Capital Press | Special Sections Capital Press Sun, 25 Feb 2018 06:48:06 -0500 en Capital Press | Special Sections R&D: Building a better piece of equipment Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:13:28 -0500 Tim Hearden When a sparkling new combine, tractor or sprayer debuts with big fanfare in equipment dealers’ lots, chances are it took years and many millions of dollars to develop and build.

Companies typically start by gauging the needs and interests of customers, then they often develop and test several generations of prototypes in the field and in the laboratory before the final product is ready for launch, executives told the Capital Press.

For instance, AGCO’s new IDEAL combine, which it introduced in September with a promise to “revolutionize” harvests, took more than four years of meticulous planning and roughly $200 million to develop, said Eric Hansotia, the company’s senior vice president of Global Crop Cycle and Fuse Connected Services.

The company started by meeting with farmers around the world and writing a specification that was 1,400 lines long, then went through a concept generation phase, a development process with nearly 50 prototypes that underwent hours of testing and use before engineers settled on the final design, Hansotia said.

“This is the most complicated product in the industry,” he said. “Nobody’s done a clean-sheet-of-paper new combine in the last 30 years. ... People are very cautious to make big changes on a combine. This is the biggest program in AGCO’s history.”

Likewise, Case IH’s new Trident 5550 combination liquid and dry fertilizer applicator was designed after detailed discussions with customers and took about three years to get to market, said Eric Shuman, the senior director of the company’s harvesting product line.

“We use a process called customer-driven product development,” Shuman said. “We look to the customers to identify what’s needed as far as particular issues they have or concerns they have and ways to address those needs.”

Once prototypes are available, they are placed with customers on their farms so the company can continue to gather information and make improvements, he said.

The result is an applicator that can handle both liquid and dry fertilizers, enabling the grower to switch from one to the other in about 45 minutes, he said.

“We’re replacing the need to have two pieces of equipment,” Shuman said.

The process has likely repeated itself often lately as equipment companies have come out with new products that increase automation — a strong desire for growers as labor costs rise and availability decreases.

In recent years, John Deere has added new models to its Self-Propelled Forage Harvester lineup and introduced a new high-horsepower 4-track tractor. New Holland in August announced a methane-powered concept tractor that “imagines the farm of the future” as being largely automated and completely energy independent, according to the company.

“At the level we’re describing, (the process) is fundamentally the same” for each company, said Hansotia, a former John Deere senior vice president. “Each group has its own nuances that they try to focus on and do a better job, but the general strategy for both construction equipment and agricultural equipment generally follows this approach.”

Given the complexities and challenges of farming, listening to and understanding producers’ needs — whether articulated or not — is an important early step in developing products, said Mike Park, a John Deere regional product marketing director.

“Today, that has resulted in products and solutions that focus on how we make the execution of in-field jobs easier, smarter and more precise,” Park said in an email. “Along with innovation, quality is also a critical deliverable and an expectation of our customers. Delivering on both areas factors into the overall development process.”

Within John Deere, cross-discipline teams collaborate and translate what they hear from customers into specifications and features for future designs, making the process a “team sport,” Park said.

“This is especially true as you look at precision agriculture, where we are combining equipment and technology and dealer support,” he said. “Our development processes not only consider what the solution should be, but also how we can ‘go to market’ in a way that John Deere dealers are committed to providing the best experience and support.”

This is done through training and investment in people, resources and tools, Park said.

For the IDEAL combine, AGCO started by “embedding” its professionals in the operations of farmers, shadowing them and listening to them describe the problems and issues they face, Hansotia said.

The company then drew up a specification and started mapping out different scenarios for the new combine on paper to develop a “wish list” of features the new machine should have, he said.

Then engineers started designing the machine on computer, creating virtual prototypes in a lab and testing their functions in various conditions. In the meantime, the company starts to plan supply management, customer support and what has to be in the design to make it possible to manufacture, Hansotia said.

Once the plan is set, a “cross-functional team” designs specific elements such as the tracks, the gear box and other features, he said. The company went through several iterations of virtual prototypes before putting the first machines in fields, he said.

From there, “waves of prototypes” tackled “corner conditions” — the most difficult conditions the engineers could think of — and underwent numerous durability tests, and problems that were discovered in the field were solved in the lab, he said.

“In the field, it’s about performance — making sure the machine performs well with every crop in every condition,” Hansotia said, adding that teams compared the new combine with competitors’ machines in the same fields.

While these physical tests were going on, other teams did six different virtual builds to make sure all the components fit together and the machine could be serviced easily, Hansotia said.

When the new combine was nearly ready, the company started planning its rollout, including a social media campaign to generate buzz and an event for dealers and media to introduce the new model.

“The amount of intelligence on this combine is 5 million lines of code,” Hansotia said. “The first space shuttle that went up had a half-million lines of code. This machine steers for itself, gears for itself and ... is automatically adjusting itself in real time based on sensors and software intelligence.”

Depending on the features a buyer chooses, the new combine and head could list for as much as $500,000, Hansotia said. The company’s goal is to sell 2,500 a year, he said.

“Interestingly enough, many of the big professional farmers ... sometimes buy a new one every one or two years,” he said. “Then they sell it to another farmer. (Combines can) go through five different farmers’ hands over 17 years.”

Similarly, Case IH gathered extensive input from customer focus groups and translated it into technical specifications, Shuman said. Once the product was defined, the first step was to “build a functional mule to prove the concept,” he said. Then additional prototypes were built and tested “to really iron out the product performance and reliability,” he said.

Totally new products like the IDEAL combine or Trident combination sprayer are rare, however, as the industry mainly focuses on updating equipment, the executives said.

“For sure the highest percentage (of projects) is improvements to current products,” Shuman said.

But even some of the improvements can involve a two- or three-year process, Hansotia said.

To get started, the machines’ designers look for customers who are the most forward-looking and can describe what they think they’ll need five years in the future, he said.

To feed a growing world population in the future, growers will have to double productivity without using more land or water, he said. At the same time, they’ll have to use fewer pesticides and herbicides and deal with a worsening labor shortage, he said.

“They’re looking for automation opportunities and simplification opportunities,” Hansotia said. “That’s why we were looking at so much automation on this combine.”

Shuman agreed.

“The general direction is more and more data management and using the advancements in electronics and sensor technology to provide a much simpler user interface,” he said.

, “to take a lot of guesswork out of operators’ hands and provide the right data for the customer to maximize the profit potential.”

CRISPR: The latest word in genetics Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:10:58 -0500 Mateusz Perkowski When scientists in 1993 discovered the bacterial gene sequence now known as CRISPR, they didn’t know what purpose it served.

It took about a decade to realize that the CRISPR sequence — an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Palindromic Repeats — acted as the bacteria’s immune system.

The microbe had genes that normally belong to viruses in a specific location at regular intervals within its chromosomes.

“Scientists saw that and thought, What the hell is this?” said Steve Strauss, a forest biotechnology professor at Oregon State University. As it turned out, bacteria that survive a viral invasion use CRISPR to store the viral gene sequences within their own DNA to “remember” and destroy the virus if it returns.

“It’s primed to recognize it and chop it up next time they meet,” Strauss said.

The remarkable discovery proved to be more than a biological curiosity.

The basic mechanism of CRISPR — slicing DNA into pieces and inserting them into other genetic sequences — could also be used to edit the genes of plants and animals.

Instead of relying on entire bacteria to do the work, scientists isolated two genes to alter DNA: An enzyme known as a nuclease, which does the cutting, and some ribonucleic acids, or RNAs, to guide that tool to the right location.

“The CRISPR bacteria is gone, you’re just using its technology,” said Strauss.

For agriculture, the technology is a new way to instill crops and livestock with desirable traits — or to remove unwanted ones — more quickly than traditional breeding, and without incorporating genes from foreign organisms. Whether the CRISPR method will encounter the same social opposition as genetic engineering is unclear, as is the global regulatory outlook for farm goods produced with the technique.

Before scientists can use CRISPR to genetically modify a plant, they must first identify the function and sequence of a gene. For example, one gene helps create gluten in wheat.

Once that’s accomplished, they can use CRISPR to recognize that genetic sequence and then either mutate it, remove it or replace it with another sequence.

To insert the CRISPR into a plant, scientists rely on a method that’s derived from conventional genetic engineering: agrobacterium, a microbe that infects plants and naturally changes their DNA.

“It has the machinery to put it into plant cells,” Strauss said.

Either the male or female of a plant species can be altered in this fashion, then bred to each other. The progeny that don’t inherit the CRISPR genes in their DNA aren’t considered transgenic by some regulatory authorities.

For example, progeny that don’t contain any genetic sequences from agrobacterium, a plant pest, aren’t regulated as transgenic under the USDA’s current biotechnology rules.

Relying on sexual reproduction to eliminate the CRISPR genes is fine for annual crops such as corn, but it’s time-consuming in plants that take longer to reach sexual maturity, such as fruit trees or grape vines.

