Capital Press | Special Sections Capital Press Sun, 26 Apr 2015 05:59:33 -0400 en Capital Press | Special Sections Orchard makes its own cider as a drawing card Wed, 15 Apr 2015 18:48:17 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas The newest attraction at this popular U-pick family orchard is a huge antique cider press. It’s part of a feature started at Cabalo Orchard years ago.

“Fresh apple cider is something we started 4 years ago, selling direct to the public because it is raw and unpasteurized. Our cider season starts early September. Our first apples are ripe by August 15th and cider is a good way to use extra apples,” says Chan Cabalo, who took over the 10.5-acre farm near Kuna, Idaho, with his wife, Cathy, in 2004.

“We partner with a family who had a large antique cider press. We use the press and split the proceeds,” Chan says.

“Originally it belonged to my father-in-law; the fruit trees were planted in 1986,” Chan says. “We grow primarily apples. The older varieties established here include Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Royal Gala, Criterion and Jonathan.”

He and Cathy added other varieties, including Pacific Gala, Gravenstein, Jonagold, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Granny Smith, Macintosh and Winesap.

“In a smaller orchard we planted cherries, apricots, prunes, plums and 4 varieties of pears. We also have a raspberry/blackberry patch,” he says.

Cherries are the first fruit ready to pick — by early July — and the season goes all the way into October. Boxes of fruit are available at a roadside stand at the farm during summer and fall, but the primary focus is U-pick.

“We sell some through Idaho’s Bounty — an online co-op where people can order fruit,” Chan says.

Many customers come from Boise and Mountain Home.

“We enjoy being face-to-face with our customers, and our produce is all natural and pesticide-free. We follow organic practices; all our inputs are certified organic,” he says.

Cathy does a website:, writes blogs and tells about the orchard on Facebook to keep customers aware of when certain fruits are ready. Last summer she started a newsletter. “People kept telling me to call them when this or that was ready to pick. Now they just sign up to receive the email newsletter,” she says.

“We are open Friday through Sunday so I formulate the newsletter Wednesday night to let people know what will be ripe this week. I use an email marketing service provider called MailChimp and can do up to 2,000 mailings per month at no charge. This is a great way to keep customers up-to-date on what’s ready, and saves me a lot of phone calls,” Cathy says.

She and Chan make a team in running the farm and orchard.

“I’m the front end of it — greeting customers, starting them off on their trip to pick fruit, and running the farm stand — and he’s the back end, taking care of the orchard and crops. Between the two of us we have everything covered, and overlap when needed,” she explains.

“Our son and his wife help a lot and we’re hoping that one day he might want to take over, when we retire. His family enjoys coming out here, and the grandkids come, too. Most of them are still small, but they enjoy it, and I think we are creating memories for a lifetime, with them,” Cathy says.

The farm/orchard has a large following in their niche market. “People like the way we grow our produce,” she says.

Cabalo’s Orchard

Location: Kuna, Idaho

Owners: Chan and Cathy Cabalo

In business: Since 2004

Size: 1,400 trees on 6.5 acres

Varieties: Apples, cherries, apricots, pears, plums, berries

Science backgrounds help organic farmers Wed, 15 Apr 2015 18:37:13 -0400 Erick Peterson Wanting a peaceful life where they could live near their aging parents, Rebecca J. Hunt and her husband, Jimmie Wellman, found land in Wapato, Wash., where they now own and operate a 13-acre organic ranch.

It is called Sunnyslope Ranch, this place of 2,300 trees. They bought it in 2005 and grow cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, apriums and pluots. Apriums and pluots are crosses between apricots and plums, but the apricot is dominant in one and the plum is dominant in the other.

Hunt’s background was in chemistry and Wellman’s background was in microbiology when they lived in California.

In 2005, when they were looking to leave their industry, they started looking for land where they could settle with their parents living nearby. Initially, they were not thinking about being farmers, but then they saw a farm for sale and they started considering the possibilities.

“I thought, ‘How hard could it be? Let’s be farmers.’ It was a turnkey operation for sale, and we just went for it,” Hunt said.

Some things were predictable and not at all hard, even for her as a newcomer, Hunt said.

“Farming is science,” she said. As scientists, they were not baffled by the intricacies of growing.

Still, she was surprised by the stamina necessary and the many hours required, but she said she got used to it. She also became accustomed to the various parts of the job that are not directly associated with growing, such as marketing, sales, transportation, financing and collections.

The many different tasks keep the work from getting dull, she said.

The ranch had been organic for 20 years, which appealed to the new owners.

Organic farming is a personal issue for Hunt and Wellman, who are adamant about healthful living, but it is also good business, and the two issues are intertwined.

