Capital Press | Special Sections Capital Press Tue, 24 Apr 2018 15:50:02 -0400 en Capital Press | Special Sections Industry leader sees bright future for hazelnuts Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:16:04 -0400 Jan Jackson Lance Kirk is predicting a banner year for Oregon’s hazelnut industry.

Elected president of the Oregon Hazelnut Society last winter, Kirk is a long-time Independence, Ore., hazelnut grower.

“It’s an exciting time for this industry,” Kirk said. “We have so many new growers planting orchards and the attendance at the winter meeting told us they are looking for as much information as they can get to help them.”

OHS, which doesn’t buy or sell nuts, is the education arm of the industry, he said. “At the speed with which Oregon State University is working on improving both varieties and methods of growing hazelnuts, everyone wants to know what’s going on.”

Kirk, a third-generation hazelnut grower, grew up on his parents’ farm in Independence. He attended Cascade High School and holds a degree in general agriculture from Oregon State University.

“Grandpa got us started in the hazelnut business in the early 1980s,” he said. “We started raising hops and hazelnuts, though we no longer raise hops.”

He left the farm and worked 17 years for ag supplier Wilbur-Ellis.

“But when I had an opportunity to return to the farm and raise a family, I took it,” Kirk said. “I have 14-year-old twin boys who right now are more interested in basketball than what they see as farmwork, but I have hope that they may be interested in carrying on some day.”

Kirk, who sells to George Packing Co. in Newburg, built a processing plant and is a receiving station for growers from Salem south to Eugene.

He is optimistic about the future.

“Our industry seems big to us, but if we want to get our product into Hershey and other products, our volume is going to have to increase dramatically,” Kirk said. “I think we are going to see it climb as soon as this year. I’m encouraged when I see new orchards everywhere, off back roads and I-5. The new acres planted over eight years ago are already maturing so we should see an increase in production very soon.”

When asked about the prospects of the new hardy varieties Rutgers University is hoping will bring hazelnuts back to the East Coast, Kirk believes that will help Oregon growers as well.

He pointed out that many people there don’t even know what hazelnuts are. When eastern farmers start growing them again, people will start using the nuts in many more different recipes and products, increasing demand.

In addition to Kirk and Sons Hazelnuts, he is a consultant, works with the bargaining association and hosts Summer Ag Institute teacher farm visits.

“I’m optimistic about the industry and all the new growers, though I wasn’t prepared for the record-breaking attendance at the OHS winter meeting,” he said. “I did realize my lucky streak ran out when I realized after successfully avoiding public speaking all through high school and college I was going to have to speak to 900 growers in January.

“The good news is, all of those enthusiastic growers bodes well for the hazelnut industry in Oregon.”

For more information on the Oregon Hazelnut Society, visit .

Vineyards track weather, soil differences Thu, 12 Apr 2018 09:43:21 -0400 Brad Carlson Scientists track weather, water and soil data from monitoring stations at 10 southwest Idaho vineyard sites stretching from Kuna northwest to Parma.

The Sunnyslope Soils and Weather Network is the first regional environmental-monitoring system for Idaho’s vineyards, leaders said. On-site instruments record hourly readings of air temperature at vineyard canopy height, precipitation, relative humidity, vapor pressure, wind speed and direction and solar radiation. Probes set between 15 and 75 centimeters deep measure soil moisture and temperature. The system also provides derived measures of growing-degree and frost-free days, wind run and evapotranspiration, a multi-factored measure of a plant’s water-use efficiency.

Primary investigator David Wilkins, associate professor of geosciences at Boise State University, said the study, begun two-plus years ago, aims to make it easier for grape growers to determine which varietals to grow, and where.

“They didn’t have any of these data before at the vineyard-site scale,” he said. “These vineyards now have readily available climate and soil data to inform their vineyard management practices.”

Researchers aim to better characterize the diversity of soils, climate and elevation related to grape-growing suitability.

Wilkins said by understanding and mapping the measured characteristics across the 10 monitored sites, “we can better understand the quality of soils and the micro-climate at each site, and better inform best practices for quality wine grape production.”

The Idaho wine industry previously lacked such data as well as a template for gathering and displaying it, he said. Findings can be viewed on plot graphs or lists.

One of the mast-mounted stations is at Bitner Vineyards in the Sunnyslope grape-growing area, where owner Ron Bitner in 2017 documented conditions that differed notably from his neighbors’. He saw his 35-year-old vineyard sustain serious damage in January — 10 straight days of bitter cold knocked out vines, though a two-foot blanket of snow kept roots alive — and again in a late-May freeze. A neighbor’s vineyard at lower elevation was damaged more, and a nearby vineyard at a higher elevation was damaged less.

Researchers so far have found fairly significant differences in heat units and growing-degree days at monitored sites within one to two miles of each other, Wilkins said. Close-together sites can vary enough in slope, soil composition and other factors to make for unique growing conditions.

Tracking growing-degree days and other information positions grape growers to make better decisions, said Bitner, who is also a bee scientist. The data will help him predict diseases such as powdery mildew — which can break out based out based on temperature and humidity — and insect emergences, making it easier to determine pesticide strategy.

Winemakers could expand here eventually, based in part on this data, he said. “We are producing great wines here and I want to see the Idaho wine industry grow.”

Having the data bodes well for water management, generally sound among grape growers as most apply water directly to plants via drip irrigation systems, Wilkins said. The data also could apply to other specialty crops, like tree fruits.

Funding sources for the $80,000 initial study included an Idaho State Department of Agriculture specialty crop block grant and cost sharing among researchers.

Growing the project could mean gathering information from additional vineyard sites and Idaho wine regions, and expanding the network’s online offerings, Wilkins said.

Large Oregon hop grower adds on-farm brewery Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:13:10 -0400 Jan Jackson ST. PAUL, Ore. — B&D Farms, one of Oregon’s largest hop growers, will soon add an on-farm craft brewery.

Leading the operation is 26-year-old Austin Smith, who is a fifth generation hop farmer. He believes he can pull the best hop cones from the drying room into his own brewing vats and make the best beer anywhere.

Born, raised and schooled in the heart of the Willamette Valley, Austin graduated with an agriculture degree from Linn Benton Community College. With partners Jace Kelly and Tyler Bothwell, he expects to be open as Trellis Brewing Co. by early summer.

“On the hop farm side of things, it was pretty natural to pick up a knack for beer making,” Austin said. “It was 2014, when my friends and I started making beer in my garage. By 2016, my uncle (Ben Smith) suggested we turn an old workshop we weren’t using into a meeting room or a brewery or something, and that’s all the encouragement I needed.”

His father, Dave Smith, agreed that “as long as he could get free beer and a place to hold meetings, he was in,” Austin Smith said.

Austin, who likes brewing with friends over working alone, met his partners in college. They started with an online recipe downloaded to their cell phones.

“We did a lot of experimenting with hop, malt and yeast combinations and we got a lot of start-up help from highly awarded and decorated home brewers like Tom Litwin and Paul Long from Newberg,” Austin said. “Of all of the regulations from the county, OLCC (the Oregon Liquor Control Commission) and the Department of Ag we had to meet to run a successful commercial brewing operation, renovating the old building was probably the toughest.”

They had to redo the whole ceiling electrical wiring to bring it up to fire code, add new plumbing, make it handicap accessible and meet all the commercial access and parking codes for county roads, he said.

“We chose our old 1980s workshop to house the brewery, because it sits in the midst of the hops fields adjacent to our hop processing operation. Two years ago, I drew a rough sketch of what I wanted and the power equipment it was going to take to run it,” he said “My aunt and I then sat down and worked on how to use materials around the farm to carry out our true-to-the-farm theme.”

The walls in the tasting room are made of shiplap wood that came from a 1930s migrant camp and the bar is a thick highly polished timber they found on the farm.

Hoping to pull craft beer aficionados from Portland and beyond, Austin is most eager to serve the people in his hometown of St. Paul as well as the bicyclers, kayakers, fishermen and wine country tourists that travel the back roads to the river. By next year he hopes to add the staff he needs to offer “from the ground into the glass” tours during commercial hop harvest.

“My great-great grandfather started raising hops in 1895, but because we also raise sweet corn, beans, grass seed and nursery stock, I’ve always just called myself a fifth-generation farmer,” Austin said. “Now I can add that I’m a first-generation brewer.”

For more information on Trellis Brewery and Tasting Room, email Austin at

Willamette Valley farmers make switch to hazelnuts Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:14:36 -0400 Brenna Wiegand When the last Christmas tree falls, Gerald Mast and Jerry Roth of Mast-Roth Farms hope their young hazelnut orchards will pick up the slack.

Five years ago, after a glut in the market, the Monitor-Molalla area farmers stopped planting Christmas trees and started putting in hazelnut trees.

Mast’s father-in-law, Don Roth, began planting Christmas trees about 40 years ago and Mast joined him five years later. Since then Roth’s son Jerry came in and the two now run the farm.

“Labor was also one of the biggest factors for the change; we can do the hazelnuts with just a few people,” Gerald Mast said.

The farm is down to 20-30 acres of Christmas trees from its peak of 400 acres.

“All the Christmas trees are off the land that we own but there are a few pieces of leased ground that still have them,” Mast said. “The last couple years the Christmas tree market has been very good, which has been helpful as we establish our hazelnut orchards.”

They’re nearly finished planting hazelnuts. They’re in their sixth year of planting about 30 acres a year and hope to end up with about 185 acres in nuts. Two years ago, they began harvesting nuts from 4-year-old trees and this past year harvested from 4- and 5-year-old trees.