Scientists are also looking for ways to cleave the CRISPR from a plant without having it go to seed, said Strauss. In fruit trees, for example, selecting away the CRISPR in progeny is slow and difficult.

It’s easier to “knock out” a gene with CRISPR than it is to replace one genetic sequence with another.

To replace genetic sequences, a scientist must first create a template from DNA that’s synthesized in a laboratory.

When a plant is repairing its DNA that’s been severed with CRISPR, sometimes it will use the synthesized DNA as a template, especially if the sequences are partly identical.

The likelihood of an organism using the template depends on the species. For example, it’s more likely to occur in yeasts than plants.

Ensuring that plants use the template more often is another aspect of CRISPR that scientists are attempting to improve.

“There’s a lot of innovation going on around the basic system,” said Strauss.

Right now, CRISPR is often used to remove genes responsible for undesirable traits, but more ambitious uses will confer drought resistance, heat resistance and increased yields, he said.

Such goals will likely be accomplished as scientists develop a deeper understanding of CRISPR and plant genes, but there’s another hurdle the technology faces — human acceptance of gene-editing, Strauss said.

Critics of traditional genetic engineering are also wary of CRISPR and other forms of gene editing, he said.

“The same political fights are going to happen,” said Strauss. “In fact, they are already underway. It’s always the people that are the mess. We can do the science and solve lots of problems if public fear and adverse regulations don’t prevent it.”

While the USDA doesn’t consider gene editing to fall under biotech regulations today, other countries that trade with the U.S. will have their own definitions of genetic engineering.

The U.S. should work with trading partners to create workable systems that are hopefully less hostile than the ones that now exist for GMO crops in many countries, he said. “The way the rest of the world treats this matters.”

Biotech critics argue that it makes sense for foreign countries to be cautious of the technology.

It’s likely the CRISPR mechanism serves another purpose than defending against viruses, as many bacteria don’t have viral DNA in their genome even though they have CRISPR genes, said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit that’s critical of USDA’s biotech rules.

Given that scientists still don’t know that much about what CRISPR does, the technology should be regulated, Freese said.

“We should have a thorough understanding before we rush to create new products,” he said. “People are rushing to commercialize this prematurely.”

The CRISPR mechanism can inadvertently remove or replace gene sequences that are similar but not identical to the DNA synthesized by scientists, he said.

For that reason, the technology can alter genes in ways that biotech developers weren’t even expecting, Freese said.

“It turns out you don’t have to have a perfect match for the CRISPR to target something,” he said. “That gives rise to uncertainty.”

It’s possible that such unintended modifications could increase toxins within a plant or cause it to generate new toxins, he said.

“When you don’t know what’s going on, you could have changes that are harmful,” Freese said.

The release of gene-edited crops into the environment could also cause trade disruptions, he said.

While the USDA doesn’t regulate crops developed through CRISPR as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, the technology does fall under the international definition of genetic engineering, he said.

“The U.S. is trying to bully its way to get its own definitions, and the world doesn’t accept that,” Freese said.

Trade partners could begin testing for gene-edited plants, potentially causing problems, as when Japan and South Korea suspended imports of U.S. wheat after a genetically engineered variety of the crop was discovered in Oregon in 2013, he said.

“Are you going to go through all this again with CRISPR products?” he said.

Yield10 Bioscience, a company developing crops with CRISPR, is optimistic that gene editing will be more socially accepted than transgenic GMOs, since there’s no foreign DNA inserted into the plant.

“You’re just using what’s available in the crop,” said Olly Peoples, the company’s president and CEO.

Such gene changes occur during traditional crop breeding, albeit less rapidly, he said.

The technology is also being used to improve shelf life and increase fungal resistance, Peoples said. It’s likely people will prefer to eat gene-edited crops, for example, than those sprayed with fungicide.

“I think the value proposition for the consumer is a lot clearer,” he said.

Of course, some segments of the population are bound to object to gene editing, just as they continue to oppose vaccines, Peoples said. “There’s still uncertainty and no doubt there will be a lot of discussion about it.”

Compared to transgenic GMOs, editing crop genes with CRISPR is much faster and cheaper, he said.

To fully develop and deregulate a transgenic trait costs roughly $130 million and takes 13 years on average, Peoples said. A CRISPR-developed trait would require only three to six years and $10 million.

“It gives small players a fighting chance,” he said.

Instead of focusing only on the largest crops to justify the monumental investment in traditional genetic engineering, these smaller firms can afford to create a niche for themselves with specialty crops, Peoples said.

“The types of crops accessible through this are much broader,” he said.

‘Food-first’ research results in new products Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:09:15 -0500 Brad Carlson TWIN FALLS, Idaho — You won’t find a high-volume, see-what-sticks approach to innovating products at Chobani, the Greek-style yogurt maker that’s expanding again in south central Idaho.

“The food is always the center of the conversation,” said Kai Sacher, Twin Falls-based senior vice president of research and development. “Once we have the better option and the better food, then we talk about the ‘concept.’ … It is not just a matter of adding volume, adding a couple of SKUs (stock keeping units).”

Ideas for food deemed desirable by sight, smell, taste or feel can come from founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya, Sacher’s R&D team or other employees. This food-first, cooperative model gives the marketing group a good feel for the enthusiasm the innovations are generating in-house, and eliminates the need to create a campaign first and then request a product for it.

“If you are only half in it, if you are not convinced about a product, it will not succeed,” Sacher said. “If you are convinced, if you really believe in its ‘wow’ effect, then it will succeed.”

Chobani must appeal to a consumer market that is competitive and ever-changing, but that offers fast feedback.

Eric Bastian, vice president of industry relations for DairyWest-Idaho Dairy Council, said Chobani has been able to “make a nice platform to bring added value into the yogurt space,” thus avoiding commodity pricing. “Companies that are successful in innovation have to be willing to take risks.”

Chobani was instrumental in bringing Greek yogurt — which differs from regular yogurt in nutritional profile and taste thanks in part to extra straining — to a relatively crowded U.S. market over a decade ago. Bastian said the company successfully introduced previously unheard-of yogurt flavors as well as its divided Flip package that enables the consumer to easily blend crunchy ingredients on one side with yogurt on the other.

Sacher said innovative flavors, such as a take on pumpkin pie, connected with consumers and prompted competitors to try to launch similar flavors. As for Flip, the concept was around in Europe, but the “crunch” factor keyed U.S. success, he said.

Well before any launch or marketing, Sacher and his team develop food products with Ulukaya, who tastes yogurt continuously and offers immediate feedback. Sacher said this dynamic “gives us the strength to be very quick” in launching new products or improving existing offerings. Chobani can get a new product into the market within six months, he said.

Sacher would not discuss R&D total spending or how it is prioritized except to say his group is efficient, nimble and comfortable with the amount spent. He said much of Chobani’s $20 million building project underway in Twin Falls focuses on innovation, and that the scientist headcount is expected to double in three to five years to about 50. Staff additions reflect new projects and higher volume. The facility expansion also will enable Chobani to bring in suppliers, fostering collaboration and possibly faster output, he said.

Bastian said overall innovation spending for a consumer-focused dairy company like Chobani probably is a bit higher as a percentage of revenue than for an ingredient maker or other business-to-business player due to necessarily robust marketing.

Discovering best alfalfa genetics for Northwest Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:02:05 -0500 Hear Smith Thomas Farmers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho grow a lot of alfalfa hay for dairies and for export. Alfalfa is an important part of Washington state’s $539 million hay industry, grown on more than 400,000 acres throughout the state ­— most extensively in the irrigated Columbia River Basin.

Some is exported around the world, mainly to China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Steve Norberg, regional forage specialist and irrigated cropping systems specialist at Washington State University, is leading a two-year, $250,000 effort to discover genetic areas — called molecular markers — that will enable plant breeders to create better alfalfa varieties. This study is funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Alfalfa and Forage Research Program.

“Quality is crucial, especially when hay prices are low. Top-quality dairy hay is always worth more,” said Norberg. “We’re looking for genes that can be bred into traditional alfalfa varieties, making them more digestible, with less fiber. Dairy cows must eat a lot to produce milk, and less fiber means more nutrition and less waste.”

The idea is to provide breeders with another tool to breed for higher-quality alfalfa. They recruited several specialists, including a geneticist, USDA Agricultural Research Service scientist Long-Xi Yu.

“We’ll be using his expertise to evaluate DNA and look for genetic markers of all the varieties we test,” Norberg said.

The researchers are pulling 150 different varieties from the USDA-ARS National Plant Germplasm System Temperate-adapted Forage Legume Genetic Resources Program at Pullman, Wash.

“These are from all around the world. We’re also looking at another 50 commercial varieties from 4 commercial seed companies that are cooperating with us, one of which is an organic alfalfa seed supplier,” Norberg said. The conventional seed suppliers are three of the four largest alfalfa breeders in the U.S.

“We’ve selected varieties from around the world that have fall dormancy,” he said.

In the Pacific Northwest climate, alfalfa must go dormant for winter. Within the dormant varieties the researchers are looking for those that produce the highest quality.