A lot of people are interested in health, the environment, sprays, fertilizers and more, she said. They want more control over their food, and they want to know that their food is not contributing to any pollution.

She wants people to know that she is concerned about these issues, too.

“We live here,” she said. “Whatever we put on the trees, that’s what we are breathing. Since we live here, we care about the environment. It’s also a decent market strategy.”

Wellman said that he keeps sprays to a minimum, just doing enough to prevent mildew and aphids.

“For us, the purity of the product is paramount,” he said.

They do not have any aspirations for great growth or change in the foreseeable future. It is enough for them, Hunt said, to live well and in a way that benefits themselves and their parents, pets and community.

“At this point, we’re going to do what we’ve been doing. It’s been enough to keep us busy,” she said.

Brothers move from hop farming to distribution Wed, 15 Apr 2015 18:51:58 -0400 Gail Oberst Bruce Wolf and his younger brother Derek operate Willamette Hops in an old barn just a few yards from the house where they were raised. In fields surrounding the office near St. Paul, Ore., hop vines are showing signs of life.

The company’s simple offices mask the rapidly growing business the brothers have built to supply local and international hops to Oregon brewers.

“We don’t grow the hops,” Bruce explains. “But we would bleed green, if you cut us.”

The Wolfs are distributors, working with Haas International and local growers, to provide pelletized and whole-leaf hops to brewers.

The Wolf brothers have deep roots in St. Paul’s hop culture. They are related by blood or by marriage to some of Oregon’s best-known hop growers — Colemans, Weathers, Davidsons and others are all blood or in-laws. Bruce grew up with his wife, Emily Davidson, whose family has been farming hops in the area for five generations. Their grandparents had worked together.

“I grew up on a hop farm, working next to my dad,” Bruce said.

Had the hop market not taken a nosedive in the ’90s, Bruce and his dad, James, might still be farming. The brothers’ great-grandfather bought the land, cleared it and planted hops in the days when the flowers were picked by hand. In 1986, James Wolf was named Outstanding Young Farmer of the Year by the Woodburn Chamber of Commerce for his innovations in hop farming. At the time, James Wolf was farming the hops his father, Philip, had farmed. In 1972, father and son bought the first upright baling system in Oregon and Washington.

“By the time my dad was 19 years old, he was raising his own hops. He had his own fields,” Bruce said. His dad’s first hop variety? Columbia, said Bruce.

In 1999, after a 12-year downturn in the hops market, the Wolf family quit farming hops. When he was old enough, Bruce worked at relatives’ farms. About six years ago, he began working with his grandfather selling hop rhizomes online.

“About 2009 or 2010, we were getting hit with requests for whole hops and pellets,” Bruce said. The light bulb went off. In 2009, he registered his company, Willamette Valley Hops, and brought his brother into the company. “Derek has been working with me shoulder-to-shoulder the whole time,” Bruce said.

Although many Oregon hop growers will sell small amounts directly to the brewer, most of the world’s hop growers set minimum amounts that can be purchased, which edges many small breweries out of specialty markets. Willamette Valley Hops — as do larger dealers — gather enough orders from clients to create minimum orders. Willamette Valley Hops specializes in personal service.

“We’ve even hand-delivered fresh hops to breweries,” said Bruce. Today Willamette Valley Hops has five outside sales representatives.

The company also sponsors a fresh hop festival in St. Paul, donating the proceeds to local schools.

What’s in the future?

“I see nothing but growth for the next five to ten years,” he said.

Small apple orchard keeps owners busy Wed, 15 Apr 2015 18:30:11 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas Fourteen years ago David and Shannon Anderson took a Sunday drive, saw this orchard in bloom and bought it because it was so beautiful.

“We wanted a place to build our house and decided to leave the trees there. It’s a small orchard, but still plenty of work for us,” Shannon says.

“The apples are harvested U-pick. People come with their families for picnics, and pick their own apples. Everything is very casual,” she says.

“One reason we bought the orchard was our kids were young at that time and we thought it would be a good way to teach our kids how to work. Dave and I learned how to work, ourselves!” she says.

Now their oldest, Mitchell, is in college, Rachel is starting college this fall and Tessa is a high school freshman. “Dave and I do most of the orchard work now, but our kids still enjoy the orchard. The ones who are still home run the irrigation all summer, moving sprinkler pipes every 24 hours. They also mow around the trees. I prune, and my husband sprays. We each have our jobs,” Shannon says.

“Our Red Delicious are Oregon Red, which are a little different than what you find in a store.”

“We let people taste the apples before they decide which ones to pick, and they can eat as many as they want, while they are here.”

