Capital Press | Special Sections Capital Press Tue, 31 Mar 2015 19:03:15 -0400 en Capital Press | Special Sections Family farmers keep up with latest innovations Fri, 13 Mar 2015 14:00:07 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas SHOSHONE, Idaho — The Taber family moved to Idaho from Pennsylvania in 1975, when Chris was 6 years old and Darren was 2. Their youngest brother, Matt, was born in 1982.

“As a young man, my dad came out West every fall to go hunting, then decided to move here,” Chris said. “He had a farm in Pennsylvania and two sons and there was no room for expansion — no way that his children would be able to farm with him.”

The name of their farm is a combination of names.

“My dad’s name is Don, my mother’s name is Beverly so they took the first of his name and the last of hers to come up with Donley Farms,” Chris said.

They raise corn, hay and grain, and started raising sugar beets in 1991.

“I was out of school by then and wanted something different in the crop rotation and talked my dad into planting 80 acres of sugar beets. Within a few years the farmers in our area bought the sugar company and formed a co-op. By then we were growing 300 acres of sugar beets,” he said. “We usually go 5 or 6 years with alfalfa, then plant corn. We are on a 4-year rotation of crops between beets. The sugar factory frowns on shortening the beet rotation very much, or you tend to get more disease problems.”

They generally follow corn with beets, then come back with corn, then malt barley, corn and back to beets.

Water is a challenge on dry years.

“Some crops take more water than others, so we might be stuck with small grains on some fields 2 years in a row because there wasn’t enough water for anything else,” Chris said.

The goal is to have the highest quality of whatever crop they raise. “We do some test plots, to be on the front end of new varieties. This gives first-hand information on which experimental varieties might be available in the future,” he said. They try to find varieties that do well in their farm conditions.

Chris is the farm manager. His dad and brother Matt run the dairy.

“Darren helps with the dairy and the farm, runs the baler and puts up all the hay. We do custom harvesting; we chop and thrash a lot of corn and grain for other farmers. When harvest starts in late July we are busy until everything is finished — sometimes into December,” Chris said.

They do contract harvesting for a big dairy, which enables them to run new equipment. “If we were just doing our own crops, we’d have older equipment, trying to keep it running as long as possible — upgrading only when we have to, rather than when it’s more advantageous,” he said.

Chris also runs the forage harvester and combine.

“This is my time for myself, my peace and quiet, away from the daily grind of dealing with employees and other tasks. I spend a lot of time on the phone, because in summer we may have 34 employees,” he said, adding that it’s a big job keeping track of everything and making sure it all runs smoothly.

“We built a large shop in 2008, and have two full-time mechanics besides myself, working on the equipment,” Chris said.

“We try to be diversified. My dad is on several boards in various ag industries and brings those experiences back to the farm. He’ll tell us we ought to try this, or grow that. We put those principles to work, to optimize what we are doing, because we can’t just go out and buy another farm.”

Land is too expensive, he said, “Yet we need to expand, to keep family members on the farm.”

Creative ideas can often be more effective than trying to farm more land, he said.

“My dad’s goal is to see what he can learn from other people, to make this farm more efficient. We were one of the first to run a strip-till machine for beets and corn. It’s a one-pass operation that puts down fertilizer at the same time you till. Much of our ground is sandy and highly erodible, and we have to minimize wind erosion.”

He said he enjoys being on the cutting edge of new ideas and new ways to do a better job of farming.

Donley Farm

Owners: Chris, Darren, Matt and their father, Don Taber

Location: Near Shoshone, Idaho, since 1976

Crops: Corn, hay, sugar beets and malt barley

Size: 5,000 acres

Potatoes are the stars at this farm Fri, 13 Mar 2015 14:16:36 -0400 LACEY JARRELL Gemstar potatoes are the star of the show for one Southern Oregon farm.

According to Rob Unruh, owner of Robert L. Unruh Farms in Malin, Ore., gemstar russets are good in taste, quality and appearance.

“The gemstar is an absolutely gorgeous russet potato,” Unruh said.

A past industry leader, the russet Burbank, is one of the most versatile and tasty potatoes, but it isn’t pretty on the store shelf, according to Unruh. He said gemstars compete well with Burbanks in every category.

Uhruh’s wife, Cheri, said gemstars are currently her favorite: She can bake them, mash them, make rolls with them, and gemstars even fry well.

“I can do anything with them,” Cheri said.

In Malin, 150 acres of Unruh’s 700-acre farm are dedicated to potatoes. In 2014, about 100 acres were dedicated to gemstars.

Much of the land Unruh farms has been in his family for generations.

“We’re still raising spuds on a piece of ground my grandfather farmed in the 1940s. For some reason, it still raises an excellent potato,” Unruh said.

Unruh said his operation the “ultimate family farm.”

“The farm basically consists of my wife, my son and myself,” he said.

“We raised two kids on the farm. It’s a great livelihood, a great way to raise kids.”

Their son, Jonathan, and Cheri’s father both still help out from time to time.

According to Unruh, who has farmed potatoes since he was 13 years old, the spud market has changed drastically over the years.

“I love growing them, but it’s not really smart business. It’s kind of like a gambling addiction — the next hand’s going to be the big winner,” he said.

Unruh said 2015 will be his 42nd year raising potatoes. In the early years, he made a really good living, but between the years-long drought plaguing Southern Oregon and sluggish markets, it’s been more difficult.

“It’s become a tough business,” Unruh said. “The money hasn’t been in it, especially for the small family farm.”

Uhruh attributes some of the industry’s struggles to recent diet fads that discourage eating potatoes.

“Potatoes have gotten a bad reputation,” Unruh said. “A potato is a great food — it’s close to a perfect food; it’s just gotten a really bad rep.”

In addition to gemstars, the Unruhs grow experimental red and Sierra Gold potatoes. The family is also considering trying its hand at organics.

“If you’re going to stay in the business, I think you’ve got to be diversified in potatoes,” Unruh said.

The family is always in the market for something that’s cheaper to grow and successful on the shelf, he added.

Placing a potato wedge in the ground and nurturing it through a 120-day growing season to maturity is a fascinating process, according to Unruh. To him, there’s nothing quite like a baby potato fresh from the field.

“Little baby potatoes are one of the best things in the world,” he said.

Fewels keep changing to meet new challenges Fri, 13 Mar 2015 14:14:20 -0400 Erick Peterson Change is the only constant at Fewel Farms of Prosser, Wash., according to its owners, Scott and Josh Fewel.

Scott moved to Prosser with his father and started the farm in 1977, beginning with beans and small grain crops. In time, they moved into potatoes and mint.

“We’ve done just about everything since,” he said.

Fewel Farms has grown several different vegetable crops over the years, and they have also raised grains and fruit. They have also raised various ornamentals, including pumpkins, on the farm’s 880 acres.

“We’ve always tried to find a niche here or there, and have looked to doing what is profitable,” Josh said.

In so doing, they have dropped some crops, such as potatoes and mint, when they were not profitable enough for them. These two crops in particular, they found, required a lot of land to make money. It was better to raise other vegetables.

When they decided that apples would also be profitable, they entered the apple market.

This willingness to make changes has led to a degree of success, they said.

“It’s kept us around, anyway,” Scott said.

But in addition to merely sticking around, they have expanded. They purchased another 800-acre farm, which is in Hermiston, Ore.

Challenges are numerous, according to Josh and Scott, and they complain of competing farms and of retailers who keep prices down.

Perhaps the largest concern, however, is labor. The farm employs 20 to 300 workers, depending on the time of year. And it is often difficult to attract all the people needed.

Wages for the workers increase, as they are in demand. They also go up with the state’s minimum wage.

“We’ll be paying people $18 an hour before too long, I’m afraid, just to get people up here to work,” Josh said.

Many other farms in the area have hired people during the off-season and have kept them occupied until they are most needed. This is expensive, they said, but there is not much choice for local farmers. Fewel Farms has also followed this practice.

“It’s been tough,” Josh said. But he added that next year might be easier, as the year’s apple crop looks to be small. Workers, who would ordinarily flock to nearby large fruit companies, may be looking for other work.

Fewel Farms’ labor competition with local fruit companies is less of an issue than with some other farms, as Fewel’s fall ornamentals harvest does not have much overlap with local apples. Blueberry and cherry growers, they said, have a larger conflict with large apple producers.

