Capital Press | Special Sections http://www.capitalpress.com Capital Press Mon, 3 Aug 2015 11:15:16 -0400 en http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/staticimage/images/rss-logo.jpg Capital Press | Special Sections http://www.capitalpress.com Drone company CEO envisions future of farming http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/drone-company-ceo-envisions-future-of-farming http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/drone-company-ceo-envisions-future-of-farming#Comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:49:47 -0400 Eric Mortenson http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150739968 CLACKAMAS, Ore. — Stephen Burtt has seen the future and it’s. ... wait, let him ask you: Have you seen “Star Wars?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was originally published on Dec. 26, 2014.

Stephen Burtt

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

Age: 34

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

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

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

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Italian innovator moves west http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/italian-innovator-moves-west http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/italian-innovator-moves-west#Comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:49:39 -0400 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150739969 Stefano Musacchi: A top thinker in tree fruit physiology finds a home in Washington state

By Dan Wheat

Capital Press

WENATCHEE, Wash. — He arrived in Wenatchee a year ago, heralded by those who hired him at Washington State University as one of the best thinkers in tree fruit physiology and production in the world.

And Stefano Musacchi hasn’t disappointed as endowed chair of tree fruit physiology and management at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, says Jay Brunner, center director.

“Dr. Musacchi has lived up to expectations. He has shown that he is the right person for the position in many ways and his leadership will pay many dividends for horticultural science and the Washington tree fruit industry for years to come,” Brunner said.

He praised Musacchi’s knowledge, ideas, attention to detail and skill in collaborating with colleagues at the center and in the industry.

Musacchi, 49, grew up on an orchard in Ferrara, Italy, managed by his father who also managed a tree fruit nursery and bred strawberries. Young Musacchi joined in all the work and enjoyed helping with the breeding.

“If you asked me what I wanted to do in life, when I was a kid, I said, ‘I am doing it now,’” Musacchi said with a smile.

His college years were at the University of Bologna, where he received his master’s degree in agricultural sciences in 1990 and his doctorate in pomology in 1996. He became an assistant professor there in 2000.

His research centered on pomology and physiology of fruit trees and pear breeding. He studied propagation, training systems, rootstocks and cultivars.

He became best known internationally for his innovations of developing the biaxial fruit tree structure for apples and pears and inventing the super slender axe for cherries.

The biaxis for apples and pears involves the removal of the central leader of the tree and development of leaders from two side limbs. It spreads the tree into a single growth plane on trellises to form fruiting walls. This allows maximum light penetration through the leaves of the tree canopy for better fruit growth and color and high, uniform fruit production. Musacchi says it’s easiest for mechanical pruning and thinning and easiest to harvest because fruit is readily seen.

The tree’s energy is divided and vigor is controlled, particularly in fertile soil.

But biaxis shouldn’t be used for all varieties because some, like Granny Smith, need some shade to stay green, he said.

“We have the possibility to cultivate 28 variety of apples and each has a different story,” Musacchi said. “Some are green. Others are red and yellow. There isn’t a unique system to grow them all.”

Part of his work now is determining which system works best for which variety.

There are three main systems for high-density apple and pear orchards. The V-trellis and vertical tall spindle are most common in Central Washington. The biaxis is just being introduced and used by a few growers.

Large old fruit trees of yesteryear are still common but few people plant them now. Compact, high-density trees yield more fruit and are easier to prune and harvest.

The biaxis is common in Italy, where strict limits on pesticide residues and high labor costs have squeezed grower profits and made every aspect of horticulture, including tree canopy design, critical for maximum mechanization, Musacchi said.

The super slender axe for cherries is a single leader tree, a modification of the vertical tall spindle, to control tree growth, reduce bud clusters and produce large cherries on short limbs and the trunk. Low production per tree is compensated for with high-density plantings and production has reached 90 percent at 9.5-row (large) cherries.

Musacchi’s focus at WSU is on apples and pears since Matt Whiting, plant physiologist at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, concentrates on cherries.

Among Musacchi’s projects is researching use of a DA meter in pre-storage sorting of pears to determine optimum storage life of fruit. The meter measures the chlorophyll content of fruit, indicating its ripeness.

“Now we pick fruit assuming it’s all the same, but it isn’t true,” he said. “The DA meter allows us to measure the level of ripening so we know how to store the fruit.”

Another project is researching summer and fall pruning of d’Anjou pear to reduce vigorous tree growth. Currently, growers prune in winter. But Musacchi believes that stimulates growth. He’s trying to prove that pruning right after fruit harvest in summer and fall will reduce vigor and allow better light penetration of the canopy to produce more pears lower on trees.

“Right now, 70 percent of the crop is in the outside zone of the canopy. We want to bring more fruit to the bottom, partly because it will be easier to pick,” he said.

He’s also studying using biaxis tree structure in pears to control vigor and have earlier crops.

Fruiting walls are in the future for pears for mechanization but progress has been slowed because there’s no good rootstock available to produce high-density trees, he said.

Kate Evans, WSU tree breeder, Amit Dhingra, WSU genomist, and Todd Einhorn, Oregon State University horticulturist, are working to develop such rootstocks.

Musacchi and others are researching a replacement for Manchurian crab apples as apple pollinators in an effort to reduce disease in apples for export to China. In 2012, China banned U.S. apples for diseases and the industry is trying to regain access.

He’s also working on determining the best management and training system — V-trellis, vertical tall spindle or biaxis — for the new WSU apple variety. Researchers refer to it by its breeding name, WA 38. It will be marketed as Cosmic Crisp.

Musacchi said his job is to understand and improve what is possible in the short term for apples and pears while thinking ahead for the long term.

“Everything that can increase the physiological performance of trees and orchard management,” he said, “that’s what I’m about.”

This article was originally published on July 18, 2014.

Stefano Musacchi

Age: 49

Born and raised: Ferrara, Italy.

Family: Wife, Debora Bassi, is an attorney. Daughter, Lucia, 10.

Education: University of Bologna, master’s degree in agricultural sciences, 1990; doctorate in pomology, 1996.

Occupation: Washington State University endowed chair of tree fruit physiology and management.

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Organic farm diversifies market channels http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/organic-farm-diversifies-market-channels http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/organic-farm-diversifies-market-channels#Comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:49:31 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150739970 Philomath, Ore. — John Eveland’s farming venture started modestly enough: He wanted a source of fresh produce for his sister’s vegetarian restaurant.

Eveland had helped run Nearly Normal’s in Corvallis, Ore., since it was launched in 1979, but he was often disappointed with the quality of the vegetables he obtained from wholesalers.

After “dabbling” with growing tomatoes and other crops, Eveland and his wife, Sally Brewer, decided to start a farm in 1987.

“We had no concept of what this would look like,” said Eveland.

“Still don’t,” joked Brewer.

That first year, they joined with three other people to farm 20 leased acres.

The group did not function well together due to other job obligations and a lack of coordination among the partners.

“It was just a disaster,” said Eveland.

Undeterred, Eveland and Brewer struck out on their own and scaled back to five acres and a “hand-to-mouth” existence.

Their Gathering Together Farm grew along with the demand for organic food, which has experienced a tremendous surge in the past 25 years.

The couple now farms 60 acres of vegetables near Philomath, Ore., with their operation selling more than $2.5 million worth of produce through multiple market channels. At peak season, the firm employs more than 100 people.

“It’s not a small business anymore,” said Eveland.

While the farm’s name and philosophy is reminiscent of “late ’70s hippies,” the company actually operates like a sophisticated machine, said Larry Lev, an agricultural economist at Oregon State University.

“It’s an excellent example of a different way to be a successful farmer,” said Lev.

The company derives its revenues from farmers’ markets, wholesale buyers, a farm stand, restaurant accounts, a community supported agriculture program and a joint venture seed business.

That diversification helps insulate Gathering Together Farm from downturns in any one market channel, said Lev.

“They can ride out the ups and downs,” he said. “It allows them to be very resilient.”

Eveland and Brewer did not initially envision such a complex sales model — it evolved naturally over time.

In addition to their original customer, Nearly Normal’s restaurant, they began selling produce through farmers’ markets.

The CSA program, through which buyers pre-pay for a portion of the farm’s crops, helped stabilize the company financially.

“For the first time, we had money in the spring we could spend on inputs,” said Eveland.

The couple also became early shareholders in the Organically Grown Co., which over time developed into a major wholesale distributor of organic goods.

Another opportunity arose when nearby farmers Frank and Karen Morton needed more land to expand their seed company, Wild Garden Seed.

As part of the joint venture, the Mortons produce their organic seed on the Gathering Together Farm property.

The arrangement provides a source of revenue and seed, but the succession of different flowering crops also has agronomic benefits.

“We have a healthier army of beneficial insects,” said Eveland.

Then there’s the company’s “farm stand,” which acts as its public face and is actually much more elaborate than the name implies.

The structure serves as a miniature grocery store for the farm’s vegetables and a porch-front restaurant for meals made from its produce.

“We wanted to utilize our cosmetically challenged vegetables,” said Brewer of the idea to serve meals.

What started out as a simple offering of soups and salads has now progressed to gourmet cuisine, with a chef serving such fare as “tagliatelle with Italian kale and pork ragu.”

The farm stand’s out-of-the-way location has managed to attract skilled chefs because they’re largely able to run the restaurant as their own business, said Brewer.