They can pick the ones they prefer. Various trees’ apples taste different even if they are the same kind.

The orchard is open to the public late September through October for about 6 weeks while the apples are ripe,” Shannon says.

The trees were planted in 1988. Blossoms are beautiful in April, and many people come to take pictures.

The 5 acres was part of a 20-acre orchard that was split.

“The original owners kept about 13 acres and sold a couple pieces. So I have a neighbor with a small orchard, but the people who sold these smaller pieces took all their trees out. We got their customers. Fall is a super busy time for us, but a lot of fun,” she says.

Customers hear about the orchard by word of mouth, the website and the Facebook page. The orchard is also advertised on Craigslist.

“We don’t maintain a store. Our garage becomes the store, for 6 weeks. My husband is a real estate agent, so last year he sent post cards to everybody on his mailing list and they got a discount if they brought their postcard when they came to pick apples.”

“We also do field trips. Classes of school kids come and we talk about apples. This is my favorite part of the whole season,” Shannon says.

Last year the Andersons experienced the biggest crop they’d ever had.

“We gave nearly 3 tons of apples to food banks around the area. This is usually what we do when we have more apples than our customers can pick. But the year before last, the blossoms froze and we had only 20 apples in the entire orchard!” she says.

Orchardist uses unique tactics to overcome blight Wed, 15 Apr 2015 18:18:59 -0400 Denise Ruttan West of Silverton, Ore., near the old North Howell store, you’ll find a hazelnut orchard that carries the legacy of John Meye’s family.

That same legacy brought this educator-turned-farmer from Illinois to Oregon to help out his grandmother on the farm when his grandfather became too ill to work. After his grandfather passed away, the farm then skipped a generation and changed hands directly to the grandson. Meye was in his 30s when he dropped his plans to obtain a Ph.D. in education and fell instead for the lure of agriculture.

“I’d worked at the farm all my life and always enjoyed coming up here. I ended up changing careers and my life, and lo and behold, 20 years later I’m still a full-time farmer and part-time musician,” Meye said.

When Meye is not playing piano for a local church, he tends to his 27 acres of nearly 2,800 trees, mostly of the Barcelona variety, that his grandfather planted in 1972. Part of that legacy, unfortunately, has meant dealing with the nuisance of Eastern filbert blight.

Orchards such as Meye’s that were planted in the 1970s and 1980s are largely Barcelonas, an older variety that is susceptible to blight. Over the years that Meye visited his grandfather’s farm, he saw the disease become a problem.

“A lot of the old orchards are full of blight and many farmers just take out their trees because they don’t want to deal with it,” Meye said. “Oregon State University has since developed blight-resistant hazelnuts so there are lots of new orchards now with blight-resistant varieties.”

Why does Meye keep at it, then? He wants to keep his grandfather’s legacy alive — and, through the orchard, he’s managed to stay fully self-employed since 1983, a life he relishes.

But it hasn’t been easy, thanks to this disease. When the fungus first appears, it looks like a small, black, football-shaped canker.

“After a few years and you don’t deal with it, it will start killing sections of the tree and if you don’t deal with it at all it will kill the whole tree,” Meye said. “It will take a few years but it will kill a whole tree if left unchecked.”

To fight it, Meye has attacked on several fronts.

“Theoretically, if you prune enough and spray hard enough it will eliminate it but the cost is astronomical,” Meye said.

Meye has developed a system of his own in which he sprays just a little fungicide early as he finds the disease and as late in the season as is necessary. He prunes what he can but not too heavily.

He’s also tried a tactic that involves neither spraying nor pruning, nor even replacing the whole orchard. Filberts must cross-pollinate with another variety to produce nuts. Many orchardists in the old days planted an extremely blight-susceptible variety to pollinate every 20 Barcelonas.

“If the pollenizers got blight, the disease would spread like a brush fire,” Meye said.

About eight years ago Meye removed his blight-susceptible pollenizers and replaced 500 to 600 of them with several newer varieties like Lewis, Yamhill and Gamma, which are far more resistant to blight. The key is diversity plus disease resistance.

The tactic has paid off.

“The pollenizers are now pretty clean,” Meye said. “It hasn’t cured it but it’s helped heal it.”

Production, despite these challenges, has been high in recent years, Meye said. He sells the nuts he cultivates to the processor George Packing Co. His Silverton-grown nuts have traveled the world, enjoyed as far away as China.

Fruit farm embraces cutting-edge technology Wed, 15 Apr 2015 18:33:56 -0400 Denise Ruttan Cutting-edge technology and agriculture may at first seem like strange bedfellows.