Still, the people at Fewel Farms have sought ways to mitigate their labor issues. They have, for instance, experimented with automated pickers. Though the machines have not worked well for them — as there were issues with the size variation in ornamentals — the owners will continue to observe new technologies. Likely, they said, future machines will do what is needed and be gentler to crops.

Until then, the farm will continue its tradition of change, increasing apple plantings and whatever else will lead to greater profits.

“We’ll continue down the same road that we have,” Scott said. “If something looks good to us, we won’t be afraid to try it.”

Fewel Farms

Owner: Scott and Josh Fewel

Started: 1977

Acres: 880

Location: Prosser, Wash.

Crops: Pumpkins, watermelon, apples, peppers, asparagus, cucumbers, peas, corn

Onions provide farm with steady income Fri, 13 Mar 2015 14:12:27 -0400 LACEY JARRELL Farms producing crops in uncertain markets can help stabilize their income by contracting with food processing companies, according to Dan Chin, owner of Chin Farms in Klamath Falls, Ore.

“I’d rather do potatoes, but onions give us diversification that keeps us in business,” he said.

Chin, who also owns Wong Potatoes, said 20 years ago his family farm decided to try its hand at onions and contracted with two food processing corporations that produce dehydrated onions for flakes and powder.

Chin said that his grandfather started farming potatoes in the Klamath Basin in the 1930s. He said the family has always grown fresh-market potatoes — including 16 varieties of red, yellow, russet, purple, white and fingerling — but the market has a lot of ups and downs.

“Probably more downs than ups,” Chin said.

He began looking for a contract crop to help level that out. Chin said the onions provide more stability because they are pre-contracted for volume and price.

Now, onions make up 15 percent of his operation’s income.

Chin said the varieties he grows are developed by the food processing companies he contracts with, but they are typically small onions with big flavor.

“It’s really hot, but when you cook it, it takes the hotness off,” Chin said.

The varieties also produce a lot of solids, meaning more of the flesh transforms into flakes.

Chin plants onions in 36-inch beds, four lines per bed. The tiny purple-and-black onion seeds — about the size of peppercorns — are pneumatically deposited one-half inch in the ground about 2 inches apart, he explained.

Chin said he is looking to bump up production next year by adding another line, for a total of five. Instead of making two side-by-side beds, he explained, the center tire track will be eliminated to make one wider bed.

Although contracted onions produce a reliable paycheck, they aren’t without challenges, according to Chin. He said onions are tougher to grow than many other crops because “you have to babysit them.”

“They are really hard to get started because you start from a true seed,” he said.

In addition, for onions — a slow-growing crop — weed control is critical during the first half of the six-month season. Onions grow vertically and weeds can easily outcompete them.

Onion maggots pose another challenge — they live on stubble left from the previous year’s crop and burrow into the soil to eat onion seeds.

Chin noted that part of having a contracted crop like dehydrated onions means harvest starts when the food processing companies call for onions — sometimes the onions are fully mature, sometimes they aren’t.

“We start harvesting when the company is ready for us,” Chin said.

If the onions are coated with soil and dirt clods, he may lose a percentage of the contracted price, but if the crop is clod-free and high quality, he may receive a bonus.

“They are looking for a good quality onion,” he said. “It’s pretty labor intensive, but it can be a pretty rewarding crop if you get a good yield.”

Farm aims at creating community Fri, 13 Mar 2015 14:10:55 -0400 Erick Peterson When Merritt Mitchell-Wajeeh left her job in Florida to become a farmer in Washington state, she wanted to do something special.

As she envisioned it, her farm would be a learning center, where people could discover sustainable farming practices. Average people could learn how to plant gardens in their yards, and young students could learn more about their food.

In addition, people could get involved with the farm, and they could receive fresh vegetables direct from their source.

This goal had its origins in lessons learned from her mother, Brooks Mitchell, who would eventually join Mitchell-Wajeeh in the endeavor. But this new mission was also encouraged by motherhood. She wanted to provide healthful foods for her children and other people’s children.

Also, she was influenced by her education, a master’s degree in environmental science, and her career, having worked as an environmental regulator. Years of study and work put her in touch with, and gave her information about, farming practices.

She and her husband came to Washington, where she said she had an experience that seemed religious. She visited farms that were for sale between Yakima and the Tri-Cities, Wash., and came across the farm that she would later purchase.

It was a former dairy farm that had degraded in years of having not been used. But when she entered the barn, she saw a ray of sunshine beaming into the building and she was filled with a good feeling.

“That’s when I knew,” she said. “This place was it.”

Her mother, a teacher and writer, was also excited about the farm and joined Mitchell-Wajeeh as an investor.

“I come from a line of people who were always interested in nutritious food,” Mitchell said. “This was even before anyone was talking about organic.”

Being involved in this farming project intrigued her. She bought into it, and she began splitting her time between her home in Florida and her new farm in the Yakima Valley.

Mother and daughter engage the public with their farm, starting a community supported agriculture program.

“This is a way for a small farm to know who the customer base is,” Mitchell-Wajeeh said, explaining the concept of CSA. “You sell shares of the farm. The dividend to the person buying the shares is a box of produce.”

She believes that her farm was one of the first in the area doing this, but more farms in the Yakima and Tri-Cities area have established CSAs since.

Shareholders have gained an education on the farm. While they receive and enjoy staples such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, herbs, melons, lettuce, chard and kale, they have also received rarer foods. Many have learned about foods like sorrel, an herb with a sour flavor, for the first time, and have eaten heirloom beans, melons and more.

Also, the farm has hosted farming workshops and has partnered with other community organizations, such as the Mid Columbia Fisheries enhancement group. Projects are constantly in development to educate.

“We’ve created a community here,” Mitchell-Wajeeh said.

Heavenly Hills Harvest Farm

Owners: Merritt Mitchell-Wajeeh and Brooks Mitchell

Year started: 2007

Acres: 92

Location: Sunnyside, Wash.

Crops: Includes various greens, carrots, beets, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, beans, squashes, melons, radishes and herbs

Tieton farmers learn by doing Fri, 13 Mar 2015 14:09:24 -0400 Erick Peterson Scott and Esther McIlrath’s farming career began a bit like the 1960s sitcom “Green Acres,” but the outcome has been much different.

Unlike the farming novices played by Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor, the McIlraths have learned their lessons and have built a successful operation.

While growing up, Scott admired his grandfather, who was a farmer. As he got older, he wanted to be a farmer, too.

“It was something that I always wanted, but I didn’t think that I could afford it,” he said.

Instead of pursuing agriculture, he sold insurance, but his dream of farming did not die. His passion for it only grew.

Selling insurance required travel, which took him past farmland and caused him to think more about becoming a farmer.

After accumulating money through his insurance career, he started asking about farms and their cost and discovered that farming was not as expensive as he had thought. There were several 40-acre farms and vineyards that seemed within his budget.

He was excited about this information, and he discussed farming with his wife, Esther.

It would be quite a risk, she realized, but it would be an excellent way for them to raise their children.

OK, she said, they would give it a try, even though they knew nothing about farming.

They jumped in with both feet, buying a 30-acre farm in the Yakima, Wash., area.

Sagebrush flourished and the sunflowers were tall, but the plot was all that they could afford.

Scott said the land was filled with opportunity.

“I liked the idea that I could learn how to farm,” he said. The location, which was ditch-irrigated, gave him a chance to learn.

They bought a tractor, and then picked up equipment, piece by piece. They built their home the same way, adding on as they could afford it. They expanded their farm, picking up local farms as they became available.

Meanwhile, they gained experience, learning ways to make the farm more efficient.

One of their most important lessons, they said, involved labor. Intelligent and able employees are a treasure, as they help a farm run smoothly.

A trustworthy, seasoned workforce more or less takes over the most important duties, he said.

To retain these employees, he keeps some on the payroll throughout the year. And he has increased the number and types of crops that he grows, just to keep them active.

McIlrath Farms

Owners: Scott, Esther and Brian McIlrath

Location: Tieton, Wash.

Acres: 200

Crops: Apples, cherries, pears, tomatoes, squash, green beans, sweet corn, blueberries

Year started: 1976

Mustard provides multiple benefits Fri, 13 Mar 2015 14:02:49 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas This family farm near Ririe, Idaho, has supported several generations.