“We come in and drop product on him, tell him this is interesting, this is good,” said Eveland.

Delegating authority is instrumental to the farm’s business model, as trusted employees are charged with overseeing the company’s different components.

“It’s also their drive and their desire, it’s not just coming from us,” said Brewer.

This article was first published on Aug. 8, 2015.

John Eveland and Sally Brewer

Occupation: Owners, Gathering Together Farm

Hometown: Philomath, Ore.

Family: Married, three grown daughters

Ages: John is 65, Sally is 55

Education: John Eveland obtained a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Iowa State University in 1971 and a master’s degree in counseling psychology from the University of Oregon in 1978. Sally Brewer obtained a bachelor’s degree in environmental education from the University of New Hampshire in 1987 and a master’s degree in education from Oregon State University in 1988.

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WSU scientist searches for seeds of success http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/wsu-scientist-searches-for-seeds-of-success http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/wsu-scientist-searches-for-seeds-of-success#Comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:49:09 -0400 Don Jenkins http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150739971 MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — A scientist who investigates diseases that afflict vegetables in northwest Washington grew up in a large city in South Africa uninterested in plants.

Lindsey du Toit was attracted to biology, however. And as a second-year college student, she was required to take a class in plant pathology.

On field trips, du Toit saw large commercial farms and small-scale growers scratching out a living.

In either case, she was struck by how the health of plants can help or harm the fortunes of humans.

“It really makes an impact when you see diseases in that diversity of circumstances,” du Toit said. “It was that combination of people and science that got me interested.”

Over the next decade, that interest propelled du Toit from Durban, South Africa, to the Washington State University research center in Mount Vernon, Wash. — cities separated by 10,528 miles.

Since 2000, du Toit, 44, has worked with farmers and companies to improve small-seed production in the Skagit Valley, which yields much of the world’s seeds for spinach, cabbage and many other vegetables.

Growers praise her scientific knowledge, work ethic and enthusiasm.

“Farmers revere Lindsey,” Skagit Valley seed grower Kirby Johnson said. “She’s on top of everything all the time.”

The Skagit Valley produces dozens of commercial crops. The diversity makes farming there complex, and growers look to WSU for expertise, said Dave Hedlin, the third-generation owner of Hedlin Farms.

“We have all kinds of problems and all kinds of questions. Lindsey is one of those scientists who is willing to step in, roll up her sleeves and help,” Hedlin said. “She kind of exemplifies what you want in a scientist, as far as a farmer goes.”

Du Toit ended up majoring in plant pathology at the University of Natal-Pietermaritzburg in South Africa. As an undergraduate, she heard a visiting professor from Illinois lecture on the U.S. cooperative extension system.

Du Toit wanted to learn more about these offices devoted to helping farmers and, nudged along by a friend, approached the professor.

The contact led du Toit to the University of Illinois for graduate school. She earned master’s and doctorate degrees in plant pathology. All the while, she intended to return to South Africa.

In the meantime, du Toit took a job in 1998 at the WSU Research & Extension Center in Puyallup. She helped people identify plant diseases. Some brought in potted plants. Others were stressed out over groves of valuable trees.

She confirmed her ties to the Northwest by landing the position in Mount Vernon as director of the vegetable seed pathology team, a small group of research assistants and graduate students.

Rather than just identifying diseases, her job became to find the cure.

She came with a handicap, however. She had expertise in neither Northwest vegetables nor seeds, of any type.

She looked to farmers and seed company representatives to teach her. “I think that turned out to be very beneficial, but I did it out of desperation,” du Toit said. “I was like a sponge.”

In Illinois, corn was the fodder for du Toit’s master’s thesis and doctorate dissertation. At Mount Vernon, she encountered a different type of farming.

“It didn’t take long to bring her up to speed,” Johnson said. “She forgot the corn smut she was an expert in when she came here and dived into spinach.”

Seed crops grown in the Skagit Valley can have a high return. One acre can yield enough seed to grow 50 million pounds of cabbage.

But the risks are high, too. That’s partly because seed crops are in the ground for so long, du Toit said. “Which means there is more time for things to go wrong.”

Du Toit said her research has no finish line. Pathogens arise, humans react and pathogens counteract.

Her research projects include finding ways to curb fusarium wilt, the scourge of spinach seed growers. As part of her research, du Toit has stored in a greenhouse piles of dirt clumped in about two dozen paper containers the right size for a small order of fries.

Each handful of dirt has been treated in a particular way. The hope is that one will yield clues on how to cope with the fungus, which inhabits the ground long after the seed is harvested, making the field unsuitable for spinach for a decade or more.

Du Toit hopes to shorten that period. If the time can be halved, perhaps spinach seed production can be doubled in the Skagit Valley.

Johnson, who grows beet and spinach seeds, said a rotation schedule shorter than 10 years for spinach is trouble.

“The target is to get to five or six years. Are they going to get there? I don’t know. If we do, it’s going to be thanks in part to Lindsey,” he said.

Besides advising growers, conducting research and teaching graduate students, du Toit speaks at conferences around the world.

She has no plans to take up farming.

“It scares me when I look at the risk a farmer takes on,” she said. “I think there are a lot more secure jobs.”

This article was first published on Sept. 12, 2014.

Lindsey du Toit

Hometown: Durban, South Africa

Age: 44

Family: Single

Education: Bachelor’s degree University of Natal-Pietermaritzburg; master’s degree and doctorate University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Forester no stranger to controversy http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/forester-no-stranger-to-controversy http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/forester-no-stranger-to-controversy#Comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:48:55 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150739972 Forester Norm Johnson was enticed by “a career that lets me wander around the woods,” but his time is often spent in the thicket of controversy.

During his three decades as a forestry professor at Oregon State University, Johnson has shaped key federal forest policies while drawing fire from environmentalists and the timber industry.

“He’s had a real imprint on forest management out here,” said Josh Laughlin, executive director of the Cascadia Wildlands environmental group.

His role in forming the Northwest Forest Plan, which established a conservation and harvest regime for federal lands in 1994, is often cited as a signature achievement.

Making an impact in such a contentious field is impossible without ruffling a few feathers, so Johnson is by now accustomed to criticism.

He nonetheless seems taken aback by the recent rancor surrounding his advocacy for increasing “early seral” conditions in federal forests.

“Boy, have I caught hell over this,” he said.

The proposition is currently facing an onslaught of opposition from environmentalists who claim that it marks a return to clear-cutting mature stands. The forest products industry also isn’t enthusiastic about the idea, as it delays the production of harvestable timber.

Despite the tough reception, Johnson makes no apologies for the concept.

“Am I sorry we’re doing this? No. Will we keep going? Yes,” he said.

When moist forests in the Northwest were still untouched by the descendants of European settlers, it was natural for wildfires to create openings in the canopy, he said.

Before being reclaimed by trees, these sunny clearings were initially populated by shrubs and other plants that produce flowers, fruits and seeds for wildlife to eat.

“It’s a tremendous food source for an amazing variety of creatures,” Johnson said. “It’s really in a lot of ways the most biologically diverse stage in a forest.”

At this point, though, such early seral habitat is actually scarcer than old growth in federal forests, which are dominated by fairly uniform stands of evenly aged trees, he said.

Managers with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are currently focused on thinning projects to achieve a more complex structure associated with “late successional” forests.

Inevitably, though, federal forests will run out of areas suitable for commercial thinning, putting the USFS and BLM on a trajectory of further declines in timber volume, Johnson said.

In the minds of Johnson and his research collaborator, University of Oregon ecology professor Jerry Franklin, the solution to these problems is to emulate natural disturbances.

Their recommendation to federal forest managers is for a “variable retention harvest” in which patches of forest are logged and left treeless for years, generating timber while clearing the way for early seral habitat.

“That’s the part that really got us into hot water,” Johnson said. “We’ve made everyone mad.”

Allowing parcels to be overcome with shrubs is considered a “regeneration failure” by industry-oriented foresters, while some environmentalists think the strategy shows Johnson has “gone over to the dark side,” he said.

The blowback from environmentalists suggests that Johnson and Franklin have tried to deal with a “social science element” that they’re not well-equipped to handle, said Scott Horngren, an attorney with the American Forest Resource Council timber industry group.

Only a small portion of federal lands can be logged, so the decision to turn such areas into “brush fields” is questionable, he said. “You ought to be managing that for timber production.”

From the environmental perspective, the timing of the early seral strategy is dubious in light of the pressure on federal lands to produce timber revenues in rural areas.

“It gained a lot of prominence as western Oregon counties’ financial security was more and more unknown,” said Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands.

There is a shortage of complex early seral habitat, but it would be better restored by allowing some forest fires to burn and avoiding salvage logging, said Andy Kerr, former executive director of the Oregon Wild environmental group.

In Kerr’s view, Johnson’s strategy is overly influenced by economic considerations. “It’s driven more by getting logs out than by what the forest needs,” he said.

Though they have disparate views of his work, timber and environmental groups can agree on one thing: Johnson has played a pivotal position in the longstanding debate over federal forests.

“He’s got the ear of some important people,” said Horngren.

When Johnson was studying forestry in the 1960s, critical environmental laws hadn’t yet been passed and conflicts over forest management were still bubbling below the surface.

By the time he signed on as a forestry professor in 1985, the issue was coming to the forefront.

“I realized Oregon was in the middle of a major shift in how federal forests are managed, and I wanted to be a part of it,” he said.

