return to growth.

Kellogg also posted declines in its U.S. snacks division and international segment for the three months ended Sept. 27.

For the quarter, it earned $224 million, or 62 cents per share. A year ago, it earned $326 million, or 90 cents per share.

Not including one-time items, such as costs associated with its cost-cutting plan, it earned 94 cents per share in the most recent quarter. That was a penny more than analysts expected, according to Zacks Investment Research.

Revenue declined to $3.64 billion and fell short of Wall Street expectations for $3.7 billion.

Kellogg Co. still expects full-year earnings in the range of $3.81 to $3.89 per share.

Its shares rose 2.6 percent to $64.07 in morning trading.

FTC sues Gerber over claims on infant formula Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:06:19 -0400 ANNE FLAHERTY Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators are suing Gerber, the well-known baby food maker, for claiming that its Good Start Gentle formula can prevent or reduce allergies in children.

The Federal Trade Commission says that claim is bogus and that the New Jersey-based company misled consumers by suggesting that its formula was the first to meet government approval for reducing the risk of allergies. The FTC says it wants Gerber to pull its claim from formula labels and advertisements. It also wants Gerber to reimburse consumers who purchased the formula since 2011 when the claim began.

Gerber Products Co., also known as Nestlé Infant Nutrition, did not immediately respond to email and phone requests for comment. Gerber’s website for the formula did not include the allergy claim as of Thursday.

Northern New Mexico writer Arellano dead at 67 Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:04:48 -0400 RUSSELL CONTRERAS ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Juan Estevan Arellano, a picaresque writer who captured the traditional agricultural world of Hispanic northern New Mexico and sought to give a voice to field workers known as “manitos,” died Wednesday.

His wife, Elena, said he died at the family’s home in Embudo, New Mexico, from heart failure. He was 67.

A Chicano writer who tried to showcase the unique culture of New Mexico, Arellano gained international acclaim in 1994 when he won the Premio Nacional de Literatura José Fuentes Mares prize in Mexico for his 1994 novel, Incencio.

It was a ground-breaking work because it was written in New Mexico Spanish — a fusion of Spanish and indigenous languages birthed out of the region’s isolation from exploration to frontier days, said Vanessa Fonseca, a University of Wyoming Latino Studies professor.

Arellano’s work also paid homage to the state’s “manito culture,” Fonseca said. The term is a shorten version from the Spanish word “hermanito,” which means little brother in English. “It was a derogatory term aimed at people working in the field but was later adopted as a sign of solidarity,” she said.

In addition, he was known for his work drawing attention to the acequia — the communal irrigation canal introduced to New Mexico by Spanish explorers and later celebrated by those wishing to keep Hispanic and indigenous traditions alive in the state. Earlier this month, he published his last book, “Enduring Acequias: Wisdom of the Land, Knowledge of the Water,” but had to cancel a recent reading because of declining health.

Although he tried to bring attention to northern New Mexico culture, poet and University of New Mexico Chicano Studies professor Levi Romero said he did not give sole credit to Spain as others tried.

“He understood we had many lineages, from the Moors to the Arabs to the indigenous,” Romero said.

Romero said Arellano was a great influence on his work and always reminded him to include the voices of those often ignored.

Arellano also translated into English the 1513 work “Obra de Agricultura” by Gabriel Alonso de Herrera, a Spanish-language book about agriculture, and he later wrote columns about food and water rights.

In his later years, Arellano was a popular figure on social media, often engaging with activists and writers around the country.

That gave him an excuse to see the world without ever moving from northern New Mexico, an area he loved, his wife, Elena Arellano, said.

“I’d try to tell him, ‘let’s go move to Phoenix or somewhere else when I retire,’ “ she said. “And he’d say no. He never would be taken away from here.”

$7.9 million raised to fight Maui GMO ballot initiative Thu, 30 Oct 2014 08:41:30 -0400 WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) — A group backed by biotech companies raised more than $7.9 million to fight a Maui ballot initiative calling for a moratorium on genetically modified organisms.