“My granddad homesteaded near here and bought this farm in 1900. My son, Andrew, is farming with me now,” Gordon Gallup said.

“My dad and granddad tried various crops and had potatoes awhile,” he said.

Then they switched to wheat, barley and alfalfa, and his father had a small dairy at one time, and beef cattle.

“We still have a small beef herd but with the high cattle prices I decided it was a good time to sell the older cows,” he said. “Some were 16 to 18 years old and I got three times what I paid for them, so I didn’t feel bad about selling them!”

The farming evolved over the years, as they tried different methods.

“We went to no-till in about 1985, and since then we’ve added more leased acres. Most of our fields including the original farm are dry-farmed, but we have some irrigation on the leased acres, using wheel lines,” Gordon said.

He and his son Andrew manage everything, except for taking on extra help during harvest.

Having seven sons really helps at harvest time, he said. They come home to help. They all live close by, except for one son who lives in Casper, Wyo.

Gordon and his wife have 12 grandchildren. The oldest is 16.

“They all love to come to the farm and ride the machinery, so I may have more help coming on. It’s good to have them around,” he said.

The crops are grown in rotation. Decisions on what to plant depends a lot on prices.

“We’ve started putting some mustard in the rotation during the past four years, to help break disease cycles with the other crops and hopefully take care of the wire worm that can be a problem in grain,” he said. “Wire worms eat the seed kernel or cut off the young growing plants.”

Mustard contains a natural fumigant that impedes the worms and can be used as a form of biological control, without the use of pesticides.

The mustard is harvested for use in making mustard for seasoning — in liquid form to squirt onto your hot dog, dry mustard, or the whole seed as a spice.

“We sell our mustard crop to Bill Meadows who owns Mountain States Oilseed at American Falls. He has contracts with Beaver Mustard, a company that makes powdered mustard, dry mustard and whole seed spices,” Gordon said.

This will be their fifth year growing mustard.

“We think we’re starting to see some benefits from it (as a natural pesticide) and also have a good market for it,” he said.

The plan is to rotate mustard across the farm, a different field each year, to control wire worms while growing a marketable crop.

“Canada has been the major mustard producer, but they went away from this a little bit and that’s why we’ve been able to grow some down here,” said Gordon.

Gallup Farm

Owner: Gordon Gallup

Farming more than 40 years

Crops grown: Wheat, barley, alfalfa, mustard

Acres: 5,000

Unique location produces top-quality spuds Fri, 13 Mar 2015 13:50:21 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas Three generations of the Stoddard family have farmed near the tiny town of Grace in southeastern Idaho.

Frank Stoddard grew up near St. Anthony, Idaho, and served in World War II in the Pacific. After the war, he married his sweetheart, Donna, who grew up near Grace.

Their son, Curtis, was born in 1955 when the couple was farming near Idaho Falls.

“That fall, when my father, Curtis, was a couple months old, they heard about a 160-acre farm near Grace that was for rent,” Jordan said. “They moved down here, and that’s how our farm got started.”

Curtis graduated from Brigham Young University in the late 1970s and returned to the farm.

“My 3 brothers and I are the third generation,” Jordan said.

During the past half-century, the farm has expanded to growing 1,000 acres of seed potatoes and 3,000 acres of malt barley.

The main varieties the Stoddards grow are Russet Burbank, Umatilla and Rangers.

“Grace is a seed management area. To grow any potatoes in this valley, they have to be certified as seed quality, regardless of whether they will be planted or eaten. They have to go through all the steps of certification,” Jordan said.

“We are in an enclosed mountain valley, isolated from a lot of disease. It can get down to 20 below zero, and that also helps eliminate potato diseases,” Jordan said.

The four brothers spread the workload.

“Jason handles a lot of our office work. Jeremy does the hiring and interaction with employees during potato harvest and in the spring when we take the potatoes out of the cellars to send off for seed. We hire a lot of temporary help,” Jordan said. “I generally manage the fertilizers and different herbicides.”

The Stoddards have a little farm market in the fall, at which members of the public buy sacks of potatoes directly from the farm. This is a way to sell any potatoes that fall outside the size requirements for seed potatoes.

“We sort all the potatoes in the spring, get the dirt out, and bag some for sale. Anything above 12 ounces counts against you, and there’s also a low end,” he said. “In order to be certified as Idaho Blue Tag, for seed, they have to between those two size extremes.”

The farm market started about 25 years ago.

“For a few weeks in the fall, we sell to anyone who wants them, for as long as they last,” he said.

“This coincides with potato harvest which is our busiest time of year, but it’s interesting to meet the people who come to get potatoes.”

This year people from Alaska, New Hampshire, New Mexico and all over the country stopped by, wanting to see the farm and get some Idaho potatoes. “Our market stand is just across the street from our cellar so it is easy for them to look across the road and see trucks rolling in with spuds,” Jordan said.

Stoddard Farms

Owners: Curtis Stoddard and sons Jeremy, Jason, Jordan and Justin

Location: Near Grace, Idaho, since 1956

Crops: Malt barley and seed potatoes

Acres: 4,000

Turfgrass specialist makes lawns, sports fields greener Fri, 13 Mar 2015 13:39:30 -0400 Denise Ruttan On any given day Alec Kowalewski juggles quite a few plates.

The mild-mannered turfgrass specialist for the Oregon State University Extension Service might teach undergraduate students about the principles of turf maintenance one day. Another day, he might find himself on an athletic field at a high school in Ontario training groundskeepers how to better manage pests. On yet another day, he might work with master gardener trainees on lawn care techniques.

Kowalewski’s duties, however, have taken on a broader scope in addition to his extension work within the past year.

“In the past, my extension work was focused on golf course turf management,” Kowalewski said. “But I felt I really needed to expand the program to get more students interested in undergraduate degrees in turfgrass management. I’ve expanded to include municipal, sports and residential turf.”

This evolution brings Kowalewski full circle to his roots, so to speak. His Ph.D. thesis at Michigan State University focused on sports turf and extension.

“I feel personally that turf management has three facets to it,” Kowalewski said. “Turfgrass has to be pleasing to the eye. It has to functional in things such as preventing surface runoff. Thirdly, if we can’t figure out ways to develop turfgrass to make it playable for young people, then I feel we aren’t doing our job. There should be more game spaces for people to enjoy.”

As part of that effort, he is working with OSU’s Integrated Plant Protection Center to reach out to public schools across the state on integrated pest management. From Ontario to Portland to Reedsport, in 11 training events a year, Kowalewski and the IPPC’s Tim Stock work with groundskeepers and school IPM coordinators. Stock teaches them about structural pests. Kowalewski takes people outside.

Kowalewski first tells a group of about 20-30 of these adult students about practices like mowing, fertilizing, and irrigating that will reduce the number of pesky bugs using fewer pesticides. Then the students take him out to their tracks and sports fields to tell him their particular challenges with pests and turf management.

“The biggest problems I’ve seen are limited budgets, limited staff and grounds that have high use requirements,” Kowalewski said.

It’s not only schools that keep Kowalewski busy. He still works with golf courses, on which he focuses most of his research. He oversees graduate students who pursue turfgrass research projects.

One of his graduate students is studying alternatives to fungicides for a disease known colloquially as pink snow mold. It discolors putting greens and creates expensive headaches for golf course managers. Alternatives could include organic products or even simple cultural practices such as pushing a roller along the putting green every morning, which significantly trims down the disease, Kowalewski said.

Another student is comparing the costs and benefits of natural grass to artificial turf for sports fields. The student collects data in the field in Corvallis, Portland and Eugene on a monthly basis, recording conditions and use characteristics. He’s found, so far, that while synthetic fields provide more consistent playing surfaces year round, they can, on the other hand, heat up 50 degrees warmer than the atmospheric temperature on a hot summer day.

Yet a third graduate student is expanding Kowalewski’s work with public schools, developing practical low-maintenance landscape plans for schools.

Kowalewski isn’t stopping there. Brimming with energy and ideas for outreach, Kowalewski gives about 30 presentations a year, including training budding master gardeners throughout the state. He’s also developed a 48-minute video and extension bulletins on lawn care.

He plans to take on a fourth graduate student this spring who will look at how homeowners and college campuses can reduce water use on the turfgrass and landscapes.

