Capital Press | Capital Press Mon, 29 May 2017 06:17:33 -0400 en Capital Press | Western Innovator: Duck eggs fill market niche Fri, 26 May 2017 14:29:54 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER COTATI, Calif. — As a high school student, Anthony Bordessa was on his computer researching ways to improve his pasture poultry operation when something intriguing popped up: an ad for duck eggs.

“When ‘duck eggs’ popped up I clicked on it and started to research,” he said. “I found that the people who had tried them loved them, but there was not a consistent supply of fresh duck eggs.”

Although he was born and raised in a Sonoma County agricultural family, duck eggs were a leap of faith. In 2013 he look that leap and opened Washoe Valley Duck Farm. He kept the enterprise going while he was in community college and at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, with the help of his parents.

Duck eggs are different from chicken eggs many respects.

“Duck eggs are valued for their high nutrient content,” Bordessa said. “There is close to 10 grams of protein in one duck egg, around six times the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids and almost twice the amount of B12 vitamins.”

Also, people who cannot eat chicken eggs find that they can eat duck eggs, he said, adding that they are highly valued for their great baking qualities.

“They add more loft to cakes, give custards and curds a more creamy, rich flavor, and enhance the overall flavor of any dish in which an egg yolk is highlighted,” he said.

He notes that because duck eggs have less water and more protein, cooking over low heat is recommended. They sell for $8 a dozen and $18 for a flat of 30.

Today, Bordessa has about 2,800 Kakhi Campbell ducks that are free range on organic pasture. Currently, there are about 18 duck egg producers in the California, with operations of all sizes. He said the biggest challenge he faces is educating the consumer on why duck eggs are more nutritious that other types of eggs.

“Anthony Bordessa is a prime example of the entrepreneurial young and beginning agriculturalists that are calling Sonoma County home,” said Kim Vail, executive director, Sonoma County Farm Bureau. “There is a rich tradition of agriculture that has long driven the economy in the county and operations such as Washoe Valley Duck Farm will serve to ensure this tradition continues into the future.”

Although the duck farm is only four years old, sales are growing fast.

“We sell our eggs at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market in San Francisco, high-end restaurants, bakers, health-conscious consumers and foodies,” Bordessa said. “We are in a select 50 mom-pop markets and numerous Safeway stores in the greater Bay Area.”

He said he enjoys his work.

“The most fun in my day is caring for the ducks, knowing that we are producing the best quality product possible and then hearing from the consumers how much they love the eggs,” he said.

Anthony Bordessa

Residence: Cotati, Calif.

Occupation: Owner, Washoe Valley Duck Farm

Education: Agricultural business degree, California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo.

Quote: “We strive to produce a product that will only seamlessly benefit our customers in their current healthy eating lifestyles!”

Weather delays N. Idaho spring wheat crop Fri, 26 May 2017 10:14:57 -0400 Matw Weaver Capital Press

Northern Idaho wheat farmers are behind on their spring planting.

About 78 percent of the state’s spring wheat crop was planted the week of May 15, compared to 99 percent the same time in 2016, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. The five-year average for this time of year is 100 percent complete.

“We’re way behind schedule,” said Blaine Jacobson, executive director of the Idaho Wheat Commission.

Spring wheat was planted in southwest, southcentral and southeast Idaho, but the delays were in the biggest growing area, the prairies of northern Idaho, due to snow, rain and a late spring, Jacobson said.

Farmers were eligible for crop insurance beginning May 15. Growers have to decide whether to attempt a spring crop or take a crop insurance payment for prevented planting.

“There’s a lot of worry about planting this late and how late the harvest would be, whether they would get it out of the field before the fall storms start,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson expects an overall crop similar to last year’s, if the northern region is able to plant. Winter wheat went in with good moisture, he said.

“It’s been cool so far, which sometimes helps wheat grow,” he said. “If it gets too hot too fast, it stunts it, but it’s been really good growing conditions for the winter wheat so far.”

For the same week, Washington’s spring wheat was 95 percent planted, down from 100 percent last year. The five-year average for this time of year is 100 percent.

“With the excellent moisture and growing-degree days, the spring crop could catch up,” said Washington Grain Commission CEO Glen Squires.

Squires believes wheat yields could be higher than USDA projections of 67 bushels per acre for the state.

“We’re just waiting for the crop to develop,” he said.

Eighty-seven percent of Oregon’s spring wheat crop has emerged, according to NASS. The crop was probably three to four weeks late in getting planted on average, but will likely make up some of that delay when the weather warms up, said Blake Rowe, Oregon Wheat CEO.

“With average weather, we might be a couple weeks late to harvest, but I wouldn’t look for much of a yield hit,” Rowe said.

Washington fruit company defends piece-rate pay Fri, 26 May 2017 16:55:23 -0400 Don Jenkins Farmers would have to abandon piece-rate pay if the Washington Supreme Court rules that workers must be paid separately for non-picking tasks, according to lawyers for a Wenatchee orchard operator and exporter.

The Dovex Fruit Co. argues that piece rates benefit skilled and industrious workers, but would be impractical if the court decides the practice violates the state’s minimum wage law.

“It is not possible for employers to separately track and pay for every second of time that an employee is not actually picking each piece of fruit, so they will be forced to abandon piece-rate pay altogether,” the company claims in a brief filed with the court.

The court ruled two years ago that piece-rate farmworkers must be paid separately for 10-minute rest breaks. Although the court said it was merely interpreting the law, the decision changed longstanding pay practices. Now, the court has been asked whether piece-rate workers must be paid separately for tasks such as moving equipment and attending meetings.

The court has not set a hearing date, but has begun taking written arguments. In an earlier filing, Seattle lawyer Marc Cote, who represented workers in the lawsuit that won paid rest breaks, argued that piece-rate pay robbed employees of the fruits of their labors.

Dovex, the target of a class-action lawsuit over pay practices, laid out its defense in a brief filed May 22.

According to the company’s brief, the court’s ruling on paid rest breaks was well reasoned, but did not apply to this case.

While paid breaks encourage workers to rest for their health and safety, at stake in the new case, according to Dovex, is whether workers will have the chance to earn higher wages through piece rates.

The company argues its piece rates ensure that workers are paid at least the state’s minimum wage, no matter what how much fruit they pick.

According to the brief, the company records the time each employee arrives and leaves work. “Dovex tracks and records every second that a piece-rate worker spends working,” the brief states.

At the end of the week, a worker’s hours are added up. If the piece-rate pay falls short of the company’s base hourly wage, the worker’s pay is rounded up.

If the court strikes down the practice, farms will have no way to be sure they’re complying with the state minimum wage law and will be forced to switch to hourly wages, according to the brief.

“Maybe this is what plaintiffs really want as a result of their claims, but it is not what the thousands of skilled pickers that return each year to Washington harvest necessarily want,” the brief states. “These skilled pickers enjoy wages that greatly exceed minimum wage and the piece rate allows them to control their earnings and time spent working in a way that straight hourly work does not afford.”

The company states its base hourly pay exceeds the state minimum wage of $11 an hour. The brief references the minimum $13.38 an hour that farms must pay if they hire foreign workers on temporary H-2A visas.

The brief acknowledges piece rates benefit farmers. “Without the ability to reward efficient and skilled pickers, the time-sensitive harvest becomes less efficient and the employers’ costs go up,” it states.

If the court rules piece-rate workers must be paid separately for other tasks, justices also must decide how the pay will be calculated. The agriculture industry favors a flat wage, but the court in the rest-break case sided with workers who argued for pay based on their higher piece-rate compensation.

USDA recalls beef broth made in Washington Fri, 26 May 2017 16:32:45 -0400 Don Jenkins A young Bellingham, Wash., company has had to recall about 5,163 pounds of organic beef broth products that were sent to customers without the benefit of federal inspection, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service announced Friday.

Cauldron Broths, which opened about six months ago, sent the products to customers in Washington, the company’s general manager, Steven Corson, said. Most of the product was sent in January and February, and no illnesses have been reported, he said.

“Overall, we have little concern,” he said. “But we’re following through with the recall protocol.”

The USDA confirmed no illnesses have been reported by people who consumed the company’s products.

The products were packaged between Dec. 21 and May 22, according to the USDA.

Corson said the USDA inspected part of the production, but not all. At the time, the company believed it was in compliance with inspection requirements, he said.

The company is not appealing the recall, he said. “We do not foresee any other issues,” he said.

The following products were subject to the recall:

• 24-once pouches containing Vital Choice Grass-Fed Beef Bone Broth with best by dates Jan. 15, 2018; Jan. 18, 2018; and March 28, 2018.

• 24-once pouches containing Cauldron Broths Beef Bone Broth with best by dates Jan. 3, 2018, and Feb. 15, 2018.

• 24-once pouches containing Cauldron Broths Organic Cauldron’s Cure with best by dates Dec. 21, 2018.

• 1 gallon containers of Cauldron Broths Glace De Viande with best by date Jan. 30, 2018.

• 8-once containers of Cauldron Broths Glace De Viande with best by date March 4, 2018.

The products subject to recall bear establishment number EST. 45953 inside the USDA mark of inspection.