It was a low production year for everybody, but Mast and Roth were pleased at their yield, gathering 600 pounds per acre on the 4-year-old trees and a little more than 1,500 pounds on the 5-year-olds. Selling off some of their Christmas tree equipment has helped them in purchasing a whole new set of machinery for their new crop.

Along the way, they’ve had a lot of help. They follow the program set out by Valley Ag, a division of Wilco, and Wilbur-Ellis provides recommendations.

“We’ve also learned a lot from other growers,” Mast said. “This industry is different than others; growers seem to share information freely; it’s very refreshing.”

Lately, some growers have been double-planting for higher, earlier production. Trees go in 10-by-20 feet apart and then when they start to grow together every other tree is taken out and the remaining trees end up 20-by-20 feet apart.

“We’re going 18-by-12 because we figure we can get a few more years off the trees before we need to take them out,” Mast said.

While the Willamette Valley produces about 99 percent of the U.S. supply, it only produces 4-5 percent of the world’s hazelnuts.

“We haven’t hit the domestic market like we could,” Mast said. “When the supply is there for a year-round market, talk is there’s going to be a problem with overproduction if we don’t build up our domestic market.”

In addition to the unpredictable market and labor costs associated with Christmas trees, Mast is just ready to stop.

“I’ve done it long enough and the harvest is quite brutal,” he said, “It can be very wet and muddy and you can’t stop; you’ve just got to keep going.”

Hops compound may offset obesity’s risks Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:11:48 -0400 Gail Oberst Oregon State University researchers have developed derivatives of xanthohumol, a compound that occurs naturally in the hop plant, and can combat metabolic syndrome in obese mice, and some day, humans.

The syndrome is caused by a high-fat diet and impacts nearly 25 percent of U.S. adults, causing high blood pressure, inflammation and insulin resistance, putting them at risk of heart disease and diabetes, to name a few health problems.

The new discovery, published in January, may solve many health problems, and if it is developed, may also offer a new market for the world’s hop growers, including those in the Northwest.

“We’re really excited about this,” said Cristobal Miranda, a research associate professor at OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute. Miranda, with Fred Stevens and 18 other national and international authors, released their latest findings in Scientific Reports, a research journal.

The latest research indicates that hydrogenated derivatives of xanthohumol have greater potency than xanthohumol itself in lowering body weight gain and reducing insulin resistance in obese mice.

But beer and xanthohumol part ways at the cone. Xanthohumol is a highly purified ingredient unique to hops, and is found in most hoppy beers. However, a person would have to drink 3,500 beers daily for the same benefit presumed from a 175 mg tablet of xanthohumol, the estimated human dosage to battle symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Even if the beers could be consumed, the newly isolated derivatives are free of estrogenic properties that have been associated with xanthohumol consumption.

Don’t go looking for the derivatives in your natural food stores or pharmacies just yet. Although research on mice and rats — and some human tests — are compelling, the federally required human trials are still in the wings. Stevens and Miranda are hoping to complete trials as soon as funds are available.

The findings were no accident. Discovery of the hop derivatives’ health properties culminates research that spans decades. Miranda and Stevens have published 24 scientific papers together, most detailing their hops research. Testing the derivatives of xanthohumol was the final step in demonstrating their beneficial health effects without the problematic adverse effects of estrogen in hops.

“We’ve finally fixed that aberration,” Stevens said.

Meanwhile, the infrastructure for processing the derivatives is already in place. Northwest and German and laboratories, some connected to beer production and others to health research, already process xanthohumol. Xanthohumol has long been part of pre-clinical and clinical testing at OSU and Oregon Health and Science University.

Hopsteiner, a hop grower, global distributor and processor with locations including Yakima, Wash., provided purified xanthohumol for the study.

It is both a blessing and a curse that xanthohumol and its potential for saving lives is found in hops, Stevens indicated.

It is a blessing because it is readily and plentifully available from a natural source, and a curse for the same reason.

In the U.S., natural products are often not taken as seriously as artificial, lab-produced chemicals.

But Stevens and Miranda are hoping some enlightened investor or sponsor will see the value of supporting human trials and bringing this supplement to the public. Tests on rodents were clear: According to their latest research on mice, a single supplement taken once a day may be able to prevent cardiovascular disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes caused by high fat diets, without estrogen side effects or liver damage. Obesity and related disorders account for up to 21 percent of the money spent on U.S. health care — $190.2 billion — according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Health and Economics.

“This is the first time we’ve seen one compound with the potential to address so many health problems,” said Miranda.

Stone fruits help drive Valicoff’s growth Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:09:45 -0400 Dave Leder The Valicoff family has been growing produce in the Yakima Valley since the 1930s, but the company didn’t really hit its stride until the mid-1980s, when it became Valicoff Fruit Co.

The family-owned apple, pear and stone fruit operation based in Wapato, Wash., started out growing vegetables under the name Valicoff Gardens before transitioning to tree fruit in the 1940s.

Owners Rob and Ric Valicoff — whose grandfather Stoyan Valicoff, a Bulgarian immigrant, started the company — introduced the fruit-packing side of the business in the 1980s and eventually moved into a 20-acre facility off U.S. Highway 97 in 2010.

Today, Valicoff Fruit Co. ships its apples and pears around the world and sends its cherries, nectarines, peaches and apricots all over North America.

Business is good, and getting better.

“One of the big reasons we’ve been so successful is that my family has been around for a long time, and we’ve been able to nurture a lot of great relationships in the industry,” said General Manager Brett Valicoff, 31, son of Rob Valicoff Jr. and a fourth-generation grower.

The younger Valicoff started working for the family business when he was 9 years old, and after graduating from college and spending a couple years in construction management, he returned to Wapato in 2011 to become the GM.

“This is a great industry to be involved in and I’m proud to help continue my family’s legacy,” he said. “I missed that hometown feel that you find in this industry. Everyone kind of helps each other out.”

Brett Valicoff spends most of his time managing the warehouse operations, while his dad and uncle manage the orchard side of the business. Apples are its largest commodity, but what sets Valicoff Fruit Co. apart from other Yakima Valley growers is its commitment to stone fruit. Despite the inherent risks that go along with farming stone fruit — susceptibility to weather damage, for example — Rob and Ric Valicoff committed themselves to becoming one of the largest stone-fruit suppliers in the Pacific Northwest.

In fact, Valicoff Fruit Co. was the first grower to sell its peaches and nectarines at Costco during the mid-1980s.

Around that time, the brothers implemented a vertical integration business model, which contributed to exponential growth over the past 30 years.

“My dad and uncle have done a great job of moving the company into the future, and my goal is to make it even better than when I started,” Brett Valicoff said.

One aspect that helps the company stand out is that it packs all of its stone fruit by hand. Rather than sending the fruit over a packing line, all of Valicoff Fruit Co.’s cherries, nectarines, peaches and apricots remain on the tree for a week longer than their competitors’ fruit.

“That extra growing time makes our fruit larger and gives it an even sweeter flavor,” Brett Valicoff said.

While stone fruits have helped pushed the company forward, the Valicoffs still rely heavily on apples, primarily the Gala and Honeycrisp varieties.

The packing line now runs 12 months a year and the company employs about 150 people in the warehouse year-round. The total number of employees grows to more than 500 during the peak of the harvest season, which didn’t seem realistic just 10 years ago.

“We’ve grown so much over the years and I’m really proud to be a part of it,” Brett Valicoff said. “Family businesses can be tricky, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Farmer grows hops, builds pickers Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:08:05 -0400 Aliya Hall CROW, Ore. — Phil Hibler had been interested in hop production from a young age, but it wasn’t until after he recovered from a neck injury that he decided to pursue it as a business venture.

“I was using (hop production) as physical therapy after I broke my neck as something to get me back into real life,” Hibler said. “I was always intrigued by (hops). It’s a fun way of meeting new people. I like to try new things; repetition is boring.”

It’s been three years since Hibler established his company, Little Hill Hops. As a small producer, Hibler is working to supply local breweries with fresh hops to fill an immediate need. Little Hill Hops also pelletizes and vacuum seals its hops and offers these services to other hop farmers.

Hibler wants to be involved in the manufacturing process as well, having built his own hop picker from a concept that the University of Vermont shared online. He plans on building more and selling them on contract to other small hop producers.

Having engineered telescopes before his injury, Hibler was up to the challenge.

“If there was a test to take for astronomy or different physics, I could ace it, I’m pretty sure,” he said.

The initial machine took three years to build, due to Hibler’s perfecting of it. He said that now, however, to build the same machine, it would take around 40 hours.

“We built it several different times beginning to end,” Hibler said. “The thing about our machine is it does three vines a minute, and that’s comparable to a machine much, much bigger, (and) much more expensive.”

The interest in Little Hill Hops from investors came quickly. One of the doctors that Hibler was referred to, Jay Chappell, brought in his family, as well as his friend Jeff Paulsen, who is also a colleague. Little Hill Hops has since had two more rounds of investors, and sells its hops exclusively to Coldfire Brewery in Eugene, Ore., which has been involved from the beginning.

“It just kind of clicked,” Chappell said. “When Phil first got me and my family excited we thought, ‘Oh, let’s grow these things.’ But the more we talked with the Hughes brothers at Coldfire the more we realized, ‘Wait, there’s a lot more to it than that.’ They want a pelletized product that has to be pelletized a certain way.”

Hibler’s pelletizing equipment is from Lawson Mills Biomass Solutions and it processes at a lower temperature, which removes fear of the hops being burned during the process. Little Hill Hops charges $2 per pound for the basic service, and $2.75 if a client adds the packaging service.