Farm grows to include wide variety of crops Fri, 13 Mar 2015 13:32:55 -0400 CRAIG REED ROSEBURG, Ore. — What started out as a raspberry farm on 1 acre back in 1975 has evolved over the past 40 years into a variety of berries and vegetables on about 88 acres.

Harmon and Noreane Walker have been the owners and operators of The Berry Patch since that small start on a plot of land alongside the South Umpqua River near Myrtle Creek, Oregon. The couple has increased their ownership on that plot of land to 15 acres and it now mainly grows tomatoes. The Walkers also farm four other properties, leasing 7- and 6-acre plots in the Myrtle Creek area and 30 acres in the Canyonville, Oregon, area. They own and farm another 30 acres in Garden Valley a couple miles west of Roseburg. The couple moved to the latter property from Myrtle Creek in 1991.

In addition to increasing their production, the Walkers went through the process with Oregon Tilth and became organically certified in 1996. Pride of the Umpqua was added as the farm’s organic label that same year. The fields and crops have been inspected every year since and continue to earn the organic seal.

“I wouldn’t raise conventional, only organic,” Harmon Walker said. “You get enough more for your product to make it worthwhile.”

Noreane Walker added she doesn’t like the thought of possibly eating pesticides that are used in conventional farming so the couple practices what they grow by eating mainly organic foods.

“I look for where products come from,” she said of her grocery shopping. “I will pay extra to get organic apples. I buy organic meat and fish.”

“More and more people are into eating organic, or natural,” Harmon Walker, who turned 80 in March, said.

The Berry Patch raises a variety of berries, a variety of cherry and bigger tomatoes, and also zucchini, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and table grapes. The Pride of the Umpqua produce is sold to Organically Grown Co., an employee- and grower-owned cooperative that was founded in 1978 in Eugene, Oregon, and to Charlie’s Produce, a company based in Seattle. Those operations distribute produce to retail outlets and restaurants.

“They take as much as we can grow,” Harmon Walker said of the two companies.

“From what I hear through those companies, our product is very much prized by the consumer,” Noreane Walker said.

In 2014, The Berry Patch sold close to 30,000 10- to 20-pound boxes of produce. About 12,000 of the boxes were filled with zucchini, 6,500 boxes were tomatoes and a variety of other produce filled the remainder of the boxes.

“One thing about this area is that we have better weather than they do up north and that makes our growing season longer,” Harmon Walker said.

All of the berry varieties, including raspberry, blackberry and strawberry, are sold to U-pickers only. The Walkers said exact conditions are needed to harvest and ship those organic products so they have been U-pick crops for many years.

“The U-pickers take them all anyway,” Harmon Walker said.

The Berry Patch’s 2 acres of strawberries are unique in that the plants are grown in pipes that have been cut in half and are elevated off the ground at about 4 feet. It makes the picking much easier compared to stooping over or kneeling to pick from ground plants.

During harvest from July to October, The Berry Patch employs up to 75 people, many of them picking and sorting.

Before deciding to farm in 1975, Harmon Walker was a building contractor and Noreane Walker was a grade school teacher. When the building industry hit a slump, Harmon Walker opted to become a farmer, something he had considered since his mother had grown a garden and raspberries in her backyard.

“He has a curiosity for how things grow, he enjoys watching things develop on the farm,” Noreane Walker said of her husband of 42 years.

“I love farming,” Harmon Walker said. “If I have a choice of going fishing or working on the farm, I’m going to step outside the door and farm.”

Farm gives its customers the produce they want Fri, 13 Mar 2015 13:31:00 -0400 Sarah Kickler Kelber Many things have changed since Fordyce Farm opened in 1959, but one has remained constant: strawberries.

They started with 6 acres of strawberries each year, some of them set aside for “U-pick” starting in the mid-1970s.

“In the ’70s, my father decided to dedicate more of the strawberries to U-Pick,” said owner and operator Raymond Fordyce. “He put me in charge of that when I was 9. So I’ve been doing the same job for almost 40 years, and I’m not yet 50.”

Not everything has remained the same, however.

Fordyce said his father was “a standard farmer, growing for canneries and seed companies and so on.”

But he considers himself a “retail farmer.”

“I sell direct to the public, not to wholesalers, but to customers,” he said.

He’s developed this philosophy by following those customers’ lead.

“First, they wanted strawberries. Then blueberries. And they certainly want raspberries even though raspberries don’t grow well here,” Fordyce said. “Then, as some of our customers grew older, they wanted already picked fruit, so we needed a fridge.”

In 2005, they built the store that sits on Sunnyview Road, open May through October. Fordyce bakes as well, and a kitchen was added in 2010. The farm’s baked goods are available at the Salem Saturday Market year-round and at the store when it’s open for the season.

Following the customer has also meant many changes to the farm’s crops.

“The problem with large-scale agriculture is that you’ve got to sell a lot of it,” Fordyce said. “I can afford to grow small quantities because I sell direct.”

Alongside their tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchini, beans, apples, plums, strawberries and other produce, you can also find black currants and sweet gooseberries.

“Black currants are uniquely horrible tasting,” Fordyce said. “But they sell like crazy to our Russian customers who turn them into juice, which, as it turns out, is uniquely delicious.”

“We grow lots and lots of other things now,” he said. “The store makes it possible to sell small quantities.”

Graham Fordyce, Raymond’s eldest son, manages the store, as well as helping with the harvest and everything in between.

“Almost all the berries we harvest are sold through the store and U-Pick,” he said, “but about half the blueberries go to the Willamette Valley Fruit Company.”

They’ve been adding more foods to sell to customers at the store, such as grilled sausages and milkshakes made with fresh berries. They’ve also added nursery stock to the list of things they’re selling, and opened up their display garden to events such as weddings.

“We also have a pumpkin patch and corn maze in the fall,” added Graham, noting that this will be the farm’s 14th year offering those attractions.

But, Raymond Fordyce noted, “strawberries are the most important because people eat more strawberries than any other kind of fruit that we grow.”

Smaller is better for farmers’ market operation Fri, 13 Mar 2015 13:27:51 -0400 CRAIG REED ROSEBURG, Ore. — Jim Leet gardened as a kid, as a soldier and for the last 10 years as a retiree.

Leet and his wife, Joni, established Linnea Marie Farms — the middle names of their two daughters — in 2005 on their property in the Melrose area west of Roseburg. Jim Leet said he’s working about as much on his 1 acre as he did during his professional career when he worked for large nonprofit organizations in Minnesota and Alaska.

“Obviously, I like growing things,” the 67-year-old said. “It’s definitely a labor of love.”

In the ground and in two large hoop houses, Leet grows vegetables year round. He and Joni Leet have a booth at the weekly Umpqua Valley Farmers’ Market, where they sell their peppers, tomatoes, salad greens, asparagus, garlic, carrots, onions, potatoes, corn, peas, beets, kohlrabi, boysenberries, strawberries, raspberries, squash and tomatillos. They also sell their produce at Umpqua Local Goods, a small store in Roseburg that is a retail outlet for small home businesses.

In addition to the produce, the Leets have had chickens for three years and sell the eggs at the farmers’ market.

“I’ve tried to diversify enough so if something tanks, I have enough balance to equal things out,” said Jim Leet, who was an Umpqua Valley market board member for six years and was the president for the middle four years.

The Leets don’t have a certified organic farm because that process is too expensive for their small size of operation, but they grow their produce by organic methods.

“People want local food,” Jim Leet said. “They’re buying more and more local. They want the quality and freshness. The idea of getting to know your farmer is increasingly popular.”

Leet specializes in growing peppers, and has earned the nickname of “The Pepper Man.” On market days, he usually wears shirts and hats with peppers printed on them.

“I probably average 70 hours a week in the garden, sometimes 100 hours a week,” he said. “It’s seven days a week. I don’t know any better. It takes time. It’s a combination of working hard and working smart. I try to do both.”

Leet does most of the dirt work on his farm. Joni helps with harvest, packaging and working the stand on market days.

Jim Leet grew his first garden at about age 8 when he was the only boy in his grade school’s garden club. “I was told only sissies garden,” he said.

He wasn’t deterred. When in the U.S. Army and stationed in South Korea, his mother sent him seeds and he grew a garden in that country.