On one hand, you have a centuries-old tradition of growing food and other crops. On the other hand, you have drones, “smart” wireless systems and powerful computer chips. Yet more and more, these two worlds are merging.

Darin Olson and his family reflect that growing trend. The Olsons are the fourth generation to own 180 acres of Olson Farms Inc., southeast of Salem, Ore., in the Willamette Valley. They raise peaches, cherries, holly, ornamental almonds, apples, blueberries and nectarines. And they’re keen on modernizing the old ways.

Darin Olson is always coming up with new projects to do just that. At 39, he is the picture of a new wave of young farmers eager to embrace such changes. As a case in point, he calls himself an irrigation specialist instead of a farm owner on his online LinkedIn profile.

Asked to describe his farm in a few words, he says it’s “Dynamic. We’re very innovative.”

For example, he designed and built a mobile chemical injector powered by solar panels. He also designed and installed solar systems to power an irrigation controller. Furthermore, his farm uses a GPS-enabled tractor custom-built for the smaller rows between fruit trees. The GPS allows him to design a map of which trees need spraying at which times, allowing him to use fewer chemicals more effectively.

But it’s not only technology that inspires his creative thinking.

Using Olson’s contacts in the holly industry, he got the idea to sell blooming branches. Fashioning the flowering cuttings from fruit trees into decorative displays has become stylish on the East Coast.

“We sell them to stores across the country,” Olson said. “There’s a lot of crossover with holly. Otherwise the flower industry is very hard to get into.”

But it’s computers that really get Olson fired up. His entire irrigation system is the farm’s showpiece. This cloud-based system means Olson can simply look at his smart phone or web browser for real-time data on how his irrigation system is doing. In the past he had to physically send people out to inspect every inch of the line, and he still might not know the exact location of each leak. Now, he receives a text message on his phone saying, essentially, “I’m broken, come fix me.”

“I always know exactly what’s going on and the system does a very good job,” Olson said. “It’s a very powerful tool that saves time, energy, resources and labor.”

All this information, though, has created new complications.

“The biggest issue in farming right now is dealing with all these reports you get from all these resources,” Olson said.

It can be a case of data overload. So Olson is developing a database that will act as an umbrella for all the data the farm generates.

“The goal is to help our farm become more efficient,” Olson said.

Name a trend, such as big data in agriculture, and Olson knows it. He’s considered drones before, for example, but the farm doesn’t yet have any. He is waiting to see how this green industry shapes up before making an investment. Regardless, he’s always looking to the future.

“My personal feeling is that farmers who make the best use of technology are going to do well in the future, but guys who stick to the old ways are going to struggle,” Olson said. “Over the years I’ve seen technology save us money and made farming easier.”

This orchard is a full-time job Wed, 15 Apr 2015 18:23:27 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas This one-man orchard is a full-time job for Kent Reinke.

“My grandparents put in the orchard in the 1950s,” said Reinke, who bought it from his uncle 3 years ago. “Some of my trees are from that original stock.

He has 4 walnut trees, 20 types of apples, 10 types of peaches and several types of apricots.

“I’ve been planting more cherries, and now have 6 different types of cherries,” he says.

Almost everything is marketed by U-pick, except the nuts.

“I have a little fruit stand by the house, and people come to buy or pick,” he says. “I don’t have many nuts so I just put those in bags. The customers pick everything else, except the apricots. Those trees are too tall. Someone might get up there with a ladder and knock the apricots off.

“I pick those myself and sell them at our fruit shed, and take some to the Buhl farmers’ market, and sometimes the Gooding farmers’ market,” he says.

The orchard is 7 miles northeast of Buhl at the edge of a canyon. People come from Utah and Nevada as well as eastern and southern Idaho to pick fruit. Many are repeat customers.

“I put a (page) on Facebook last year and more people started coming. I post photos of the fruit as it gets ripe. I used to just have an ad in the newspaper but many of the newer people in our area don’t get the paper. So I go on Facebook and Craig’s list and advertise that way,” he says.

“About 200 people follow my postings on Facebook. When the trees start blooming I take pictures. I recently posted photos of pruning the trees,” he says.

His family helps during the peak season.

“My mom and dad come from Gooding and help during the busy season; my mom likes running the fruit stand. My brother sometimes comes on weekends.”

He doesn’t hire any help, and does all the tree care himself.

His grandparents had the orchard while Kent was growing up, and he enjoyed spending time there.

He joined the military and then worked on the Alaska pipeline for 23 years.

“I got tired of the cold and the snow, and came back to the orchard,” he says.

Idaho weather can be a challenge, too.

“Some years the blooms freeze and you have nothing, and other years there is more fruit than you can sell. It was a good year last year; people came to pick clear into November. There were still apples on the trees when it froze,” he says.