Johnson developed a computer model called 4-Plan that the Forest Service adopted to calculate sustainable harvest levels in national forests.

The formula was based on the volume of growing timber needed to replace stands that were cut, but over time it became apparent that other considerations — such as rare species and water quality — were gaining in political importance.

Johnson and several other scientists were recruited by members of Congress to study these issues, which eventually led to his participation in a group that designed the Northwest Forest Plan.

Lawmakers and federal managers have since continued to depend on his expertise when crafting timber projects such as the White Castle project near Myrtle Creek, Ore., which is considered a test case for the early seral strategy. Environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the project and a federal judge recently agreed it was approved unlawfully.

Johnson continues to stir up controversy, but the overall thrust of his ideas has nonetheless moved forestry forward, said Kerr. “The forests are better off because of Norm Johnson’s decades of work.”

This article was first published on March 20, 2015.

Norm Johnson

Occupation: Forestry professor at Oregon State University

Hometown: Corvallis, Ore.

Education: Bachelor of science in forestry from the University of California-Berkleley in 1965, Ph.D. in forest management and economics from Oregon State University in 1973

Age: 72

Family: Wife, Debbie, and four grown children

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Commission exec keeps industry connected http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/commission-exec-keeps-industry-connected http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/commission-exec-keeps-industry-connected#Comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:48:51 -0400 Matw Weaver http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150739973 Mary Palmer Sullivan cultivates relationships, whether it’s between Washington grain growers and their overseas customers or between the commission she represents and the university researchers who bring innovations to the industry.

As the vice president of the Washington State Grain Commission, Sullivan works with foreign trade teams that visit the U.S. Trade teams the commission has hosted this summer include groups from Panama, South Korea, the Philippines and Japan. Sullivan also leads tours of industry members and government officials to provide them with information about the intricacies of the region’s wheat industry.

“Mary is always out there for the growers — I call her the go-to, get-it-done kind of person,” said Nicole Berg, a Paterson, Wash., wheat farmer and president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers.

Sullivan works with Washington State University researchers whose projects are funded by the commission. Roughly 40 projects receive about $2.4 million in farmers’ investments. She makes sure researchers meet the commission’s expectations.

Sullivan is a good liaison between researchers and the farmers on the commission, USDA Agricultural Research Service geneticist Deven See said.

“I think she’s a lot more engaged with the growers than maybe some of us scientists are,” he said. “She helps bridge that communication barrier between us.”

She also goes to bat for researchers to help them obtain funding for their work. See said Sullivan worked years to help obtain adequate federal funding for his Western Regional Small Grains Genotyping Laboratory on the WSU campus in Pullman.

“Mary is a gal who does more than she lets on,” Berg said. “She takes everything in and is very methodical in her approaches and thought processes.”

Sullivan’s family has roots in agriculture, and as a youth she was involved in 4-H and FFA, which she credits with giving her the confidence and interest in agriculture.

“The things that I’ve challenged myself to do over the years, I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t been in 4-H,” she said. “It gave me that fire that made me want to continue to be in agriculture.”

Sullivan first studied dairy science at WSU, but decided to pursue a career in agriculture communications. She graduated at the same time a position opened on the Washington Barley Commission 26 years ago.

“I’m the barley babe,” she said with a grin, using Berg’s nickname for her. “I love barley.... The beer and malting industry, they’re so much fun and just good people.”

When the barley commission merged with the wheat commission in 1997, it gave Sullivan a chance to start fresh with wheat. The best thing about the job is constantly learning, she said.

“My heart was in ag, I wanted to be in ag,” she said. “I love my job, I love what I do, I love the people I represent, I love the people I work with in this industry — they’re the salt of the earth. It’s a good industry, and they’ve been kind enough to keep me this long.”

This article was first published on Aug. 15, 2015.

Mary Palmer Sullivan

Age: 47

Title: Vice president, Washington Grain Commission

Hometown: Redmond, Wash.

Current location: Valleyford, Wash.

Education: Bachelor of science, Washington State University

Family: One son, 23 years old

Website: http://www.wawg.org/wgc

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Buyers help small farmers bridge urban-rural divide http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/buyers-help-small-farmers-bridge-urban-rural-divide http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/buyers-help-small-farmers-bridge-urban-rural-divide#Comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:48:42 -0400 Eric Mortenson http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150739974 PORTLAND — In case there is any doubt how New Seasons Market views its vendors, a reminder is posted in the entry of the chain’s less-than-palatial headquarters in North Portland.

Among the seven points listed: “We like small” and “We like local.” And the first one, at the top of the list: “We play fair.”

A slice of Pacific Northwest farmers and ranchers, many of them small, organic and operating on slender margins, are glad they do. Since its founding in 2000, New Seasons has emerged as an innovative market lifeline for producers who might be struggling otherwise. The store’s buyers seek out local suppliers whose products and operations mesh with the New Seasons mindset.

The store’s point people include Jeff Fairchild, 59, the produce director, and Alan Hummel, 53, the meat and seafood director and recently appointed to oversee the produce and floral programs as well. Both are veterans of the alternative grocery store business and have been with New Seasons from the beginning, in addition to being friends for 30 years.

Both say they’ve been granted the independence to fill the store with products selected not by price and not just by quality, but which represent New Seasons’ values of sustainability, community, relationships and healthy food.

“What’s driving us is not price,” Fairchild says. “The food I offer my customers is food I’d want to buy.”

Choosing vendors based on the lowest price and biggest producer doesn’t appeal to Hummel. “It would be easier, but it would be boring,” he says.

In foodie Portland, it’s a formula that works. The chain has grown to 13 stores in the Portland-Vancouver, Wash., region, has nearly 2,700 employees and plans to open four more stores by summer 2015. Ten percent of after-tax profits go to nonprofits working to ease hunger, protect the environment or educate young people.

It isn’t a cheap place to shop, but attracts an informed, engaged customer base that wants to know where its food comes from, prefers that it come from a nearby family farm or ranch and is willing to pay more. It’s a customer base to whom good land stewardship and a sustainable food system are as important as flavor and quality.

Equally important, the customers rely on New Seasons to understand that and act accordingly.

“We respect and honor that trust,” Hummel says. “If I was asked to introduce a line of product I didn’t believe in, I wouldn’t do it.”

The atmosphere and expectations result in the store’s buyers becoming directly involved in their vendors’ operations. New Seasons has provided no-interest loans and even taken work parties to farms to help producers meet sustainability and animal welfare certification standards important to customers.

Hummel says the store’s ongoing challenge, as it expands, is to continue finding and working with like-minded regional growers and food manufacturers.

Fairchild, his cohort, says — only half joking — that he’d like to see producers gain the resources to give him a better crop every year.

“I would define success as New Seasons and the partners I’m working with are both able to have financially viable businesses,” Fairchild says. “For a lot of these people, we’ve given them renewed confidence and the consistent markets that allow them to continue to grow and expand.”

This article was first published on Sept. 5, 2014.

Jeff Fairchild

Age: 59

Position: Produce director

Alan Hummel

Age: 53

Position: Meat and seafood director, supervisor of produce and floral departments

Responsibilities: Seek out farmers and ranchers who are producing vegetables, grains, meat or seafood in a manner acceptable to urban consumers who desire healthy, sustainable local food and are willing to pay more to get it.

Upshot: Fairchild and Hummel have been granted the independence to find producers, make deals and help tweak operations. “Jeff and I have not been supervised in the last 30 years,” Hummel says.

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Serving replant disease a meal of mustard http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/serving-replant-disease-a-meal-of-mustard http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/western_innovator/20150731/serving-replant-disease-a-meal-of-mustard#Comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:48:31 -0400 Dan Wheat http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150739975 WENATCHEE, Wash. — Mark Mazzola has been investigating replant disease in apple orchards for 20 years and says he’s found a solution that may work better than soil fumigation.

A combination of yellow and white mustard seed meals combats replant disease longer than fumigants by addressing the whole ecosystem of soil rather than just its chemistry, says Mazzola, a research plant pathologist at USDA’s Agriculture Research Service Tree Fruit Research Laboratory in Wenatchee.

Mustard seed meal also results in better tree growth and fruit yields than fumigation, he said.

Replant disease is pervasive when replanting an orchard and is a “major impediment to the establishment of an economically viable orchard,” Mazzola said.

Replant disease is a build-up of micro-organisms in soil from old tree roots that hampers the growth and productivity of new trees. It wasn’t much known before a disastrous freeze in 1968 and 1969 killed a lot of orchards in Central Washington.

Growers tore out dead trees and replanted new ones and began having more problems with diseases, Tom Auvil, research horticulturist at the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission in Wenatchee, has said.

The industry turned to fumigation but it doesn’t always work because temperature, soil texture and soil moisture all can hinder its effectiveness, Auvil said.

Mazzola, now 54, was hired at the ARS in Wenatchee in 1995, primarily to investigate replant disease. He has focused on apples but looked at pears and cherries, which are susceptible to the same pathogens.

He believes his undergraduate work in forest biology and strong foundation in ecology gives him a broad perspective in looking at replant disease and soils.

“Most people in this research come from agricultural programs like plant and soil science. It’s relatively rare to find people with an ecology background in plant pathology. I try to understand how soils function from a biological and ecological perspective,” he said.

Many diverse organisms are at work in soils, he said.