“Whenever he gets interested in something, he jumps in with all four feet,” Joni Leet said of her husband. “He’s always gardened, even when we had a small duplex in Minnesota.”

Jim Leet said he has read that food on the American family’s table travels an average of 1,500 miles from field to fork. He said he and Joni harvest most of their produce the day before market and not more than four days earlier and sell most of it to customers who live within an hour’s drive.

Jim Leet said the farm makes a small profit, but he added there is also value in connecting with and then interacting with customers on a weekly basis.

“It’s quite satisfying to see people walk away happy with the food you have grown,” he said.

Company keeps sugarbeet farmers supplied with seed Fri, 13 Mar 2015 13:25:13 -0400 Denise Ruttan Tucked amid the rolling grass seed fields and faded barns of the tiny town of Tangent, Ore., you’ll find a state-of-the-art sugarbeet seed processing facility with global reach.

Since 1970, Betaseed, the firm that processes sugarbeet seed here, has risen to become one of North America’s leading suppliers. Adding to Betaseed’s headquarters in Minnesota and another location in Idaho, the Tangent facility provides one arm of an intricate international supply chain. Betaseed’s operation in Tangent processes more sugarbeet seed than any other facility in the U.S.

“The Tangent facility is Betaseed’s only seed production and processing facility, so it is extremely important in Betaseed’s supply chain,” said John Enright, president of Betaseed Inc.

This supply chain keeps growers in business. About 1.2 million acres of sugarbeets are currently grown for sugar production in North America. This key crop supplies about half the nation’s sugar supply.

But sugarbeets are not just a food crop. Betaseed has also developed Energy Beet seed, used for the production of biofuels.

Nearly 70 employees keep the Tangent facility humming, and it will be expanding significantly in the near future, Enright said.

The $40 million upgrade is targeted for completion in 2016. The project includes improvements to receiving, bare seed processing, treatments and coatings and finished goods.

On a little more than 11 acres, the facility now consists of an office building, quality and research-and-development laboratories, seed processing buildings, a maintenance shop and warehousing and shipping facilities. All seed harvested for commercial use is processed, packaged and shipped directly by the Tangent facility for growers throughout North America.

Here, seeds are processed in a high-tech computerized plant. Quality assurance experts perform more than 60,000 tests on these hybrid seeds each season. No sugarbeet varieties are grown for a crop in the Willamette Valley; only seed production is located here.

“The primary objectives for the new expansion were driven by a desire to respond to market and customer demands even quicker than we had been,” said Bryan Meier, director of operations at the Tangent location. “Our new technology and automated systems support these objectives by allowing us to reach the growing regions earlier, making sure seed is in place when growers are ready to start planting.”

Growers’ needs drive Betaseed’s research efforts. Betaseed markets and sells its seed through sales agents scattered across North America in 11 sugarbeet growing regions.

“These agents collaborate with customers to identify field conditions, soil type and disease pressure, and recommend the varieties best suited to perform under the grower’s specific conditions. Betaseed’s extensive seed portfolio allows Betaseed to support growers with the best genetics for each acre maximizing every dollar that growers invest in their operations,” said Lisa Butzer, corporate marketing manager.

Current research efforts focus on increasing disease tolerance and yield.

“Our most recent successes include nematode tolerance and MultiSource rhizomania tolerance,” said Butzer.

Future breeding efforts may include developing heat, salt and drought tolerant sugarbeets, as well as additional disease and pest tolerances, Butzer said.

Betaseed’s planned expansion includes hiring new research and breeding team members over the next few years.

“For the future, Betaseed will continue to focus on bringing value to sugarbeet growers through innovative solutions through traits, seed treatments and increased yield,” Butzer said.

Farmstand puts special emphasis on ‘fresh’ Fri, 13 Mar 2015 13:23:22 -0400 Sarah Kickler Kelber Nancy Hendricks’ phone buzzes, and she pauses to look at the message.

“I got an order from a chef just now,” the owner and operator of Fresh to You Produce says. “I need to look and see if we need to go harvest something.”

If you were wondering whether the “Fresh” in the farm name is a marketing gimmick, the answer is a resounding no.

In 1980, Hendricks got her degree in horticulture from Oregon State University and promptly bought a 6-acre blueberry farm.

After several years in the berry business, she and her husband, Carl, a third-generation farmer, sold that 6 acres and bought their current 15 acres just down the road in 1999.

“In 2000, we put up an ‘on your honor’ box, where people could just pay for what they took,” she says.

They expanded to a larger stand, then another, and then in 2005, they purchased their current building. Originally a log-truck repair shop, their farmstand building now houses their just-picked produce, seeds, locally made products that complement the fruits and vegetables, a line of jams and syrups and more.

“Everything we sell in here is related to food,” Hendricks says. Besides the produce and the other products, there are seeds, starts, fruit trees, potting soil and compost on offer.

Fresh to You recently refocused its mission, she adds. After about 10 years as a full-service nursery, “this will be our first year with only edible plants and no landscaping.”

Hence the new tagline: “All things edible.”

It’s a strategy that seems to be working. In addition to their sales at the shop, they sell produce to their local Roth’s Fresh Market grocery store.

“Katie the produce manager tells us what she needs, and we go harvest it,” Hendricks says.

They also have a partnership with Bon Appetit Management Co., which connects restaurants and schools with local growers.

Carl Hendricks walks in with a couple of bags of just-picked salad greens that are bound for Oregon Episcopal School via Bon Appetit.

A few minutes later, he mentions that a local chef has put in a request for mixed berries, and he and Nancy discuss how they’ll fulfill that order with their frozen stock.

Even with the need to constantly be harvesting their crops, one of the dominating issues in the winter is planning.

“This time of year, we’re talking with our chefs and Roth’s to plan our crops and order seeds and starts,” Nancy Hendricks says.

She and Carl are particularly excited about their new piece of equipment.

“We just got a new planter that plants seeds more accurately and makes the harvest so much easier,” she says.

“We’ll save on seeds, too,” he adds.

“It’s especially good for carrots and beets because if they’re too close, it’s harder to harvest them,” says Nancy.

She notes that they share recipes on their Pinterest page, sorted by crop, as well as plenty of information about preserving foods.

“We just like to talk to people about how easy it is to cook healthy,” she says.

Fresh to You Produce

Owners: Nancy and Carl Hendricks

Where: 41639 Stayton-Scio Road, Stayton, Oregon

Contact: (503) 769-9682


Crops: strawberries, carrots, chard, corn, kale, green beans, snap peas, tomatoes, peppers, fennel and more

Farming since: 1980

Acres: 15

Available: At farm store year-round and at the Salem Public Market

Energy Trust lends a hand with irrigation efficiency Mon, 9 Feb 2015 14:24:14 -0400 LACEY JARRELL More consistent water application can mean greater water and power savings for large- or small-scale farmers.

According to Luke Robison, manager of Shasta View Irrigation District in Malin, Ore., when Shasta View installed a variable frequency drive at its seven-pump district station, it allowed them to stabilize water pressure and reduce water fatigue on the delivery system.

He said the device, installed with help from an Energy Trust of Oregon cost-share program, reduced the district’s operating pressure by nearly 20 percent and reduced irrigation costs by about $60,000 annually.

Robison noted the pressure reduction didn’t make less water available, but it allowed water managers to distribute the water more efficiently. He said the VFD works like a cruise control, automatically compensating for pump variation and changes in pressure.

Robison said Energy Trust covered roughly half of the $216,000 project.

Doug Heredos, Energy Trust program manager for agriculture, said the Shasta View project is considered larger than average, but it’s not uncommon for the organization to pay 50 percent of VFD projects.

Energy Trust’s irrigation incentives are designed to encourage farmers to grow crops more efficiently with less energy, he added. Water savings can be an additional benefit, along with labor and fuel savings.

“Oftentimes, the water, labor and fuel savings are just as valuable to the grower as the energy efficiency benefits,” Heredos said.

Seus Family Farms owner Scott Seus, said he has installed in several on-farm VFD pumps on his wells in Oregon and California.

“That’s where you save because you can fine tune the settings,” he said.

“Instead of the old way, which was just go turn on a switch and what you get is what you get, you can change the setpoint to how many gallons per minute you are pulling,” Seus said. “You only draw out of the ground what you are actually using.”