Chappell said it is “a two-phase business.” In late August through October the company will focus on growing the hops and offering pelletizing services for local brewers, and then in winter Hibler will manufacture pickers on contract.

“That way we can keep Phil busy year-round,” Chappell said. “We don’t want him to get bored; if he gets bored, he starts coming up with new ideas.”

Little Hill Hops’ focus is on centennial hop varieties, although in the last year Hibler planted 11 varieties of plants. The company wants to focus on the varieties that Coldfire will be most willing to buy.

“In Eugene there are so many local breweries who want to support local growers, but there is no one who can provide (hops) on a cost-efficient scale,” Casia Chappell, Jay Chappell’s daughter, said. “It’s nice we can fill a short-term need. If (brewers) know they have a local grower growing X and Y varieties, we can fill needs like a fresh hop (beer). It’s like, ‘Let’s do this. We have a tank open and you’re right here.’ It’s a niche part of the market we’re hoping to fill.”

Although Little Hill Hops is a newer enterprise, the company hopes to get its name out there to draw in clients to contract pickers, pelletizing services and hops. Hibler said they expect to break even this year, but the reward isn’t in the money itself.

“For me, I started hops because of physical therapy; I had to learn to walk and talk and everything again,” Hibler said. “It’s been a long, hard road and I’ve isolated myself. So, in my own terms (it’s rewarding) to meet more people and get back into the world, I guess. It’s been a blast.”

At Evans Fruit Co., it’s about family Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:06:56 -0400 Dave Leder Family comes first at Evans Fruit Co., a 69-year-old growing and shipping operation based in Washington’s Yakima Valley.

The company started small back in 1949, when Bill and Jeannette Evans planted their first 10-acre apple orchard in their late teen years. Over time, with the help of family and friends, Evans Fruit has become an internationally known grower-shipper that produces apples and cherries.

Today, the Evans family farms more than 8,000 acres across Central Washington, employing 800 to 1,000 people year-round and providing fruit to customers all over North America, South America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

“Being family-owned and -operated is what sets us apart, and we all want to carry on the tradition that my grandparents started when they were young,” said Kimberly Hiebert, 35, the accounting and human resources manager who directs the company’s day-to-day operations along with her brother, Joe Evans. “We pride ourselves on family, and we believe it takes all of us to run a successful company.”

Hiebert’s and Evans’ mother, Barb Evans, works part-time in the fields and runs her own small apple orchard.

Now 88 years old, founder Jeannette Evans remains involved on a daily basis, handling strategic decisions and helping out in the orchards and packing plants. Bill Evans also was involved every day until he died in late 2016.

Their two daughters, Julie Evans and Vickie Loges, and their children also work for the company, along with a long line of extended relatives and family friends.

“A big reason for our success is that we’re a family-owned operation, and we want to do whatever it takes to stay on top,” said Joe Evans, 32, the warehouse and orchard operations manager. “We’re a pretty close-knit group and we have every intention of being around for a very long time.”

While family has been the linchpin for success over the years, Evans Fruit is equally committed to producing a superior product.

Since the beginning, the company has targeted specific strains of fruit and then combined those varieties with the best root stocks available. They meticulously search for the ideal elevations to plant their orchards and grow their fruit in nutrient-rich soils to produce apples and cherries that will stand apart for their flavor and quality.

“We have customers overseas who call us asking when we’re going to start packing specific apple varieties because we have found ways to optimize those varieties,” Joe Evans said. “We focus on the best strains available, and our customers rely on us for that quality year after year.”

Another point of pride for the Evans family is that no other grower in the world can match their volume of red apples, including — but not limited to — Gala, Fuji, Red Delicious, Braeburn and Honeycrisp. A new variety, Cosmic Crisp, will be planted this spring and be available for sale in a few years.

Hiebert said Bill Evans always made a point of telling his friends and colleagues just how many red apples Evans Fruit produced every year.

“He was very proud of the fact that he was the largest red apple grower in the world,” she said.

“No one could touch him in terms of acreage or number of boxes. We are known around the world for our reds, and we believe that reputation is going to carry us into the future.”

Apple school sows seed of success Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:03:00 -0400 Gail Oberst Chris Blanchard took a continuing education class at Oregon State University, and in 2014 opened Longdrop Cider in Boise, Idaho, with two partners. Today, he’s among the experts who teach other would-be cider makers how to launch their own cider businesses.

Blanchard is one of dozens of students who have taken OSU cider courses and gone on to open their own cider houses in the Northwest and beyond.

Educational opportunities abound in the Northwest for apple growers and cider makers looking to develop their skills in the orchard, in business or in the cidery. As the love for craft ciders develops, the region’s schools have responded with short and long courses ranging from a few hours-long tasting workshops to years-long fermentation science courses.

The recent surge in cider’s popularity is fertile ground for expanding education. More than half of the cider businesses in the Northwest have been established in the past five years, according to statistics gathered by the Northwest Cider Association. The association’s more than 70 members own orchards, cideries and tasting rooms in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia.

The association helps organize several festivals each year including the BC Cider Week, April 27-May 6 this year, and the Cider Rite of Spring, which took place March 10 in Portland, and the Washington Cider Week in September. The association’s website calendar listed 15 public Northwest cider festivals in the past year sponsored by its members and associates. In these celebratory settings, visitors can taste and learn about cider varieties, and meet the cider makers.

Many new and experienced farmers and growers attend festivals and take courses to get into craft apple production. Many are looking for a way to launch or expand current operations, said Greg Aronoff of Oregon State University’s non-credit educational arm, Professional and Continuing Education (PACE). Students in these various courses and workshops range in age from 25 to their mid-60s, and include homebrewers, retired and active farmers, and new or current business owners.

In addition to PACE, OSU offers a variety of orchard and cider courses, both for credit and noncredit.

The university’s fermentation science program, for example, is among a handful of programs in the U.S. that offer a fermentation degree training students in biological, chemical and physical principles, as well as engineering, processing, preservation and other aspects of fermented food products. Students interested in orchards can earn degrees in research including fruit breeding and genetics, entomology, fruit pathology, to name a few areas of study.

As of 2016, Washington State University merged its coursework with University of Idaho’s to create a similar fermentation science degree, including specific cider courses.

Located in the state that produces more than half of the nation’s apples, it is no wonder that WSU also sponsors one of the largest orchard research and extension programs in the Northwest. Its Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center includes more than 200 acres of orchards, labs and classrooms on three properties. The center is home to high-level apple research, but it is also a base for a multitude of public classes and workshops in orchard care and cider production taught by WSU experts.

For example, in June, cider expert from WSU Bri Ewig will lead a five-day course “Cider & Perry Production; A Foundation,” at UI’s Food Technology Center in Caldwell, Idaho.

OSU’s PACE offers a similar class for start-ups including Research Farm Manager Scott Robbins, at the university’s 115-acre Lewis-Brown Farm in Corvallis. The “Foundations” courses are organized by the Cider Institute of North America, another resource for cider education.

OSU’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center near Aurora is also home to on-site workshops for orchard owners. Portland State University’s Center for Executive and Professional Education offers certificated courses in the Business of Craft Brewing, which includes development of a cider business.

“It’s a fantastic way to learn from faculty and from practitioners. They can share a lot of knowledge,” said Aronoff.

For more information about apple and cider educational opportunities available in 2018, visit the following websites.

Hazelnuts offer farmers diversification Thu, 12 Apr 2018 09:59:12 -0400 Brenna Wiegand Five years ago, Butler Farms started making room for hazelnuts among the grass seed, peppermint, corn and bean fields.

Brothers Gary, Tim and David Butler began replacing a little of each crop on their 2,000-acre family farm in the Stayton and Aumsville, Ore., area with hazelnuts. After three years the farm had 140 acres of hazelnuts.

“Now we’re taking a break to get some return on our investment,” David Butler said.

The week after the Butlers planted their first group of 24-inch trees temperatures plummeted to zero degrees Fahrenheit. They experienced a 20-25 percent die-off.

“It gets expensive and it’s a big learning curve,” Butler said. “They are a fairly easy crop to raise but the first five years it’s a lot of work. There’s lots of trimming the suckers and then the trees themselves get shaped to grow correctly.”

With the variety of crops, harvest season spans July through October with few breaks.

“We learned to work hard as kids, so we just carried that on,” Butler said. “They keep saying we need more volume and more nuts to be a major player in the market; that you need the supply before you can create a demand,” he said.

Brothers Tim Aman of Hazelnut Growers of Oregon and Tom Aman of Wilco Valley Ag provide valuable advice. The two are experienced hazelnut growers and propagators on their own farm.

“We buy our trees from them,” Butler said. “Because of their experience I take their advice very seriously. I see the success they have and if I could do that I would be extremely happy.

“I think there’s a sense of excitement for the new growers, because we’re looking for something to add value to our farms,” he said. “The grass seed has been a struggle at times and the vegetable industry has been horrible the last five years. You look outside the box to see how you can fill it.”

The new blight-resistant hazelnut cultivars developed by Oregon State University are especially partial to the Willamette Valley. To get in on the action larger players are showing up.

“You’re seeing a lot of the big corporations come into the valley and invest in hazelnuts; whether that’s good or bad I don’t know but it’s happening,” Butler said.

Setton Farms of Terra Bella, Calif., is one of America’s largest pistachio growers. It also markets some 4 million pounds of hazelnuts every year, buying them from Turkey.

“They decided they need to be in the business themselves,” Butler said. “They bought land a stone’s throw from our place and put in 200 to 300 acres last spring. Their goal is around 1,500 acres.

“You’d think that it’s going to be a good crop down the road if they’re willing to invest millions of dollars.”