He has managed a nematode diagnostics lab, worked on rust fungi, soil bore fungi and bacteria and then studied the molecular genetics of bacteria that are pathogens of rice.

“You don’t find a lot of people who have worked on trees, beans, rice, wheat and now apples. We get pigeon-holed quickly,” he said.

In looking at replant disease, Mazzola first identified four fungal organisms and the lesion nematode as the main problems. He tested several cover crops to control the pathogens on the ground before it was replanted as orchard but without the results he was looking for. He left ground fallow for up to three years without a reduction in disease development.

About 15 years ago, there was a lot of interest in using mustards, canola, broccoli and other brassica plants as green manure in soil for their biologically active chemistries.

“But you can’t produce enough biomass to obtain the chemistry needed to suppress plant pathogens. Seed meal possesses higher quantities of these chemistries,” Mazzola said.

He began experimenting with seed meal from various brassica crops and found none of them alone controlled replant organisms. Then he tested various combinations and ratios. He landed on a 50-50 mix of yellow and white mustard seed meal applied in the fall before a spring planting.

The mix produces chemicals that kill the pathogens but also changes the microbiology of the soil to make it more resistant to re-infestation.

A field trial of Jonagold trees on Geneva 11 rootstock, planted in 2010, resulted in a 45 percent increase in fruit yield. Gala on Malling 9 and Geneva 11, also planted in 2010, in the mustard seed meal treated soil yielded 25 percent more fruit cumulatively in the first two years.

Mazzola used metagenome analysis, generating and sifting through millions of DNA sequences, to study roots and attached soil and found microbes in fumigated soil reverted back to their original state after two seasons while microbes in seed meal treatment were distinct and still suppressing disease after the fourth season.

“We’re able to identify all the bacteria and fungi colonizing the apple tree root system and improve the root-soil ecosystem to manage the pathogens of this disease,” he said.

Auvil has said Mazzola has done a great job of showing a wide array of organisms at work in tree fruit soil, but that the seed meal solution takes too much meal from too far away to be practical beyond test plots.

“Growers apply 20 tons per acre of compost in the fall to orchards,” Mazzola said, noting he applies mustard seed meal at 3 tons per acre and has successfully reduced that by one-third.

Mustard seed meal is mainly a biodiesel byproduct produced in the Midwest but mustard seed is grown in Washington and can be increased, he said.

“Growers will make this work,” he said, adding meal flakes have been turned into pellets commercially in California for easier application.

Interaction between Geneva rootstock and the seed meal are likely to allow further reductions in the quantities required, he said. And seed meal may not be the only solution. Mazzola continues to research other potential solutions.

“The Geneva rootstock was developed for precocity, dwarfing and fire blight resistance, not replant disease,” he said. “That’s a side benefit. It has a tolerance for replant disease. It handles it.”

Mazzola and Yanmin Zhu, an ARS geneticist in Wenatchee, and Gennaro Fazio, an ARS rootstock breeder in Geneva, N.Y., who developed the Geneva rootstock, are collaborating to investigate differences in gene expression with an eye toward developing a rootstock truly resistant to replant disease.

This article was first published on March 27, 2015.

Mark Mazzola

Age: 54

Born and raised: Boston, Mass.

Family: Wife, Michelle Mazzola, a funding consultant.

Education: Bachelor’s in forest biology, University of Vermont, 1983; master’s in forest pathology, University of Vermont, 1985; doctorate in plant pathology, Washington State University, 1990.

Occupation: Research plant pathologist, USDA ARS Tree Fruit Research Laboratory, Wenatchee, since 1995.

Previous work: Research plant pathologist, USDA ARS, Pullman, Wash., 1993-1995; post-doctorate research associate, Kansas State University, 1990-1993; manager, Nematode Diagnostic Laboratory, University of Vermont, 1985-1986.

Quote: “My interests were in natural resources and that related to my first hiking trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.”

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Regional dairy co-op preserves rich history http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/regional-dairy-co-op-preserves-rich-history http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/regional-dairy-co-op-preserves-rich-history#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 11:15:53 -0400 Erick Peterson http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609907 Darigold is a farmer-owned dairy co-op with a long history of growth across the Northwest.

The fifth-largest dairy co-op in the United States, Darigold produces consumer and export products. Whey powder, cheese and butter are just some of the items made. The company processes more than 8 billion pounds of milk annually, said Michelle Carter, communications coordinator for Darigold.

The co-op’s history dates back to 1918, when several dairy farmers’ associations came together. They were small local co-ops, she said, and they joined to create a regional presence and find a market for their products.

The Darigold name was created in 1925 and was popularized in the following decades. Through marketing campaigns, including the “Got Milkman” campaign of the 1990s and the “Local Cows Working Hard” campaign of the 2000s, Darigold established itself as a household name.

Meanwhile, Darigold continued to grow through several mergers with such organizations as Mayflower Farms of Portland and the Dairymen’s Creamery Association of Idaho.

Though fluid milk sales are slipping in the United States, some segments of the market are increasing, and products such as chocolate milk, lactose-free milk and Omega 3-fortified milk are strong sellers for Darigold both domestically and internationally.

Food manufacturers are also strong buyers of Darigold products, said Steve Rowe, senior vice president. Whey powder is a top seller in foreign markets.

Darigold increased its sales from $2.2 billion in 2013 to nearly $2.6 billion in 2014.

The continued strength of Darigold is important, he said, because many people depend on the company’s success. In addition to its 500 member families in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Northern California, Montana and Idaho, Darigold employs 1,400 people at its 11 plants and the corporate offices.

Wherever these plants exist, they help support local communities. The Sunnyside, Wash., plant processes mostly cheese — around 200 million pounds of it per year and is a major employer in the area, Rowe said.

During the past year, two other facilities underwent upgrades or other work. A new dryer was installed to replace one lost in a fire in Lynden, Wash., and improvements were made to the Chehalis, Wash., facility.

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Grants help dairy address runoff, other issues http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/grants-help-dairy-address-runoff-other-issues http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/grants-help-dairy-address-runoff-other-issues#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 11:16:13 -0400 Gail Oberst http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609906 BROWNSMEAD, Ore. — Some dairy owners take to heart the bumper sticker adage: “Every day is Earth Day for farmers.”

Dirk Rohne, Clatsop County commissioner and dairy farmer, is one of those. His family’s 179-acre dairy is 20 miles upriver from Astoria near the village of Brownsmead. A few years ago, Rohne got a small grant, $3,520, from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, a state agency that supports watershed improvements, to add gutters to his main dairy building.  The gutters rerouted rainwater from the dairy’s roof, away from high traffic areas and away from the liquid manure storage tank nearby.

“The high volume of rain water used to inundate the manure system and would require time, labor and electricity needed to handle the increase in volume in manure that needed to be processed,” Rohne said. The new gutters now keep rainwater out of the system, save electricity and increase the amount of storage available for manure that once filled with rainwater. Increased water and manure management also reduces the chance of run-off into nearby fish-bearing waters. Blind Slough is home to Chinook, coastal cutthroat, chum and steelhead.

“Blind Slough has a huge run of salmon,” said Wendi Agalzoff of Clatsop Soil and Water Conservation District.

It is not the first environmental improvement project on Rohne’s dairy. With Clatsop SWCD’s help, the family dairy has also accessed grants from OWEB that funded installing native plants along the riparian area of Blind Slough to provide shade and fish habitat, as well as erosion control. He also installed fencing to keep cows out of Blind Slough.

The projects were all part of Rohne’s farm plan, created with help from the Clatsop SWCD.

Dairy owners in Oregon have access to OWEB funds to pay for projects that improve water quality, officials say. Oregon’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts, tribes and watershed councils can apply for the small grants, on a landowner’s behalf.

The small grant program from OWEB is only available in Oregon, according Wendy Hudson, OWEB’s Willamette Partner Coordinator. Small grant teams consisting of representatives from watershed councils, SWCDs and tribes are given about $100,000 each biennium to divide among local landowners in the team’s grant area. Small grants are $10,000 or less, with the average being about $6,000, Hudson said. Landowners have to provide at least 25 percent of project’s costs, either in cash or “in-kind” work or equipment.

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Dairy industry takes its case to the Capitol http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/dairy-industry-takes-its-case-to-the-capitol http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/dairy-industry-takes-its-case-to-the-capitol#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 11:13:43 -0400 Geoff Parks http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609908 SALEM — Dairy industry representatives were hopeful that servings of Oregon dairy products at the April Dairy Day at the Capitol event would help sway lawmakers to vote ag’s way on bills working their way through the legislative process.

Dairy Day at the Capitol was created in 2011 by the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association. It is held each April at the beginning of the legislative session in the State Capitol Galleria for the benefit of legislators, Capitol workers and any of the public who happen by during the day.

ODFA organizers had the help of the Oregon Dairy Women and its current State Dairy Princess Ambassador, Emma Miller, and First Alternate Megan Shrute. Members of the Oregon State University Dairy Club and the Cascade and St. Paul chapters of the FFA also participated in serving up Oregon cheese samples, yogurt, chocolate milk and other products.

Staci Sherer, Mitchell Evers and Rebekah Golurley of the OSU Dairy Club passed around information about the event to all areas of the Capitol during the morning set-up for the event, and the two Dairy Princess Ambassadors pitched in to arrange other public relations items such as buttons and other wearables for the crowd.