They will plant those 200 varieties next spring at three locations — Prosser, Wash.; Union, Ore.; and Twin Falls, Idaho, which have different climates and elevations.

Participants in the project are WSU faculty members Don Llewellyn, a regional livestock specialist, and state forage specialist Steven Fransen; University of Idaho forage specialist Glenn Shewmaker; Oregon State University forage specialist Guojie Wang; and University of Wisconsin rumen nutritionist David Combs.

Next summer, the team will sample the plants and look for genetic markers that denote lower fiber and better digestibility.

“We will harvest all varieties at mid-bud stage and take samples. We will check yield, moisture content, et cetera, and run the samples through a testing technique developed in Wisconsin by David Combs,” Norberg said. The acronym for this test is TTNDFD, for total track neutral detergent fiber digestibility.

Samples will be evaluated based on fiber quality — how much fiber in the alfalfa, how much of the fiber is digestible, and the rate the fiber is digested.

“When we plant the varieties next spring for this trial we’ll include some check varieties (some with high fiber and some with low fiber) for comparison. Our goal is to figure out, in DNA for each variety, what genetic markers are associated with fiber quality, which varieties have higher quality and how they yield in forage trials,” he said.

“We’ll share that information with commercial breeders so they can select for those traits,” Norberg said.

He hopes their discoveries will speed up improvement in alfalfa seed programs worldwide and result in new varieties.

“Alfalfa exports are increasing. Many growers in Washington want the ability to export their first cutting. Those who raise alfalfa hay for dairies would like accessibility to both markets,” he said. “We’re trying to help make sure new varieties will be even better.”

For the two-year study, the main concentration is on the first cutting — for dairy quality and export — since that is the most likely cutting to go to both markets.

“It is expensive to do tests and we have enough funding to do first cutting for two years. We’ll publish the yields of all these varieties and look at how they differ in yield and quality in the three locations we’re planting,” said Norberg.

Future of wood: Stronger than ever Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:05:35 -0500 Gail Oberst Corvallis, Ore. — Giant wood beams, hewn from ancient cedar, Douglas fir and pine, once braced Oregon’s largest homes and business buildings. But as the large trees disappeared from the market, wood beams were replaced with concrete and steel.

Until now.

Innovations in wood products and engineering have created support beams and panels even stronger than single old-growth beams, opening new markets for younger trees grown in Northwest forests. New cross-laminated timber — known as CLT — beams and panels, and related products, are finding their ways into structures that resist and recover from earthquakes, and can support the weight of a 12-story building.

Oregon State University is putting CLT and other timber products to the test in its newest rendition of Peavy Hall, center of the university’s College of Forestry, which is under construction now. The building, due to open this fall, will showcase some of the latest uses of engineered wood, according to Geoff Huntington, OSU’s Forestry Center Director of Strategic Initiatives.

CLT has been in use in Europe since the 1990s, and is catching on quickly in the Northwest. The engineered wood product features dimensional lumber glued tightly together in layers cross-wise to each other, creating panels that are both strong, resilient and flexible. A slew of recent scientific papers, some written by OSU foresters, applaud the material, claiming it is as strong as steel, more flexible, five times lighter, and made from a renewable resource. What’s more, the new products are creating jobs and adding value to younger trees. For example, Freres Lumber near Stayton, Ore., is now expanding its production to accommodate orders for their version of engineered wood products, called mass plywood panels.

Wood products going into the new Peavy Hall’s construction were engineered, milled, and most likely grown, within 250 miles of the university, Huntington said.

“The whole idea of this building is that it is a made-in-Oregon building,” said Thomas Maness, dean of OSU’s College of Forestry.

The new products are not only stronger, but also, more convenient, saving money and time in construction, according to Matt Sherman, of Portland’s Andersen Construction.

The CLT panels, manufactured by D.R. Johnson Lumber Co. in Riddle, Ore., arrive pre-cut to size and are bolted together at the site, making for quicker, more efficient construction.

“It’s a game-changer,” said Michael Green, architect for the project. The support beams were already in place for the three-story building in December 2017.

The panels and beams are part of the $65 million Peavy Hall’s unique “rocking wall system,” a wall-to-foundation connection that minimizes the impact of wind and earthquakes. Post-tensioned, self-centering rods run through the thick CLT walls and special U-shaped brackets. The rods attached to footings form a resilient design that allows walls to rock laterally during an earthquake, then rock back to their original positions, according to Arijit Sinha, OSU’s professor of renewable materials.

The new 80,000-square-foot Peavy Hall will be part of the Oregon Forest Science Complex which includes the A.A. “Red” Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Laboratory. The Emmerson lab should be finished later in the year.

Huntington said the lab will be the site of still more innovations in wood technology.

Oregon State’s College of Forestry and the University of Oregon’s College of Design are wasting no time. The two schools have created the Tallwood Design Institute, which is currently assisting private investors on plans for the Framework Building — a 12-story “timber superstructure” in Portland that features support beams and panels made almost entirely of CLT wood. Construction is expected to begin this year. When completed, it will be the tallest wood building in North America, according to its designers, LEVER Architecture. A seven-story structure in Minneapolis, completed in 2016, now holds the record.

Winemaker takes a concrete step forward Thu, 15 Feb 2018 15:59:26 -0500 Margarett Waterbury French oak and stainless steel have earned their place in the winery, but a growing number of Northwest winemakers are experimenting with a third maturation material: concrete.

At Lange Estate Winery in Dundee, Ore., winemaker Jesse Lange celebrated the 30th anniversary of his family business with a brand-new piece of equipment: a 500-gallon concrete tank from Sonoma Cast Stone. With a pricetag of about $15,000, it weighs about 6,000 pounds, is made from specially formulated concrete, and is shaped like a gigantic egg. According to the company’s CEO, Steve Rosenblatt, they’ve sold roughly 500 concrete tanks to wineries.

“It shows up during the middle of harvest,” Jesse laughs of his purchase. “We had to use two forklifts to unload it, it was so heavy.”

Why concrete? Jesse had tasted some concrete-matured wines from other wineries, including Syncline Wine Cellars in the Columbia Gorge AVA, and was excited by the textural and flavor contributions of the material, especially when it came to the balanced, Burgundian-style wines he and his team produce.

After an initial treatment that included spraying the egg with a solution of tartaric acid, Jesse was ready to take the egg for a spin. The very first fill was Pinot gris must, which underwent a complete fermentation in concrete.

A sample pulled from a valve in the side revealed a citrusy, lightly tropical wine with chalky mineral undertones and a soft, almost powdery texture. “The wine has gained some gravity,” Jesse says, “especially in the mid-palate. There’s a lot of richness, but it’s not heavy, it’s more like volume.”

After the Pinot gris is finished, Jesse plans to replace it with Chardonnay, followed by Pinot noir. It’s all part of the getting-to-know-you process, he says. “You can’t improve something until you understand it, and you can’t understand without experimenting.”

Concrete is trendy right now, but it’s not a brand new material in the wine world. Subterranean tanks made from concrete have historically been used in Burgundy, France, and ceramic amphorae made from similar material have been employed for millennia in Georgia in eastern Europe. Jesse is excited about concrete’s potential contribution to Oregon wines, especially white wines such as Pinot gris and Chardonnay, which he says are becoming more popular.

“We’ve been making Chardonnay for 30 years, but all of a sudden, people are like, ‘Can we get more?’” says Jesse. “I know we’re making some of the best Chardonnay in the world. New world Pinot gris started in the Willamette Valley. As Oregonians, we don’t toot our own horn very well, but as an industry, we need to do it.”

While Lange Estate Winery hasn’t released any concrete wine yet, Jesse is feeling optimistic about the first tests.

He’s not sure yet if this year’s concrete wine will be bottled as a standalone label, or if it will be used as a component of Lange’s annual Pinot Gris Reserve release, but he is already eyeing another concrete vessel — this one even larger than the first.

“It’s a 1,000-gallon cube,” he says. “I’ve heard the shape might make solids drop out of solution more quickly.” Why more concrete? Jesse says he’s excited about the way the wines taste. Then he laughs. “And having a story to tell is always important.”

National Laboratory seeks ways to boost ag production Thu, 15 Feb 2018 15:57:43 -0500 Hear Smith Thomas Idaho National Laboratory researchers in Eastern Idaho are looking at ways to increase profitability, even if it means planting different crops on the same field. Among the options are planting bio-energy crops to take advantage of soil types unsuited for higher-earning cash crops.

For example, a single field may have several different soil types, and they are not all good for production of the same crop.

“This impacts crop yields. If we look at the soil we can determine which areas produce better yields, and other areas where the crop is really struggling,” said Mike Griffel an agricultural research analyst at the laboratory near Idaho Falls.

“Part of our integrated landscape design is to look at how we can split up a field to maximize profitability, so farmers can keep producing their crops like corn or soybeans on high-yielding areas that can support more intensive management,” he said. “We can model how things change if they were to plant a perennial crop on the poorer-production areas.”

A perennial crop is genetically better equipped to utilize what’s there, without need for additional inputs.