He doesn’t worry about fruit that doesn’t sell. It drops from the trees and he disks it into the ground as fertilizer, or the deer eat it.

“Some years I sell most of it, but last year was such a heavy crop I couldn’t sell it all; the deer ate what was left.”

He plants about 100 new trees each year.

During winter he does all the pruning, and applies a dormant spray in late winter.

“This kills all the detrimental bugs that are in the bark. Spraying has to be done early, before any bees come out, before the trees start blooming,” Reinke says.

Taste for cider prompts new varieties in orchards Wed, 15 Apr 2015 18:27:27 -0400 Gail Oberst Beer and wine are not the only beverages to take root in Oregon and Washington soils.

Orchardists are now taking a hard look at the Northwest’s growing cider industry. Many are planting apples in response to demand from craft hard cider makers.

“We’re on the cusp of something that’s really going to take off,” said Brad Sleeper, whose new orchard in the Coast Range foothills above Oregon’s Haag Lake is planted to 40 varieties of cider apples. “These new cideries are all going to need apples.”

Growing cider apples is old hat to Kevin Zielinski of E.Z. Orchards in Salem. He planted his cider apple trees in 2000 with an eye toward making his own “cidre” using traditional French methods. Into his Willamette Valley Cidre go his apples traditionally cultivated for their tannins and French cider characteristics — Champagne Rienette, Douce Moën, Muscadet de Lense and St. Martine are among the varieties. E.Z. Orchards’ 155 acres also feature heirloom apples, pears, peaches and hazelnuts.

When fermented, dessert apple flavors are muted, cider makers say. On the other hand, fermentation brings cider apple tastes alive. Most craft cideries blend cider and dessert apple juices, much like a vintner blends grapes for a particular effect in wine, Sleeper said.

“American dessert apples lack the characteristic tannins of European cider apples,” said Abram Goldman-Armstrong, owner of Cider Riot, a Portland cidery. Goldman-Armstrong, for example, uses cider apples grown in Yamhill County — Yarlington Mill, Harry Masters Jersey, Dabinett, Kingston Black, Somerset Redstreak and others — blending these with dessert apples from Scio, Ore., and the Yakima, Wash., and Hood River, Ore., areas.

Cider has been made with wine-like attention for hundreds of years in England, Ireland, Germany and Poland — to name a few. Here in the West, hard cider makers are catching up, prompted by demands of consumer palettes now educated by regional craft beer and wine.

Most of the cideries in the Northwest are also orchardists, using their own apples in ciders they produce, according to Sherrye Wyatt of the NW Cider Association. Of the association’s 60 members, 23 are in Oregon, 25 are in Washington and the rest are in Montana, Idaho and British Columbia. This year alone, 16 orchardists who don’t produce cider have joined as association affiliates, another indication of growing interest in growing apples for cider, Wyatt said.

Sleeper, owner of the small Springwood Valley Farms, has planted 1,150 trees with 600 more in the works this year — due to produce marketable fruit in 2017.

Some growers are hesitant to go all-in. With dessert apple prices currently below the price of production, Jack Feil of Feil 1908 Family Orchard near Wenatchee, Wash., said he is testing cider apple varieties but is waiting for a more mature market.

“Pricing and profit are a big question mark. It appears there are a lot of growers looking into producing cider apples and the volume needed for cider production is not great, so producing cider apples would be a minor supplement to the orchard’s profitability. As of now it’s a wait-and-see proposition for us,” Feil said.

Wyatt, however, doesn’t hide her enthusiasm.

“The region is emerging as a national leader in craft cider production and our cider culture is clearly being established. However, in order for our industry to be a fully sustainable cider region, we need a reliable source of locally grown cider apples, “ Wyatt said.

The association recently submitted a proposal to the Specialty Crop Block Grant program of Oregon Department of Agriculture to seek support for growing cider apples.

Honeybee health a concern for many Wed, 15 Apr 2015 18:15:05 -0400 Bill Schaefer The plight of the honeybee is an increasing concern among beekeepers, horticulturists, orchardists and government agencies across the United States.

According to a 2012 report released by the USDA the number of professional beehives has declined from 6 million in 1947 to 2.5 million today. The decline in beehives has been exacerbated since 2006 with what has been called colony collapse disorder. During the past six years beehive losses have averaged just over 30 percent, according to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

The report stated that “overall losses continue to be high and pose a serious threat to meeting pollination service demands for several commercial crops.”

Anita Pease, associate director of environmental fate and effects division at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the EPA is in the midst of reviewing the draft document for a pollinator health strategy.