The items were shipped to retail locations in Washington and to a distributor who sells to consumers nationwide over the internet.

The USDA urged consumers to not consume the products. The products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase, according to USDA.

Washington state dairy ambassador coronation set for June 24 Fri, 26 May 2017 13:26:14 -0400 The Washington state dairy ambassador contest will take place on June 24 in Arlington.

This program provides a professional and educational opportunity for young women. They serve as Washington’s ambassadors for milk and receive a generous college scholarship, internships and extensive communications training.

“It will soon be time to say good-bye and thank you to our 2016-2017 State Dairy Ambassador Alicia Smaciarz (Raymond) and State Alternates Jana Plagerman (Lynden) and Tiana Peterson (Graham),” said Tammi Schoenbachler, state ambassador adviser. “They have done a fantastic job representing the Dairy Farmers of Washington this past year and I’m sure they will continue to be lifelong advocates of our industry.”

The 2017 Washington State Dairy Ambassador Coronation will be June 24 at the Byrnes Performing Arts Center, 18821 Crown Ridge Blvd., Arlington, Wash.

Doors open at 5 p.m. with the program beginning at 5:30. This year dinner will not be provided; instead there will be light hors d’oeuvres and refreshments served during a short intermission. Tickets purchased by June 16 will be adults $20, students $10, and under 6 years free. Tickets purchased after June 16 or at the door will be adults $25, students $15, under 6 still free.

Organizers say they are hoping these changes will make it easier for families, farmers and students to attend. For ticket information, please contact Gloria Edwards by email at or 360-273-7313.

This year there are three contestants.

Juliana LeClair, from Skagit County, is the daughter of Joe and Annette LeClair of Mount Vernon, Wash. She will graduate from Mount Vernon Christian School this June.

Juliana has lived her whole life on her family’s dairy farm feeding calves, doing field work and other chores.

She has been a member of the Sunshine Dairy 4-H Club for 9 years and has completed 14 dairy projects, held club offices, won top showmanship awards and was selected as a state delegate to the National 4-H Dairy Conference.

In 2015, Juliana was selected as the 2015-16 Washington State Jersey Queen Alternate. She plans to attend Washington State University to pursue a degree in agricultural and food business economics with a minor in animal sciences.

Juliana would like to own her own dairy and have it open to the public to see how their food is produced.

Claire Leininger, from Whatcom County, is the daughter of Erik and Paula Leininger of Everson, Wash. She will graduate from Nooksack Valley High School this June.

As a young girl, Claire had the opportunity help at her grandparents’ farm where they raised replacement heifers. Her father also works at a local dairy where she was able to visit frequently.

Learning from these early experiences and with a passion for dairy, Claire was able to secure a job at a local dairy. She has responsibilities that include milking, cleaning stalls, moving cows, heat detecting and herd health.

Claire plans on attending Whatcom Community College to attain her associate degree. She then plans to attend Trinity Western Washington University to study Catholic theology.

Claire would like to have her own small farm to raise replacement heifers and have a job as a Catholic youth minister.

Anna Teachman, from King and Pierce counties, is the daughter of Michael and Lorilyn Teachman of SeaTac.

She has taken classes through Global Connections High School and Valley View Academy, where she will graduate in June.

Anna did not grow up on a dairy, but has had a deep interest in dairy cows since she was very young. She joined the Barn Buddies 4-H Club in 2012 and has projects in dairy, rabbits, dogs, cavies and performing arts. She has exhibited her projects at both county and state fairs, winning top awards.

Anna was selected as a state delegate to the National 4-H Dairy Conference and the National 4-H Dairy Conference Planning Committee where she will help with planning the 2017 conference.

She plans to attend Washington State University to pursue degrees in animal sciences and strategic communications with a career goal of a communications position with a dairy company or organization.

Prices of largest spuds on the rise Fri, 26 May 2017 14:58:13 -0400 John O’Connell IDAHO FALLS — Idaho growers finally see reasons for optimism about fresh potato prices in the home stretch of what’s been an unprofitable season.

In the past few weeks, carton prices for large potatoes have nearly doubled, as shippers are exhausting inventories of big Russet Burbanks from a 2016 crop heavy on smaller tubers.

Prices of smaller-sized spuds, however, remain sub-par.

Growers also anticipate weather challenges affecting the current crop will limit yields and delay this season’s harvest, thereby strengthening prices of both remaining 2016 supplies and new-crop spuds.

On May 24, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service reported 50-pound cartons containing 60 Russet Burbank potatoes originating from Idaho’s Twin Falls-Burley District were selling for $13 to $14, compared to $6.50 to $8.50 on March 15. Commercial sack prices declined slightly, with prices of five 10-pound film sacks at $2.50 to $3.50 on May 24, compared to $3 to $4.50 on March 15.

“We’re glad to see carton prices go up, but the main reason they are is there just aren’t very many of them,” said Oakley grower Randy Hardy, chairman of the board with Sun Valley Potatoes. “It’s better than nothing, but it hasn’t made much difference to a guy’s bottom line because there’s not that much big stuff around.”

Hardy explained big potato prices started increasing once the supply of Russet Norkotahs was exhausted, due to the smaller size profile of the Burbank crop. But he’s optimistic the next crop will be more profitable, as growers throughout the state have reported cold and wet soil conditions and planting delays have their spuds at least a week behind last season’s development.

“If there’s bright spot, I think Mother Nature is taking care of any overabundances we’re going to have this year,” Hardy said.

Rexburg fresh grower Lynn Wilcox said demand for large spuds has boosted total grower returns by a couple of dollars per hundredweight, and he believes the likelihood of a delayed harvest should further strengthen 2016 crop prices.

“This great big huge pile we thought we had that we’d never get all the way through, by the time you delay the start of the new crop by seven to 14 days, we have plenty of room to move the old crop and get some money,” Wilcox said. “We need to be asking a lot more money for the crop we have left.”

Wilcox said many spud acres in Eastern Idaho sustained another likely yield setback recently, when 70 mph wind gusts blew away sandy soils and exposed many tubers.

Idaho Potato Commission President and CEO Frank Muir said demand for Idaho spuds has been strong, as evidenced by shipping rates that have been well ahead of last year’s pace and could set a volume record for the year. Muir said he’s been “befuddled” by low 2016 crop prices, but he’s optimistic for the future. Muir said all indications point to flat or decreased 2017 acreage.

IPC Chairman Ritchey Toevs, of Aberdeen, said processed growers have signed 2017 contracts decreasing their payments by roughly 2.5 percent, though he said growers are paying more for fuel and labor.

Field trip mixes fun with facts for first-graders Fri, 26 May 2017 14:48:15 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas KIMBERLY, Idaho — About 170 first-graders from Kimberly Elementary School had a ton of fun and learned a little about agriculture at their end-of-the-year field trip to Agri-Service on Friday.

It’s the second year the dealership has hosted the event, and it’s so much fun, said Jeri Ahrens, Agri-Service business development manager.

“It’s my favorite day of the year,” she said.

Starting one interactive session with the youngsters on cows and dairy products, Ahrens asked the children if any of them have cows. One energetic youngster threw up his hand, wiggled in his seat and shouted “We used to, but we ate ’em!”

Wiggling, jumping, smiling and laughing were the order of the day — despite the chilly, overcast weather.

Idaho Farm Bureau sent over its Moving Agriculture to the Classroom educational trailer, along with Maggie the cow, who read the “Big Book of Dairy” and led the dancing youngsters in shaking small containers of cream to make butter.

Ag in the Classroom also pitched in with fun and educational materials for the students’ goodie bags.

But climbing in and out of big farm equipment and being taken for hayrides were the stars of the jam-packed morning that kept kids hopping from one activity to the next.

Sitting in the cab of a big tractor — where Agri-Service Safety Coordinator Cody Schnitzius was sharing equipment-safety tips — brought roller-coaster-sized smiles. And the children could hardly sit still waiting for the hay ride to get rolling.

For some of the students, it’s their first time around a tractor and first hayride, and many think only milk comes from cows, Ahrens said.

“Agriculture is an amazing industry and one of Idaho’s biggest. We literally can’t live without it. So our goal today is to promote excitement and awareness around agriculture and show the kids that ag is really cool,” she said.

Agri-Service’s mission statement is “Together we drive agriculture forward,” and “together” not only encompasses the Agri-Service team, how it works and supports it customers, but also how the team promotes ag in schools, FFA, 4-H, ag-related groups, tech programs and local communities, she said.

“We love opening our facility up to the kids. They’re our future and if we continue to build excitement around agriculture, together we WILL drive agriculture forward,” she said.

Weather for the event could have been a little better, but with all the butter-making dancing and shaking and climbing up and down on the equipment, everyone stayed warm, she said.

“The best part of the day wasn’t just watching everyone laugh and have fun together but also having parents and teachers come up to me and say, ‘Wow. … I never knew that!’ when sharing some fun ag facts,” she said.

“All of us at Agri-Service had as much fun if not more than the kids. Today was a great day to be in agriculture,” she said.