This would create less soil loss over time. Perennial plants hold the soil better, and could be utilized for bioenergy.

“There are many types of biomass crops that can be used for energy production,” he said. The grasses they are studying include switchgrass and miscanthus. These are hardy prairie grasses capable of producing significant amounts of biomass with minimal crop inputs.

“They can be harvested at the end of the year and used for bioenergy production, and grow back year after year. They need very little fertilizer and are much better suited to weaker soil areas,” Griffel said.

Many farmers are used to looking at profitability on a per-acre basis, across the entire field.

“When you look at various areas of the field, however, and take the areas out of production where the grower is losing money, you can greatly alter profitability,” he said. “Farmers can make more money because they are not pouring so many inputs onto areas that are not productive and won’t return that money.”

The inputs applied to the field also cause soil and water quality issues. It’s better not to add those to soils that are not suited for the crops the farmer is trying to grow. The integrated landscape approach can help build a future bio-economy and hopefully give farmers another source of revenue and another option for something that could be grown on weaker sub-field areas. The laboratory works with many partners in this research, and universities around the country where people grow test plots.

“There is a lot of research in place already; we can incorporate their findings regarding yield and agronomics,” he said. “It’s a team effort.”

The farmer might cut and bale grasses or crop residues, or custom operators might come in to harvest it.

“We’ve also developed models looking at how equipment moves through the field,” he said. “When you take out a portion of the field ... we want to know how it will impact the farmer’s machinery movement. Maybe we are increasing the number of turn-arounds or creating an obstruction in the middle of what used to be a nice, square field. The model has to incorporate all this, because we must be able to evaluate whether this can be done at an economically sustainable level.”

It can’t be a problem or obstacle for the regular planting, irrigation or harvest of the main crop, he said.

High-efficiency irrigation pays off Thu, 1 Feb 2018 11:15:33 -0500 CRAIG REED Irrigation is all about getting water to thirsty plants and trees, from hay fields to orchards to row crops.

To accomplish that as efficiently as possible, farmers and ranchers have changed their methods through the years. When those methods are efficient, there are multiple benefits for the grower: Increased tonnage, improved quality, less water and power waste resulting in lower costs for those two, and possibly a higher price for the crop.

Low elevation precision application (LEPA) and low elevation sprinkler application (LESA) are two of the most recent irrigation methods that are being promoted in the Pacific Northwest.

“With water and power costs, these methods should catch on fast,” said Greg Mohnen, president of the Oregon Hay and Forage Association and manager of hay production for the McGinnis Ranch near Bend, Ore.

Another low elevation irrigation method is the drip system. It’s not new, having been used for many years in orchards where wheel lines and pivots can’t be used. Drip irrigation allows the soil to absorb the water, eliminating any evaporation or runoff.

The LEPA and LESA irrigation methods have been used on the Great Plains of the Midwest and farther east for the past 20 or so years, but they have only been promoted out west for the past few years.

Unlike hand lines, wheel lines and pivot systems where sprinkler heads stand upright and spray water high into the air, the LEPA and LESA systems use a much closer-to-the-ground approach to getting water to the soil and plant roots. LEPA features tubes hanging down from a pivot with nozzles, 12 to 18 inches off the ground, releasing a stream of water. LESA uses the same down setup off a pivot, but the nozzles spray from about 12 inches off the ground.

Mylen Bohle, a forage agronomist with the Oregon State University Extension Service office in Prineville, Ore., said these two methods provide 96 to 97 percent water efficiency because there is minimal wind drift and evaporation of the water.

There is a cost in the thousands of dollars, depending on the acreage, to make the conversion, but it has been proven the results will cover the cost in a year or two.

In addition to the Extension Service, many Pacific Northwest electric cooperatives are promoting LEPA and LESA.

Dale Anderson of Big Bend Electric Cooperative in Ritzville, Wash., said he knows of a hay grower who upgraded two of his pivots, but not a third. On his fourth cutting of hay for the season, the fields with the upgraded pivots produced a ton more per acre than the older pivot.

“The farmer said I could have paid for the upgrades with that extra ton,” Anderson said.

Bohle said a Prineville area hay grower increased his quantity to 5.4 tons an acre with the LEPA system after upgrading from a mid-elevation sprinkler application system that had been producing 2 tons an acre.

In addition to less water and power being used, and less evaporation of water, other benefits of these new systems include less lodging (plants tipping over because of water weight and pressure on their leaves) and possibly less disease from standing water on leaves (research is ongoing to confirm this belief).

For the pumps that power these irrigation systems, switching to a smaller one is an option because the LEPA and LESA systems don’t require as much water pressure. Powering a smaller pump is a cost savings. Or there is the possibility that a larger pump can replace two smaller pumps and result in overall savings.

Variable frequency drives can also be installed to improve the efficiency of the electric turbine pumps. The VFDs can be programmed to monitor both the power supplied to the pump and the speed of the motor, decreasing both when needed and resulting in more cost savings.

For hay growers who are members of electric co-ops, those co-ops will provide field audits to help analyze agricultural operations and to help create long-term plans for properties.

“We provide incentive packages … replacing wheel lines with pivots, replacing sprinklers with nozzles, replacing gaskets, those types of things,” said Lynn Culp of Surprise Valley Electric Cooperative in Alturas, Calif.

“There’s some really exciting technology out there,” Bohle said. “There is a big capital outlay so that might be the reason not to change, but the benefits are proven. I do believe as the word gets out, it’ll be like a snowball rolling down a snowy hill and change will be rapid.”

Sprinklers give more control over irrigation Thu, 1 Feb 2018 11:13:45 -0500 Hear Smith Thomas Travis Youngberg grew up on a farm between Payette and Weiser, Idaho, farming with his father. He now rents some of his father’s fields and an adjacent field. He has farmed this rented piece for 6 years, raising dairy alfalfa hay with wheat as a rotation.

“This particular field has a bit of slope. Flood irrigating wasn’t efficient, especially with all the gopher holes,” said Youngberg.

The irrigation headgate was also leaking, ready to wash out. Part of the field is lower, and the previous renter jury-rigged some old sprinkler pipe through the ditch bank to drop water down to that piece in a lower ditch, irrigating it with tail water.

“It was difficult to water that part because it was hard to adjust, and only received tail water from the other portion. I never knew when it was going to get there,” he said.

A 40-foot bank along one side was another challenge. If a gopher made a hole in the tail ditch, the bank would erode. He needed a better way to irrigate the field and thwart erosion.

After the first year of trying to irrigate that field he talked to the landowner about utilizing a government program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service to do it.

“I got some cost estimates, and my landlord liked the sound of it, realizing it would help the field,” said Youngberg.

The cost-share program made it feasible.

“I applied for the program and agreed to do some water management and nutrient-management related practices, to help with funding opportunities,” he said. For three years he did water and nutrient management after putting in the sprinkler system.

Engineers at NRCS helped design the irrigation system and checked it out after it was installed. Crop yields have increased.

Before, with flood irrigation, there was no way to water the field evenly, especially with the gopher problem.

“Parts of the field I just couldn’t get wet, and I also had to be careful on the edges so I didn’t get too close to the bank and wash it out — and the landlord’s road,” said Youngberg.

He kept the water quite a ways away from the edge and sacrificed a lot of that area for crops. The middle of the field also had dry areas because of gophers. He tried trapping them but more came back.

After he switched to sprinklers he could water the crop right to the edge, and manage the irrigation better.

“With flood irrigation you have to wait longer to get the water all the way to the bottom of the field. By the time you get it there, you’ve really soaked the top; you can’t give it a light irrigation. When cutting alfalfa every 28 days, I want to get the water across quickly and get it off so the ground will be dry enough.”

With flood irrigation some of the top would still be wet.

“The crop might need a little more water at the bottom, but I couldn’t do that because it took too long to get across the field — and by the time I was ready to cut it, it was too late. Timing on dairy hay is very critical, so I had to let it run a little bit out of water. I was stressing the crop because I didn’t have enough time to get across it, and lost some tonnage,” Youngberg said.

“Now with the sprinklers I can run a 12-hour set and just do a light irrigation if I need to, and adjust it to however many hours it needs,” he said.

The field now yields much better than any of his flood-irrigated fields, while using less water.

Irrigating cranberries by phone Thu, 1 Feb 2018 11:12:22 -0500 Gail Oberst Port Orford, Ore. — Nick Puhl, 29, hadn’t intended to be a cranberry grower. After training in computer numerically controlled machining — known as CNC — he went to work building helicopter, jet and car parts.

But in 2009, when his father, Ron, lost a series of farm managers, he moved back home to Port Orford to help manage Cape Blanco Cranberries. Part of the farmland has been in his family’s hands since the early 1900s. His father put in cranberries in 1992.

“They needed me, so I came back,” Nick shrugged. He brought with him skills he picked up from the CNC world. Today, those modern innovations save time for workers at Cape Blanco Cranberries, his family’s company, but they also improve the crop’s quality, reduce water use and save time.