“Hopefully, it should be out in the next two to three months, if not sooner,” Pease said. “We are considering some proposed label changes for pesticides that are acutely toxic to bees in certain situations where we restrict the use at bloom, but that proposal would go out for public comment.”

Pease said the EPA also is currently conducting a risk assessment of imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide, that should be released within the calendar year.

Beekeepers and others see a complex and multi-layered reasoning for CCD.

Pease said there are several stress-related issues that the EPA is considering in its risk assessment of pollinator health. Along with the use of pesticides the EPA is also exploring factors including the loss of habitat, the moving of commercial beehives to meet pollination demands of certain crops, pests and pathogens as well as best management practices of beehives.

Pease also emphasized the importance of following label instructions when using pesticides. Referring to a colony die-off of 25,000 bees in Oregon in 2013, Pease said, “It’s my understanding that there was a restriction on the label that said ‘do not apply during bloom.’ If they were applied during bloom when the label said not to, that would be a misuse of the pesticide.”

Nick Noyes, based in Fruitland, Idaho, is a second-generation beekeeper with 9,000 beehives. Speaking from California, where his beehives were in the midst of the almond pollination season, Noyes said he considers the lack of habitat and forage to be the biggest problem his business.

“There’s nothing left when the almonds are done,” Noyes said. “There’s no weeds. There’s no habitat for bees. There’s no flowers. If you look at what’s going on in farming, the only thing that grows in a farmer’s field that is green is what a farmer wants to be in there.”

In an attempt to improve bee habitat, Becky Curry-Lang, Bayer CropScience’s project manager for bee health, said that Bayer has launched an initiative in 2015 called, “Feed a Bee.”

Curry-Lang said Bayer is giving away wildflower seed packets in an attempt to plant 50 million flowers.

“No matter what side of the honeybee issue that you’re on, everyone agrees that forage and habitat is where we can clearly make a huge difference,” Curry-Lang said.

In addition to the 50 million flowers, Curry-Lang said Bayer is trying to also find partners for larger acreage pollinator habitat.

“Maybe it’s a grower that has land they don’t use for their traditional operations or it’s a nonprofit organization. We’ll work to achieve more acreage in providing habitat across the United States,” she said of the initiative. For more information visit

The Varroa mite, the tracheal mite and the gut pathogen Nosema have also been contributing factors affecting poor pollinator health and CCD.

Curry-Lang said Bayer has a product in development called polyvar, a miticide that may protect honeybees from the Varroa mite.

“It’s hard to control a bug on a bug,” Curry-Lang said. “It’s a very fine line on how much miticide you use to control the Varroa while not harming the bee.”

The polyvar is a plastic strip placed at the opening of the hive so that the bee would be dosed as it leaves and enters the hive.

Olmsteads keep orchard in the family Wed, 15 Apr 2015 18:14:48 -0400 Erick Peterson GRANDVIEW, Wash. — With a history that dates back to 1918, the Olmstead family is a mainstay of the region’s orchard history.

Olmstead Orchards is owned by Don Olmstead II, Barbara Olmstead and Don Olmstead III. They say they are just a “moment in time” in the history of the operation, which also includes the patriarch, Don Olmstead, 97, and Don Olmstead IV, who is 12.

As a family, it is their responsibility to keep up with the demands of a changing industry.

Don Olmstead II, who is looking forward to his eventual retirement, said both sets of his grandparents raised cherries on the same ground that he and his son now work.

“This is my 44th year in charge,” he said. “That’s getting close to enough (to retirement).”

He remembers that in his early years, the company would produce around 18,000 to 24,000 tons of fruit. Last year, they produced 230,000 tons.

An important issue is shared by other producers in the area: The season is running two weeks ahead of normal.

This creates extra pressure, he said. Though weather this year can create a product that can reach customers sooner, they also add risk.

“We’re put at Mother Nature’s wrath,” he said, adding that a frost could damage the early crop.

“Every year, it’s part of the game,” said Don Olsmstead III. “You roll the dice and take what Mother Nature gives you.”

At the same time, the Olmsteads deal with food safety issues, documenting their practices and trying to keep their workers educated about proper procedures. Simple things, such as explaining the location of washrooms, must be documented. Pesticide records must be kept, and signage must be placed.

They are all good practices, they said, but organizing the documentation has become a large part of the business. This is made harder because employment changes constantly, sometimes growing from 5 to 105 employees in a day. Making sure that employees know their jobs, and keeping records about it, is laborious.

The work becomes all about management, as they spend their time juggling paperwork and employees. They said that the business is not for everyone, but they enjoy it. Organizing labor, equipment and records, while dealing with delicate fruit that requires constant attention, is energizing, they said.