Farmer Gary Derry said in most cases one VFD provides enough to flexibility to achieve farm goals. He explained that the pump can be programmed to compensate for full-demand or partial deliveries, depending on farm needs. Derry said most irrigation systems run on maximum pressure, meaning water is commonly over-pumped.

“You only have one speed — it’s on or off,” Derry said. “With the variable speed you’re more consistent with what you do pressure-wise and water delivery-wise.”

Derry noted that even with a cost-share program, VFDs are expensive to buy and maintain. He advised understanding immediate farm needs and long-term goals before investing in large projects like these.

Most Energy Trust customers work directly with local irrigation vendors, according to Heredos. He said the collaboration helps farmers identify the size and type of VFD they need and it helps ensure it will meet the efficiency standards to qualify for an Energy Trust incentive.

Seus said for farmers, electricity and water will always be inextricably linked.

“We benefit by producing better crops, by using better distribution uniformity, and using the water where it’s needed, when it’s needed — with the lowest cost of energy,” he said.

District ‘drives’ to improve water uniformity, efficiency Mon, 9 Feb 2015 14:23:19 -0400 Erick Peterson A major cost of irrigating cropland is the electricity used to pump water, and the Benton Conservation District in Washington state provides financial incentives to help farmers reduce their power costs and save water.

The district recently paid $50,000 in cost-share assistance for a 1,000-horsepower variable frequency drive for the water pump. The drive changes the frequency of the electricity going to the pump, changing the speed it operates.

The drive was installed at the start of the last growing season.

The drive represents a major step forward, Mark Nielson, Benton Conservation District director said, as it helps maintain an otherwise difficult balance.

“In the old days, if you have too many pivots, your pressure would drop and you would get poor water uniformity,” Nielson said. “Conversely, if you have too many pumps running, you have too much water pressure and that chews up energy.”

The variable drive speeds up when more pivots are running and slows down as pivots are shut off, thereby maintaining optimal water pressure in the pivots.

“And the more you uniformly you apply water, the more water savings you create,” said Heather Wendt, assistant manager of the Benton district.

This is good for savings and conservation, she said.

The district installed the drive on Berg Farms, in the Horse Heaven Hills in Benton County. It saves an estimate 646,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, she said.

After “minimal fine-tuning,” the landowners were pleased, she said.

“They love it,” she said. “They’re thrilled with it.”

When the drives were first developed, they were most common in locations such as the Horse Heaven Hills, where water had to be lifted from rivers. They were not often used in the nearby Yakima Valley or Franklin County, where canals carry water to farms.

Now, as their prices have dropped, the drives are becoming more common, Nielson said.

“You’re seeing these more often in places,” he said, “and we’re happy to help with them.”

Effort returns year-round flow to Idaho creek Mon, 9 Feb 2015 14:22:38 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas An effort that began last fall will make Carmen Creek near Lemhi, Idaho, a year-round stream again, aiding fish passage and helping ranchers receive the irrigation water they need.

Dan Bertram, project manager for the Upper Salmon Basin Watershed Program, is working on the effort, which involves moving the point of irrigation diversion for two ranches.

This will allow a minimum of 1.2 cubic feet per second to be transferred down Carmen Creek from a nearby ditch, making it a perennial stream again, Bertram says. In the past, part of the creek went dry almost every summer during irrigation season.

Bill Slavin is one of the ranchers involved.

“Our water has always come out of Carmen Creek. ... We’ve had trouble with some of that ground the ditch goes through, with a lot of subdivisions,” Slavin says.

“Those people think it’s like a faucet they can turn on or off whenever they want, rather than according to their water right,” he explained.

Their erratic use makes it hard to regulate the amount downstream, he says.

The ranchers do most of the work to maintain the ditch.

“Everyone tried to get together in the spring to do some maintenance before we turn water on, but then it was up to ranchers to adjust the headgate when the creek went up or down. We end up doing the work and they get the benefit. They are on the front end of the ditch and we are on the tail end,” he says.

“That’s the main reason we looked into this change to sprinklers instead of flood irrigating. We will be able to rely on how much water we’ll actually have, and when,” Slavin says.

“Before, we’d set a dam, but when we come back either the water is not there, or it’s a lot more than we expected because screens on the subdivision sprinkler systems hadn’t been cleaned and are plugged up. Then all the water would come down to us. My ground is steep, and this could wash the hillside away,” he says.

“Now we’ll have to deal with pumps and more mechanical problems, but we should be able to get a better crop,” he says.

The project will pump water to Bill and Derrold Slavin from a canal on Big Flat.

“This will allow more flow to stay in Carmen Creek — from our headgate on down to the river. This was what was attractive to people interested in the fish,” he says.

“Ours wasn’t the last headgate, but close to it, and the next rancher had to put a dam across the creek to get his water right, which pretty much shuts the flow off for fish passage,” Slavin says.

“The plan is to have it finished before we start irrigating this spring,” he says. “We are optimistic it will work. I worry about having trouble with pumps, but we’ve had trouble with ditches, too.”

Grants help farmers fend off junipers Mon, 9 Feb 2015 14:21:31 -0400 LACEY JARRELL In Oregon, livestock and wildlife can benefit from small grants for watershed improvement.

Last year, Frank Hammerich was awarded a small grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board that helped him clear junipers from a 40-acre parcel of his ranch near Bonanza, Ore.

“The junipers just kind of overtook everything and they needed to get thinned out,” Hammerich said.

The grant paid for a professional tree company to cut down dozens of junipers with a hydraulic clamp; other younger, smaller trees were cut by hand with pruning shears. Species like mountain mahogany and ponderosa pine were left to flourish in the newly opened space.

Hammerich secured his OWEB grant locally from the Klamath Watershed Partnership. But, according KWP project manager Roger Smith, the grants are available statewide. He said the maximum is $10,000, although total project costs may be more because landowners are required to pay in-kind, roughly one-quarter of the cost.

Smith noted that OWEB grants are available for a host of watershed improvements such as riparian fencing and bank stabilization.

“It just needs to have a watershed benefit,” Smith said. “We’ve been dealing with juniper removal, but there are lots of opportunities.”

According to OWEB Grant Program Coordinator Courtney Shaff, every year each of the state’s 28 districts is awarded $100,000 for watershed projects. The small grant program lets landowners to make on-the-ground improvements that benefit water quality, water quantity, and fish and wildlife, she said.

Smith said juniper removal is a good fit for the program because the trees commonly outcompete other species for water. Juniper trees have been recorded drawing more than 30 gallons per day, he said.

“The lack of wildfires has allowed junipers to take hold at a level and a density that never existed naturally,” Smith said. “By removing the juniper, you have an immediate impact on the grasses, forbes and shrubs in the area — so you allow more livestock and wildlife production.”

Hammerich said that before the removal, the juniper-covered land looked like a jungle. The encroaching trees were so dense, he said, grass disappeared and timber species, like pine, became stunted. In addition, soil erosion increased because no ground cover or shallow roots existed to slow surface water flows.

“Everything just washed off,” Hammerich said.

Although tree removal took less than one month to complete, project maintenance will be ongoing, Hammerich said. He plans to replant the parcel with dryland seed to stabilize the soil and to prevent noxious weeds from taking hold.

“I’ll have to take care of that for the next couple of years. When you disturb ground, it brings those weeds to the forefront,” Hammerich said.

As part of the grant agreement, he must also maintain the area for five years, cutting down any junipers or other unwanted species that emerge.

Conservation district saves money with new building Mon, 9 Feb 2015 14:20:07 -0400 Erick Peterson The Franklin Conservation District will move this spring from the USDA Agricultural Service Center in Pasco, Wash., to a new building nearby.

Board member Chris Herron and other district officials say, however, that people who currently depend on the district have nothing to worry about, as it will continue to offer the same services.

Actually, they said, the district will have a little more to offer.

Herron, a wheat farmer, said that the district is well prepared for the transition. Through strong management of its resources, he said, the district saved money to construct the new building.

Still, Heather Wendt, assistant manager of the Franklin and Benton conservation districts, calls the need for the move “a sad story with a happy ending.”

The district office has been at the ag service center since its inception in 1951, as was done at many other service centers across the country.