Among those innovations are gadgets that allow Nick to control his pumps from his cell phone. Nick can check water, soil and weather conditions during the growing season at a website that gathers and stores the data relayed from the beds and pumps. He can then decide which beds need water — each pump controls about 5 acres of irrigation. From anywhere in cell range, with a swipe and a tap on his smart phone, he can turn on the appropriate pump — and viola! Water saved, cranberries happy.

This was especially handy during the 2017 growing season, a dry and hot one during which water became scarce.

Cranberry growers typically capture rainwater throughout the year in ponds that are used for irrigation during spring and summer, and for flooding and floating the berries during harvest. Even wet Cape Blanco, with an average annual rainfall of about 76 inches, saw a water shortage, Nick said.

Water conservation, as well as his father’s foresight to build larger storage ponds, got them through the summer.

So happy were his eight varieties of cranberries in 2017 that harvest lasted into December, the peak of the cranberry-eating season. Nick took a moment to be proud: “Nobody else delivers fresh-picked, fresh-packed cranberries this time of year.”

Specific watering practices, among other innovative techniques, allow the cranberries to remain on the vine longer, developing a deep red color, higher sugars and lower acids.

The south coast’s mild climate provides a longer growing season and promotes the berry’s color and flavor. On Dec. 19, when Nick harvested his last beds, the temperature had been in the high 40s and 50s all week. Wisconsin, which grows more than 60 percent of the nation’s cranberries, typically ends harvests in mid-October and was already below freezing on Dec. 19.

With financial and technical help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and its Environmental Quality Incentives Program — known as EQIP — Cape Blanco Cranberries has installed upgrades on nine pumps for 45 of his 80 acres split between Bandon and Port Orford. An automated system, which can cycle water on and off as needed based on temperature readings, can reduce water and energy use by up to 50 percent, according to Eric Moeggenberg, the district conservationist for the Coos and Curry county NRCS office.

The pumps also monitor their own efficiency — checking the pressure and flow, then report it back to a data-collection and irrigation control website. When he sees a pump problem, Nick can fix it immediately. Before, problems might have gone unnoticed, wasting water.

“We’re pretty fortunate that I know how to do that sort of thing,” Nick said. He’s not stingy with his skills. The extra time allows him to do extra work for other farmers and machinists on computer-controlled machinery for their beds and machinery.

The radio or computer-controlled pumps and irrigation are not the farm’s only innovations. The Puhls are also replacing old vines — the perennials can last up to a century — with new vines that are DNA-certified, adding more value to their fruit, and better production.

For more information about the data-collection website and software, MeasureTek, visit For information about EQIP, visit, or your local Soil and Water Conservation District office.

Culvert project a win-win for ranchers Thu, 1 Feb 2018 11:11:22 -0500 Gail Oberst Cattle ranchers and timberland owners Andy and Maryrae Thomson had a problem.

Eber Creek, on their property west of Eugene, Ore., annually flooded the road to their timberland. The culprits? Two culverts that were too small to handle the creek’s winter flow. The small culverts also blocked access to native cutthroat trout and other fish species in the Long Tom River drainage.

Long Tom Watershed Council to the rescue: The council gathered funds for a project that paid to replace the culverts with a sturdy bridge, serving both purposes: The Thomsons, whose ancestors had farmed the land since 1881, improved their business, and the trout could access the upper reaches of the creek. Andy Thomson touted his success to neighbors, many of whom joined in improving 4.5 stream miles by replacing similar barriers.

With variations, the Thomsons’ tale could be repeated dozens of times among Oregon’s 90 some watershed councils. For the past 20 years, farmers, ranchers, foresters and other landowners have worked with local councils on projects that serve to improve agricultural businesses while providing habitat.

“We’re looking for the win-win,” said Shawn Morford, the executive director of the Network of Oregon Watershed Councils, based in Salem.

The Network is one of four organizations that make up the Oregon Conservation Partnership, which also includes the Oregon Association of Conservation Districts, representing the state’s 45 Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and the coalition of Oregon Land Trusts, representing Oregon’s 17 land trusts, plus the Oregon Conservation Education and Assistance Network, the education arm of the Partnership. Although watershed councils, conservation districts and land trusts have their own unique missions and resources, they all work with agricultural and other landowners who voluntarily join in conservation projects.

The Network helps strengthen watershed councils by providing training and technical and scientific information to their staff and leaders, connecting them with funding sources, and providing resources such as policy and procedure templates.

In turn, watershed councils funnel state, federal, and private funding to their communities for ecosystem restoration, monitoring, and education. According to, a website that tracks watershed restoration projects, in the five years from 2010 to 2014, there were 3,371 watershed council projects in the state, representing an investment of more than $293 million. Of that, 41 percent came from state lottery funds, an equal amount from federal, city and county funds, and the rest from landowners’ contributions. In 2010-11, for example, those projects made 356 miles of streams accessible to fish migration, according to the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, a state agency that helps fund many of the councils.

“Oregon’s watershed council model is unique and often envied by other states,” Morford said.

Council members focus on the area of land that Morford refers to as the “ridgetop to ridgetop” — that is, the land that includes the waterways that start as small streams and eventually flow into a major river.

“It’s the job of a council to hold a birds-eye view of a watershed. They assess the health of the watershed and collectively set priorities for restoring the waterways and improving fish passage.”

Unlike regulatory bodies, councils count on voluntary cooperation among landowners, other agencies and community groups to accomplish their missions. 

“Councils work hand-in-hand with landowners who want to do the right thing, to protect their own resources,” Morford said. 

Farmers, ranchers and foresters interested in improving water quality and fish habitat as part of their projects can contact their local watershed councils for ideas. Visit for local phone numbers and websites.

Israel develops water-conscious culture Thu, 1 Feb 2018 11:09:52 -0500 Sheryl Harris Israel knows water. Or, more accurately, the nation perched in one of the driest regions of the world has developed cutting-edge ways of dealing with a lack of water.

From developing ways to conserve water to building some of the largest desalination plants in the world to convert sea water into drinking water, Israeli engineers have developed innovative ways to produce and reuse its most precious resource.

Israel is about the size of New Jersey. About one-third of its land is arable. Within that area, it receives about as much rain as Arizona, about 15 inches a year.

For Americans, water is the elephant in the living room. “Water is such a crucial issue, and nobody is talking about it” in the U.S., said Jewish National Fund Communications Director Adam Brill. The fund raises money to develop reservoirs that supply about 10 percent of Israel’s water.

To provide water for the nation’s 8.5 million people and the farms that grow their food, Israelis have developed a national infrastructure to manage the resource.

Israel has only one water authority: the national government. Because of its single water authority, Israel is able to use a nationwide system to deliver water from reserves and treatment plants to where it is needed.

Water is also priced to reflect its value and the cost of maintaining and monitoring pipelines. The price of potable water is $7.70 for 100 cubic feet. That’s nearly 10 times the price of water in Las Vegas, another desert area.

Another important component is education. “Our children are our most important ‘crop,’” said Alon Melamed, irrigation manager at Kibbutz Kinneret in northern Israel. Nearly 700 Israelis work on the collective farm, which grows a variety of crops and operates a dairy. Water conservation education may officially begin in kindergarten, but it also begins long before that because of what children see in the home, he said.

Israel has a multi-faceted strategy for water: production, conservation, technology and reuse.

In 2010 the nation drilled three wells to tap aquifers nearly a mile deep. Once treated to remove the naturally occurring caustic compounds, the water extends plant and fish seasons, irrigates vineyards and crops, increases the Jordan River’s flow and raises the level of the Sea of Galilee.

Five of the world’s largest desalination plants are in Israel, providing 35 percent of its water. They use a process called reverse osmosis to convert water from the Mediterranean Sea into potable water. An Israeli company, IDE Technologies, also designed and built the Western Hemisphere’s largest desalination plant, near Carlsbad, Calif. It provides 50 million gallons of fresh water a day to the San Diego County Water Authority, supplying 7 percent of its needs.

Almost 90 percent of Israel’s wastewater is recycled, providing about half of what is required for agriculture. Reclaimed water is also used for industry.

That compares to California, which recycles 13 percent of its wastewater.

Israel also uses “smart” technology that monitors plumbing and locates leaks early; 100 percent of all the water used in every household is measured.

Israel has also developed drought-resistant seeds and plants that thrive in desert conditions. Some are already used already in the U.S. Shorter wheat produces 35 percent more grain per acre than full-size wheat.

Drip irrigation also reduces water use and can be managed almost plant by plant.

Covers are also used to shield orchards from the direct sun. “Orchard cover lengthens plant life, conserves water and improves the climate for the plants,” said Melamed, the irrigation manager. It also lengthens the shelf life of fruit, he said.

“Until you change the real culture of how you use and manage water, you’re not going to get anywhere,” said Brill of the Jewish National Fund.

Nursery makes every drop count Thu, 1 Feb 2018 11:08:29 -0500 Gail Oberst WOODBURN, Ore. — Tom Fessler of Woodburn Nursery and Azaleas wasn’t raised on the wrong side of the tracks. In fact, the tracks run right through his family’s property — 2,000 acres of nursery, grass seed and row crops.