“We know harvest is a crazy time of year,” the younger Olmstead said. “There’s no sleep, you’re running ragged with sales orders, trucks and deliveries, shipping orders all over the United States. But you know that in four weeks, you’re going to be done with it.”

Olmstead Orchards

Location: Grandview, Wash.

Owners: Don Olmstead II, Barbara Olmstead and Don Olmstead III

Started: 1918

Grows: Cherries (Bings, Rainiers and Vans), pears, prunes, apples and grapes

Acres: 95

Hazelnuts prove to be perfect crop for this farm Wed, 15 Apr 2015 19:16:57 -0400 CRAIG REED UMPQUA, Ore. — Elin Miller wanted to plant wine grapes.

But after several conversations with others already in the wine business, Elin and Bill Miller decided a vineyard would need more maintenance and management than they had time for while still working in their corporate careers.

So the couple made the decision to plant hazelnut trees on the property that had been planted in prune trees back in 1908 by William Kamp, Bill Miller’s grandfather.

“Elin didn’t get her way,” Bill Miller said. “But we’re very happy with the hazelnuts.”

“Exceedingly happy,” Elin Miller added with a laugh.

Today, the Millers’ UmpquaNut Farm consists of a 36-acre orchard between the Umpqua River and its tributary, Calapooya Creek. Eighteen acres were planted in 2002 with bare root cuttings and another 18 acres were planted the following year.

In 2006, the orchard’s first harvest of Ennis hazelnuts yielded about 10,000 pounds. After several years of maturity and growth, the orchard’s recent 2014 harvest totaled about 144,000 pounds of clean and dry nuts. The Millers market their crop to Northwest Hazelnut, whose headquarters are in Hubbard, Ore.

“The market (price) has steadily increased since we planted the orchard,” Bill Miller said. “The trend with nuts in general — walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts — in the last several years is that more people are realizing the health benefits of consuming nuts.

“There’s also been market expansion as more countries are buying a lot more nuts,” he added.

Before becoming nut farmers, both Bill and Elin Miller had many agricultural experiences.

Bill Miller is a Roseburg, Ore., native who worked on his Uncle LaVerne Murphy’s sheep and forage farm as a youngster. While a college student in 1967, he helped his father remove the prune trees and transition the land over to grain and alfalfa production.

After graduating from Oregon State University in 1968, Bill Miller worked as an agriculture teacher for two years in Portland Public Schools before a 35-year career in the agricultural chemical industry in California. He retired in 2005 and moved to the nut farm in 2006.

Elin Miller was a city kid in Mesa, Ariz., but got involved in FFA in high school. She had floraculture projects and then during the summers of her college years, she worked in Arizona cotton fields. She was elected to a national FFA office in 1979 and took a year off from college to represent the organization in its western region.

After graduating from the University of Arizona in 1982, Elin Miller had numerous jobs through the years: Working for Shell Chemical Co. in its ag division, executive director of the Western Agriculture Chemical Association, global vice president of public affairs for Dow Chemical, director of conservation for California, regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency for Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Idaho, and president and CEO of a spinoff of Chevron’s ag division.

Although she retired from the corporate working world in 2009, she continues to be on several boards, including the National FFA Foundation. She’s the chairman of that board with a three-year commitment through 2016.

In retirement, the Millers are farming land that’s been in the family for over 100 years. They inherited 20 acres and purchased another 20 acres from relatives. It was then a matter of doing research, asking questions and deciding what next to do with the land that had been leased out for several years to a neighboring farmer.

“Hazelnuts are just not as complex as grapes,” Elin Miller admitted.

“The hazelnuts have done very well for us,” Bill Miller said.

Apple family does it all and keeps growing Wed, 15 Apr 2015 19:13:29 -0400 Erick Peterson The folks at E.W. Brandt and Sons like sharing the company’s history and explaining the challenges of this year’s market.

Allen Brandt, part owner with brother Dana Brandt, is the son of the founder, Everette W. Brandt, who along with his wife, Ada, started their operation in 1947 with 16 acres of peaches and cherries.

Their family had been farming in the area since 1908, and through ups and downs E.W. and Ada maintained a business that has been passed down to a new generation.

It was not until fairly recently that the greatest growth has occurred.

Allen Brandt remembers there were less than 20 acres when he completed college and returned to the family business in 1974.

“The rest is history,” he said. E.W. Brandt and Sons expanded to around 1,200 acres in the following years.

He credits the growth to ingenuity and the desire of the company to do everything.

The company, he said, developed a reputation for high-quality fruit, which was made possible because it took control over not only cultivation and harvesting but also packing.