Sheep research station on USDA chopping block, again Fri, 26 May 2017 08:26:44 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas The U.S. Sheep Experiment Station at Dubois, Idaho, is one of 17 Agricultural Research Service laboratories slated for closure under President Donald Trump’s Department of Agriculture FY 2018 budget proposal.

The facility is operated by USDA in partnership with the University of Idaho, and is the only one in the U.S. doing research on range sheep. It was on USDA’s chopping block twice before, in 2014 and 2015. It was spared both times in ag appropriations bills through efforts by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.

The beleaguered facility had been the target of lawsuits by environmental groups claiming the its grazing activities are a source of wildlife conflict and possible disease transmission between domestic and wild sheep. It’s also faced long vacancies in research positions, with USDA saying in 2014 it didn’t have the funding to fill the positions while it was responding to those legal actions.

In 2015 then-USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told Congress the proposed closure was due to a lack of financial and human resources at the location and costs associated with animal feed, infrastructure and staff.

Stakeholders, including industry and state and local governments, have tried for years to address the issues with USDA to secure the viability of the station and its continued research.

Jim Brown, public relations director for the Montana Wool Growers Association, said the organization has worked really hard to keep the sheep station a viable federal research facility.

Keeping it from closure is something the industry faces again with the new administration. But Congress has always rejected its closure, stating support for the research being done there, he said.

Congress has the sole authority to set the federal budget.

Brown said it’s a one-of-a-kind facility in the U.S. doing research on sheep breeding, range management, reproduction and wild/domestic sheep interaction.

“It would be irreplaceable. It would be devastating to lose that continuity,” he said.

On Thursday, MWGA sent letters to Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., opposing Trump’s budget proposal to close the station, stating the critical need for it to be fully funded to fill longstanding vacant positions.

The station covers about 48,000 acres on the Idaho-Montana border and has about 3,000 mature sheep plus young sheep of various ages. Its current budget is $2.1 million, with a staff of 16 full-time federal and two University of Idaho employees, according to ARS.

Peter Orwick, executive director of the American Sheep Association, said there has to be room in the budget for the only ARS research facility in the country dedicated to the sheep industry.

News of the proposed closure caught the Idaho Wool Growers Association by surprise, said Barry Duelke, association president and a Buhl sheep producer.

“We had an extensive go-around battle essentially two or three years ago and we thought that was over with,” he said.

Sheep producers have always supported the sheep station and will continue to do so, he said.

“We will continue to fight for the survival of the Dubois station, I can assure you of that,” he said.

USDA Deputy Secretary Michael Young told reporters May 23 that USDA’s budget for research, education and economics includes $2.5 billion in discretionary funding, a decrease of $425 million from 2017.

“Within that funding there’s about $1 billion for the Agricultural Research Service, the USDA laboratories. I would note there, there’s a cut of about $142 million that would result in the closure of 17 of those laboratories out of the total of 90,” he said.

Kansas woman fights to keep state fair champion lamb title Fri, 26 May 2017 10:09:05 -0400 WASHINGTON, Kan. (AP) — A northern Kansas woman is fighting a decision by state fair officials to strip her champion lamb title and winnings because of alleged performance enhancement.

Kansas State University student Gabryelle Gilliam’s market lamb was crowned grand champion at the Kansas State Fair in September, the Hutchinson News reported. But in January, Gilliam was officially disqualified for “unethical fitting.”

The Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Dr. Paul Grosdidier said he concluded after a carcass exam soon after the fair that a natural substance was injected into the animal “within a few days” of inspection. State fair rules prohibit treating animals with a substance to alter its body in any way.

Gilliam alleged in Reno County District Court documents that the fair’s actions weren’t supported by substantial evidence and the officials acted beyond their jurisdiction. She said she wants the disqualification overturned.

Gilliam’s father, Jerry Gilliam, told fair officials that neither he nor his family members injected the lamb, and that they were with the animal throughout the duration of the fair. Disqualification for Gilliam means losing the grand champion award, which the fair’s website says is $4,000 for the 2017 champion.

The Kansas Attorney General’s office is seeking until June 21 to respond to Gilliam’s complaint.

State fair general manager Susan Sankey said the fair has adopted the National Show Ring Code of Ethics.

UNLV researcher studies desert’s ‘living carpet’ Fri, 26 May 2017 10:02:42 -0400 HENRY BREANLas Vegas Review-Journal LAS VEGAS (AP) — A dry wash cuts through rolling hills dotted by desert plants at Lindsay Chiquoine’s research site near Lake Mead, but the only scenery that seems to interest her is right at her feet.

The UNLV restoration ecologist is staring down at a patch of dirt topped with tiny blackened lumps and spires. But what looks like dried mud is actually a complex community of organisms waiting to spring to life with the first drops of rain.

“It’s like a living carpet,” she says. “It’s almost an ecosystem in itself.”

Chiquoine specializes in the study of biological soil crusts, a once-overlooked world of highly specialized mosses, lichens, photosynthetic bacteria and their byproducts that bring life to open spaces in arid environments.

When healthy and intact, this living ground cover no more than a few inches thick can reduce erosion, control dust, improve fertility, absorb water and store carbon dioxide, a key contributor to global warming.

Chiquoine says so-called bio crust is found in dry-land settings worldwide, from Ohio to Antarctica. By some estimates, it could make up as much as 70 percent of all the living ground cover in the Mojave Desert.

“The surprising thing is people come out here and they don’t even see it. It’s just dirt to them,” Chiquoine said. “This is an important part of the ecosystem, and it’s often ignored.”


On a Tuesday morning Chiquoine was checking the last of 96 different research plots, some of them fenced with chicken wire, along a road in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

The plots are part of an ongoing study of living crusts in an area disturbed by the realignment of the road almost a decade ago. In places, Chiquoine and her research team attempted to reintroduce the crust and boost its recovery using a variety of treatments.

So far, she said, they have succeeded in improving soil stability by spurring crust development at the microscopic level, but nothing they have tried in the field has produced the lush, beautiful crusts that develop naturally under the proper conditions.

At one such natural patch, Chiquoine leans in for a closer look. Before long, she’s bent over in a practiced crouch, her nose just a few inches from the ground. She snaps photos, collects samples and taps her observations into a tablet.

One of the most amazing things about bio-crusts, Chiquoine said, is their ability to lie completely dormant when dry. They don’t die exactly. They simply cease all function until the rain returns.

To demonstrate, Chiquoine pours water on a small patch of black spires. Almost immediately, the brittle formations swell and grow spongy, as patches of moss, once brown and almost invisible, flare emerald green. A sweet scent wafts from the resurrected crust, filling the air at ground level with what desert dwellers know as the smell of a downpour.


To Matthew Bowker, one of the leading experts in the field, biological soil crust is like a stopwatch that only ticks when the ground is wet.

“Whenever it rains, (the organisms) wake up, and that’s when they do everything,” said Bowker, a Las Vegas native and UNLV graduate who now works as an assistant professor at Northern Arizona University’s School of Forestry. “The only time they’re active is when it rains.”

And that’s not the only useful desert adaptation. “That dark color you see is a kind of sunscreen,” Bowker said.

But living crust is as fragile as it is resilient. Bust it and it’s likely to stay that way for a very long time.

Bowker said there are patches of the stuff in parts of eastern California that still bear the scars from General George Patton’s desert warfare training 75 years ago.

“It could be centuries of recovery in some areas,” he said. “Nobody really knows because no one has been watching these things.”

At the northern end of Lake Mead, Chiquoine pointed out a set of fresh-looking tracks punched through the crust near her research plot. She said they’re probably her footprints from when she was setting up the plot back in 2012.

“It’s hard to be light out here,” she said.


Chiquoine isn’t the only scientist in this emerging field who is looking for ways to repair some of the damage done in the name of human progress.

Bowker and his research team can now grow several species of soil organisms in the lab, turning small patches of harvested crust into large ones. The next step is to see if those admittedly coddled, lab-grown colonies can be turned loose to make crust in the wild.

“Once you’ve grown them, they may or may not be able to hack it in the cruel world,” he said.

Bowker and company are about to launch one such an experiment on federal land in the Rainbow Gardens area just east of the Las Vegas Valley, where the planned expansion of a gypsum mine will serve as a donor site. “We’re getting funding from (the Bureau of Land Management) to see if this is a viable restoration strategy,” he said.

Bowker and Chiquoine hope their work will lead to the development of effective and economical new products and procedures that can “restore life” to pipeline rights-of-way, shuttered mines, decommissioned solar arrays and other large land disturbances.

As Chiquoine put it: “Crust isn’t doing much if it’s just laying around in a Petri dish.”

Utah school districts looking to end ‘lunch shaming’ Fri, 26 May 2017 09:54:42 -0400 MARJORIE CORTEZDeseret News SANDY, Utah (AP) — Nearly half of the nation’s school districts have resorted to some form of “lunch shaming” of students to compel their parents to pay overdue school lunch bills, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Some districts throw away students’ meals, provide less desirable options or stamp children’s hands to remind parents that their child’s account is in arrears.

Marti Woolford, nutrition initiatives director for the nonprofit advocacy organization Utahns Against Hunger, says all such approaches are wrongheaded.