But, Fessler noted, he and his four siblings were raised on the wrong side of the river. Had his great-grandparents settled just a few hundred yards closer to the Pudding River, the family’s focus on conserving water might not have been so intense. The Fesslers grew up with inventions that save water and money on one of Oregon’s largest nursery operations.

The nursery that was established in 1968 by Tom’s parents, Bob and Jean, sells wholesale nationwide and in Canada. Woodburn Nursery stock can be found at garden centers, Safeway and Costco, to name a few.

Most of the water used in the nursery operation is pulled from wells on the property, and from tributaries of Zollner Creek, which flows into the Pudding River. Because water is in short supply, waste is not an option in his greenhouses and fields, Fessler said. Since 1986, five years before the state passed rules to encourage water reuse, Woodburn Nursery began installing French drain systems that rerouted used water on the greenhouse floors into collection pipes and then to filtration systems.

“Everywhere we water, we collect it and reuse it,” Fessler said.

Today, with many more water-saving measures added to its tool belt, Woodburn Nursery’s operation is recycling 60 to 70 percent of the water it uses.

Is it saving the farm lots of money?

Fessler shrugs, and puns: “It’s probably a wash.” The recycling equipment and the costs for treatment eat up any savings on potential water purchases, if additional water were available, which it is not. Reuse is essential.

More importantly, water reuse and conservation has allowed the company to grow without additional water.

For example, Woodburn Nursery’s pot-in-pot tree and shrub cultivation, which has expanded since the year 2000 to about 250 acres, utilizes a “drip” system that delivers to each plant a precise amount of water and nutrients, eliminating overwatering. The system also reduces the muddy mess and extra work of ball and burlap harvests. Fessler said the business has maintained 200 employees for the past 15 years while doubling sales — another form of conservation.

Automation has aided the company’s ability to measure and reuse water, but human managers are still the nursery’s most important assets, Fessler said. Their eyes are on the product daily. Computerization came early to the farm, in 1988, and today is taking over a portion of the overhead sprinkling system, which responds to heat and sunlight. The newest sunlight-driven system in the greenhouse is replacing timed automatic sprinkling that is less efficient.

Fessler said his father’s innovations and attention to quality has inspired his children — all of whom are partners in the farm — to act likewise.

The nursery world has taken note: Bob Fessler was awarded a lifetime membership to the Oregon Association of Nurseries for his contributions to the industry, including an endowment that sponsors scholarships from OAN’s foundation. Tom Fessler, and now his son, Kyle, have served as officers of OAN. Awards abound for the family’s efforts in business and their communities.

Carefully, Tom unwraps the newest gadget he’s looking at, aimed at reducing water use even more: a compact soil moisture sensor that can alert managers if plants are over- or under-watered. Will he buy it? He’s not sure, he said. “But the more information we can get, the better decisions we can make.”

Farmer goes underground with drip irrigation Thu, 1 Feb 2018 11:07:25 -0500 Hear Smith Thomas Water is the lifeblood of agriculture in the arid West. Some crops require more water than others, and when water supplies are short it takes innovation to provide adequate moisture.

Kirk Vickery grows a variety of crops in a rotation system on his farm on the Emmett Bench in western Idaho. He has farmed in that area all his life, having grown up on a farm nearby. He currently grows mint, corn and alfalfa, and flood irrigation was inadequate for some of these crops during the hotter, drier months.

“The Emmett Irrigation District where we get our water is a continuous flow system and we are only allotted a certain amount, like three-quarters of an inch to 1 inch per acre, and it is strictly regulated,” he says.

This was one of the main reasons he decided to change to drip irrigation, to conserve water and make sure he had enough for his crops. This was a way to make the water go farther and use it more efficiently.

“Mint takes a lot of water in June and July, and that’s when corn and alfalfa need a lot of water also. We didn’t have enough water to grow the crops we wanted,” he explains.

Most of the time he had to rotate one-third of his acres to something like wheat that doesn’t take as much water during June and July. In 2013 he changed to the drip system on some of his fields so he could grow more mint.

“Onion growers have been using drip irrigation for several years, but there were only a few people using it for crops like mint. I looked at their systems to see what they had done,” Vickery said.

Clearwater Supply in Ontario, Ore., sold him the materials and helped with the design.

“My family and I installed it. The pumping station includes a sand media filter that cleans the water. It’s a pressurized system, but drip irrigation runs at only about 10 to 12 pounds of pressure, compared to a sprinkler system that could be anywhere from 30 to 60 pounds,” he said.

The drip system requires a much smaller pump with less horsepower and less volume, because less water is needed.

“You don’t have any evaporation loss. Our allotted water comes into this permanent drip line that we buried 8 inches. We can still do crop rotation, planting the new crop right over the drip lines,” he explains.

He has planted several different crops since he installed the permanent system. The buried line percolates water into the root zone of the plants — where it’s needed.

“The water moves up through the soil as well as down and laterally. Most of the roots are down there, where the water is,” he said.

This is efficient, but also presents some challenges, such as germination of the crop since there is no water at the surface.

“You have to plant perennial crops or an annual crop in the spring when you have nature’s help with more ground moisture,” he says. “The other option, which we’ve done with mint, is to give it some temporary help with a sprinkler for a short time until it takes root, just to get it started.”

After the crop is established, drip irrigation works well. He has used it on mint, corn, triticale, sorghum, sudan and alfalfa. With newer tillage methods a person seldom has to disrupt the underground lines.

If anything goes wrong underground, however, you have to find and repair the problem. Not as much can go wrong with it compared to an over-ground system, except gophers.

“We have to be very diligent about gopher control. They can really disrupt the underground lines,” Vickery says.

“A big benefit of drip irrigation is nutrient management. You can place nutrients in the root zone in a soluble form where plants can easily and immediately take it up; you can add them to the water at the proper growth stage of the plant,” he said.

The local Natural Resources Conservation Service district had a tour of his farm a few years ago, to show other farmers how well it was working.

Permanent water systems help ranchers quench cows’ thirst Thu, 1 Feb 2018 11:05:10 -0500 Dianna Troyer Frustrated with constantly hauling water to his thirsty cows, Jed Heaton brainstormed about ways to eliminate the tedious chore.

With polyethylene pipe, massive tire troughs, valves, and floats, he installed a permanent watering system on his ranch south of Malta, Idaho near the Utah border.

“Through word-of-mouth, we started helping other ranchers develop springs and ponds into permanent watering systems,” said Heaton, who started Range Water Solutions and Supplies in 2001.

Since then, he and his crew have installed watering systems in Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, and Oregon. Often he works in conjunction with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and other grazing improvement programs, using the agency’s range improvement guidelines.

“We never thought it would get this big,” said Heaton, of the family-owned company, nicknamed by his son Tykus three years ago.

His work season starts in April and ends in December.

One of his biggest jobs was in northeastern Utah near Randolph, where he installed a system so ranchers would have a reliable water source.

“We laid 50,000 feet of 3-inch mainline pipe and grouped 20 tire troughs together, in sets of three, with a float controlling them, so they fill level,” he said.

On some jobs, he has installed as many as six troughs on one float in one location, so the float controls storage of 9,600 gallons of water.

His wife, Meshia, does the bookkeeping.

“People tell me they like Jed’s work because he knows how a cow thinks and can recommend the best place to put the troughs or ponds and how to configure the pipes,” said Meshia. “Plus, he has a reputation for doing a quick and quality job.”

He uses high density polyethylene pipe that can be fused together at the joints with a McElroy welder.

“That joint is amazingly strong,” he said. “You can beat on it, and it won’t break.”

The circular troughs are durable, too, because they are made from tires that were used on massive gold mining equipment. The tires are about 12 feet tall and 5 feet wide.

“We get them and cut them in half, so they’re about 27 inches tall,” he said. “They’re great because unlike metal troughs they won’t rust, dent, or spring a leak. When we put them in, we laser level the ground, so water is level in the trough.”

Heaton buys semi-truck loads of pipe and other supplies to last the season. If ranchers want to install their own systems, he gives advice and sells them what they need.

“These systems will last for a long time with little maintenance.”

Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum at a glance Thu, 25 Jan 2018 09:49:40 -0500 Adults: $12 adult ticket price includes the Spokane Ag Expo trade show, Pacific Northwest Farm Forum main sessions, speakers, seminars and free parking at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena in the main front lot on the West 700 block of Boone Avenue.

Youth (12–18 years): $8 each, and children under 12 are free.

The Ag Expo/Farm Forum Pass is good for all three days of the show.

Tickets can be purchased at the Convention Center Complex in the Exhibit Hall’s ticket offices at both entrances throughout the week of the show.

Discount tickets for $8 are available at all North 40 Outfitters in Washington and Idaho through show week.

The Ag Expo’s Beer & Wine Garden is an additional fee for drinks that can be purchased upon entering the garden.

The Spokane Ag Expo & Pacific Northwest Farm Forum are located under one roof in the Spokane Convention Center, 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

Spokane Ag Expo Tradeshow: Convention Center Exhibit Halls.