Campaign Spending Commission records for the group called the Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban showed that Monsanto Co. spent $5.1 million and Dow AgroSciences spent nearly $1.8 million, the Maui News reported Wednesday. Other contributions include $1 million from the Council for Biotechnology Information and nearly $20,000 from the Support Agriculture Coalition Committee.

The group’s reports for the period of Aug. 10 to Oct. 20 show expenditures included $4.2 million in advertising, nearly $500,000 in direct mailing and $1.2 million on a Los Angeles company that specializes in ballot measure campaigns.

The Maui Citizen’s Initiative for a Temporary Moratorium on Crop Cultivation raised a little more than $60,000. Other groups formed in favor of the proposed GMO moratorium raised much less.

Biotechnology companies have “corrupted our entire democratic process” by spending nearly $200 per Maui voter on their campaign fighting the initiative, said SHAKA Movement, which led the effort to put the question on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The anti-initiative group said it is trying to keep Maui County residents from losing their jobs.

“The campaign used the financial resources of the seed companies to correct the mass amount of misinformation that has been spread in the community by the initiative’s backers and to discuss with the voters on Maui, Molokai and Lanai how this initiative will devastate our islands and our local economy,” the group said in a statement.

Survey: Shrimp in U.S. rife with murky labeling Thu, 30 Oct 2014 08:37:56 -0400 CAIN BURDEAU NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Consumers around the nation can’t be sure what kind of shrimp they’re buying if they simply look at the label or menu at supermarkets, grocers and restaurants, an advocacy group says.

Oceana did a DNA-based survey of shrimp sold at outlets in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Portland, Oregon; and various spots around the Gulf of Mexico.

The group said it found about 30 percent of 143 shrimp products bought from 111 vendors were not what the label said. Cheap imported farm-raised shrimp is being sold as prized wild-caught Gulf shrimp, common shrimp sold as premium shrimp and shrimp of all kinds sold with no indication whatsoever about where they came from, the group said.

Oceana is urging Congress and regulators to enforce proper labeling.

The group acknowledged that the survey was but a small sample, but said the survey using DNA techniques is the first of its kind. The group did a similar survey last year for fish and made similar findings. A laboratory tested each sample to identify what kind of shrimp each was by species.

“It was a first good look at shrimp,” said Kimberly Warner, a marine scientist with Oceana. She went out and obtained many of the samples.

Misleading and illegal labeling of food is considered a major problem among food purists because it cheats consumers and puts them at risk of tainted foods, hurts honest vendors and tarnishes an industry’s product. The report said that because of mislabeling, consumers are not guaranteed they are eating shrimp that meets high, chemical-free standards.

Oceana said it found bad labeling on shrimp sold at national and regional supermarkets and smaller grocery stores alike. It also said restaurants of all kinds, from national chains to high-dollar eateries, were selling shrimp with poor labeling.

Oceana declined to provide the names of the vendors it obtained the samples from. Dustin Cranor, an Oceana spokesman, said the company did not want to identify individual vendors because “fraud can happen at any point in the supply chain.”

The group’s report came as no surprise to fishermen and others involved in the shrimp industry.

“I’ve been shouting this for ages from the rooftop,” said Kimberly Chauvin, who runs a family shrimp business with fishing boats and docks in Chauvin, Louisiana.

She said shrimp mislabeling has gotten worse in recent decades, and coincided with a growing appetite for shrimp among Americans. For more than a decade, shrimp has become the nation’s most popular seafood, according to federal data. The craving for shrimp has been accompanied by a major uptick in imported farm-raised shrimp, which are considered inferior to shrimp caught in the open ocean.

Chauvin said mislabeling will get worse unless regulators “start handing out big fines” to companies that break the Food and Drug Administration’s labeling laws.