Adapting to change a constant for grower Thu, 12 Apr 2018 09:57:39 -0400 Suzanne Frary Woodland, Wash. — George Thoeny is weighing the costs and benefits of crops on his Woodland, Wash., farm and may uproot his berry plants this year. Falling prices and rising labor costs have for several years cut into his berry profits.

Thoeny Farms already has converted most of its 390 acres from berries and vegetables to grass seed. Its raspberry production peaked at 150 acres and is now at 10 acres.

“Raspberries used to go for $1.70 per pound, but now it’s about 50 cents per pound,” Thoeny said. “Unless a grower can process berries, or add value with fresh sales, it’s hard to make a profit.”

Thoeny sells berries at farmers’ markets in Southwest Washington and some are shipped to farmers’ markets in Seattle. He also has a few acres of strawberries, blackberries and sweet corn.

Thoeny runs the business with his brother, Ted, and mother, Peggy, in the Woodland Bottoms, which once supported a thriving agricultural community. Decades ago, farmers raised a variety of vegetables and the area was home to dozens of dairies, Thoeny said.

About five farms remain, he said, the majority of which now grow grass seed. It’s a crop that has far lower labor costs.

Thoeny Farms has succeeded for nearly seven decades by adapting to changing conditions, and Thoeny, a third-generation farmer, expects to continue in that tradition. The family grew vegetables, mostly carrots, for about 35 years before planting raspberries, followed by strawberries and blackberries.

The supply of migrant labor dropped off three or four years ago and local farm labor is nonexistent, he said. To harvest their berries and sweet corn, the farm needs about 16 workers, Thoeny said. Hiring people and complying with government regulations is an “immense amount of work.”

Thoeny and his brother can do the work of growing grass seed. Working with family is a perk of his job, Thoeny said, and is what he always wanted to do. He includes other farmers in the area as part of his “extended family.” His children have chosen careers off the farm.

“I got into farming when it was easiest, in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s,” Thoeny said. He and his brother may be the last generation of his family to farm, but they don’t want to sell their land and hope to leave a healthy business to their kids and grandkids.

Thoeny thinks the future of his farm will include diversification. He leases property for trailer parking and a building where the farm formerly processed carrots is now a warehouse.

Thoeny doesn’t rule out a return to the business’ past pursuits. The family once had 15 acres of U-pick and a farm store. The farmers’ markets where they sell berries are booming, he said. There’s still opportunity, but “farming is not for the meek.”

“We work 14- or 15-hour days in season. We work a horrendous amount of hours for not much return. But if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t trade anything.”

Prune orchards of the future may vary Thu, 12 Apr 2018 09:56:28 -0400 Tim Hearden RED BLUFF, Calif. — What will the prune orchard of the future be like? It depends on a variety of factors, researchers say.

New orchard layouts could depend on soil types, while new crop management techniques and new varieties other than the now-dominant French prune could resist diseases and reduce the need for thinning, said Franz Niederholzer, a University of California Cooperative Extension pomology farm adviser.

“The way it looks now may not be the way it turns out,” Niederholzer told about 60 growers during a recent workshop in Red Bluff.

Niederholzer gave attendees electronic devices to vote in instant surveys and asked them to envision the “perfect orchard.” Majorities indicated they would want it to produce 6 dry tons per acre with spacing of 18 feet wide by 14 feet between trees.

Asked what they think are the biggest obstacles to planting prunes in 2018, most growers cited prune prices and cost of production, including pruning costs. Most growers said their next plantings would be entirely new orchards rather than interplanting.

In actuality, optimal spacing can depend on soil types, which can influence a tree’s production. Soil can vary even in small blocks, and Niederholzer suggested that growers consider soil mapping and matching spacing and irrigation to the map.

“Consistent production is really important,” he said.

Also, planting and managing trees in such a way that it maximizes sunlight on the trees will increase yields, he said. In a recent newsletter, he explained that replacing an orchard spaced 18 feet-by-16 feet with one with rows 17 feet or 16 feet apart could increase per-acre returns by as much as $760, assuming a $2,000-per-ton average dry fruit price to the grower.

While new planting schemes can boost production, researchers are looking into ways to improve orchard health by developing new rootstocks.

UCCE advisers have been evaluating alternative rootstocks in California Dried Plum Board-supported field trials throughout the Sacramento Valley.

Among the research:

• Scientists in Butte County are testing rootstocks that reach full bloom at different times, with the intent of spreading out bloom timing and reducing the risk of a crop failure because of bad weather, according to a UCCE prune newsletter.

Prune production took a nosedive in 2016 after cold, wet and windy weather created adverse conditions for bees during the height of pollination.

• Farm advisers are watching disparities in tree trunk sizes on test plots in Butte and Yuba counties, according to the newsletter.

The trees with larger trunks in Butte County had a higher dry yield per tree, a higher “dry away” ratio (the ratio of green fruit weight to dry fruit weight) and smaller fruit, while the smaller-trunked trees had lower dry away ratios and larger fruit.

This tree size and yield disparity may be partly caused by soil and water differences between the sites, researchers said.

In the prune orchard of the future, a grower choosing a rootstock will need to consider whether the objective is to plant larger, more vigorous trees or to plant smaller trees at a higher density, the newsletter explained.

Several rootstocks in the Yuba County plot were particularly prone to gumming and tree loss from bacterial and Cytospora canker in 2013 and again in 2017, according to the researchers. The incidence of canker in prunes has added a sense of urgency to the need to develop new varieties.

Commercial production of French prunes in California began in 1859, and an improved variety is used by 95 percent of the industry, said Bob Johnson, a doctoral candidate doing research at UC-Davis. Phellinus, a fungus that causes wood decay, has had more than 100 years to adapt to the variety, he said.

“We should really be thinking about diversifying the prunes that we grow,” he said.

UC-Davis researchers Ted DeJong and Sara Castro have received $244,598 in grants in the past two years to develop new prune varieties that would have traits desirable to the industry.

New varieties under development have a lower dry away ratio, meaning they’d reduce dehydration costs. One variety being evaluated by growers starting this year, called “H135-58,” offers a wide harvest window and partially dries on the tree.

Hazelnuts become a family tradition Thu, 12 Apr 2018 09:54:01 -0400 CRAIG REED ROSEBURG, Ore. — Hazelnuts have become a family tradition for the Lehnes.

In 1989, Norm and Cinda Lehne planted 5 acres of hazelnut trees, adding that crop to their Norm Lehne Garden & Orchards business in Garden Valley a few miles northwest of Roseburg. Since then, the Lehnes have added 22 acres in hazelnuts and Norm’s brother, Ray, has planted nut trees on 35 acres across the road.

More recently, the Lehnes’ grown children have returned with their families and planted hazelnut trees on nearby properties. Son Glen Lehne and his wife, Wendy, have 5 acres of hazelnuts and daughter Colleen Kroeker and her husband, Nathan, have planted 8 acres in the past couple of years with plans to expand their orchard by 10 acres in the near future.

Both Glen and Colleen served in the U.S. Air Force. Glen retired in May 2014 after a 6-month deployment in Afghanistan and a 20-year career. Colleen served 8 years of active duty and has been in the Air Force Reserves since 2004.

Working in the respective hazelnut orchards has become a family activity with the younger third generation — Glen and Wendy’s teenage daughters, Ashlynn and Kylie, and Colleen and Nathan’s grade school son Timothy and daughter Noelle — helping out.

Labor, equipment and expertise are all shared throughout the different orchards.

“When we bought property next to the family farm, we were not intending to reinvent the wheel,” Colleen said of planting hazelnuts. “We wanted to benefit from the decades of knowledge my father and my uncle had gained from having their own orchards.”

“It’s important for operations to have more than one endeavor so you can spread out the risk if there is a problem with something,” Glen said of hazelnuts being added to the family’s overall farming approach.

Colleen and Nathan are working to make their hazelnut orchard organic. Nathan is a founding member of the Organic Hazelnut Growers Association.

While family members have planted hazelnut trees, they have continued to work with fruits and vegetables, the commodities that Norm and Cinda started their farm with back in the mid-1970s. Glen explained the farm now has three divisions: U-pick, farmers’ markets and hazelnuts.

“Because we have those divisions, the farm is able to support more than Mom and Dad,” Glen said. “It also supports two other families and our seasonal crew.”

He said hazelnuts are a good crop because they put land to a productive use, but they aren’t as maintenance-needy compared to fruits and vegetables.

“If you put too many acres into vegetables then you can become too big to remain a family operation,” Glen said. “Hazelnuts are good for your extra acres and is a crop that doesn’t require a lot of extra hands.”

Norm pointed out hazelnuts are good for the older generation because they don’t require a lot of back-breaking physical work.

“There is a lot of tractor work in the orchard, and you’re not having to bend over and hoe weeds,” he said.

Norm, 69, doesn’t mind letting the next generations tend to the fruits and vegetables. And when help is needed with the hazelnuts, he said he loves seeing his grandkids in the orchard. Ashlynn, 17, Kylie, 15, Timothy, 11, and Noelle, 10, have all been involved in digging holes when the young trees have been planted, they’ve painted the tree trunks white to prevent sunburn and they’ve helped with pruning, with spreading fertilizer and lime in the orchards, and with moving pipe and irrigating. Kylie also specializes in making cinnamon roasted hazelnuts that are sold at the Lehne fruits and vegetables booth at farmers’ markets.

“They are willing,” Colleen said of the grandkids helping out. “They know they are part of the farming family. The work develops good character.”