Farm Forum Tuesday Main Session: Convention Center Lower Level Ballroom. This year’s featured events are meteorologist Art Douglas with his 2018 weather forecast and the Excellence in Agricultural awards.

Agricultural Economic Forecast; Convention Center Lower Level Ballroom. Featured speaker is Mike Krueger, president of the Money Farm.

Farm Forum Seminars: Convention Center Meeting Rooms — Upper Level Rooms 401 A, B & C, & 402 A & B.

Pesticide Recertification Classes: Convention Center Meeting Room 401B (Upper Level).

FFA Program: Convention Center Lower Level Ballroom.

Career Fair: Convention Center Lower Level Meeting Rooms 302 A & B.

Beer & Wine Garden: Convention Center Lower Level Room 301.

Free parking with shuttle bus service is available at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena Main Front Lot on the W. 700 block of Boone Avenue.

Tuesday, Feb. 6

Ag Expo: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Farm Forum Main Session: 9–11 a.m. Featuring Art Douglas and his 2018 Weather Forecast and the Excellence in Agricultural Award persentations.

Farm Forum Seminars: Noon, 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m.

Spokane Ag Expo Beer & Wine Garden: 11 a.m.–4 p.m.

Wednesday, Feb. 7

Spokane Ag Expo Tradeshow: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Farm Forum Main Session: 9-10:30 a.m. Featuring Mike Krueger, president of the Money Farm and his Agriculture Economic Forecast.

Farm Forum Seminars: 10:30 a.m., noon, 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m.

Spokane Ag Expo Beer & Wine Garden: 11 a.m.–4 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 8

Spokane Ag Expo Tradeshow: 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Farm Bill Listening Session: 9 a.m.

Farm Forum Seminars: 10:30 a.m.-noon.

FFA Program: 9-11 a.m.

Career Fair: 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

Spokane Ag Expo Beer & Wine Garden: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Motivational speaker returns to talk to FFA members Thu, 25 Jan 2018 09:37:26 -0500 Matw Weaver You can’t keep Amberley Snyder down.

In 2010 she was in a truck accident that left her without the use of her legs. She was back to riding horses in 18 months.

Today Snyder is a rodeo rider and motivational speaker. She competes in barrel racing and breakaway roping.

Snyder, who lives in Utah, was slated to speak to FFA students last year during the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum, but snowy weather canceled most of the schools whose students were scheduled to attend. She wound up speaking to fewer students than anticipated.

“They were so great,” Snyder told the Capital Press. “I was glad a few made it through the storm!”

Later last year, she had an accident while competing in rodeo, breaking her femur when her horse fell during a barrel run. She is now back to competing.

She has also graduated with a master’s degree in school counseling and plans to expand her speaking engagements and expects to continue to participate in rodeos.

“We all have our passions in life,” Snyder said. “Mine is rodeo. No matter what life throws me I want to be on my horses doing what I love. I am truly grateful I still get to compete.”

Snyder said she hopes her audiences leave “with a sense of strength” to overcome the challenges they face.

“We all have our obstacles to face and I believe we all are capable of moving forward no matter what those are,” she said.

Popular weatherman keeps an eye on sunspots Thu, 25 Jan 2018 09:34:37 -0500 Matw Weaver Farmers who attend Art Douglas’ weather forecast at the Spokane Ag Expo usually get more than just a glimpse of the coming weather picture.

They also get to know more about the impacts of sunspots.

Sunspots are explosions in the interior of the sun, creating excess energy that heads across the solar system and toward earth, said Douglas, a professor emeritus at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and a popular speaker at the Spokane Ag Expo for 30 years,

Gravitational forces within the sun go through an 11-year sunspot cycle of convection, redistributing energy. Douglas said the cycle is “plunging” into a sunspot minimum.

“It would be a method by which Mother Nature will try to counteract the influence of increased CO2 and how CO2 has been warming the planet,” Douglas said. CO2 is carbon dioxide, a so-called greenhouse gas that traps heat from the sun.

A sudden, strong sunspot eruption would send more energy toward the earth, causing the stratosphere to heat up and form a ridge over Greenland, forcing a polar jetstream across the U.S. That usually means strong cold outbreaks and cold winters when that happens, Douglas said.

“It’s something we’re always on guard for the next two to four years,” he said.

The year 2017 was “up and down” for development of La Niña and El Niño, Douglas said. El Niño and La Niña are the warm and cool phases of the recurring climate across the tropical Pacific Ocean. El Niño favors warm and dry conditions in the Pacific Northwest; La Niña favors cool, wet conditions.

Last year started with a La Niña, but a weak El Niño formed from April through August, before returning to a moderate La Niña.

U.S. and European weather models indicate the La Niña will peak in January and be gone by June. Normally La Niñas last one or more years.

A water pool at the International Dateline is likely the warmest or second-warmest since the 1950s, Douglas said. A high-pressure ridge in the Central Pacific will send a jetstream across the Gulf of Alaska and skim the Canadian border from Washington state to the Great Lakes. That pattern is favorable for more precipitation in the Pacific Northwest.

“There will be periods when the jets will plunge farther south and arctic air will be able to get down into the Pacific Northwest,” Douglas said.

He called for normal to above-normal precipitation through April and peaking in March. Precipitation will be normal or below normal by May.

Douglas also predicted below-normal temperatures in mid- to late winter and early spring.

In the long term, the West Coast is entering a warm phase associated with a drier Pacific Northwest, Douglas predicted.

Excellence in Ag award recognizes achievements Thu, 25 Jan 2018 09:40:20 -0500 Matw Weaver The 2018 Excellence in Agriculture awards will be presented Tuesday during this year’s Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum.

The main goal of the award is to recognize achievements in the industry, create awareness of hard work and celebrate innovation, said Tim Cobb, chairman of the selection committee.

The committee considers four criteria: innovation, economic or environmental stewardship, positive impact and industry awareness and outreach.

The selection committee typically receives 12 or more nominations each year. The committee sends applications to nominees and narrows the number to three winners, Cobb said.

Last year’s winners were:

• Luke Moore of Garfield, Wash., in the individual youth category.

• Kara Kaelber, education director at the Franklin County Conservation District and coordinator of the Wheat Week program, which explains wheat farming to fourth- and fifth-grade students.

• Retired farmer Randy Suess, who received the Legacy Award for his lifetime commitment to agriculture.

Kaelber said the award showed her the industry supports her program, now in its 11th year.

“I think the ag industry is a thankless industry,” she said. “I don’t think our producers and the people behind the producers ever get the recognition that they deserve. We’re feeding the world and yet most of the time they get criticism.”

As a part of the program, students send farmers postcards, she said.

“Every now and then, they need to hear ‘Thank you,’ ‘You’re doing a good job,’ ‘We appreciate you,’ and ‘What you do is a good thing,’” Kaelber said.

Suess said the award was a “complete shock” and a “great honor.”

“I always felt that what I did really wasn’t that extraordinary,” he said. “It seems like you’ve got to do something to help your industry out. I’m really kind of disappointed that more people don’t. If everybody would spend 10 minutes volunteering time, I think we’d be able to accomplish a lot of great things.”

Many future leaders are hard at work right now.

“I am continually amazed at the talented people I come across in this industry,” Cobb said. “We are seeing opportunities for younger producers to get a change at working full-time in ag and look forward to fostering an environment where good people are encouraged and empowered to do great things.”


McMorris Rodgers offers farm bill listening session Thu, 25 Jan 2018 09:19:26 -0500 Matw Weaver U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., will sponsor a listening session about the farm bill 9 a.m. Thursday during the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum.

“We’re thrilled to have her at the show for this listening session, to discuss with our attendees with regards to the Farm Bill,” said Myrna O’ Leary, director of the Expo.

The current farm bill is slated to expire at the end of September.

O’Leary anticipates the farm bill will be on a lot of growers’ minds.

“I would be surprised if it’s not,” she said.

Career Fair offers opportunities for students Thu, 25 Jan 2018 09:40:50 -0500 Matw Weaver SPOKANE — Thursday’s Career Fair offers students a chance to see the many opportunities that are available and start thinking about their future.

Andy Winnett with the John Deere Tech program, responding on behalf of Pape Machinery, said the two companies work together to train new technicians for the Pape group. The program offers a two-year associate’s degree and provides extensive training on John Deere equipment.

Winnett said he’s looking for future technicians who are past the interest stage and have decided that they want to work on the equipment.

He recommends students at the career fair ask such questions as the education they need, how much it costs, what options are available to afford school and whether they will be able to get a job after graduating.

It’ll be the first time at the Career Fair for Jim Miller, director of sales and marketing at CHS in Lewiston, Idaho.

Miller said he’s looking for students with an agricultural background and planning to further their education in college or at a trade school.

“We’re looking for students who are articulate, can introduce themselves and have an elevator speech — a 30-second introduction on what their background is, what they’re excited about, what their future plans are,” he said. “We’re also looking for someone who can articulate how they can fit into our company.”