“That’s not OK. It’s not the child’s responsibility. What we know about kids who live in poverty, they have really stressful lives. Add this stress to a child’s life and it’s going to interfere with their ability to learn,” she said.

Lunch shaming is not a new problem, but the USDA wants schools across the country, by July 1, to have policies in place that state how they will handle situations where students do not have money in their lunch accounts or cash on hand to pay for meals.

Recently, the Canyons Board of Education delved into that task, discussing a first draft of a proposed policy that largely reflects existing practices of the district.

In Canyons District, schools do not withhold food from students whose accounts are in arrears nor are they offered a lesser food option. Children in grades K-8 are served a meal regardless of their debt, said district spokesman Jeff Haney.

“That’s important to us. Students can’t learn if they’re hungry,” he said.

The district’s practice is that school officials contact parents through multiple means to inform them of debt and ask them to rectify it.

High schoolers are served meals until their accounts reach $10 debt. Once they fall into debt, students are pulled aside and informed they cannot charge meals once the debt exceeds $10, a practice that Canyons School Board President Sherril H. Taylor finds objectionable.

“I don’t think we should put this on any student,” Taylor said. “Some (high school) kids won’t tell their parents and they’ll just go hungry. I’ve seen it happen.”

While the school district’s existing policy says it can turn unpaid accounts over to collection agencies, it has not taken that step, officials said. Last year, some $16,000 in debt went unpaid.

While the notion of using a collection agency is a sore point for some school board members, the district’s general counsel, Dan Harper, said the point of the federal directive is to address punitive practices that humiliate children whose accounts are unpaid.

“It’s not ‘You need to go collect.’ It’s ‘You don’t engage in these food shaming (practices),”’ Harper said.

Many Utah school districts have existing policies that meet the federal guidelines, such as the Salt Lake City School District.

Salt Lake District’s policy says, in part: “The child nutrition program will not discriminate against, nor physically segregate, any student because of his or her inability to pay the full price of a meal or milk. Schools must ensure that students eligible to receive free or reduced price meals, or whose meal accounts have a low balance or are delinquent, are not easily identifiable or subject to ridicule or embarrassment.”

The district’s policy was clarified after a nutrition employee in 2014 threw away about 40 lunches of Uintah Elementary School students who had unpaid lunch bills, an incident that made national news.

“The basic premise is the students will be fed a lunch and any financial arrangements will be worked out with their parents,” said Salt Lake City School District spokesman Jason Olsen.

Granite School District has a similar protocol that will be codified into policy by the deadline, said spokesman Ben Horsley.

The protocol has steps for repeated contact by school district employees to parents, including school principals when necessary, to rectify the debt or find other solutions.

“No matter the balance, the student is never turned away from eating,” the document states.

Woolford said she looks forward to all Utah school districts creating a policy that clarify their practices.

More so, she hopes that school districts’ communications with parents help direct struggling household to resources that can help their families, such as determining whether they qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch and breakfast programs.

At schools where 70 percent of students are on free or reduced-price meals, free meals can be offered to all students under USDA policies, Woolford said. More school districts should explore those options, she said.

“We need to dig deeper. I hope that’s what we see with these policies that there is an acknowledgement we need to help these families just maybe a little bit more than just having a kid go home with a sticker on their hand. We need to try a little bit harder,” she said.

Oregon livestock company prevails in trade secrets dispute Fri, 26 May 2017 09:36:41 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski An Oregon livestock nutrition company has prevailed in a lawsuit over trade secrets against a former employee who was found to have intentionally destroyed evidence.

A federal judge has entered a default judgment against Yongqiang Wang, the former employee, as punishment for deleting emails and giving away a computer likely containing information related to trade secrets owned by Omnigen Research.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane said the “extreme measure” of a default ruling against Wang was justified because he severely interfered with the orderly administration of justice in the case.

“These actions have deprived the plaintiffs of evidence central to their case and undermined the court’s ability to enter a judgment based on the evidence,” McShane said.

Roger Hennagin, the attorney representing Wang, said he could not comment on the ruling because he hasn’t yet been able to discuss it with his client, who works in China.

The complaint against Wang was initially filed last year by Omnigen, a company founded by former Oregon State University professor Neil Forsberg and later sold to Phibro Animal Health for $23 million.

The lawsuit accused Wang of planning to sell feed additives in China that were based on trade secrets stolen from Omnigen, a company that employed him between 2005 and 2013.

Omnigen’s feed additives, which counteract hemorrhagic bowel syndrome in cattle, are used by roughly 20 percent of the U.S. dairy cow herd and the company hoped to expand its reach to China.

Wang obtained “sham” patents in China from confidential information he accessed while working for Omnigen and secretly launched two companies, Mirigen and Bioshen, to sell the additives in that country, the complaint alleged.

In a counterclaim against Omnigen, Wang denied relying on his former employer’s trade secrets and claimed Forsberg unjustly enriched himself by failing to share profits with Wang, as earlier promised.

According to McShane, the case was “plagued” by evidence problems “from its inception,” with Wang deleting more than 4,000 files from his computer despite a preliminary injunction requiring him to preserve evidence.

While many of the files were recovered, some documents that were probably relevant to the case were permanently destroyed, the judge said.

Both Wang and his wife also deleted emails detailing their involvement in the formation of Mirigen and Bioshen and donated a desktop computer to Goodwill shortly after the preliminary injunction was issued, McShane said.

While the default judgment means that Wang has lost the case, the judge still intends to hold a hearing to establish damages owed to Omnigen.

China needs apple diversity, marketer says Fri, 26 May 2017 09:10:11 -0400 Dan Wheat WENATCHEE, Wash. — Over dependence on one variety “is a ticking time bomb” for the Chinese apple industry, says the international business CEO of a Chinese fruit company.

Seventy percent of China’s apple production is Fuji and if China doesn’t reinvent itself with new varieties it will suffer the same downturn Washington growers faced in the late 1990s and early 2000s when they were too dependent on Red Delicious, Tracy King, International Business CEO of Xing Ye Yuan Group in Shanghai, told Capital Press.

“There is global demand for Fuji but clearly the trend is toward many new varieties at the consumer level, even among Chinese consumers. If Chinese growers do not get out ahead of demand, there will be a day of reckoning,” King said.

Southeast Asia, India, Indonesia, Canada and Mexico are better markets for Chinese apples than the U.S., but it’s tough to only have one variety to sell, said King, who more than a decade ago was export director of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee.

Mexicans love the sweet taste of Fuji and there is a relatively large Chinese-Canadian demographic, he said.

Chinese apple exports to the U.S. are small at 192,258, 40-pound boxes in 2015-2016 but that was up 30 fold from the year before, according to USDA. Even if that doubles this year it’s statistically irrelevant, King said. Chinese apple farmers are among the least efficient in the world and the U.S. will not be “flooded with cheap Chinese apples in my lifetime,” he said.

Washington apple sales to China, roughly 1.3 million boxes during each of the past two years, have a much brighter future because Washington growers are efficient and producing newer varieties, he said.

Xing Ye Yuan began more than 20 years ago as an apple and citrus fruit packer. It expanded to become one of China’s largest distributors of domestic fruits and vegetables. King was hired in January to start an import-export program for apples, oranges and other fruits.

He is setting up imports of Washington apples, pears and cherries and California table grapes, citrus, stone fruit and Chilean product, which will run counter seasonally.

“This is a great fit for my skill set as I have been exporting these items from the U.S. to China since the mid-1990s,” he said.

It is easier for him to call shipper-marketers in Wenatchee, Chelan and Yakima to buy fruit than someone from China without his connections and experience, he said.

But the U.S. is way down on his list for exports because the market for Fuji is “only so large” and Americans “have become very picky about what varieties they like,” King said.

Chinese Fuji growers also have a huge ocean freight disadvantage to U.S. Fuji growers, making return to Chinese growers as much as $5 per box less in the U.S. market compared to U.S. growers, he said.

King, 59, was born and raised in the Seattle area and received his bachelor’s degree in international studies at the American University in Washington, D.C. He received his master’s degree in China Regional Studies from the University of Washington in Seattle. His interest in China was spawned by normalization of U.S.-China relations in the 1970s. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and lived in Beijing in 1980-81 researching his thesis on Chinese agriculture.

King was an export fruit salesman at Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers in Wenatchee from 1990 to 2002, export director at the Washington Apple Commission from 2002 to 2005 and director of marketing at Dovex Marketing Co. in Wenatchee in 2005-2008.

Next he was Asia regional sales manager for Sinclair Systems International, Wenatchee, a manufacturer of produce PLU (price look-up) stickers, in 2008-2012 and then China sales manager for Anderson Hay & Grain Co., Ellensburg, in 2014-16.

Trump’s budget would cut Specialty Crop Block Grant Program Fri, 26 May 2017 08:32:00 -0400 Sean Ellis President Donald’s Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget would eliminate funding for USDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

A news release by the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance said the group is disappointed in the proposal to eliminate funding for that program and others that are important to the specialty crop industry.

The release said the proposals seem “to indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of what policies are needed to help specialty crop providers create their own success.”