The Lehnes sell their hazelnuts, most of which are Ennis variety, to Northwest Hazelnut in Hubbard, Ore. Norm said the price is “excellent for the nuts.” He added the demand for the nut if greater than the supply.

“They are crying for more growers, they want more hazelnuts,” he said. “The market is growing at a faster rate than production. If I was younger, I would plant more nuts.”

While he may not be, his family’s younger generations have been doing exactly that, carrying on the Lehnes’ hazelnut tradition.

Hops supplier looks to bright future Thu, 12 Apr 2018 09:50:46 -0400 Dave Leder It’s still a good time to be involved in the hops industry.

With the worldwide explosion of craft breweries and home brewing in recent years, this is an especially good time for hops businesses in Washington’s Yakima Valley, home to 75 percent of the total hops acreage in the U.S.

In recent years, the region has supplanted Germany as the world’s leading hops producer, and a number of Central Washington companies are intent on continuing that trend.

“The industry is at an all-time high, as brewers from around the world continue to explore the art of beer and find new ways to incorporate American hops, known for their aroma and flavor,” said Alex Rumbolz, the communications and outreach manager for YCH HOPS, the leading hops supplier in North America.

“What has helped us stand out is our ongoing relationships with international brewers, as well as the independent craft breweries and home brewers, many of whom could be the global innovators of tomorrow.”

The YCH HOPS brand was established in 2014, when Yakima Chief Inc. and Hopunion LLC joined forces. The 100 percent grower-owned hop supplier has developed a reputation in the international brewing community for its commitment to quality and service, from the farm to the production warehouse to the sales office.

YCH HOPS has become known around the industry for its long-term vision, staying one step ahead of the competition with innovations like Cryo Hops, a proprietary cryogenic hops processing technology introduced in 2017 that contributes to the creation of more “hop-forward” beers.

“Craft brewers are artists and they are always looking for that unique ‘color’ in their palette to create new flavors and aromas in their creations,” Rumbolz said. “We let the brewers be the rock stars as we try to focus on the role of supporting their creativity with great hops.”

YCH HOPS packs about 90 percent of its hops pellets at a production facility in Sunnyside, about 30 miles east of Yakima, and operates warehouse facilities in Yakima.

The company produces and ships hops products for dozens of growers around the Yakima Valley, including Sunnyside, Moxee (about six miles east of Yakima) and the Yakama Nation Reservation (between Yakima and Sunnyside).

YCH HOPS believes the market conditions are ideal for additional growth in the years to come, but at the same time, the company recognizes the potential challenges, such as market saturation.

“The craft beer industry can be unpredictable at times, with varying tastes and consumer demands fluctuating throughout the year,” Rumbolz said. “This is a challenge that all hops growers and suppliers face, and we are committed to providing our growers with the most accurate forecasts possible prior to each growing season.”

By prioritizing relationships with its growers and customers, YCH HOPS expects to remain at the forefront of the hops industry, no matter what changes may arise. The company is always looking for ways that it can improve the brewing experience for everyone involved.

“The valuable feedback we receive from our customers helps our growers fine-tune their growing and harvesting methods so they can select the best varieties for their farms,” Rumbolz said. “In return, our hop products and inventory can become even more refined to meet brewer and customer tastes throughout the supply chain.”

Williams family moves ahead with orchards in wake of loss Thu, 12 Apr 2018 09:49:14 -0400 Brad Carlson Members of the Williams family aim to carry their patriarch’s on-farm experiments toward hoped-for fruition.

Harold Williams died in January at 83, leaving Emmett, Idaho-area Williams Fruit Ranch in the hands of his widow, Jackie, who has worked in the operation for decades and continues to tap the experience of their children as the family moves the enterprise ahead.

The Williams family aims to build on past successes and keep trying new approaches, a nod to Harold’s leadership and historically a key to keeping the family’s 136-year-old business thriving.

“We’re moving forward with the plans he already had made,” said Bryan Williams, 54, Harold and Jackie’s son. He said his dad was especially excited about recently grafting a Red Delicious apple block to a Royal Red Honeycrisp block, and continuing to expand and revitalize a peach orchard hit by a pre-dormancy hard freeze three seasons back.

“It’s just a matter of continuation. It’s going to be the same,” said Jackie, who turns 78 this month. But noticeably absent will be the frequently heard inquiry, “Harold, what do I do?” she said.

This year’s goals, Jackie and Bryan said, include sustaining a pattern of improvement in local sales, the fruit operation’s lifeblood that includes “U-pick” sales to visitors who gather fruit themselves and sales to operators of fruit stands.

Jackie focuses on business strategy and, with daughter Lisa Garcia, supplying a handful of client fruit stands. They also operate their own stand and take some Williams Fruit Ranch yield to farmers’ markets. Jackie’s daughter Lori Lutskas works at Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Pullman, Wash.

Bryan, also a long-haul truck driver, oversees labor and field work in cooperation with longtime foreman Harold Spicer. Tasks include monitoring Cameo apples now in full production after an earlier Red Delicious re-grafting project.

Williams Fruit Ranch, on South Slope Road, comprises 100 acres. More than one-third is alfalfa going into its fifth season. Once about twice as big, the operation downsized and refocused starting around 1990. Bryan gave up a lease on some orchard ground that he had worked full-time after college. The business began unwinding its sales to packing facilities during a period of high supply and other less-attractive economics, ultimately moving toward selling locally. The orchards produce apples, peaches, cherries, plums and prunes.

About 80 percent of revenue is from U-pick customers who come from a wide geographic area. Most of the rest comes from fruit stands, a segment with growth potential but its own competitive and operational challenges, Jackie said.

She enjoys hosting people on-site as they pick fruit or buy it from the stand. Some customers have been coming for decades.

“It’s good work. They are happy to get their product,” Jackie said. Customer volume has been high in recent years, partly reflecting growth in southwest Idaho.

Bryan said Williams Fruit Ranch has recently begun to receive more requests to use the rolling property, on a rise overlooking town, as a backdrop for engagement, wedding and family photographs.

He said his dad enjoyed sharing information with neighbors, including fellow food producers, about fruit production and the local area in general.

“His depth of knowledge will be missed every day,” Bryan said.

Researchers focus on helping hazelnut boom Thu, 12 Apr 2018 09:47:03 -0400 Brenna Wiegand Hazelnuts are the most important orchard crop in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where nearly the entire U.S. crop is produced.

It is also known for the innovative cultivars developed at Oregon State University that are resistant to eastern filbert blight, a fungal disease that has decimated traditional hazelnut cultivars, including Barcelona and Ennis.

Across the valley farmers have been putting in an average of 5,000 acres of new orchards each winter over the past five years, with 7,000-8,000 acres going in last year. Currently there are nearly 30,000 acres of the older cultivars in the Valley and about 40,000 acres in new trees for a rough total of 70,000 acres.

However, these new orchards are also attracting new problems, said Nik Wiman, orchard crops specialist at OSU’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, Ore.

Among them is the black headed borer. Seen since the dry summer of 2015, it seems to target new orchards.

“They key in on stress signals the trees give off and have been fairly devastating in some of the new plantings,” Wiman said. “It is difficult to observe the borer’s life cycle because most of it is spent inside the tree.”

As growers pruned infested wood, Wiman and colleagues gathered the sticks to follow the borer’s emergence pattern in the lab. This gave them a good idea of when they’re flying in the field.

Attacking developing and mature nuts is the difficult-to-manage brown marmorated stink bug, a worldwide problem first found in Oregon in 2002. Its first impacts on hazelnuts were identified in 2012.

“Our main strategy has been with the parasitic Samurai wasp, a tiny wasp that attacks BMSB eggs,” Wiman said. “Although Oregon has 30 native stink bugs, the BMSB is an Asian import.”

Samurai wasps attack 80 percent of the BMSB eggs and keep the pest in check.

“Our original plan was to petition the government to allow us to acquire and make releases of it, then it showed up here on its own in 2016 and they allowed us to redistribute it.”

Stink bugs reared in the lab are fed to the wasps to increase their population. Wasps are then released in orchards in batches of 40.

“Oregon’s native stink bugs have different wasps specialized to attack their eggs,” Wiman said. “However, the BMSB possesses a defense that native parasitoids can’t overcome.”

Wiman is excited about an innovation he developed with grower Jeff Newton of Christianson Farms in Amity to better map the yield of hazelnut orchards during harvest.

“We cut up a cart and fitted the four corners with load cells and developed a device that integrates the weight from that scale with GPS,” Wiman said. “It’s just tremendous and as far as I know nobody has done it in hazelnuts. We can map out these fields and overlay a soil map and see how the soil affected yield or for our trial work in fertilizers.

“It was the first year and we can make a couple of improvements, but I think we really have something.”

Yet another study follows the movement of nutrients through the new cultivars. Researchers are learning that some of these trees differ widely in how nutrients move through the plant tissues — and that they may have different nutritional requirements altogether.

“Our growers get a lot of advertising directed their way for foliar nutrition products,” Wiman said. “Usually there’s a grain of truth behind what these products will do, but in most cases they haven’t necessarily been proven to do much. We’re trying to get at what the tree actually requires and how the timing of these products may play into that.”

A further study seeks to establish best practices in irrigating hazelnut orchards.

“We’re doing a lot of stuff and to me it’s all innovative,” Wiman said.

Almond industry leads way in food safety Thu, 12 Apr 2018 09:44:54 -0400 Tim Hearden Almond industry leaders are hailing the apparent success of their decade-old mandatory pasteurization program as there have been no foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to the nuts.

The USDA-empowered Almond Board of California established the rule in 2007 for nuts sold domestically, and many believe the safeguard has played a key role in almonds’ explosion in popularity and production since it went into effect.