An afternoon “ice cream social” featuring Umpqua ice cream, chocolate topping and Darigold whipped cream served as the event’s finale.

Tami Kerr, executive director of the ODFA, said the idea of the event “is to bring in our producers so that they can tell their story.”

“There are a lot of issues being voted on that will impact our dairy producers,” she said, “so it’s a way for them to have a voice to share their stories and let their elected officials know how those measures will impact them as business owners across the state of Oregon.”

Kerr said the dairy industry was targeting what she called “job killer” bills — “minimum wage, paid sick leave and mandatory 401(k) on Day One” — under consideration in the Legislature.

“Our margins (on milk prices) are extremely thin, and we simply can’t afford it,” she said. “We’re meeting with all the representatives on some of the natural resources committees, and producers are meeting with their own representatives.”

But of course, the way to someone’s heart is often through the stomach, the saying goes, and the treats — cheese, yogurt, milk and ice cream — laid out for the Capitol crowd disappeared quickly.

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Oregon Dairy Women dedicated to promoting industry http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/oregon-dairy-women-dedicated-to-promoting-industry http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/oregon-dairy-women-dedicated-to-promoting-industry#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 11:08:02 -0400 Sophia Kuenzi http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609911 The longest line for ice cream at the Oregon State Fair each year leads to the Red Barn and a princess.

Volunteers there serve shakes, cones and sundaes and the proceeds go to the Oregon Dairy Women.

Established in 1963, Oregon Dairy Women is a nonprofit organization committed to promoting the dairy industry through educational programs and college scholarships for students from dairy families. ODW sponsors the Oregon Dairy Princess Ambassador, a college student who visits schools and community events around the state to educate the public about dairy products.

Emma Miller, the 2015 princess, will visit 80 schools, interact with over 12,000 children, and connect with thousands more at 35 fairs and other events this year. Miller will serve 110 days out of the year, and Megan Sprute, the first alternate, will serve 30 days.

Jessica Kliewer is the state dairy princess director and the only paid employee of ODW. She has a full-time job scheduling visits, developing programs and traveling across Oregon.

The princess does presentations promoting dairy for children in kindergarten through fourth grade.

“The kids are always excited to see the princess and they ask her great questions. They’re curious about how cows are treated and what cows like to do,” Kliewer said.

Jill Hewitt, current president of ODW, said the women share a passion for dairy.

“I went through the dairy princess program, and the Clackamas County ladies got me involved again,” Hewitt said. “I’ve been really involved the last 12 years or so, but I’m relatively new compared to many of these women.”

Joan Jongeneel, ODW president from 1997 to 1998, has participated in the organization for 29 years. Besides serving as president, she was vice president for two years and has done product demonstrations, built floats for parades and managed the ice cream booth at Oregon Ag Fest and the state fair.

Jongeneel’s involvement mirrors the dedication of ODW’s many volunteers, and her exposure to agriculture started early in life.

“I was raised on dairy farms in Oregon, Washington and California,” Jongeneel said. “I learned to work at the dairy in first grade. I fed calves and helped with milking.”

She later married Arie Jongeneel, and they established A.J. Dairy in Mt. Angel, Ore.

Agriculture has shaped Hewitt’s outlook.

“I learned that if you want to do well, you have to put a lot of work and effort into whatever you are doing,” Hewitt said. “I apply this to every aspect of my life, from dairy farming to raising kids.”

Balancing her ODW responsibilities with a young family is complicated, but Hewitt finds the time because she values the organization.

“The women running ODW have been doing so for years,” Hewitt said. “I feel strongly it’s time for my generation to make sure ODW stays strong for the next generation.”

The next generation is already showing interest in ODW and the Dairy Princess program.

“You can see the gleam in her eye and the little shy smile,” Hewitt said about her sixth-grade daughter. “She wants to do it when she’s old enough.”

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Dairy association official sees challenges ahead http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/dairy-association-official-sees-challenges-ahead http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/dairy-association-official-sees-challenges-ahead#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 11:06:06 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609912 California’s dairy industry — the largest in the nation — is brimming with vitality and promise, but Western United Dairymen CEO Paul Martin says big challenges also lie ahead.

“In 2014 the over base milk was $21.16 (per hundredweight) and in February 2015 it was $13.83 — a huge drop,” he said. “This created a challenge for people to deal with and especially making it difficult to pay the bills.”

The challenges come from within the U.S. and overseas.

“We operate in a world market and there are a lot of factors from outside, plus the strong dollar, that have an influence on how much we can export,” he said. “China is a big market for us and they have slowed their buying, resulting in a drop in prices. I believe China is probably wanting to develop its own (dairy) industry.”

Martin said the price challenge combined with the drought, which is now it is fourth year, make it hard to be optimistic.

Western United Dairymen is California’s oldest dairy association, dating back to the 1930s. As a grassroots, voluntary membership organization, WUD represents more than 60 percent of the milk produced in California. The association is dedicated to supporting California dairy producers with full-time political advocates in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

“There is also an ongoing debate over California joining the federal milk marketing order pricing system and the outreach to members necessary to understand potential change,” he said. “We won’t know what U.S. Department of Agriculture will come up with for a couple of years.”

There are mounting court challenges over the environmental impact of dairy farms, which means that policy is being made by the courts and not legislative bodies.

“Most producers want to protect the environment but there is nothing more damaging than uncertainty,” Martin said. However, “there is light on the horizon because some of the environmental agencies are interested in the outcome and getting the job done.”

Also on the list of challenges are labor, animal care, endangered species, regulatory fees, antibiotic use, food safety and relationships with other dairy trade associations, state and federal regulatory agencies and with research institutions.

Labor is a huge, looming challenge for dairymen.

Labor and immigration reform are “an absolute must for agriculture and the dairy industry,” he said. “We need to have people available year around, but most reform has failed to address that and hasn’t made it through the Congress.”

In spite of all the challenge, Martin said he is optimistic about the future because of the human factor.

“They are ag people who are resilient, innovative, committed and in it for the long haul,” he said. “We have traveled rocky roads before and this is just another rocky one. We will just have to put it in four-wheel-drive and go.”

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Dairy family runs Tillamook farm http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/dairy-family-runs-tillamook-farm http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/dairy-family-runs-tillamook-farm#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 11:04:13 -0400 Geoff Parks http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609913 TILLAMOOK, Ore. — Daryl Fletcher is a fifth-generation dairyman who came into the world one month to the day after his parents bought Mistvale Farm in December of 1971.

So he can be forgiven if he speaks from the heart about the dairy operation, which he now runs with his wife, Roxanne, herself a fourth-generation dairywoman.

“I grew up here,” he said of the 195-acre dairy situated just southeast of the Tillamook, Ore., city center. His parents, Marion and Anita, still live adjacent to Daryl and Roxanne’s home and help with the milking and other chores. Mistvale constituted only 75 acres when they purchased it from Marion and Anita.

Daryl said Mistvale added registered Brown Swiss in the early 1980s and the Jerseys from Roxanne’s family’s Molalla-area Fallen Oak Jerseys operation when the couple was married in October of 2005. Of the nearly 500 cows, calves and heifers they hold on the property at one time, Daryl said they milk about 230. About 80 percent of the herd is Holstein and the rest are the other two breeds.

“We’re 100 percent registered,” Roxanne said. “Every single animal on this place, Holsteins, Brown Swiss and Jerseys.”

Roxanne also comes by her dairy expertise honestly. In addition to working on her family’s farm from an early age, she was an Oregon Dairy Princess Ambassador from Clackamas County for two years and the State Princess Ambassador First Alternate for two more.

Mistvale continues to be a family farm, as Daryl and Roxanne have three young children to help out as they grow older: Nolan, 8; Nathan, 4 1/2; and Jacoby, 9 months. At present, Mistvale also has Daryl’s sister, Kristi Sherer, working with the cows, one other employee and a high-school student who helps out as well.

“My parents and I each take off two milkings a week,” Daryl said.

“They are well past the age of retirement and still truckin’ on,” Roxanne added.

Part of their new acreage on their rectangular-shaped farm — 30 acres — was planted to field corn last year.

They bumped that up to 40 acres this year, Daryl said.

He said Mistvale has had “stray voltage issues” for years and the Fletchers had to put filters on their electric fences, replace a filter on a vacuum pump, change panel boxes and other measures until, “knock on wood, we finally had a full tank last week.”

Despite the stray voltage problems that vexed the Fletchers, operations at the dairy generally proceed in the expected manner, leading to a rolling herd average for the Holsteins of 21,882 pounds of milk per cow — a bit lower than expected.

“We’re 26,000 to 27,000 usually, but the stray voltage issue has really hammered that number,” Daryl said.

“It’s really been exasperating,” Roxanne added.

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Service company helps keep the milk flowing http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/service-company-helps-keep-the-milk-flowing http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/service-company-helps-keep-the-milk-flowing#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 11:01:49 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609914 IDAHO FALLS — Behind every good dairy there’s a dairy supply service.

Robert Taylor, general manager at the Idaho Falls branch of Mountain West Dairy Services, says his company covers a lot of turf, with branches in Preston, Idaho, and in Montana.

“We cover dairies all the way to the Canadian border and down to northern Utah,” Taylor says.

A good service company provides one-stop shopping for dairy owners, he says.

“We provide all the necessary chemicals that dairies use — the iodine, acids, detergents for cleaning out the pipelines. We have 24/7/365-days-a-year on-call service because dairies can’t stop milking,” he says.