The Oceana survey found the worst labeling of shrimp taking place in New York City. The group found few problems in Portland but more widespread misrepresentation in Washington and the Gulf.

Jerald Horst, a Louisiana seafood writer and former state fisheries specialist, said mislabeling runs rampant in the seafood industry. He said many of the big vendors want to keep the status quo — in other words, lackluster enforcement of labeling.

“There’s a lot of pressure from the major institutions for them not to do it,” Horst said. “They want the freedom to do ‘creative marketing.”’

Lauren Sucher, an FDA spokeswoman, said mislabeling is illegal and pointed out that the agency inspects and enforces labeling laws.

Farm Rescue nonprofit helping 300th Midwest family Thu, 30 Oct 2014 08:36:15 -0400 BLAKE NICHOLSON BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The Farm Rescue nonprofit in the Midwest is helping its 300th family this week.

The milestone comes just eight years after former North Dakota farm boy and UPS cargo pilot Bill Gross launched the organization to give back to the industry he still holds dear.

A handful of volunteers are helping harvest corn for western Minnesota farmer John Dubbels, who is being treated for myelodysplastic syndrome, also known as pre-leukemia.

Dubbels, 60, farms about 1,500 acres near Fergus Falls with his wife, Sheree, and his brother, Paul. He said in a telephone interview from the Mayo Clinic that they were able to harvest soybeans earlier this fall but that without help “it would have been a long struggle” to get the corn in the bin.

“I’d sure like to say thank you,” he said. “It’s quite a load off for me.”

Farm Rescue plants and harvests crops for farmers in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and eastern Montana who have experienced an illness, injury or natural disaster. It’s been operating since 2006, growing from a North Dakota operation with a shoestring budget and a few volunteers to a multistate nonprofit that’s supported by donations, grants, dozens of business sponsors and about 1,000 volunteers from around the country. It now operates on an annual cash budget approaching half a million dollars.

“We are very thankful to all volunteers, sponsors and supporters for making it possible to achieve this major milestone,” Gross said.

Farm Rescue helps about 50 farmers each year. Gross said this past summer that he expects that number to hold steady for a couple of years while the organization builds financial support so it can possibly expand geographically.

Gross, a graduate of the University of North Dakota flight school, is scheduled to speak at his alma mater on Nov. 5 about Farm Rescue and the importance of helping others.

Removal of weed from Columbia requires review Wed, 29 Oct 2014 09:04:36 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski Federal authorities will need to review the potential effect on protected species of removing an invasive weed before the plants can be yanked from the Columbia River.

Over the summer, several new patches of flowering rush were found growing in shallow waters of the river near Umatilla, Ore., which is the first time the weed was discovered in Oregon.

Flowering rush is already a problem for irrigators in Washington, Idaho and Montana because it grows so thickly that the flow of water in canals is impeded. The weed can also clog irrigation intakes and create habitat for introduced fish that prey on native salmon.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture wants the flowering rush plants to be pulled out before they have a chance to spread further, but the sites can’t be treated without permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has jurisdiction over the river.

To grant those permits, the federal agency must review the proposed removal under the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and conduct an archeological assessment of cultural resources at the sites, said Damien Walter, a biologist for the corps. The corps may also need to negotiate a contract with divers who would pull the weeds.

The corps recently decided the removal is “categorically excluded” from in-depth NEPA review and would have negligible impact on cultural resources, said Bruce Henrickson, public affairs specialist for the corps.

However, the agency must still get ESA approval for the project from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he said. The quickest route would be an informal consultation.

Removal of the new flowering rush sites will be reviewed separately from a broader “big picture” proposal to remove aquatic pests from the Columbia River, which has been studied for several years, Walter said.

“The bottom line is there are still some hoops to jump through,” said Tim Butler, supervisor of ODA’s noxious weed control program.

Ideally, ODA wants the flowering rush removed before the plants go dormant during winter, at which point their leaves fall below the water line and they’re no longer visible, said Butler.