“The benefits far outweigh the costs of these programs,” alliance representative Robert Guenther told Capital Press.

Guenther pointed out that the president’s budget is just a “guidance document to Congress on how the administration would like to fund programs” and that the alliance enjoys wide support among members of Congress as well as state departments of agriculture.

“We’re confident we have enough support for this program to combat the administration’s proposal,” he said. “We’re confident we’ll get the program fully funded.”

The alliance is a national coalition of 120 organizations that represent growers of specialty crops, which include fruits, vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts and nursery plants.

Guenther said alliance members will work with members of the administration to help them understand the value of the specialty crop block grant program.

Since 2008, USDA has provided $461 million in specialty crop block grant funding to states, which have funded hundreds of projects designed to improve the competitiveness of specialty crops.

USDA will provide $60 million to states for their individual specialty crop block grant programs during fiscal 2017.

The amount individual states receive is based on a formula that includes how much specialty crop acreage that state has and the total farm cash receipts from that sector.

Western states fare well when it comes to the national rankings for funding.

California ranks No. 1 and will receive $19.2 million this year, Washington ranks No. 2 with $4.1 million, Idaho is No. 6 with $1.76 million and Oregon is No. 7 at $1.72 million.

The funding has been an important way for many farm groups, especially smaller ones, to fund research and marketing projects.

The Idaho Bean Commission, for example, has been able to fund numerous market expansion and research projects with the help of the specialty crop block grant funding it has received through the Idaho State Department of Agriculture since 2009.

The commission has received more than $100,000 in grants during five of the past eight years, while it’s overall budget is close to $160,000.

“We couldn’t do anywhere near the (number of) bean research and market expansion projects we do now without that funding,” said IBC Administrator Andi Woolf-Weibye. “It allows us to do projects we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.”

The national program functions in a way that allows each state to decide how best to spend the money to the benefit of its specialty crop industries, Guenther said.

For example, he said, a project that helps Idaho potato growers “may not be what Washington state potato growers need.”

Citrus industry to boost assessments to battle psyllid, HLB Fri, 26 May 2017 08:11:27 -0400 Tim Hearden SACRAMENTO — A bill that would enable the citrus industry to boost spending to battle the Asian citrus psyllid and huanglongbing is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Legislators unanimously approved the bill by state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, that allows for an additional $9.6 million in grower assessments to be spent by the California Department of Food and Agriculture for psyllid control programs.

The legislation follows a previous bill signed by Brown that enables the industry to raise its assessment from 9 cents per 40-pound carton. A separate bill was needed to authorize state agencies to spend the money.

“That’s all industry money that’s funded to operate the program,” said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual. “It’s operated through CDFA, so it looks like general fund (in the state budget).”

Depending on crop sizes, the assessment generates between $15 million and $18 million a year and is matched by nearly $11 million in federal funds, Nelsen said. A committee will decide this fall how much the assessment will be raised, he said.

The grower-funded Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program was created through legislation in 2009, and growers have since invested more than $100 million into the program, according to Citrus Mutual.

Most of that money has gone to trapping, treatments and surveys in urban areas to stop the spread of the psyllid and huanglongbing, the deadly citrus tree disease that the psyllid can carry.

As of late April, huanglongbing had killed 54 residential trees in Southern California, but the disease has not yet migrated into the Golden State’s commercial groves.

The assessment boost comes as industry leaders have urged lawmakers and officials from the state Department of Finance to increase the $4.4 million designated for the pest and disease program in Brown’s budget proposal.

Citrus industry leaders want money set aside specifically for the psyllid and huanglongbing rather than applied generally, as some funds could be spent on other pests such as the Mediterranean fruit fly.

The citrus industry has been trying for the past two years to get state money for the psyllid and HLB, for which the industry has devoted $15 million toward research and education and received $16.1 million from the federal government.

OR-7 is alive, well and still bringing home the groceries Fri, 26 May 2017 08:11:08 -0400 Eric Mortenson His tracking collar went dead in 2015, but OR-7, the wandering wolf, is alive and well. This spring, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service trail camera caught him trotting along with what a wildlife biologist said is an elk leg in his mouth.

Federal wildlife biologist John Stephenson said OR-7 was taking food back to his den. For the fourth consecutive year, OR-7 appears to be denned up with the same unidentified female who joined him in the Southwest Oregon Cascades in 2014.

The Rogue Pack, of which he’s the alpha male, numbered six over the winter. This spring, Stephenson saw tracks in the snow of at least five wolves. OR-7 has shown up in trail camera photos several times this spring, most recently on May 18.

“He looks good,” Stephenson said.

OR-7 is now 8 years old, which is somewhat old for a wolf in the wild, Stephenson said. It became Oregon’s best known wolf when it dispersed from the Imnaha Pack in Northeast Oregon in 2011 and cut a diagonal across the state and into California. Because he was wearing a tracking collar, wildlife agencies and the public could follow his travels, and for better or worse he came to symbolize the return of wolves to Oregon’s landscape,

OR-7 was the first documented wolf in California since 1924, but eventually returned to Oregon and established what ODFW named the Rogue Pack in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. He and his mate have produced several litters of pups over the years.

His mate has never been caught or collared and is something of a mystery. Analysis of her scat, however, showed she is related to wolves from Northeast Oregon or Idaho.

Stephenson said he hopes to fit a new tracking collar on OR-7, his mate or one of the other adults in the pack.

Labor pains: Finding enough workers worries growers, packers Thu, 25 May 2017 09:40:18 -0400 Dan Wheat It’s three weeks before the start of harvest and the Chelan Fruit Cooperative is short hundreds of workers needed to pack this year’s cherry crop. General Manager Reggie Collins worries about whether some of the crop will have to go unpicked in June and July.

“Last year, we were scared to death and we were able to get barely enough for our packing lines with high school kids. This year it looks shorter,” Collins said from the co-op’s offices in Chelan, Wash.

“Three weeks before cherry season last year, we had 241 new applications beyond our regular staff. This year we have 40,” he said. “We’re probably 400 short right now and we will start packing on the 10th or 12th of June.”

Some 840 miles to the south, Scott Brown, production manager of Morada Produce in Linden, Calif., says the largest cherry crop in years has labor stretched so thin that companies are making tough choices, based on quality and volume, of which orchards to pick and which to pass over.

In Idaho, grower Duane Grant, of Rupert, used to get two applications for every seasonal job opening on his large diversified farm. Now he gets so few applications he’s joined a growing number of farmers who turn to foreign guestworkers.

In Oregon, the demand for farmworkers is outpacing the workforce, Kevin Chambers, owner of Koosah Farm in Amity, Ore., told a recent immigration summit.

“What we have is a relatively fixed pool of laborers, and a growing need,” he said. “We’re planting more acres of grapes, hazelnuts — there is greater demand for labor.”

Across the Pacific Northwest and California, finding enough labor for tree fruit, berries, hops — any labor-intensive crop — is heavy on the minds of growers, packers, shippers and marketers. It’s magnified, several said, because fewer people are apparently illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexican border to do farm work and by media hype of the Trump administration’s deportation of illegal immigrants, which heightens fear among some workers.

Rose Richeson, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman in Seattle, said the biggest difference in the ICE arrest policy under the Trump administration is that no category of individuals in violation of immigration laws is excluded from possible enforcement action. In the past, some were not a priority, she said.

Illegal immigrants who are convicted criminals or a security risk are the priority targets for arrest, and the number of them arrested has risen substantially, she said. Non-criminal illegal immigrants, while not a target, may also be arrested, though in the past that was less likely, Richeson said.

She said the rumors surrounding ICE’s activities are inaccurate.

“Reports of ICE checkpoints and sweeps are false, dangerous and irresponsible,” she said. “Any groups falsely reporting such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support.”

Another big factor in the labor shortage is the red-hot economy in places such as Idaho. Though the labor pool there continues to grow, new and expanding processing and manufacturing plants are tapping the labor pool and pushing the state unemployment rate to 3.3 percent, a level economists label full employment.

Oregon also has a tight labor market, with a 3.7 percent preliminary unemployment rate for April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. California has a 4.8 percent unemployment rate and Washington state’s is 4.6 percent.

“The No. 1 issue in the industry right now is labor. It really is. I would say there’s a general feeling of greater intensity and concern on labor than in a number of years,” says Chuck Zeutenhorst, general manager of First Fruits Marketing of Washington, in Yakima.

“There has been so much negative press and misinformation and fake news about (President Donald Trump’s) real policies, and unfortunately that drives fear into people,” Zeutenhorst said.

There’s a lot of angst about Trump rounding up illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes but former President Barack Obama deported 2 million illegal immigrants, he said.

“We hope the Trump administration comes up with a thoughtful immigration policy that works,” Zeutenhorst said. “We haven’t had a positive one for the past eight years.”

First Fruits markets for Broetje Orchards and two other producers. Broetje operates more than 5,000 acres in the Tri-Cities area of southeastern Washington. It’s one of the largest companies that relies solely on domestic labor without using the H-2A visa foreign guestworker program.