The company also sells equipment parts and builds facilities.

“If someone needs an urgent repair they just call us and we send someone to fix it,” he says. “We do new construction and remodel older facilities.

“We do just about everything except milk the cows. Our technicians can fix it, make it work, do all the milk refrigeration.”

Every dairy needs a place to order supplies or get help with repairs.

“If something goes wrong with the milking machine system, you’d be milking cows by hand,” he says.

Dairies rely on dairy supply companies because many parts and products must come through vendors.

Most people don’t realize how much work goes into producing milk, and all the efforts behind the scenes.

“I came from a mortgage software background, to help with the office work. All I knew was that you could buy a gallon of milk at the grocery store. I had no concept of the complexities involved in getting it there,” Taylor says.

It’s quite a feat to keep everything working smoothly and the cattle healthy.

“We also help with animal health, supplying many products dairies use for health care,” Taylor says.

The Idaho Falls office employs a dozen people, full- and part-time. This includes bookkeepers as well as the technicians who go out and fix and install equipment.

A dairy supply is not like Walmart where all kinds of customers walk through the door.

“Our customers are very specific, and a dairy doesn’t pop up out of the blue. We know all the barns, we know what they have, what they need, and we have an ongoing working relationship with them,” Taylor explains.

There is also a large element of trust.

“The dairyman can call and tell us about a problem and have us come out and fix it. Often we’ll go fix it, and won’t even see the dairyman,” he says. “But he knows it will be taken care of and that we know his barn. We probably built it or upgraded; we are very familiar with all the barns we service.”

Dairy Supply Service

Owners: Craig and Susan Johansen

Location: Idaho Falls, Idaho

In business: Since 2000

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Drought, immigration reform top issues for dairy http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/drought-immigration-reform-top-issues-for-dairy http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/drought-immigration-reform-top-issues-for-dairy#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 10:59:38 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609915 PETALUMA, Calif. — Dairyman Lucas Deniz said the best decision he made was converting from conventional to organic milk production.

“In fact, there is a shortage of organic milk and stores are running low,” he said. “The prices are high and that’s great for dairymen like me.”

For his operation, he said, it is not hard to follow the organic regulations such as pasturing cattle, avoiding antibiotics and using organic feed only. His dairy is now 80 percent organic.

Deniz and his father, Ernie, have worked the farm together since moving from Ripon in California’s Central Valley, where his grandfather founded the dairy 69 years ago. The 450-cow herd is primarily Holsteins.

The days are long. Workers begin milking around 8:45 a.m. and finish at 6:30 p.m.

Deniz Dairy sends its conventional milk to a wholesaler who sells it to Whole Foods, Petaluma Creamery and other outlets. The organic milk goes to Sierra, a broker. All of the milk stays in California.

The life of a dairyman agrees with Deniz.

“This is not really a job,” he said. “It is a way of life that I can share with my family.”

With California in its fourth year of drought, water is the main challenge.

“California is drying up, but drilling new wells is not the longterm answer,” he said, adding that many farms in the Central Valley are drilling wells just to survive.

“Everyone is drawing from the same aquifer and it’s a race to the bottom,” he said. “Wells are going dry because neighbors are going deeper.”

Deniz said the state’s water policies are outdated.

“We are way behind where we need to be,” he said. “Farmers, politicians and environmentalists should be working together.”

The second biggest challenge facing the dairy industry is labor, he said.

“Water is on everyone’s mind but labor is an underlying problem and we are having a difficult time dealing with it,” he said. “There is a shortage of good, reliable labor and the major problem is with immigration policies. California has relied historically on migrant workers as the backbone for the state’s agriculture.”

Dietz said the path to citizenship is long, involved and expensive for those who want to work in this country.

“I think it will take federal immigration reform to ease the problem,” he said. “Congress will have to sit down and do something that will work for agriculture. They will have to find an easier way for those undocumented people — who have been living in the U.S. and are not criminals — to get legal status.

“The horse is out of the barn and we should not make 5 million undocumented workers go to the end of the line and wait.”

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Cheese-makers seek to grow with community http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/cheese-makers-seek-to-grow-with-community http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/cheese-makers-seek-to-grow-with-community#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 10:58:03 -0400 Erick Peterson http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609916 TROUT LAKE, Wash. — John and Marci Shuman left Portland for a small Washington town in the shadow of Mount Adams where they could get involved in the dairy business.

From that desire grew Cascadia Creamery.

John, also the head cheese-maker, said his products — aged, raw, organic cow’s milk cheeses — are unusual.

“It’s a fairly unique combination, especially in the Pacific Northwest, having both certified organic and raw,” he said.

Few operations produce such cheese, he said, because it is difficult to obtain certified organic raw milk. Fortunately, they are in a small valley with nearby dairies, and he has easy access to raw milk.

He makes 800 pounds of cheese each week and distributes it around the Pacific Northwest and parts of California. High-end restaurants in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego are buyers, as are Whole Foods and other markets.

Wife and co-owner Marci, who is also the sales and office manager, said the business started as a hobby and has since grown to support the family. Like her husband, she did not have a dairy or cheese background.

“It just made good business sense,” she said of cheese-making. Also, they were attracted to the lifestyle and history of the industry.

Cheese-making goes back well over 100 years in Trout Lake, they said. Its colorful history includes immigrants, farmers, cattlemen and entrepreneurs. Some of the old structures that housed cheese operations are still standing, over 50 years after the last of them closed.

They learned about the history as they were exploring the area and looking for a place to raise their children. Once they made the move, John worked for a local dairy for two years. During that time, he learned about dairy work and started taking cows as payment.

He built a small herd and then sold it to help support the cheese-making business, something he had started on the side.

He appreciates that the local dairy people took him seriously and showed him the ropes of dairy work. In return, he said, he wants to help improve the local economy.

He said he and his wife describe themselves as “wide-eyed entrepreneurs” who grew tired of corporate lives. They wanted to be part of a small town.

They employ local people from neighboring dairy families.

“The hope is to grow this to the point where we are supporting as many cows that we can and keep that money in the local community,” he said. “That’s our goal, to bring this business up and bring the satellite dairies up.”

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Small Idaho dairy has lots of room to grow http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/small-idaho-dairy-has-lots-of-room-to-grow http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/small-idaho-dairy-has-lots-of-room-to-grow#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 10:56:50 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609917 Rupert, Idaho — Six years ago, Don and Renae Halverson began marketing their own brand of bottled organic milk, which they delivered to the Sun Valley area.

Last fall, they started selling milk to Glanbia, marking a plan to grow their dairy in the coming year.

Don grew up on a dairy near Rupert, and his family owned a 400-acre ranch near Salmon, Idaho.

“When I was 21, I took over my parents’ dairy for a year,” he said.

Then the family sold the dairy and he went to work at the local cheese plant.

“I worked there for 9 years and then decided dairying wasn’t so bad. Renae and I bought a dairy facility and a few cows about a quarter mile from where I was raised,” Don said.

“At one point we had more than 100 cows and a hired man, but I realized I enjoy managing cows, not people. So we cut back to what we could handle by ourselves,” he said. “Our six children (three boys and three girls) helped as they grew up.”

Renae takes an active part in the dairy.

“She was a city girl, raised in Burley, and had never been around a dairy, but she adapted very well. In the summer when I’m busy with haying, she does a lot of the milking,” Don said.

The dairy currently milks 35 Holsteins.

“The main reason we’ve had such a small dairy is that this is all the market we had for our milk, with the bottling,” he said. “But Glanbia will now take all we can produce, so we recently purchased 33 heifers that will calve next spring.”

Glanbia has two plants — one in Gooding and one in Twin Falls — and recently bought a cheese plant in Blackfoot that makes organic cheese.

“The switch to organic production was relatively easy, he said. “We already were grazing our cows and doing more organic, so it wasn’t hard to go completely organic.”

When they first went organic seven years ago, they decided to market their milk independently.

“So we contacted Stoker’s bottling plant in Burley, and they agreed to bottle our milk under our label. It was an interesting adventure, doing the bottling and sending our milk to Sun Valley,” Don said.

“When we sent our milk to the bottling plant I needed a milk truck to deliver it there, and a refrigerated delivery truck to take bottled milk to Sun Valley once a week,” he said.

This was originally a traditional dairy, with the cows confined. In the mid 1990s they made a gradual transition to grazing.

“I was green-chopping hay and bringing it to the cows. I did that for a year and then thought it would be easier to just let the cows harvest it themselves,” Don said.

The cows graze through summer, starting in early May.

“They graze until our first killing frost — about the 10th of September — when the grass slows its growth,” he said. “We gradually feed the cows more and transition them back to harvested feed for winter.”

Cows are fed alfalfa hay and ground corn.

“We grow all of our hay and buy the corn,” he said. “Organic corn is very difficult to find in this area. It is generally shipped from Iowa, and the last corn I bought was $550 per ton.”

“One thing I enjoyed when we were bottling milk was meeting our customers. When I was stocking shelves in some of the stores, people would come up and say they wanted some milk, and I would introduce myself and tell them I was a dairyman,” Don said.

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132-year-old dairy follows a unique strategy http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/132-year-old-dairy-follows-a-unique-strategy http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/132-year-old-dairy-follows-a-unique-strategy#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 10:51:51 -0400 Erick Peterson http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609918 Trout Lake, Wash. ­— Jesse Pearson of Mountain Laurel Jerseys has been able to revive his family’s dairy by taking it in an unusual direction.