However, the ODA will settle for covering the plants with mats weighed down with sand bags, which would at least prevent them from spreading until they can be removed later, he said.

But even that step might require ESA review.

Butler said he understands that the federal government must work within the constraints of federal statutes, but he’s hopeful the review won’t delay the removal of an invasive species that poses real environmental threats.

“It should be a no-brainer to say we need to act on this,” he said. “The risks are much higher by not doing anything.”

Even if the new flowering rush sites are removed quickly, it may not end the threat of the weed further invading Oregon, said Jenifer Parsons, aquatic plant specialist at the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Larger sites of the species are established farther upstream in the Columbia and Yakima rivers, she said. “There’s fragments floating down from those populations as well.”

Think tank links H-2A with human trafficking Wed, 29 Oct 2014 12:20:57 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski A policy think tank that receives much of its funding from federal agencies has drawn a link between human trafficking and the H-2A agricultural guest worker program.

A new report from the Urban Institute, which analyzes government policies and other societal issues, found that trafficking victims were often brought to the U.S. on temporary visas, like the H-2A program for farm workers and the H-2B program for other guest laborers.

“Immigration reform is needed for guest worker programs because tying a worker’s immigration status to a specific employer is one of the most powerful forms of control against labor trafficking victims across industries,” the report said.

Because H-2A visas don’t allow “portability” among employers, agricultural workers are “especially vulnerable to labor trafficking” in which employers use fraud or coercion, the report said.

The Washington Farm Labor Association, which assists H-2A employers, is skeptical of the Urban Institute’s conclusions, said Dan Fazio, its executive director.

“The assumption that a lack of portability leads to trafficking is not supported by the facts,” said Fazio.

Employers who hire H-2A workers are subject to rigorous inspection by state and federal agencies and must cross numerous bureaucratic hurdles to qualify for the program, he said.

“I find it hard to believe that a person who is a criminal could jump through those hoops,” he said.

For example, farmers are required to provide guest workers with free housing, Fazio said. It’s unrealistic to expect them to make such a large investment if the workers can simply go across the road and take jobs with another grower.

In a single season, an H-2A worker can make as much money as they would over several years in their home countries, he said.

When in the U.S., they also have a support network of other immigrant farm workers, who often come from the same countries even though they’re not employed under the H-2A program, Fazio said. “The idea of the isolated guest worker is a myth.”

Workers who abscond from employers to stay in the U.S. have an incentive to later claim they “escaped” due to terrible conditions, he said.

“It’s really easy to make an allegation,” he said. “Has anyone ever investigated those claims?”

Fazio said he believes the Urban Institute’s report was motivated by a political agenda — the Democratic Party is afraid that a viable guest worker program will make it harder to justify legalizing undocumented workers.

“They see a legal work program would be a hindrance to status adjustment,” he said.

Colleen Owens, the report’s lead author, denied that the Urban Institute is pushing an agenda and said it’s independent of the federal government.

She said the labor trafficking victims cited in the report were “100 percent credible” and were screened by groups that provide services to immigrant workers.

“These are confirmed labor traffic cases,” Owens said.

The Urban Institute conducted its study because not much is known about labor trafficking, as most research has focused on sex trafficking, she said. “We don’t know how large of a problem it is.”

The study sample was small — 122 workers — and it’s not nationally representative, nor does it state that most H-2A workers are victims, Owens said. “We can’t generalize to the entire U.S.”

However, among those workers interviewed, the lack of visa portability was cited as a problem, she said.

Workers often accrued debts to pay off recruiters and were then worried about losing their immigration status if they reported substandard employment conditions, Owens said.

“At least for the sample we looked at, they felt it was used against them,” she said.

Many companies that use guest worker programs want to do the right thing, so further research should examine how they can ensure the system isn’t abused, Owens said.

For example, one possibility would be to make visas portable if a worker is confirmed as a victim of trafficking, she said. “There needs to be some sort of middle ground.”