Miller recommended students do research on the companies that will be attending the Career Fair. They should bring their resume and be willing to follow up with a “Thank-you” phone call or email.

“I put a lot of that initiative on the student,” he said. “The ones that make those connections afterward really rise to the top in our minds.”

Market expert looks into future of wheat prices Thu, 25 Jan 2018 09:44:55 -0500 Matw Weaver Record world crop production in the last five years has masked the fact that demand is high as well, a market analyst says.

“I’m of the opinion we don’t need significant crop disasters to bring prices back to a better, higher level,” said Mike Krueger, founder of the marketing advisory firm the Money Farm in Fargo, N.D. “If we even took production, yields per acre worldwide back down to more normal levels, I think we’d see markets get interesting very quickly. That just hasn’t happened yet.”

Krueger will speak Wednesday during the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum.

Krueger expects total wheat acres in the U.S. and Canada to decline again in 2018.

Crop issues arose in Argentina, Australia, the U.S. and Canada, but Russia produced another record crop, pressing wheat prices lower, Krueger said.

Krueger believes export demand for U.S. wheat needs to pick up, reflecting smaller crops in competing countries.

Soybean and corn planting in Brazil and Argentina could experience weather problems. If that happens during the winter, prices could increase for those crops, Krueger said.

“Even though there’s a lot of wheat on earth, there’s not a lot of good-quality hard wheats,” he said.

“Wheat’s going to continue to separate itself by class, but it’ll be a relatively slow winter unless we see exports pick up or some issues develop elsewhere.”

Krueger started with Cargill in 1974. He left in 1982 to start his company.

This year will be Krueger’s first time at the expo. He’s met many farmers in the Pacific Northwest.

“I appreciate their honesty and hard work,” he said. “I always like talking about the differences in farming practices and crop marketing ideas from different regions.”


Youth art shows ag from their perspective Thu, 25 Jan 2018 10:33:31 -0500 Matw Weaver SPOKANE — The Kids Creative Corner returns to the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum again this year.

Area youths have been asked to create an ag-related project for the show.

According to the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum, the project could be made from Legos, or a diorama, drawing or painting, recycled art, clay or other materials.

“It gives the kids a chance from age 1 to high school to shine and show what they do,” said Expo director Myrna O’Leary.

Kurtis Klein, 14, and Kaylee Klein, 12, of Edwall, Wash., both entered last year. Kurtis entered two farm dioramas, one depicting a grain elevator and one a hillside harvest. Kaylee entered a horse diorama. Both hoped to show what farm life looks like.

“We like to share with others our love of agriculture and arts and crafts,” Kaylee and Kurtis said in an email. “It is fun to see what other kids created. It’s a fun way to get kids excited about agriculture.”

Josie Beck, 9, of Fairfield, Wash., submitted a picture of a barn and silo made of different grains and beans.

“I decided on that so I could show the different types of grains harvested and thought it would be neat to color them to make the picture,” Beck said in an email.

She hoped to show what is harvested throughout the world, she said.

Beck said she got “a lot of excited reactions” from people for her entry.

“I think (the program) is an important thing to have so that kids can show off their creative art work that is based off of what they they are growing up around,” she said.

Exhibits must be related to agriculture.

Entries must be a size that can be hand-carried, and are to be dropped off between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Feb. 5 and picked up from noon to 2:30 p.m. Feb. 8. All remaining entries will be disposed of after 2:30 p.m.

The age categories are 7 years old and under, 8 years old through 12 years old and 13 years old through 18 years old. Participants that are 18 must be in high school at the time of submission.

All entries will be on display at the 2018 show.

Entries receive a free ticket to the expo, and two more tickets to give to family, friends or otherwise.

Prizes include “Best of Show,” “Most Creative” and “Show Director’s Choice.” Each winner in the three categories receives $25 and a ribbon.

Winners will be chosen and announced on the first day of the show, at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 6 at the exhibit in the Spokane Convention Center.

Photographers show world of ag Thu, 25 Jan 2018 09:23:33 -0500 Matw Weaver Farming under the stars. Potatoes arranged in the shape of a foot. A young girl holding a chicken.

The entries in this year’s Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum’s annual photo contest ranged far and wide.

Photographers are asked to submit photos depicting agriculture in the Inland Northwest. Entries are judged by their theme, composition and creativity.

“I especially enjoyed seeing more people in this year’s set of images,” said Rajah Bose, Spokane photographer, co-founder of Factory Town and a judge in the contest. “Showing the people of our community helps tell the story we are trying to share with the world. The places and the animals are a large part of that, but often we forget ourselves, so I was happy to see people finding themselves in those moments.”

In the adult category, Jim Heywood of Chattaroy received first place for “Sunflowers Under a Smoky Dawn.”

“A lasting memory this year was the fires that ravaged the summer,” Bose said. “No image captured this better than the sunflowers under the red blazing sun — a giant red beach ball in the sky. It was surreal, so much that I would have doubted it was real if I hadn’t seen that same scene all over the state myself during those long days.”

Second place went to Sharon Lindsay of Spokane for “Harvest Night-Light,” which also received Greater Spokane Incorporated’s Choice award. Third place went to Anna Leitz of Spokane for “Bedtime.”

The Director’s Choice award went to Ray Baker of Spokane for “Wired Determination.”

Greater Spokane Incorporated’s Choice awards also went to Lindsay for “It’s All About Maintenance,” Cathy Sescilla of Rathdrum, Idaho, for “Do You ‘Love’ Me?” and Heywood for “Yes, Both Were Used in 1920s Farming?”

In the children’s category, Layel Duame of Otis Orchards, Wash., received first place for “Amariah with Little Red, My Chicken Love.”

“We loved the sly smile,” Bose said. “Her ginger mess of hair against the red of the bird gives this portrait a sense of realism and reminded us of the endless days of childhood.”

Second place went to Alexis Martin Gilchrist of Lamont, Wash, for “Ladder to Heaven.”

Third place went to Asher Duame of Otis Orchards, Wash., for “Taking a Break.”

Zane Swanger of Medical Lake, Wash,, received Director’s Choice for “Grain Towers at Night.”

Greater Spokane Incorporated’s Choice went to Asher Duame for “Clark, Can I Help You?”

Honorable mention went to Nathan Sescilla of Rathdrum for “Together for Ever,” Michael Tochinskiy of Colville, Wash., for “That Sky,” Maria Schutt of Colville for “Flawless Features” and Mya Lynch of Sprague for “Harvest.”

All entries are on display in the Spokane Convention Center Exhibit Hall during the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum.

After 30 years, Expo director nears retirement Thu, 25 Jan 2018 09:42:44 -0500 Matw Weaver SPOKANE — Myrna O’Leary, the longtime director of the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum, will retire in March, ending a 30-year run.

She reflected on her pending retirement on a recent morning, after sending out exhibitor manuals and judging the annual photo contest for the last time.

“It’s that four-letter word, ‘last,’ that’s kind of like a knife,” she said.

O’Leary joined the Expo in August 1988 and plans to retire March 30.

“It’s just time,” she said. She plans to take some time off, perhaps to travel or spend time in her yard, and spend more time with family.

When she first joined the show, someone told her he didn’t expect it to last another five years.

“Not on my watch,” O’Leary thought. “I think the show is important to this region, because agriculture’s important to this region. ... I just thought it was important to keep that in the limelight, and I think the show does that.”

It takes work to keep the show running smoothly.

“Being the oldest of nine kids, organization comes to me kind of naturally,” she said. “I just know that what needs to be done, needs to be done. I’m very detail-oriented, probably sometimes to a fault.”

About 100 volunteers help with the Expo, including members of Greater Spokane Incorporated’s AgriBusiness Council, GSI staff and Visit Spokane. O’Leary has been known to “volunteer” her family members as well, she said with a chuckle.

The challenge each year is to bring something new to the show, she said.

“We try every year to bring what’s cutting edge or what is the top focus for the farmers, to bring them more information,” she said. “Every year, there’s new, whiz-bang things.”

Many of the new things introduced at the show, such as unmanned aerial vehicles or social media, go on to become part of everyday farm life.

O’Leary said she depends on members of the Expo and Farm Forum board and committees, many of whom are active in agriculture, to determine what will draw a crowd.

“It’s a team effort,” she said.

“Myrna has a gift for working with both the volunteers and exhibitors to make them feel special,” said Diahne Gill, program manager for the Farm Forum, who has worked alongside O’Leary more than 20 years. “She goes far above and beyond to accommodate exhibitor needs.”

Gill said O’Leary has meant a lot to all the people she’s worked with and will be missed.

“Myrna has focused her professional life on this for an extended time — her entire career — getting to know the nuts and bolts of the show,” said Todd Mielke, chief executive officer of GSI. “I think she has made a lasting impression producing one of the biggest shows in the Northwest.”

O’Leary said her favorite thing is all the friends she’s made at the show.

“Some exhibitors don’t exhibit every year, and then they call back and we end up talking for a half-hour about what we’ve both been up to before we ever talk about exhibiting,” she said. “That I’m going to miss.”