His great-grandfather established the dairy in 1883 and then passed it on to his son, who then handed it over to his son. Jesse’s father, Monte Pearson, took the operational reins and converted it to organic in 1995.

Then, three years ago, Monte and Jesse’s brother, Travis, moved most of the cows to another dairy.

Mountain Laurel, the family dairy farm for over a century, was vacated, but Jesse saw an opportunity.

He had been working with his father-in-law at another dairy where they produced raw milk. Jesse saw a small market for the product.

Under his father-in-law’s label, North Land of Milk and Honey, they sold raw milk to nearby stores. Selling at $12 per gallon, they could turn a profit even with a small herd.

In recent months, he moved cows to the old Mountain Laurel Jersey property. He now tends 13 milking cows, which are grass fed and milked only once per day.

He believes that infrequent milking and good nutrition help him create milk that is nutritionally dense and tastier.

“It’s hard to drink other store-bought milk now,” he said. After consuming only his product, he has lost his taste for anything else.

His feelings, he said, are shared by enthusiastic buyers, who purchase the milk under the North Land label and the Mountain Laurel label. He produces 25 gallons per day and sells milk to stores and leaves it at customer drop sites in nearby towns. He also sells it from the farm store.

As the milk is not pasteurized, his biggest challenge is keeping it clean. To this end, he works closely with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, which samples and tests the milk every month. Also, the cows are regularly checked.

He has to be more careful than he would at a standard dairy, but it is worth the effort, he said. In creating a raw product, he is able to charge enough to support the dairy.

Father Monte, still the owner of the dairy, said the raw milk dairy is a low-risk opportunity.

“I’m not going to lose my shirt over it,” he said.

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Dairy owner holds onto her dreams http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/dairy-owner-holds-onto-her-dreams http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/dairy-owner-holds-onto-her-dreams#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 10:49:38 -0400 Gail Oberst http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609919 Yachats, Ore. — Deb Hodel-Ostling was 5 years old when her Grandpa Joe sold his Frances, Wash., dairy, but she was old enough to know what she wanted.

“I begged my dad to buy it,” she said. He didn’t, but the man who bought her grandpa’s farm was happy to let her work on it. She grew up feeding calves and milking cows. At 17, she took on a paid position and her career began, moving from working in 100-cow dairies to 500-cow operations and was eventually assistant herdsman on a 1,000-cow dairy. She delivered calves, treated the sick, and managed the health of the herd.

She began dreaming of owning her own dairy, and purchased a few cows.

But life happens. She sold her cows and set aside her dreams for several years until 2001, when she moved to Waldport and leased the Carson-Kauffman Ranch.

“A dream reignited,” she said. The ranch had been a dairy in the past, but Hodel-Ostling restarted her farm with three beef cattle. Within a few years, she began purchasing milking equipment. In 2010, she bought her first dairy cow, then completed her milk room and milking parlor. Today she has 10 dairy cows, three of which she is milking, and 25 beef cattle.

She runs a herd share program. Her milk cows and goats are partly owned by people who come from Florence, Yachats, Waldport, Newport, Lincoln City, Siletz and other communities. The herd share owners share expenses and share in the herd’s products.

She has also worked for 10 years as a bookkeeper at Copeland Lumber in Waldport.

All’s well that ends well, right? Not quite.

Two years ago Hodel-Ostling was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, a rare bone marrow disease. True to form, she was upbeat:

“About one in a million people are lucky enough to get something so scary. I always tell people, I am the luckiest person they know!” Hodel-Ostling said. Avoiding bone marrow transplant surgery, she opted instead to try a anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG) regime that uses antibodies developed from horse blood. Two months later, her blood counts began to revive. Today, she is still anemic and still taking immune suppressant drugs, but feeling better.

“Hopefully, I’ll be rid of that in another year,” she said.

Has it slowed her down? Not much, she says during her lunch break on a busy day at Copeland Lumber.

“I’m happy to still be doing what I love.”

For more information about the dairy, visit the website, www.tripledranchs.com, or call 541-270-4284.

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Dairies, breweries make unusual partners http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/dairies-breweries-make-unusual-partners http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/dairies-breweries-make-unusual-partners#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 10:47:56 -0400 Gail Oberst http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609920 Where would breweries be without dairies? It might not be apparent at first glance, but some breweries wouldn’t have gotten far without help from the diary industry.

For example, you might step into a former creamery that has been repurposed as a brewery, as at Klamath Basin Brewery in Klamath Falls.

Or maybe you’ll sidle up to a farmhouse beer at Agrarian Brewery near Eugene, which was built in a former dairy barn and uses some repurposed dairy equipment.

Or, you might sip a craft beer that was brewed in a stainless steel former dairy tank, as at Roseburg’s Backside Brewery, whose owner K.C. McKillip converted diary tanks into a mash tun and other tanks used in brewing.

Many of Oregon’s early craft breweries, including the Widmer Brothers, Bridgeport and McMenamins used former dairy equipment in their start-up years, according to Pete Dunlop, long-time beer historian and writer. The second wave of small craft breweries followed suit in the early 2000s. Alan Sprints, owner of Portland’s Hair of the Dog brewery, once used several former milk receivers as fermenters. One of these continues to operate as a mash tun at his popular brewery.

The trend continues today, and as a result, prices for used equipment are increasing in the beery Northwest.

Andy Walton, owner of Halsey’s Lake View Farms, which includes a small dairy operation, said the demand for second-hand stainless steel tanks can make it hard for small dairies to find used equipment.

“There’s very little used stuff for the small guy anymore,” Walton said. “It’s all going to the breweries and wineries.”

Walton said small tanks under 500 gallons were once “a dime a dozen.” Today, not so. He recently went shopping for a stainless steel tank and found that the bargains had migrated outside beer country to the Midwest and eastern U.S.

In addition to craft breweries and wineries, small creameries and even small coffee roasters are buying up old dairy equipment.

Walton said he’s not complaining, though. As a long-time farmer who direct-markets his produce to the same people drinking craft beer, wine and coffee, he said everyone benefits from the demand for locally made products.

“It’s good for all of us to promote this craft community,” Walton said. Cheese-makers, dairy owners, brewers and winemakers all benefit from the exchange of information and equipment.

The “I’ll-scratch-your-back” attitude extends beyond equipment. For centuries, breweries have been disposing of their spent grain at local ranches and dairies, where it is used as silage supplement. Forwarding the spent grain benefitted the brewers as well: In one year in Oregon, breweries generate 140,000 tons of spent grain, which would cost $8.4 million to compost, where applicable, or $18 million for the landfill charges, said Brian Butenschoen, the Oregon Brewers Guild’s executive director.

In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed new rules that would require additional and expensive packaging and testing to deliver the mash, citing food safety concerns. Brewers and farmers banded together and demanded a review, saying the proposed changes would be so burdensome that the practice would probably discontinue. With help from legislators, the FDA backed down and maintained the status quo.

“One argument that resonated is that FDA is attempting to provide a solution to something that isn’t a problem and hasn’t been for the thousands of years brewers have been feeding spent grain to animals,” said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, a national group that promotes craft brewers.

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Fifth-generation dairy family continues to thrive http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/fifth-generation-dairy-family-continues-to-thrive http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/fifth-generation-dairy-family-continues-to-thrive#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 10:44:04 -0400 Geoff Parks http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609921 St. Paul, Ore. — Milking 350 cows for the organic market takes up every bit of the 165 acres of lush grass pastures at Steve and Susan Pierson’s Sar-Ben Farms, near St. Paul, Ore.

Steve Pierson began working for Marlin Rasmussen as a herdsman in the early 1980s and married Rasmussen’s daughter, Susan. The young couple partnered with Rasmussen and his wife, Joni, and converted the farm to an organic operation in 2005.

“I’m the cliché,” Steve said. “I married the farmer’s daughter.”

“Grandpa (John Rasmussen) started here on this land in 1959, then dad (Marlin) took it over and now my husband and I are here with my dad and our kids,” said Susan Pierson.

She is the fourth-generation of the farm family. The whole enterprise was begun by her great-grandfather, who emigrated from Denmark and started Sar-Ben in Nebraska. Sar-Ben is taken from the first three letters of the name Rasmussen and the state of Nebraska, turned backwards, she said.

The Piersons’ children, Kevin, 27; Ryan, 23; and Sara, 19 are the fifth generation to work at Sar-Ben, and both Kevin and Ryan have homes adjacent to their parents’ on their 180 acres.

Kevin graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in agricultural sciences, while Ryan took an animal science degree from OSU. Sara is the reigning Marion County Dairy Princess-Ambassador and also attends OSU.

The Piersons milk registered Holsteins, registered Jerseys and some cross-bred cows, she said, with all the milk going to Organic Valley farmers cooperative. Susan Pierson said it was a “sharp learning curve” to move from conventional production to organic, but Steve, 60, was emphatic about the necessity of making the switch.

“We wouldn’t be standing here if we hadn’t gone to grazing and organic,” he said. “It allows us to be more sustainable economically and allows our kids to be able to do this.”

Sar-Ben Farms is certified organic through the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

“When we’re grazing full-on, the cows are in the barn about 4 hours and spend 20 hours on the pasture,” Steve said.