“Pasteurization is a good way to control against a hazard while allowing you to utilize the product,” said Kathryn Foster, the quality director at Vann Family Orchards’ processing plant in Williams, Calif. “I’m sure it must have had a little significance to (almonds’ popularity).

“I know where it is going is huge,” she said of the growth of the industry. “We’re seeing an increase yearly in the volume of our output. It’s amazing.”

Pasteurization — the process of using heat to kill microbes in food and beverages — has enabled processors to maintain almonds’ unique texture and flavor while all but eliminating the safety risk.

Before the early 2000s, conventional wisdom suggested that low-moisture foods, such as nuts and seeds, didn’t pose a threat because harmful microorganisms couldn’t grow in them, explained Tim Birmingham, the Almond Board’s director of quality assurance and industry services.

But that changed when salmonella outbreaks were traced to raw almonds in 2001 and 2004, the latter of which led to a widespread international recall of the nut as well as granola-type bars, cereals and other products.

The Almond Board responded by working with food safety experts, researchers and the USDA to develop the mandatory pasteurization program and best-practices guidelines for growers and packers.

On Sept. 1, 2007, under a USDA order, it became illegal to manufacture and sell unpasteurized almonds in the U.S. unless they’re sold directly to customers on a small scale or shipped outside North America.

Processors can use other methods of treating raw almonds if they can show it meets a minimum reduction of salmonella bacteria on the nut, Birmingham said.

“The industry knew the crop was growing, and if we had more of these issues it would be hard to sustain the growth that was happening,” Birmingham said. “And nobody wants to put out a product that will make people sick.”

Today more than 200 treatment processes have been validated for use on almonds following specific guidelines and review by an Almond Board technical review team, according to the organization.

Among the most common methods is steam processing, in which a short burst of 200-degree steam treats the surface of the nut meat. Almond Board officials assert the process meets the USDA’s organic standards without diminishing the nuts’ nutritional value and sensory attributes.

“Steam is very efficient ... and very effective in killing microorganisms,” Birmingham said. “A number of these processes can be used and maintain the raw characteristics of almonds.”

Another technique is fumigation with propylene oxide, which treats the surface of the nuts and rapidly dissipates. It, too, is credited with preserving the nuts’ nutrition and flavor but has been a target of natural-food enthusiasts, as the chemical is listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a potential carcinogen.

Traditional oil roasting, dry roasting and blanching have also been shown to adequately reduce contamination levels, according to the Almond Board.

While there are many differences among treatments, generally lower temperatures require more time of exposure while hotter treatments take less time, Birmingham said.

“There’s not a one-size-fits-all,” he said.

Birmingham acknowledged there was concern within the industry that pasteurization would lessen nut quality. But “we really did a lot of research,” he said, “and at the end of the day it was determined that certain processes don’t impact the raw characteristics of the almonds, and they definitely do not impact the nutritional profile.”

Now some almond producers in Europe are validating their equipment using the Almond Board’s standards, he said. Other processes such as washing the almonds wouldn’t have been an option, he said.

“If you introduce water, all bets are off,” he said, noting that it would allow salmonella pathogens to grow. “We absolutely want to avoid that.”

In the decade since the rule was put in place, the Almond Board has spent more than $5 million on additional food quality and safety research and uses its findings to set guidelines for growers and processors. The work has positioned the industry well to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act, as many of the board’s programs are already in line with the new federal requirements, industry leaders said.

The rule has also led to a new industry of businesses that specialize in pasteurizing almonds sent to them by processors as well as vendors who provide pasteurization equipment to handlers.

Dieter Kundig of the Switzerland-based Napasol Food Safety Technologies was pitching pasteurization equipment at the trade show during the recent Almond Conference in Sacramento. His company also specializes in pasteurizing other low-moisture foods.

“I saw the need about 12 to 15 years ago when few people were talking about pasteurizing dried food products,” he said. “It’s the same technology that’s used in every hospital to sterilize surgical tools. I adjusted the process to be suitable for dried food products.”

Kundig said he was “on the other side of the table” as a food producer looking for safe ingredients from suppliers. He said he believes pasteurization will be used on more low-moisture foods in the future.

“Everyone is talking about food safety,” he said. “We believe more products will be mandated (for pasteurization).”

Washington Fruit cultivates reputation as trend-setter Thu, 12 Apr 2018 09:41:43 -0400 Dave Leder Washington Fruit & Produce Co. is one of the oldest fruit growing and shipping operations in the Pacific Northwest. But by no means is the 102-year-old Yakima, Wash., company showing its age.

If anything, Washington Fruit has fortified its reputation as a trend-setter in the industry, leading the way with innovative growing techniques, packing-line technology and storage methods.

The family-owned company, founded in 1916 by Fred Plath, moved most of its packing, shipping and storage functions to a 111-acre campus off U.S. Highway 12 in 2011. A state-of-the-art administrative headquarters followed in 2015.

Meanwhile, a series of new controlled atmosphere (CA) storage facilities are currently under construction, allowing Washington Fruit to keep pace with an increasing volume of apples and cherries year after year. The company partners with Underwood Fruit in the Columbia River Gorge to pack and ship its assortment of pear varieties.

Washington Fruit also has been adding to its acreage around the region in recent years, while trying to maximize its haul from existing orchards by planting trees closer together.

By taking advantage of the latest growing trends and packing technologies, the company has been able to maintain its foothold in a competitive market.

“We are one of the largest fruit companies in the Northwest, especially when it comes to vertical integration,” said Frank Davis, vice president of sales at Washington Fruit.

“We’re always looking to improve our efficiency in all aspects of the operation, whether it’s with growing, packing, shipping or sales. We want to be innovators in everything we do, and we believe staying ahead of the curve is what will help us remain strong as a company.”

With 1,250 year-round employees — and as many as 7,500 during harvest — Washington Fruit is one of the largest employers in the Yakima Valley.

At the same time, the company is always looking at ways to streamline its operation.

Advancements in robotics and fruit-scanning equipment may eventually limit the need for so much manpower, but when you have as many orchards as Washington Fruit does, the need for labor remains ever-present.

Providing a superior-quality product to its customers will always be the priority.

“We try to stay ahead of technology in our packing facilities so we can continue to deliver the best-quality fruit around the world,” Davis said. “We want to be on the leading edge, and that commitment has made our operational efficiency very high.”

Washington Fruit also has an eye on the future when it comes to growing, recognizing the increasing demand for organic fruit around the world.

The company has planted some new organic apple orchards in the past year and will be converting some of its traditional orchard land to organic — a process that takes three years.

“That’s where the industry is going, and we want to satisfy the growing need for organics in our product mix,” Davis said. “Our organic program will grow significantly in the 2018 crop year.”

Washington Fruit is also looking forward to crop year 2019, when it will have the newest apple variety, Cosmic Crisp, developed at Washington State University and only available to Washington growers.

“We offer a good balance of all the major varieties, but we think the Cosmic Crisp will make us even more competitive,” Davis said. “We’re very excited about the next few years.”

Experimental orchards crafting cider success Thu, 12 Apr 2018 09:39:47 -0400 Gail Oberst CORVALLIS, Ore. — Sometimes, an apple orchard is just what it appears: A place where the owner grows apples, sells them for fruit or juice in the fall, and then repeats the process the following year.

But now and then, an apple orchard is a lesson. What began for 2 Towns Ciderhouse owners as a way to produce the hard-to-find “old world” craft cider apples in their own Corvallis orchard, instead became their 3-acre learning laboratory. Although 2 Towns’ orchard, planted in 2012, produces some fruit for its “Traditions” line of ciders, its most valuable fruit is education, according to Dave Takush, orchard manager and one of the three partners who founded the cidery in 2010.

Takush and his partners planted the orchard hoping to supply craft apples for their own ciders. They quickly outgrew that idea.

Today, instead of counting on production from their own orchard, 2 Towns’ owners have contracted with local orchardists. Their own orchard serves as a place to learn first-hand about challenges to old world apples: the small fruit, the biennial bearing, the new world requirements of trees native to France, England and other old world soils and climates.

Growing these transplanted varieties in the Northwest is so new that there is little background on which to draw, outside recent experience. Oregon State University and Washington State University have established test orchards, but much of the knowledge is collecting in small commercial ventures contracted to grow craft apples for cideries like 2 Towns. The French-style “Cidre Bouche,” for example, uses old world bittersweet cider varieties like Kingston Black, Michelin, Reine des Pommes, Dabinett and Muscat de Lense, all grown in Oregon.

The 2 Towns Ciderhouse has been a head-rushing success for the Oregon State University and University of Oregon alums who founded it: Takush, Lee Larsen and Aaron Sarnoff-Wood. Their cidery produced just 18,000 gallons in its first full year. In 2018, it is expected to produce over 1 million gallons.

“It’s gone beyond our wildest dreams,” Takush said of their ciders, now distributed in eight western states. It will take about 12 million pounds of apples to produce 2 Towns’ ciders this year.

About a dozen varieties can be found on tap at the Corvallis tasting room and cidery, or on store shelves. Most of 2 Town’s ciders are not made with old world varieties, apples with high tannins or dry flavors uncommon in apples native or common in the new world, Takush said. Most ciders are made with apples that grow well here: jonagolds, pink ladies, Newtown pippins, golden delicious and popular dessert apples. 2 Towns’ flagship “Bright Cider,” for example, is among those made with local new world apples. It’s balanced, not overly sweet, fruit-forward and easy drinking, Takush said.

“It’s all sourced exclusively from the Northwest,” he said.