Many large Washington tree fruit companies do rely on H-2A workers, estimated to reach 15,000 this year. The program is expensive, requiring employers to pay at least $13.38 per hour, and provide housing and transportation between the farm and the worker’s country of origin, usually Mexico.

Broetje employs about 2,200 workers for picking and packing cherries and about 4,000 for the apple harvest. It’s too early to know whether the company will have enough this year, Zeutenhorst said.

Broetje pays well and takes care of its workers but some day may have to turn to H-2A, he said.

August and September will be stressful, he said, because the harvests of apples, grapes and hops will all compete for the same workers.

Stemilt Growers of Wenatchee, Wash., one of the largest cherry packers with operations in Wenatchee and California, last season needed 1,500 workers for two Wenatchee cherry packing plants for double shifts at season peak.

This year, the harvest will likely be spread over more days so fewer people will be needed, said West Mathison, Stemilt president.

Mathison said he was concerned a month ago, but now has recruited 80 percent of the people he needs and has three weeks to recruit the rest.

“With our good employee facilities, our free health care clinic and long season we feel we will be able to recruit enough good people. With near record low unemployment, we know it will be tight,” Mathison said.

Several Washington growers who rely on domestic workers said they won’t know the severity of any labor shortage in cherries until the latter half of June.

Several others said there is a labor shortage but that they have enough domestic workers because they pay well or provide housing, or both, and generally treat their workers well.

Brenda Thomas is president of Orchard View Farms, The Dalles, Ore. With about 2,400 acres, Orchard View is the largest cherry grower in Oregon. The company is doing OK so far, recruiting online with many workers planning to return after making good money there last season, she said.

“We don’t want anything happening between now and harvest with any fake news,” Thomas said, adding that it creates fear.

There’s a different feel, a fear of the unknown by employee and employer, she said, from perceptions about deportation when “they won’t look at your immigration (status) unless they pull you over for another crime.”

There is a shortage, she said, because there are no extra people anymore looking for work.

Orchard View Farms does well without H-2A, she said, because it provides housing for workers, pays well on piece rates averaging $20 per hour, has a good work environment and a long season.

“We want to be the preferred choice for work,” Thomas said. The company peaks at about 1,100 workers for picking and packing, she said.

“Over 80 percent of our workers come from communities in California where their kids go to school. They come up and work and count on our cherry harvest to fill their gap in California harvests,” she said.

Keith Middleton, of Middleton Six Sons Farms, Pasco, Wash., said he has 130 workers, all he needs, at midway through asparagus harvest with a month to go.

“We’re just a mile out of Pasco, have some of the newest varieties, clean fields and are one of the top-paying farms around,” he said. He pays pickers 25 to 30 cents per pound.

A couple of months ago there was a lot of concern about ICE but that’s died down, Middleton said.

Wade Wolfe, winemaker at Thurston Wolfe Winery, Prosser, Wash., said even smaller vineyards are turning to mechanized harvesting to reduce their labor needs. Grape harvest overlaps apple harvest and workers go for apples because it pays more, he said. The apple competition gets more challenging each year, he said, adding that the labor shortage is about the same or slightly worse this year.

Tye Fleming, owner of Helios Nursery in Quincy, Wash., said he ran 20 workers short all last year and has enough right now, but that there’s a definite overall shortage, with workers jumping around to whoever pays the most. Tree fruit nursery work is tougher, with lots of bending over and no shade, so orchard work wins out, he said.

He sees no change in the trend of a shrinking labor pool so his goal is to reduce his payroll by 40 percent in five years with more mechanization.

“H-2A labor would cost me $16 per hour by the time I house and transport them and the sales price of our product doesn’t support that cost,” he said.

John Baile, assistant orchard manager of Auvil Fruit Co. in Orondo, Wash., said the company needs 400 workers in its cherry and apple orchards on 2,220 acres. He’s able to get them domestically by paying good wages, he said, but may have to consider joining the other growers who use H-2A as the domestic labor force remains static.

As in many states, some growers in Idaho have turned to H-2A workers to fill jobs.

Grant, the Rupert, Idaho, grower, has to cover his shortage of workers with H-2A guestworkers. The most current U.S. Department of Labor data, for Fiscal Year 2014, shows Idaho had 2,080 certified H-2A workers, representing 1.78 percent of the total U.S. pool.

He has been getting H-2A workers from Mexico, but he believes fewer Mexican workers are interested in working in the U.S. due to that country’s improving economy, smaller family sizes and new opportunities in other sectors.

Grant acknowledges there’s a risk some of his full-time employees may seek to upgrade to better jobs that are becoming available, and he’s steadily increased wages to remain competitive.

“Our wages as a line-item expense have grown much faster than the value of the products we sell,” Grant said. “Wages have been the most consistently growing line-item in our budget.”

H-2A isn’t an option for dairy operators, said Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association. The visa is limited to temporary guestworkers but dairies require full-time, year-round employees.

“We have no way to bring in new employees,” Naerebout said.

Naerebout said the tight labor supply hasn’t prevented many Idaho dairies from expanding, though it’s a factor they must consider in their planning, and many operations are becoming highly automated to get by with smaller workforces.

He believes talk from the Trump administration about cracking down on illegal immigrants has raised fears among workers, but ultimately hasn’t shrunk the labor pool. He also points out that tight labor has been a problem for agriculture for the past decade, regardless of the unemployment rate at any given time.

“I don’t see that there’s been any change (with the labor picture),” Naerebout said. “It’s a direct result of Congress’ inability to address the immigration debate and put together comprehensive immigration reform.”

Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries, told the recent immigration summit the agricultural labor shortage is a cap on growth for nurseries, with some operating with only 40 to 50 percent of the employees they need. As a result, some who could grow their business 25 percent are growing at a rate of only 2 or 3 percent because they don’t have sufficient labor, Stone said.

While California has yet to enter its peak season for labor, growers already report as much as a 20 to 30 percent shortage of workers. In the central San Joaquin Valley, that number is closer to 40 percent.

“I’m telling folks it’s looking like the tightest it’s been in five or 10 years, at least in this area,” said Ryan Jacobsen, president of the Farm Bureau in Fresno County, which grows more than $6.6 billion in crops, livestock and poultry each year. “We’re hearing early indications that some folks … are only seeing 60 percent of what they would consider to be an adequate labor force.”

Reporters Tim Hearden, John O’Connell and Eric Mortenson contributed to this story.

EO Media Group assumes management of Northwest Ag Show Thu, 25 May 2017 12:18:25 -0400 The EO Media Group, the parent company of the Capital Press, has assumed management of the Northwest Agricultural Show from Amy and Mike Patrick.

The Patricks, and Amy’s parents, Jim and Shirley Heater, have guided the show for 48 years.

“It is with great confidence that Mike and I transition the event to EO Media Group,” Amy Patrick said. “I believe they have a broad range of resources that can bolster and improve the show, taking it to its 50th anniversary and beyond.”

Joe Beach, editor and publisher of the Capital Press, praised the family’s management of the show.

“The Heater family built the Northwest Ag Show into an Oregon institution. In no small measure the family is the show,” he said. “As a family business ourselves, we have a particular appreciation for the responsibility we have to maintain what they have created. We are happy that the Patricks and the Heaters are working with us on the 2018 show to ensure a smooth transition.”

Amy Patrick has agreed to help EO Media Group through the transition period to maintain continuity. Jim Heater, show founder and longtime manager, will continue to work with the show and provide the move-in/move-out services for exhibitors.

The 49th annual Northwest Agricultural Show will take place Jan. 30 through Feb. 1, 2018, at the Portland Expo Center.

Beach said the Capital Press has had close ties with both the show and its exhibitors for years, so when the show became available it seemed like a natural fit.

“We’re new to the show business” Beach said, “but we bring a fair amount of promotional and management expertise to the venture, and have some exciting ideas about how we can build on the show’s past successes.”

Patrick reflected on her long association with the show.

“It has been my pleasure to work with so many great exhibitors during my time as manager of the Northwest Agricultural Show,” she said. “The show holds a special place in my heart after growing up with the event and learning the ropes from my parents. As I move on to other career ventures, I will continue to be supportive and interested in the event; the exhibitors truly became like an extended family to me.”

Washington’s double standard on rail Thu, 25 May 2017 12:39:04 -0400 John Stuhlmiller Perceptions of railroads appear to be relative to where you live these days.

If you live in the big city, trains that whisk you from one urban center to the next are “state-of-the-art,” but if you live in rural areas, where trains are used to move commodities, they pose a cancer threat.

At least that’s what the state of Washington is telling us.

On May 21, the Washington State Department of Transportation rolled out its new Charger locomotives for passenger rail service along the I-5 corridor. As WSDOT notes on its website for the official unveiling event, the new 4,400-horsepower Cummins QSK95 engines are “next generation rail equipment” that will “feature improved fuel efficiency and safety upgrades” and, most importantly, will “meet new, stringent emission standards.” The WSDOT hosted a PR event to mark the launch of its new train, complete with “commemorative giveaways,” formal remarks by dignitaries and a toast to christen the new train.