“We’ve been tied by the hip to them for forever,” she said. As such, the USDA has helped her office with technical assistance, supplies and equipment and by giving the district office space in their building.

But things changed last year, she said, when the USDA decided to charge rent — $65,000 per year, a sum the district could not afford.

Fortunately, she said, the district had been saving for the previous 20 years and had enough savings for a building, which it has recently started. At a cost of $583,000, the building will be within eyesight of its current location.

It will have 4,000 square feet of space, half of which will be offices for the seven full-time employees. The other half will be a shop, which will serve primarily as storage for teaching supplies.

The completion date is April 1.

She said that the only new service will be a demonstration garden for local plants. This will be an opportunity to teach property owners about native plants and encourage them to build lawns that save water.

Irrigation water management will remain the top priority, said Mark Nielson, district manager.

“In Franklin County, you have some of the highest nitrate levels in groundwater across the state,” he said.

Nielson and his team are trying to reduce the amount of water used to limit nitrates from leeching into the groundwater. The project involves putting monitors in the ground, tracking water use and trying to match water to crop conditions. The goal, he said, is to use only enough water for the crops and prevent it from carrying nitrates deep into the groundwater.

When the district first put irrigation water management into practice, it was met with some skepticism, he said. Some local growers even seemed grumpy about being asked about their practices.

The program, however, has gained support, he said. Producers have learned that they can create savings in water, fertilizer and energy use.

Nielson said that last year the district provided around $50,000 of incentive money for the program, and he now has a glut of people wanting to enroll.

Water project improves efficiency, quality Mon, 9 Feb 2015 14:19:34 -0400 Erick Peterson A project 10 years in the making is proving to be a benefit to area landowners and the migratory fish population in Cowiche Creek.

Nearly complete but fully functional, the Cowiche Creek Water Users’ Association Barrier Removal and Trust Water Project has been a blessing, according to Ken Lust, a Yakima, Wash.-area hay farmer who also has a small cattle operation.

This project exchanged creek water rights held by 16 people, including Lust, for new water rights from the nearby Tieton River. Their Cowiche rights were then placed in a state trust for in-stream flow for fish passage.

Lust said the project, initiated by the North Yakima Conservation District, provides him with a constant supply of water.

“It’s a great project,” he said,

He added that the district “has done a good job for us” and that he is glad to have been involved, as it has reduced his workload by unburdening him of much pump and irrigation system maintenance.

Mike Tobin, the district manager, said other landowners and farmers say they are well served by the project and that they have been waiting for it for a long time.

For around 10 years, he said, people have been discussing the Cowiche Creek problem. Fish migration was troubled by two four-foot dams in the creek and totally blocked by dewatered sections of the creek.

The district considered solutions that could have left a large footprint and required expensive engineering work, Tobin said.

But then someone at the district thought to make use of a pressurized pipeline already underground. It made sense, he said, to put outlets on it to serve the area with water from the Tieton River.

As much as it made sense, it could not be done right away. First, Tobin would have to work with local landowners and government agencies to build a consensus.

What could have “taken 10 days ended up taking 10 years,” Tobin said, but the final solution was one that both improved irrigation water quantity and quality and offered a fish recovery benefit. More water running in the creek improves the temperature and allows the steelhead and coho to pass unencumbered.

It also benefits livestock. Working with landowners who have property above the creek, the district installed a buffer, a fenced grazing management system and off-stream watering for cattle.

Several people and agencies should be thanked for their help on the project, Tobin said. A salmon recovery funding grant from the Recreation and Conservation Office helped fund pipeline construction. Further funding came from the Bonneville Power Administration through the Yakima Tributary Access and Habitat Program. And the Washington Water Project of Trout Unlimited was “a big sponsor,” Tobin said. The Yakima-Tieton Irrigation District and the federal Bureau of Reclamation were also helpful.

That, plus the cooperation of landowners, made the project possible, Tobin said.

Utility’s cost-share project reduces dairy’s expenses Mon, 9 Feb 2015 14:17:54 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas RICHFIELD, Idaho — Dairyman Robin Lezamiz was closing a headgate on the canal that fed his irrigation system when a deer and her fawn distracted him.

“I came upon a doe and a fawn, and the fawn was newborn — still wobbly. I started following the doe and fawn, walking northeasterly. After 20 minutes they took off, and I turned around to go back and was looking to the southeast, over the top of some poplar trees, 2 miles away,” he said.

“It finally dawned on me that I was looking at our dairy farm, and our roller mill — a 30-foot-tall building with an elevator sticking 40 feet above the building,” he said. “I was looking clear over the top of that. I never realized there was that much fall.”

Lezamiz, who owns the farm in partnership with his sister Lynda, called a contractor who came and took the coordinates and determined there was 173 feet of fall — the change in elevation — in a half-mile.

That discovery, plus financial help from Idaho Power, would help him switch his irrigation system to gravity-fed set-up that saves the dairy 88 percent on its electricity bill each year along with reducing labor and maintenance costs associated with the old canal and pumping stations.

Lezamiz contacted his local Idaho Power agricultural representative to see if the utility would help in a cost-share project.

The Idaho Power incentive program paid 29 percent of the total cost of the project, which was installed in 2010.

The water is now picked up 2 miles north of the dairy, taking advantage of 195 feet of elevation drop from the diversion to the lowest part of the farm.

“It goes into a 27-inch pipeline that takes it down to our farm,” Lezamiz said.

“We originally thought the pipeline would pay for itself in six years but it paid for itself in two,” he said. “Also, our water is coming 3 miles through the pipe instead of the canal, and we save at least 100 inches of water for the canal company, eliminating water loss.”

Idaho Power has irrigation efficiency programs in which farmers and ranchers can upgrade or modify irrigation systems, said Dennis Merrick, the utility’s program support manager.

“It all results in power savings from water savings, with less pumping costs,” he said.

“We have six Idaho Power agricultural field representatives who meet with customers and do free irrigation system audits to determine their efficiencies. These representatives can make recommendations on how to improve water application efficiencies as well as energy savings tips,” Merrick said.

“We do about 1,000 projects each year through this program,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation. The farmer increases water application efficiency, resulting in an increase in crop yield, less disease, better fertilizer application and often labor savings.”

He said the Lezamiz Dairy is a happy customer.

“They have more water now than they ever had, and can irrigate their entire farm. In years past they were always short, from loss along the canal. They are finally receiving their full water right,” Merrick said. They were also able to expand their farm with the increased water availability.

“We had 11 pump stations feeding 11 pivots,” Lezamiz said. The pivots, along with wheel lines and hand lines, irrigate 1,071 acres of crops on the farm. By installing a gravity-pressured buried mainline, they were able to fill in the old canal.

“And it all came about because that doe jumped up — and enticed me to go up on that rock pile and look to the south,” he said.

Spokane celebrates Ag Expo, Farm Forum Thu, 29 Jan 2015 17:22:33 -0400 The Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum are the centerpieces of the 2015 Ag Week celebration.

Each year the Spokane Ag Expo organizers and Visit Spokane designate “Ag Week in Spokane.” This year it is planned for Feb. 1-7.

The Expo, now in its 38th year, will be based in the newly expanded Spokane Convention Center, while the forum, in its 61st year, holds agriculture-related presentations and seminars in the nearby Spokane DoubleTree Hotel.

“As we continue celebrating agriculture in Spokane, highlighting the importance of agriculture in our region, we are very excited for the expanded exhibit space, allowing us to bring more exhibits and events for attendees,” said Myrna O’Leary, director of the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum.

Others events that are part of Ag Week include:

• The second annual Excellence in Agriculture Award will be presented at the Pacific Northwest Farm Forum opening session on Tuesday, Feb. 3, in the DoubleTree Hotel Ballroom. The award was developed to recognize an individual, business or organization that has had significant, positive impacts on the agricultural industry in the Inland Northwest during 2014.

• With the expansion of the convention center, rooms directly off the show floor allow exhibitors to offer an array of workshops on topics important to farmers.

• The Expo will offer a career fair for high school students, increasing awareness of the career opportunities available to them. Students and parents are encouraged to attend the event, which will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 5.