Currently, the Northwest is home to about a quarter of the nation’s cider makers, according to Nik Wiman and Aaron Heinrich, OSU orchards specialists. Two years ago, OSU planted about 50 varieties of cider apples in its test orchard. Once it starts producing, the university’s fermentation science students will begin studying the tastes and aromas particular to Oregon craft apples. Washington State University’s test orchards span 200 acres over three sites, some of which is devoted to testing old world cider apples.

The Northwest’s more mature craft beer and wine revolutions have spawned a demand for artisanal products that are made from high quality and authentic and local ingredients.

“The best aromas and flavors come from nature, not essences and artificial ingredients. Why should cider be any different,” Takush asked.

Alfalfa seed crop requires unique farm Fri, 23 Mar 2018 10:15:39 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas Mark and Sharla Wagoner and their son Tim grow wheat and alfalfa seed at Touchet, near Walla Walla, Wash., on the farm where Mark grew up.

He came back to the farm after graduating from Washington State University in 1975. Tim graduated from WSU in 2005 and has been back on the farm since then. Tim and his wife, Michelle, have two sons — 3-year-old Troy and 2-month-old Connor.

“Troy enjoys riding in our tractors and combines,” Mark said.

“My father was still involved with the farm when I started, but passed away when I was 32. I’ve been on my own for more than 30 years, so it’s nice to have my son and grandson here,” he said. The farm is 2,000 irrigated acres, currently 1,200 acres in alfalfa and 800 acres in wheat.

The Walla Walla Valley is short on water.

“My grandfather and others who started farming here realized they could grow alfalfa because there’s good deep soil, and alfalfa doesn’t require much water. We put a total of 24 to 26 inches of water on our alfalfa crop each year,” Mark said.

It’s watered in the spring to get it started and again in early fall to get a seed crop. Going without water during summer stresses the plants so they start blooming earlier and put all their energy into blooms rather than more stems and leaves.

Native alkali bees are crucial for pollinating alfalfa as it blooms, but there aren’t enough of them. These ground-nesting bees are similar to honeybees, but slightly smaller.

“We can also use leaf-cutter bees, native to Europe. We buy some from Canada each year because they don’t live more than one season. We can’t increase them here because of bee diseases,” Mark said.

It’s a challenge to control harmful insects without killing the bees.

“We rely on Doug Walsh, an entomologist at WSU, who researches new insecticides. We don’t use any insecticides during alfalfa bloom (when the bees are there) that he doesn’t approve. Doug’s work is critical to the alfalfa seed industry,” Mark said.

Washington is second after California in alfalfa seed production. Eastern Washington has perfect climate for growing alfalfa, and the Walla Walla Valley is ideal because there are no other crops nearby that the bees might fly to and be killed by pesticides.

Alfalfa is planted in the spring, when adequate moisture is available.

“We can also plant some in the fall after wheat harvest because we have six shallow wells for irrigation, putting out 170 to 500 gallons per minute,” said Mark.

The Wagoners plant new seeding every three years.

“We can get 10 years out of a stand, but seed companies give a contract for only three years. They own the plants and we grow the seed for them,” he explained.

The seed is harvested during the last half of August.

“We can’t use any of the residue for cattle feed. We always had to burn the residue but now there’s a pulp mill at Dayton, Washington, that will take it.”

Last year a custom haying company baled and hauled the residue, and was paid by the pulp mill to do it, he said.

After harvest with combines, the seed is shipped to the seed company. “Most of ours goes to Nampa, Idaho, shipped in 3,000-pound boxes, labeled as to varieties. When it gets there, it’s cleaned, packaged, and shipped all over the world,” he said. “About 40 percent of the U.S. alfalfa crop is exported.”

The Wagoners grow many varieties, including several Roundup Ready types. “Weeds are the bugaboo for a seed crop, so it’s great to be able to spray new seedings with Roundup. Established seedings are sprayed in October to get rid of perennial weeds,” he said. “This cleans up our fields and makes our lives a lot easier.”

There can be no Canadian thistles in a field for certified seed. “We used to spend hours spraying Canadian thistles by hand in 100-degree weather. Now we just spray in October and don’t have any thistles,” Mark said.

Armyworms surprise grass seed growers Tue, 13 Mar 2018 15:35:43 -0400 Brenna Wiegand Grass seed growers had to scramble last year when the true armyworm launched a surprise attack first noticed during harvest. Standing crops and those in windrows did not suffer, but the worms, hiding beneath windrows, showed up by the thousands in combine tanks.

“There was massive feeding to newly harvested fields; it was really an all-hands-on-deck type of situation,” said Nicole Anderson, Oregon State University Extension Field Crops Agronomist in Oregon’s North Willamette Valley. “I don’t know that anybody remembers something like the outbreak of the true armyworm this year.”

The feeding was so intensive and the population so high that growers did a lot of spraying in late August and early September in less-than-favorable conditions.

“They can move over a number of acres in a night,” Anderson said. “That’s why they call them armyworms: They march like an army.”

At night they come out en masse to notch the tops of post-harvest growth, leaving grass looking as though livestock had grazed.

By late October, most of the armyworms pupated, but instead of emerging as spring moths, Oregon growers hope the pupae won’t survive a Pacific Northwest winter, something they won’t know until they start making observations this spring.

“The moths can get caught up in wind and move over very large geographic distances,” Anderson said. “There were significant outbreaks from Northern California all the way to Southern British Columbia and Vancouver Island. … One theory is that they blew up from California.”

Anderson is communicating with entomologists from California, Washington and Canada to discuss a potential region-wide trapping and DNA analysis effort to better understand their origins and biology in the Pacific Northwest.

“I think we did a good job of reacting quickly; now we just need to hope that most of the fields have come back strong … and that we don’t have high numbers going into 2018.”

Since the Oregon Legislature’s 2010 ban on all field burning except 15,000 acres in the Silverton Hills it’s been harder to banish such loathsome pests.

“We’re far enough away from field burning now that we can definitely see an upward trend in pest pressure,” Anderson said. “Field burning is a very old and effective pest management tool that had a lot of pros. Its major con is air quality, but its pros are that we’re able to recycle nutrients back into the soil from the grass seed straw and are better able to manage things like insects, slugs, pathogens and weeds.”

Anderson’s ongoing research at OSU’s Hyslop Field Lab and in farmers’ fields across the Willamette Valley includes testing evidence from other parts of the world suggesting a synergism may be created by mixing different classes of plant growth regulators. This idea is being extensively tested in tall fescue.

Anderson is also evaluating new classes of fungicides for stem rust management, particularly in perennial ryegrass, and finding a few that may outshine current offerings.

Another major project is revising OSU’s nitrogen fertilizer recommendations for some of the smaller acreage grass seed crops like orchardgrass, written decades ago before the introduction of plant growth regulators. They are also working to better nail down the understanding of plant growth regulator timing and rate in this seed crop.

A new study further evaluating the interaction between grazing or mowing and plant growth regulators in annual ryegrass seed crops seeks to identify potential across common varieties produced in both Oregon and New Zealand.

Despite the armyworm outbreak, the coming year’s crop looks promising.

“The planting conditions in the fall of 2017 were ideal so we’re going into 2018 in a pretty good situation and so far, the slug pressure has been manageable,” Anderson said. “We’ve had a lot of good opportunities to apply herbicides this fall and early winter which should help with weed pressure throughout the season. I am hopeful that we’re off to a good start.”

Seed grower targets organic segment, nematode resistance Thu, 8 Mar 2018 10:50:25 -0400 Brad Carlson Greg Payne didn’t leave farming for long.

He was away at college in Twin Falls, studying and training to become an Idaho State Police officer.

“Dad called and needed help with spraying in the springtime,” Payne said. “So I came back to the farm, and 30 years later I’m still here. And very happy, too.”

The family started farming in the Caldwell-Middleton area around 1935. Family members operate separate entities but share equipment and some tasks.

Payne runs the 650-acre GSP Farms. All crops are grown for seed production: hybrid sweet corn; different varieties of peas and beans; turnips; collards; orchard grass; and nematode-resistant radish, mustard and Pratex oats. The farm also propagates Black Mitcham peppermint rootstock that originates in a greenhouse off-site.

“In 2018, we are transitioning some of our farm to organic production so we can supply this nematode-resistant cover crop to organic farms,” said Payne, a fourth-generation farmer who is optimistic about the future. “With soil health and the cover crop movement on the rise in agriculture, I believe there is good opportunity for seed production.”

For much of his farming career, he raised crops such as wheat, corn, potatoes, beets and pinto beans, at times fetching commodity-like prices. He started raising hybrid sweet corn seed around 1990 and subsequently transitioned to growing more seed crops as opportunities arose. GSP has been almost entirely a seed producer for the past half-dozen years or so.

“In seed production, you need to be detail-oriented,” Payne said. “If you take shortcuts, it will come back to haunt you.”

For example, successfully growing hybrid sweet corn seed largely hinges on when the male and female varieties are planted and when the latter is de-tasseled by hand, all of which affect pollination timing. “Hybrid sweet corn is definitely our most challenging crop to produce,” Payne said.

Other challenges in producing seed crops of all types include isolation: fields should be at least a mile apart so different seeds and varieties don’t cross-pollinate, he said. What is grown at nearby farms and gardens must be considered when placing certain seed crops.

Transitioning to organic production brings challenges such as controlling insects and pests without spraying synthetics, and completing the required documentation to be certified organic, Payne said.

Nematode resistance can benefit organic farms where treatment options are limited because synthetic chemicals are not used, said Sherman Takatori, Idaho State Department of Agriculture pesticide training specialist.

There are several nematode species, some specific to plants and others specific to plant types.