“This is as good as it gets for a cow,” he said, pointing to fields of predominantly perennial ryegrass. He said he also has had orchardgrass, white clover and brassicas in the grazing fields.

“It’s a salad bar for cows,” Susan said.

Although Steve said organic milk products represent only 5 percent of the U.S. supply, “most people who go organic find that it’s economically a significant advantage.” The real stumbling block is that organic farmers must have access to large areas of pasture on which to graze their herds.

“A minimum of 30 percent of our dry matter intake is from the pasture” during the grazing season, he said, “Cows have to be on the pasture and not everyone can do that. If you have 1,200 cows, it’s tough to do.”

Family is important to Steve and Susan, who say they look forward to Sar-Ben Farms being productive for the next generations.

“I see the farm being here in 50 years with great-grandchildren running it,” he said on the farm’s website.

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Dairy Commission hires new communications director http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/dairy-commission-hires-new-communications-director http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/dairy-commission-hires-new-communications-director#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 10:39:48 -0400 MITCH LIES http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609922 PORTLAND — Some might call it a trial by fire. Josh Thomas considered it a stroke of good fortune when his first day on the job as senior director of communications for the Oregon Dairy Products Commission coincided with the opening day of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association’s annual convention.

“I was really blessed,” he said. “From day one, I had a good opportunity to meet a lot of people in the industry, and everyone has been very welcoming.”

Other than being what he described as “a very loyal consumer of Oregon dairy products,” Thomas had minimal association with the Oregon dairy industry prior to joining the commission in February. But, with 18 years of experience in communications, including an eight-year stint as marketing and media relations manager for the Port of Portland, Thomas has the skill set that has enabled him to hit the ground running.

His first priority, he said, is focusing on upcoming events, including helping plan the Farmers Fighting Hunger Campaign. The two-state, month-long campaign, which is spearheaded by dairy farmers, raises awareness and seeks food and funds to battle hunger among school children. As part of the campaign, Thomas is helping organize and promote the campaign’s flagship event, the Milk Carton Boat Race, scheduled June 7 at Westmoreland Park in Portland.

Then there’s the big picture.

“In the big picture,” he said, “I am developing a communications program that includes issues and crisis management, industry relations, media relations, communications strategy and consumer confidence.”

Thomas also hopes to work closely with Oregon dairy families in an effort to inform them of issues and to know about their issues.

“If there are macro-issues that could impact their businesses, we hope to keep them in the loop,” he said, “and if there are micro-issues affecting them, we need to know about those issues and bring that to the national front so we can interface with other states, because a lot of the issues we face in Oregon don’t stop at the borders.”

While at the port, Thomas learned what it takes to gain access to foreign markets and to recognize trends that could be utilized by exporters. He believes the dairy industry is well positioned to expand exports to Pacific Rim countries.

“In places like Japan, Korea and China, we are seeing increased interest in Oregon dairy products,” he said. “That bodes well for the future (of Oregon dairy products).”

Asked why he left the port to join the Dairy Products Commission, Thomas said: “It was appealing to me. It was a newly created position and it was attractive to be able to come in and build something from the ground up.

“It is a great industry to be in and one that has a lot of growth potential, so I want to be a part of that,” he said.

“We are not one of largest dairy-producing states by a long shot, but if you look at recent history, we’ve always been in the top five for quality,” he said. “When you talk about cheeses, ice cream, butter or some of the other products that Oregon companies do really well, those are some opportunities that may be in demand, not only in domestic markets, but also overseas in international markets.”

Pete Kent, executive director of the commission, said he is excited to have Thomas join the organization.

“I think Josh is an excellent fit,” Kent said. “He has a very unique skill set, in terms of understanding media relations, messaging, positioning and the ability to tie together a lot of pieces in the dairy industry all the way from the farm side, to the processors side, to the allied industry side.”

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Seattle cheese-makers grow business in public http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/seattle-cheese-makers-grow-business-in-public http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Dairy/20150604/seattle-cheese-makers-grow-business-in-public#Comments Thu, 4 Jun 2015 10:37:24 -0400 Erick Peterson http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150609923 SEATTLE — In the early 2000s, Kurt Beecher Dammeier was looking for a business with permanence. After much deliberation, he chose to make cheese.

“We wanted a business that would be around for the next 40 to 80 years, at least,” co-worker Chris Birkeland said. In addition, they wanted something about which they could be passionate.

Cheese satisfied both of those criteria. It is a product that has been around for ages, he said, and it would be around for many years to come.

Nearly two decades later, they are still at it, and growing.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, four to five employees at a time make cheese in the 1,400-square-foot facility in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. They take milk from a pair of Washington state dairies and process it into cheese.

This is done in full view of the public; windows expose production to passers-by on the street. Diners inside Beecher’s café, which is in the same building, are also able to look through the windows and see cheese-makers at work. They munch on the company’s “world famous” macaroni and cheese, and other menu items, as they watch.

Dan Schleicher, senior cheese-maker, said the tourists are amusing, as they sometimes stand at the window for several minutes engrossed in workers who are doing rather ordinary activities.

He said the fishbowl environment is initially distracting for new cheese-makers, but only for “the first week or two.”

“You get used to it,” he said. “After that, you just see it as a job to do. You’ve got to stay on track.”

And it is a big job — processing four 10,000-pound vats a day. There is not much time to be distracted by tourists, who line up at the window and at the door waiting to enter the restaurant.

Being highly visible contributes to the company’s success, helping it grow. People see the sterile and professional atmosphere of the processing room, they taste the finished product and develop a connection with the company.

With a growing fan base, the company has mushroomed. Beecher’s has opened a second Seattle location at Sea-Tac Airport.

Beecher’s has even grown beyond Seattle, opening a facility in Manhattan in 2011 that is 30 percent larger than the Seattle location. Like the Pike Place facility, the one in New York City has large glass windows so the public can watch.

On top of the commercial success, Beecher’s has also attained a highly respected place in the industry. Its cheeses, including its Flagship Reserve (an 18-month-aged “cheddar style”) and Flagsheep (a cow/sheep’s milk blend), are regular winners at the American Cheese Society’s Annual Conference.

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Blue Mountain Community College turns techies into aggies http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Education/20150514/blue-mountain-community-college-turns-techies-into-aggies http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Education/20150514/blue-mountain-community-college-turns-techies-into-aggies#Comments Thu, 14 May 2015 13:18:15 -0400 http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150519921 Did you know that video games and agriculture have something in common? Well, they do! I’m not talking about some absurd game or reality TV show either ... I’m talking technology. The technology that often confounds or frustrates the older, wiser generations is helping to propel agriculture into the next level of prosperity ... and precision. This is why all generations of agriculturalists are adopting different aspects of precision agriculture, not only in Oregon but across the country.

While the most entertaining tool in precision agriculture, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, a.k.a. drone) is attracting loads of attention, practical application of miniature helicopters in agriculture is still in its infancy. However, there are several tools that are much more advanced, and they save money, too. For example, the increasingly popular GPS steering systems that can be installed on tractors, planters and combines actually add up to big savings, often enough to pay off the initial investment in only a few years! They save in: fuel, fertilizer, pesticides and crop loss due to missed swathes or overlap. For those of us who are irrigators, you can now monitor and control your irrigation from your smartphone! Oh, and you can irrigate those low spots less and those dry spots more! Similar technology exists for variable rate applications of fertilizer and seed. With all this technology, we are bound to experience some benefits and savings, but we’re also doomed to deal with technology failures.

Failing and advancing technology is the focus of the new precision irrigated agriculture program at Blue Mountain Community College (BMCC). While the older, wiser generations have readily adopted this new technology, few graduates or current agricultural workers have the skills to operate, maintain, and, yes, repair precision ag technology. The demand for technically skilled laborers in our region, across the country, and internationally is high, and it’s projected to increase by about 14 percent in the next 10 years. In response, BMCC developed a new program to meet local needs and provide the masses of tech-savvy high school graduates with some profitable and productive career paths. Currently, a two-year, associate’s degree in precision ag is sufficient to get graduates into positions with starting salaries of about $30,000, but with the potential to earn over $65,000 as they gain experience.

The new precision ag program at BMCC offers students three different career paths: precision irrigation maintenance, data analyst and farm management. All three pathways provide students with the skills to work safely and efficiently in an agricultural setting, troubleshoot new variable rate technologies, and develop recommendations using precision ag tools. Students are also required to engage with the industry through internships and work experience. This new program does not require many additional resources or courses. A partnership with Oregon State University Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center has provided a number of new center pivots for hands-on learning as well as land for the Precision Ag Center that is proposed in the May 19 BMCC Bond. Local businesses and dealerships have also stepped up to provide access to new equipment for students. The program integrates nicely with BMCC’s current and outstanding agriculture program, as well as the new mechatronics program, which uses similar technology in agricultural and industrial processing. Additionally, the precision ag curriculum is designed for both current ag workers and traditional students, offering many of the new courses online and on-campus. While the precision irrigated ag program doesn’t start until the fall, BMCC offered a short course this spring that was met with great success. Soon-to-be graduates had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and training in some of the basic concepts and technologies used in precision ag. Blue Mountain looks forward to welcoming the first cohort of precision irrigated ag students, from all walks of life, this fall!

If you are interested in more information regarding enrollment or financial aid opportunities for the new precision irrigated agriculture program, please contact Alex Murphy at 541-278-5781 or amurphy@bluecc.edu.

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