• The Expo offers a “Big Data” panel discussion from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4, to help farmers consider how the data revolution could impact them, including questions about farmer-generated data, how it’s gathered by service providers, who owns farmer-generated data and potential risks. Panelists include Kirk A. Wesley, national and key accounts manager for CNH Industrial, NAFTA; Elizabeth Tellessen, attorney with Winston & Cashatt in Spokane; and Barrie Robison, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Idaho and associate director of the Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies.

• Expo attendees will again be able to donate canned food and make monetary donations to the annual Dump for Hunger food drive sponsored by Western States Equipment. This is the sixth year of this anti-hunger drive at the during the Expo. All food and money collected is donated to Second Harvest Food Bank and distributed throughout the Inland Northwest.

• The Pacific Northwest Farm Forum will present a full slate of seminars and top speakers. Weatherman Art Douglas, emeritus professor of atmospheric sciences at Creighton University, and Washington State University small grains agricultural economics professor Randy Fortenbery speak at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3, in the DoubleTree Hotel.

AgDirection founder and president Kevin Van Trump is back by popular demand with his agriculture economic forecast at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4, in the DoubleTree Ballroom, hosted by the AgriBusiness Council of Greater Spokane Incorporated.

WSU agriculture technology and production management adviser James Durfey will speak to FFA members about career opportunities using precision agriculture from 9 to 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 5, at the DoubleTree.

For further details, visit the Spokane Ag Expo website at

‘Big data’ panel will address farmer-generated info Thu, 29 Jan 2015 17:18:25 -0400 Matw Weaver Farmers will learn from experts about the potential opportunities and dangers of “big data” during a presentation at the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum.

The discussion will be from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4, in the DoubleTree Hotel Ballroom.

Panelists will talk about farmer-generated data to guide production and business decisions, how that data is used by service providers, who owns the data and managing risks when a farmer shares his data.

“The goal for the program will be to help farmers start thinking about (these) questions and how the data revolution could affect their own farming practices in the future,” said Myrna O’Leary, manager of the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum.

The panelist will include Kirk Wesley, national and key accounts manager for CNH Industrial in Burr Ridge, Ill.; Barrie Robison, associate director of the University of Idaho Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies; and Elizabeth Tellessen, an attorney with Winston & Cashatt in Spokane.

Each speaker will have 30 minutes, with time for a question-and-answer session.

“Big data” refers to the collection and storage of information from machinery, companies working in agriculture and regulatory agencies, Wesley said.

Telematics connect operations in the field to data warehouses, or silos, he said.

CNH Industrial is careful to inform customers that they control any share or use of their data, Wesley said. The company removes identifying factors to look at data on a broader scale to find potential areas for improvement, he said. Wesley likened this approach to the financial and health industries.

“We can tell you in the county you’re sitting in right now how many cancer cases (there are), but the door slams shut when we want the names of those people,” he said as an example. “We don’t care where any of this equipment is running, we just want to know the performance issues that might be going on and make a better product in the future.”

Robison said “big data” covers an array of data sets from growers worldwide. The information could answer questions that were previously impossible to answer by showing what kind of steps have been used elsewhere to address challenges, he said.

“The idea is to get to solutions that can actually be implemented,” Robison said.

Tellessen recommends farmers who are using computerized technology look over their agreement before attending the discussion.

Technology is changing so quickly that farmers need to know both the opportunities and the risks, Tellessen said.

One of the concerns is who owns a farmer’s data and who has access to it, she said.

Tellessen hopes to convey during the panel discussion where companies differ in contractual agreements — how the data is kept, shared, owned or protected.

Wesley cautioned farmers to look carefully at the legal agreements when they sign up for online applications, or apps, to determine where and how the data may be used.

“Put this up a little bit higher on your radar, maybe have an idea of where this data is going and how it’s going to be used,” Wesley said.

Successful farmers could end up sharing their techniques with competing growers and putting their own operation at risk, Wesley said.

Farmers could also find that they are inadvertently sharing private information under a licensing agreement with a seed company, he said.

“All the players you’re bringing to this table, you need to understand what their stance is,” he said.

Robison said U.S. farmers need to pay attention to big data because their competitors are.

“It’s to the point where either you’re going to pay attention to this and gain a competitive edge from it, or you’re going to be left behind,” he said.

Photo contest winners capture life in the country Thu, 29 Jan 2015 17:16:55 -0400 Matw Weaver The winners of the annual Spokane Ag Expo photography contest bring a unique perspective to life in the country.

“The ones that rise to the top are the pictures that are able to show us something in a way we haven’t seen it — in our world and in ourselves,” said judge Rajah Bose, photographer for Gonzaga University in Spokane. “This year’s contest was one of the best in our memory. Thank you to everyone who submitted photos, it was difficult to make our final choices.”

Karen Baumann, of Washtucna, Wash., placed first in the adult category with “Stay Close.”

“A great moment on the farm,” Bose said. “The falling snow, the beautiful simple color palate of the red and brown made us feel like we were there.”

Dakota Street of Mabton, Wash., placed first in the youth category, with “Rain on a Window.”

“This image stood out for its vision and detail,” Bose said. “Pairing the rain with the light on the window of a car was a great use of juxtaposition that added meaning to what would have been a beautiful sunset on its own.”

Bose had high praise for the youth entries.

“The youth category really sang this year,” he said. “We enjoyed getting closer to the subjects, taking us to places we hadn’t seen, and showing us parts of ourselves we hadn’t thought about.”

Photographers were asked to submit photos depicting agriculture in the Inland Northwest.

In the adult category, Steve Shinning of Spokane placed second with “Old Tractors,” and Tracy Delya of Colville, Wash., placed third with “Hay Stacks.” Baumann also received the show director’s choice award for “Standing in Daddy’s Overalls.” Honorable mentions went to Shinning for “McCoy Elevator,” David Huck of Deer Park, Wash., for “Hay Rolling Storm,” Daniel Leitz of Spokane for “Starlit Barn,” and Dennis Morissey of Mead, Wash., for “In a Cloud of Dust.”

In the youth category, Linda Rubio of Mabton placed second with “A Day at the Grape Field,” and Remadi Lyn Maple of Coulee City, Wash., placed third with “Wheat Fall.” Anna Leitz of Spokane received show director’s choice award for “Ladybug.” Honorable mentions went to Anna Leitz for “Palouse Ammonia,” Danielle Rogne of Addy, Wash., for “Seeing Red,” Garrett Lewis of Rockford, Wash., for “Man in Field” and Adriana Gutierrez of Mabton for “Driving into the Sun.”

Greater Spokane Incorporated staff selected Baumann’s “Standing in Daddy’s Overalls” and “Lewis’ “Man in Field” for Greater Spokane Incorporated’s Choice awards.

All 93 entries will be displayed during the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum in the Spokane Convention Center Exhibit Halls. Winning photos will be posted on the Spokane Ag Expo website following the Expo.

Drier winters in store for region, weatherman predicts Thu, 29 Jan 2015 17:21:36 -0400 Matw Weaver The Pacific Northwest could be in for dry winters and wet springs as a long-term El Niño pattern develops, a weather expert says.

Art Douglas is the professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and the featured speaker at this year’s Pacific Northwest Farm Forum, which takes place during the 2015 Spokane Ag Expo.

Douglas has called for dry winter weather both this year and next.

However, entering the spring, the jet stream will begin pumping warm, moist air northward toward the Pacific Northwest.

“I’m expecting, with a bleak winter, spring will turn around and we’ll really start seeing some moisture, which is not typical of an El Niño,” he said.

El Niño is created by a prolonged warming of the Pacific Ocean’s surface temperatures. Most El Niños have a cold water pool north of Hawaii, limiting the amount of moisture for storms, but this one has a lot of moisture and energy potential, he said.

The current El Niño is about two to three months behind the normal time frame, he said.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and European models indicate the “misbehaving” El Niño, which will peak late, could create continuous El Niño conditions. By the end of this summer, water temperatures at the equator will approach 1.5 to 2 degrees above normal.

“We’re looking at probably a two-year El Niño event,” Douglas said. “Two-year El Niños are not common. ... But this El Niño has just not quite developed like it should.”

Most El Niños mean a dry winter and spring in the Northwest, he said. But with the extreme warmth of the Pacific Ocean, Douglas expects a wet spring in the Northwest.

Similar El Niños also occurred in 1976-1979 and 1993-1994. Multi-year El Niños only occur every 20 to 25 percent of the time, he said.