“Depending on the target crop you ultimately grow, these (seed) varieties can lower the number of nematodes that will attack the crop,” Takatori said.

He said it’s good agricultural practice to use cover crops in some circumstances. They have the potential to out-compete weeds and add fertility to soil, and using certain cover crops in rotation can reduce nematode risk — some radish varieties, for example, have natural nematicide properties, he said.

GSP Farms, which employs seven people and adds a couple during peak season, works side-by-side with seed companies throughout growth and harvest processes. Acreage tends to be stable year to year. Payne said revenue has been down on recently lower crop prices, and he does not expect a big turnaround in the overall market this year.

Payne, 48, enjoys being outdoors and working with nature, as well as “the challenge of new and different seed varieties,” he said.

“On the farm, every day brings something different,” he said.

Alfalfa seed crop requires unique farm Thu, 8 Mar 2018 10:58:59 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas Mark and Sharla Wagoner and their son Tim grow wheat and alfalfa seed at Touchet, near Walla Walla, Wash., on the farm where Mark grew up.

He came back to the farm after graduating from Washington State University in 1975. Tim graduated from WSU in 2005 and has been back on the farm since then. Tim and his wife, Michelle, have two sons — 3-year-old Troy and 2-month-old Connor.

“Troy enjoys riding in our tractors and combines,” Mark said.

“My father was still involved with the farm when I started, but passed away when I was 32. I’ve been on my own for more than 30 years, so it’s nice to have my son and grandson here,” he said. The farm is 2,000 irrigated acres, currently 1,200 acres in alfalfa and 800 acres in wheat.

The Walla Walla Valley is short on water.

“My grandfather and others who started farming here realized they could grow alfalfa because there’s good deep soil, and alfalfa doesn’t require much water. We put a total of 24 to 26 inches of water on our alfalfa crop each year,” Mark said.

It’s watered in the spring to get it started and again in early fall to get a seed crop. Going without water during summer stresses the plants so they start blooming earlier and put all their energy into blooms rather than more stems and leaves.

Native alkali bees are crucial for pollinating alfalfa as it blooms, but there aren’t enough of them. These ground-nesting bees are similar to honeybees, but slightly smaller.

“We can also use leaf-cutter bees, native to Europe. We buy some from Canada each year because they don’t live more than one season. We can’t increase them here because of bee diseases,” Mark said.

It’s a challenge to control harmful insects without killing the bees.

“We rely on Doug Walsh, an entomologist at WSU, who researches new insecticides. We don’t use any insecticides during alfalfa bloom (when the bees are there) that he doesn’t approve. Doug’s work is critical to the alfalfa seed industry,” Mark said.

Washington is second after California in alfalfa seed production. Eastern Washington has perfect climate for growing alfalfa, and the Walla Walla Valley is ideal because there are no other crops nearby that the bees might fly to and be killed by pesticides.

Alfalfa is planted in the spring, when adequate moisture is available.

“We can also plant some in the fall after wheat harvest because we have six shallow wells for irrigation, putting out 170 to 500 gallons per minute,” said Mark.

The Wagoners plant new seeding every three years.

“We can get 10 years out of a stand, but seed companies give a contract for only three years. They own the plants and we grow the seed for them,” he explained.

The seed is harvested during the last half of August.

“We can’t use any of the residue for cattle feed. We always had to burn the residue but now there’s a pulp mill at Dayton, Washington, that will take it.”

Last year a custom haying company baled and hauled the residue, and was paid by the pulp mill to do it, he said.

After harvest with combines, the seed is shipped to the seed company. “Most of ours goes to Nampa, Idaho, shipped in 3,000-pound boxes, labeled as to varieties. When it gets there, it’s cleaned, packaged, and shipped all over the world,” he said. “About 40 percent of the U.S. alfalfa crop is exported.”

The Wagoners grow many varieties, including several Roundup Ready types. “Weeds are the bugaboo for a seed crop, so it’s great to be able to spray new seedings with Roundup. Established seedings are sprayed in October to get rid of perennial weeds,” he said. “This cleans up our fields and makes our lives a lot easier.”

There can be no Canadian thistles in a field for certified seed. “We used to spend hours spraying Canadian thistles by hand in 100-degree weather. Now we just spray in October and don’t have any thistles,” Mark said.

Diversification keeps historic farm ‘interesting’ Thu, 8 Mar 2018 10:57:20 -0400 Gail Oberst SUVER, Ore. — John Kennel lifts a picture of his father and grandfather from the wall of his Majestic Oak Farms office. The subject of the circa-1950s photo is a point of pride within the fourth generation of the Kennel family.

Grandpa John S. Kennel was the first farmer in the mid-Willamette Valley to buy a self-propelled combine harvester in 1947. In the photo, John’s father, Earl, is driving the harvester while his father loads the bags with grass seed.

The harvester is long gone, but the family is still growing grass seed. John Kennel and his crew grow more than 1,300 acres of grass seed, vegetable, clover and other crops on his land south of Monmouth. John is the fourth generation of a growing farm family that includes John’s brother, Bob, and his family, who have a separate farm next to John’s.

John’s great-grandfather, Christian Kennel, immigrated to the U.S. from the Alsace-Lorraine region between Germany and France, eventually settling on a farm in Albany. Evidence of their longtime connection with the Albany area remains: Kennel Road on the east side of their farm and donated land for the Grand Prairie School.

The family might be there today had not construction of Interstate 5 in the early 1960s split their farm in two. For a few years, the Kennels attempted to drag heavy equipment back and forth across the nearest overpass at Grand Prairie Road.

But by 1963, they sold the Albany farm and bought 450 acres near Suver on Airlie Road, which since then has served as a base for the two Kennel farms.

John said he hadn’t intended to follow in his father’s farming footsteps. He left home and attended Eastern Mennonite University, graduating with a major in business. He went to work in computer sales, but soon missed working outdoors.

“Farm boys don’t do so great in an office building,” John said. He returned to join a farming partnership with his father and brothers. Marriage to Mary Jane and three children followed. Eventually, he bought his father’s portion, and split the rest with his brother.

John, his father, his brother Bob and his late brother Dwight and their families have continued to expand holdings and experiment with crops, but seed and cover crops are still the family’s mainstay. At Majestic Oak this year, 500 acres are in grass seed, 200 in red clover for forage, 80 in meadowfoam for oil, 110 in daikon turnip seed for a cover crop, 30 acres in hazelnut trees, and a few acres in pea seeds for the Japanese sprout market.

In 2007, the Kennels joined with two other families to plant 20 acres of wine grapes on a south-facing hillside that hadn’t been great for growing fescue. In 2010, the partners released their first bottles of Treos wine made with their Pinot noir, Muscat and Albariño varieties. Last year, Treos’ Albariño earned 92 points from Wine Enthusiast, and the Editor’s Pick award.

“There’s a lot of diversity on this farm,” Kennel said.

Diversification is a way to hedge farms against market changes, but Kennel admitted that he likes to try new crops, just to stay engaged.

Experimentation is in the blood: His relatives are trying several new crops, from truffles to hydroponic strawberries, and are currently investing in new equipment that will clean pea seed to Japanese standards.

“I like to keep things interesting,” he said.

Strawberries unique in more ways than one Thu, 8 Mar 2018 10:56:15 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER Consider this: You are a contestant on a national television show and it’s your turn to get the question. The lights dim and the audience is quiet.

“What is the only fruit with seeds on the outside?”

If you answered “Strawberries!” You would be right. Step up and claim your prize.

But there are more unique qualities to the bright red fruit than its seeds.

“Most strawberries grown in California are grown along the Pacific Coast, with mild days and cool nights making the best growing climate for strawberries,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director of the California Strawberry Commission. “Although strawberries are planted throughout California, acreage is concentrated on the Pacific Coast between Santa Cruz and Ventura counties.”

For the 2018 season, about 33,791 acres are planted to strawberries in California. This is an estimate, as a portion of the acreage is a projection of what will be planted this fall. Some new varieties planted recently include Monterey and San Andreas.

There is a variety of pests that infest and cause damage to the strawberry plants, O’Donnell said.

“Strawberry farmers use a number of tools, including IPM (integrated pest management) to control disease and insects,” she said. “They even use a bug vacuum to control lygus bugs.”

The bug, also called tarnished plant bug, causes serious damage in fruit. It carries fire blight disease, which they spread throughout the area as they feed.

“Fire blight is a devastating disease that is difficult to control,” she said.

Strawberries continuously bloom and produce fruit during the entire season, unlike tree fruit, and require more attention. Some growers say that growing strawberries is more like gardening, rather than farming.

The tiny strawberry, called the “queen of fruit” in Asia, is packed with Vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants and are cholesterol free, low in calories and help reduce inflammation and even whiten teeth.

Studies show that eating one serving (eight medium) strawberries a day can help support cardiovascular health and brain health.

There are also many challenges facing strawberry growers throughout the state.

“Strawberries are hand planted, hand weeded and hand harvested, which requires a large number of workers,” O’Donnell said. “A viable guestworker program would help with consistent care and harvest of the strawberry crop.”

The H-2A guestworker program allows farmers to bring in crews from Mexico and elsewhere, but the program is expensive and difficult to work with, according to growers.

Automating the harvest with machinery is complex, as the berries have to be harvested when ripe, without bruising the berry, damaging the plant, and leaving the unripe berries undisturbed.”

“On the positive side, strawberry farmers have invested millions of dollars in ways to develop and improve sustainable farming practices,” she said. “California strawberry farmers were among the first to adopt IPM practices, drip irrigation and a commodity-specific food safety program.”