This is pretty remarkable, given that just a month earlier, the state Department of Ecology sent a very different message about trains when it issued its final environmental impact statement (FEIS) on the Millennium Bulk Terminals project. In its findings, the agency claimed that trains serving Millennium would increase the potential cancer risk for members of a Longview neighborhood.

So what kind of engines will be used for the Millennium project?

The same 4,400 horsepower locomotive engines with the same emissions profile as those used in Seattle.

Clearly double standards abound on this. Let’s start with the cancer allegations. Why would the same trains used in Seattle increase cancer risks when used in Longview?

The answer likely has to do with what’s being hauled. Because the Longview trains will haul coal, they apparently came under sharper scrutiny than, say, a train carrying people around Seattle. This is a political battle, pure and simple. It’s worth noting that after five years in the review process, this issue was never raised until April’s FEIS document was released. No public reviews, no public hearings. In fact the agency failed to account for the use of idle control technology used by the railroads, or that the carrier, BNSF, is using the cleanest, most efficient fleet in North America.

This begs the question: Would Ecology have advanced a similar finding for Sound Transit permitting, a grain terminal or other commodities? What about all of the other trains that run through the Puget Sound region on a daily basis — including the new Charger, launched with a state-funded celebration?

In the case of Millennium, we’re seeing an agency that has chosen to play favorites with commodities. This sets a dangerous precedent for any industry, but especially agriculture, which just happens to be our state’s second largest sector, right behind aerospace. Will our products be subject to such scrutiny for new projects? What about GMOs? Or fertilizers? Or airplanes?

The fact is, trains are the safest, most efficient means of moving anything on land, period. Freight trains effectively take the equivalent of 280 trucks off the highway, which saves four times the fuel and reduces emissions and highway traffic congestion.

Trains are also the safest means of moving people from one place to another on land. The WSDOT says so on its website: “Passenger rail service is an efficient and environmentally sound travel mode and these locomotives will pull Washington-state sponsored Amtrak Cascades trains.”

Vilifying rail because the commodity it carries — under requirement of federal law — has no place in the permitting process and sets a dangerous precedent for our state. We can and must do better, or risk jeopardizing our entire trade-based economy.

John Stuhlmiller is the CEO of the Washington Farm Bureau.

Idaho groundwater users give lawmakers, libraries Swan Falls book Thu, 25 May 2017 15:27:11 -0400 John O’Connell BOISE — State lawmakers and public libraries will receive copies of a former state Supreme Court justice’s book on the cornerstone case in Idaho water law, courtesy of irrigators who belong to Idaho Ground Water Appropriators Inc.

Jim Jones, author of “A Little Dam Problem,” recently retired from the state’s high court and was Idaho’s attorney general during the early 1980s, when a water dispute over control of the Snake River led to the historic Swan Falls Agreement.

Water experts say the 1984 agreement balanced Idaho Power’s need for a predictable minimum flow at its Swan Falls power plant with the need to maintain an adequate water supply for irrigators and other users, thereby paving the way for the state’s continued economic development.

“The Swan Falls Agreement does set the framework for how we manage the Snake River system,” said Brian Patton, the Idaho Department of Water Resources Planning Bureau chief, acknowledging the book raised his awareness of “a lot of the history.”

IGWA Executive Director Lynn Tominaga said the book provides a behind-the-scenes account of the agreement to share with new lawmakers, and he added, “I don’t know if there’s a lot of water history in the public libraries.”

Jones started poring through old records in his file cabinet to commence work on the project about two years ago. Caldwell-based Caxton Press published his 374-page book in December.

“The stakes were extremely high, and we were able to get a resolution that I think served everybody pretty well,” Jones said. “I thought it was history that ought to be preserved so we wouldn’t some time down the road end up fighting this battle again.”

Jones explained Idaho Power and the state agreed in the 1950s that water rights on all of the company’s Snake River dams would be subordinated to agricultural and other upstream uses. However, in response to a suit from rate payers, Idaho Power filed a suit claiming it had a senior water right at Swan Falls. Reversing a decision by a lower court, the Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that the subordination agreement applied only to the Hell’s Canyon complex of dams, and Idaho Power had a right at Swan Falls for 8,400 cubic feet per second of water.

The case was sent back to the district court to determine if additional factors would affect the company’s right, but Jones explained, “Everybody went to the Legislature to see if they could win there.”

Idaho Power’s bills were vetoed by Democratic Gov. John Evans, an ally of Jones on the issue, and bills supported by Jones and the governor to subordinate the company’s water right failed to make it through the legislature. Jones said he recruited a pair of candidates who won legislative seats against supporters of Idaho Power.

Ultimately, however, the sides agreed no victories could be won in the Legislature and began negotiations. Idaho Power officials declined to comment for this story.

The agreement promised Idaho Power minimum flows of 3,900 cfs at Swan Falls in the summer and 5,600 cfs during winter — the difference between the company’s specified water right and the lesser volume it’s granted under the agreement is known as trust water. The agreement also called for the Snake River Basin Adjudication, which was only recently completed and cataloged all of the system’s water rights.

“Over the years, a lot of people had gotten water rights on paper that were significantly more than what they used,” Jones said. “If you’re not using it, it should go to somebody else.”

Freeze damage shows up in Washington, Oregon blackberries Thu, 25 May 2017 13:31:40 -0400 Don Jenkins Eric Mortenson Oregon and Washington berry farmers and crop consultants say that the harm inflicted by a hard winter on blackberry bushes is becoming clear.

Bushes are failing to bloom, and some farmers have cut canes to the ground, sacrificing this year’s crop in hopes of rebounding stronger in 2018.

“Probably the hardest decision a farmer has to make is scrap his crop. But if you don’t see blooms, you won’t see fruit,” said Ridgefield, Wash., berry farmer Jerry Dobbins. “The damage is catastrophic. It’s every place.”

Oregon dominates U.S. blackberry production, while berry growers across the Columbia River in southwest Washington have been adding blackberry acres. Growers produced large crops in 2015 and 2016, but saw prices fall. The U.S. is a net importer of blackberries, with berries coming from such countries as Mexico, Chile and Serbia, according to the USDA.

Although this year’s domestic crop apparently will be smaller, Woodland, Wash., berry grower George Thoeny said he fears that imported berries will hold down prices that farmers receive.

“We hope the price will rise some, but we won’t know until the season is over,” Thoeny said. “I think the industry is looking at a disaster.”

The Willamette Valley and southwest Washington weathered a cold winter, followed by a wet spring. March was the second-wettest on record in southwest Washington, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information, which has records dating back to 1885.

John Davis of Crop Production Services said he has never seen a blackberry crop like this in his 38 years as an agricultural consultant in both states. “If you look, there’s damage in every field,” he said.

Although the extent of the damage only recently became evident, he said he believes the cold snaps caused the harm, more than the rain.

“Week by week, I noticed there was more and more damage showing up,” Davis said. “The blackberry crop went from what I thought would be a good crop to marginal.”

Crop consultant Tom Peerbolt said that in parts of Washington County, a prime berry growing area west of Portland, the temperature dropped to 5 degrees. With blackberries coming into full bloom before the July harvest, growers are assessing the damage, he said.

“The blackberry crop is not going to be a full crop this year,” he said. “If we don’t get any additional weather extremes, we can maximize what we’ve got out there.”

Peerbolt said that raspberries, blueberries and strawberries are fine, an observation confirmed by others.

Chad Finn, a berry breeder with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service at Oregon State University, said freeze damage was spotty.

Berry test plots in Corvallis and at OSU’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora survived the cold. Fields in the Forest Grove area west of Portland and nearer the Columbia River Gorge, where cold air pools, sustained damage, Finn said.

Peerbolt said freeze damage was heaviest at farms growing the Marion blackberry variety.

On a tour of farms in Clark and Cowlitz counties Tuesday, Dobbins pointed to fields of Black Diamond and Columbia Star blackberries that were damaged, too.

He estimated that yields in slightly damaged fields will be down 10 percent.

Dobbins cut 5 acres to the ground. As he watches his remaining 55 acres struggle to bloom, he said he wishes he had cut more acres.

He said he produced 550,000 pounds of blackberries last year and lost money because of low prices. He said that he will do well this year to grow 300,000 pounds.

“The price has got to be up, but will it be where it should be?” he said. “I’m under the thumb of offshore fruit.”

Farmers know the benefits of trade Thu, 25 May 2017 12:14:00 -0400 Sonny Perdue Since I was a boy — born into a farming family in Bonaire, Ga. — I’ve had agriculture running through my veins. The goal of any farmer, after producing enough to feed his own family, has always been to find the best place to sell the year’s crop.

Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture is reinforcing that mindset through a significant reorganization. We’re creating a new undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, whose focus will be on promoting U.S. food, fiber and fuel around the world.

This realignment will help me, as agriculture secretary, to be an unapologetic advocate for American products. My message for farmers is simple: “You grow it and we’ll sell it.”

Trade is critical for American farmers and the economy as a whole. By value, about 20 percent of U.S. agricultural products are sent abroad. Each dollar of these exports creates another $1.27 in business activity, and every $1 billion in exports supports 8,000 American jobs across the economy, according to estimates from the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

As the global marketplace becomes even more competitive, the U.S. must position itself in the best way possible to retain its leadership.

In the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress directed the USDA to restructure its approach to international trade and create this undersecretary position. But the finishing touches had never been applied to the reorganization, and no final plan was acted upon.

After careful consideration, the USDA is ready to move forward. Rather than simply add an eighth undersecretary, the department is remaking responsibilities. The result will be the same number of positions, but an overall organization that is better aligned and more consistent in its approach.

Under the existing structure the Foreign Agricultural Service, which deals with overseas markets, is housed in the same mission area as the Farm Service Agency and the Risk Management Agency, which handle domestic issues. It makes much more sense to situate the Foreign Agricultural Service under the new undersecretary for trade. The other two agencies will be placed under a domestically oriented undersecretary of farm production and conservation. The goal of that position is to provide a simplified one-stop shop for the USDA’s primary customers: American farmers, ranchers and foresters.

The reorganization also will elevate the Rural Development agencies to report directly to me. This will ensure that rural America always has a seat at the table. Nearly 85 percent of America’s persistently impoverished counties are in rural areas.

One in four rural children live in poverty, a rate not seen since 1986. Deep poverty — defined as having income less than half of the poverty threshold — is more prevalent among children in rural areas (12.2 percent) than in urban ones (9.2 percent). The vitality of small towns across America is crucial to the agricultural economy.

On the day I was sworn in as agriculture secretary, I joined President Trump at the White House for a roundtable discussion with farmers, ranchers and other agricultural producers. We discussed ways to increase rural prosperity and access to international markets. The president signed an executive order establishing a task force on rural prosperity, which I chair.

The unanimous conclusion around that table was that because America produces much more food than it can consume, expanding trade is imperative. Today the U.S. exports $135 billion in agricultural products, up from $71 billion 10 years ago.

Food is a noble thing to trade, and I have always been a grow-it-and-sell-it kind of guy. As American agriculture continues to grow everything from corn to fruit to cotton, the USDA and its new undersecretary will be here to sell it in markets around the world.

Sonny Perdue is the U.S. secretary of agriculture. This column first appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

More invasive green crabs found near Sequim Thu, 25 May 2017 12:00:47 -0400 SEQUIM, Wash. (AP) — A team with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to catch more invasive European green crabs on the Dungeness Spit on the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula.

The Peninsula Daily News reports 60 crabs had been caught as of Thursday after more traps were placed.

Crews at the Dungeness Wildlife Refuge first found green crabs April 13, which is the first sighting of the crustacean along that section of the peninsula.

Staff with Washington Sea Grant’s Crab Team say the green crab, which some scientists have called one of the worst invasive species on the planet, is identifiable by five spines on each side of its eyes, and can be green, brown or reddish.

Researchers say the crab often is blamed for damaging shellfish harvests and seagrass beds in the northeastern U.S.

Fire 50 percent contained at Washington state tourism spot Thu, 25 May 2017 11:56:06 -0400

LEAVENWORTH, Wash. (AP) — A wildfire that started at an old log-storage site and prompted evacuation orders for 168 homes and cabins at a popular Washington state hiking and skiing destination was 50 percent contained Wednesday afternoon, officials said.

The fire was burning on about 40 acres Wednesday but hadn’t spread by afternoon. It started Tuesday about 3 miles north of the tourist town of Leavenworth in an old timber storage area containing enormous cedar logs. Leavenworth is a gateway to Wenatchee National Forest where many people have getaway homes.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Melissa Gannie said the fire was threatening homes, timber and electrical infrastructure away from the downtown area, modeled in Bavarian village style.

Swirling wind conditions on Wednesday kept the firefighters working hard to contain sparks that could set other trees outside the fire zone ablaze, officials said.

“I’m not seeing any dramatic fire change or growth, but the wind is strong,” Northwest Incident Management Team spokesman Brendan Cowan said. “It’s still a challenging fire environment. It’s far from being a fully contained fire.”

Ross Frank, owner of Red-Tail Canyon Farm, said the fire was burning about a quarter mile from his farm with draft horses and forest where weddings, barbeques and sleigh rides are held.

“It’s our whole livelihood,” Frank said. “Everything we do is right here on the ranch.”

He was told to evacuate but stayed home because he is also a firefighter and spent 19 hours helping at the blaze site.

He said he plans to stay and prepare his animals to leave if the winds shift the fire’s path toward his property or if sparks start fires closer to his ranch.

“The wind has been gusting and swirling so much it’s hard to tell where it’s coming from, especially in canyon-country,” he said. “I’m optimistic, but the wind will be the deciding factor.”

Cowan said Wednesday that hundreds of firefighters and other responders were able to make progress on the initial fire and two related spot fires, allowing for the reduction of the number of people in homes and cabins needing to evacuate immediately.

Officials with Chelan County Fire District 3 said Wednesday afternoon that only those living in the Spromberg Canyon Road area remained under orders to evacuate.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many homes and cabins are now directly threatened.

Less wind is in the Thursday forecast, which could make the fire easier to contain, Cowan said.

No injuries have been reported and no structures have been damaged.

The Red Cross opened a shelter in Leavenworth where two people stayed Tuesday night, said Red Cross spokeswoman Christina Jones.

Wine and weed? Some Oregon vineyards try hand at pot farming Thu, 25 May 2017 11:49:42 -0400 GILLIAN FLACCUS JACKSONVILLE, Ore. (AP) — Bill and Barbara Steele moved to this sleepy corner of Oregon to start their own winery after successful, high-powered business careers.

Now, more than a decade later and with award-winning wine to show for their hard work, they are adding a new crop: marijuana.

Oregon’s legalization of recreational pot two years ago created room for entrepreneurial cross-pollination in this fertile region abutting California’s so-called Emerald Triangle, a well-known nirvana for outdoor weed cultivation.

Recreational marijuana won’t be legal in California until next year, but a few miles north of the border in Oregon, a handful of winemakers are experimenting with pot in hopes of increasing their appeal among young consumers and in niche markets.

“Baby boomers are drinking less. Millennials are coming into their time, economically, where in 2016 they were the fastest-growing consumers of wine, both in dollars and volume,” said Barbara Steele, who runs Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden in rural Jacksonville with her husband.

“They’re looking for an experience of ‘wine and weed.’”

The Steeles leased their land to grow 30 medical marijuana plants last year, and this year they are growing double that amount to be branded with the same label as their wine. They started with seeds in plastic cups under incubators in their laundry room, and pride themselves on a “seed to smoke” philosophy.

This year’s crop also is for medical use, but the Steeles are seeing the benefits of the expanding market from legal recreational pot. Their weed was reviewed alongside one of their white wines in Stoner Magazine, an Oregon cannabis publication.

“That conversation is possible here because our quality — the agricultural possibility — is so high. This is an amazing growing region,” Barbara Steele said.

It’s hard to know exactly how many in the wine industry are looking at pot here, but there’s plenty of buzz surrounding the subject.

Some vineyards are ripping out portions of grapes in favor of marijuana plants or leasing land to private growers. Others are talking about wine-and-weed tourism, including high-end shuttles that would stop at local wineries for tastings and at marijuana farms for glimpses of how pot is prepared for market.

“There are a few wineries setting up very large recreational grows right now,” said Brent Kenyon, of the marijuana consulting business Kenyon & Associates, based in southern Oregon. “The ‘weedery’ and the winery. I think that’s huge, and we see it developing.”

But that enthusiasm comes with a caveat. Marijuana is still federally illegal, and wineries must keep their wine and weed businesses separate or risk losing a federal permit that allows them to bottle and sell wine.

That means establishing two distinct lots for tax purposes and keeping two licenses with the state, said Christie Scott, alcohol program spokeswoman for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which also licenses recreational marijuana. Vineyards that grow grapes but don’t have a liquor license, however, could get a recreational marijuana license, she said.

In the nearby Illinois Valley, Katherine Bryan is tackling these challenges as she launches a marijuana business with her son.

She owns Deer Creek Vineyards with her husband, but her pot operation will be called Bryan Family Gardens and will operate on land next to the vineyard.

“We want to be as transparent as possible because when you’re under the federal government umbrella for your wines, you have to be very, very careful,” Bryan said.

She plans to grow several hundred marijuana plants with a focus on organic cultivation and an eye toward a high-end market.

They already have some buyers lined up and are installing greenhouses and lighting as they await approval of their recreational license.

“I get $2,000 a ton for my pinot gris grapes, whereas I can make potentially $2,000 or more per pound of cannabis,” Bryan said. “We have 31,000 plants out here for grapes, so I’m pretty sure I can handle 300 to 500 cannabis plants.”

Mark Wisnovsky, of Valley View Winery in Jacksonville, says some vintners are upset because of the stigma associated with marijuana. But his family’s winery was the first in the Applegate Valley in 1971, and everyone thought they were crazy then, too, he said.

The family isn’t cultivating marijuana now, but Wisnovsky has been a vocal supporter of those who want to do so.

Diversifying with weed could save vineyard owners who have overplanted grapes for years, he added.

“A job’s a job, and money’s money, and we have capabilities here that are unique,” he said. “We either take advantage of the situation or let it steamroll over us.”