It has been a successful model so far, Allen said.

“We’re still here, anyway,” he said. “We’re growing and hope to continue growing.”

This optimism is shared by Allen’s son, Joe.

“We’re on this path of growth, and we plan on continuing,” Joe said.

But this is a difficult time for the region’s fruit growers, Ryan Moore, a Brandt sales executive, explained.

Washington produced a record apple crop this year, he said, and other growing areas produced large crops, creating a flood of apples worldwide.

Most often, when apples are plentiful in Washington, they are scarce in other regions of the U.S. Then, when they are bountiful in other places, Washington orchards are less productive.

On top of that, a port slowdown hampered the export market.

“The orders are coming and the buyers are there, but if you can’t get them on a boat and to the countries you want to get them to, it isn’t going to do anyone any good,” Moore said.

The option was to send the apples to domestic markets, places that already had a surplus, which has driven down prices.

In addition, trucking is a problem, as many small truckers have either gone out of business or joined with larger groups.

In spite of all the issues, which “blindsided” several growers, according to Moore, some producers are expanding their orchards.

As demand for hops grows, so does importance of contracts Wed, 15 Apr 2015 19:07:44 -0400 Gail Oberst If you are starting or expanding a brewery, who should be your best friend?

Hop growers, it turns out.

As craft beer drinkers demand hoppier beers, hop growers in the Northwest are doing their best to keep up, according to Nancy Sites, executive director of the Oregon Hop Commission.

Hop growers have expanded their acreage for the past few years — a trend expected to continue in 2015, Sites said. Prices may rise and fall, but Oregon, Washington and Idaho together grew more than 38,392 acres in 2014 — expanding by 3,000 acres for the second year in a row. Oregon added 773 acres, Idaho 436 and Washington 1,959, according to USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. Washington alone last year grew more acres of hops than were grown in 2011 in all of the U.S.

Expanding demand promises security for growers. But if you are a brewer without an agreement with a grower or distributor, or if you needed a hop variety not yet widely grown, you might have experienced a “shortage.” For example, Cascades, Centennial, Chinook, Citra, Golding, Crystal, Mt. Hood, Perle, Sterling and Willamette all saw increases in acreage in Oregon. Most of the demand growth in the Northwest has been for these aroma hops, the flavorful types that hop popular IPAs.

However, hop growers, like many farmers, aren’t growing much for spot markets, increasing the importance of contracts and relationships between growers and brewers.

More than 99 percent of all craft beer volume in the U.S. is produced using hops grown under contract, according to Chris Swersey of the National Brewers Association. Contracts for hops guarantees brewers product and reduces the chance of “shortages,” Swersey said.

Spot market shoppers, unlike just a few years ago, may be out of luck.

“Craft volume and per-barrel hopping rate growth have changed the game so quickly that annual acreage increases are not always sufficient to re-fill the pipeline. Baby year acres do not yield as well as mature acres,” he said. There were a lot of baby acres planted in 2013. As large brewers follow the consumer demand for aroma hops, those may quickly disappear from the open market, making contracts even more important for the small brewery.

Swersey advocates early planning and contracts for brewers. But contracts may not be the only consideration. Personal relationships forged over beers between growers and brewers often precede contracts. Relationships also give local breweries special access to hop fields — especially during the “fresh hop” season particular to the Northwest.

During harvest, Full Sail each year brings busloads of VIP tasters to Sodbuster Farms north of Salem for a barbecue and hop-harvest tours. McMenamins’ annual “Running of the Hops” and a similar tradition at Ninkasi brings the brewers directly to the hop fields during harvest for their fresh-hop beers. Foresight is Rogue Ales’ middle name. The company grows its own hops on land leased in Independence, Ore.

Might the hop grower’s best friend be bankers and equipment distributors? While the Northwest’s land capacity to grow hops is plentiful, its picking, kilning and packaging equipment may not be up to the task at hand.

“Anecdotally Brewers Association staff has learned that many (Northwest) growers are now investing heavily in expanded picking and kilning capacity, which will provide for increased harvesting bandwidth within optimal picking windows for each variety, thereby improving aromatic oil quantity and quality,” Swersey said.

Packer Orchards grow over a century Wed, 15 Apr 2015 19:04:38 -0400 CRAIG REED Growing fruit in the orchards of his family’s business isn’t Larry Packer’s only concern. There’s also the pressure of continuing his family’s farming tradition that dates back to 1915.

Over the years, the farm has grown from 20 acres of apple trees to 110 acres of pear, cherry, peach and apple trees.

“There’s both pressure and pride,” Packer said of growing fruit crops. “I have a lot of pride in the fact I’m a third generation farmer and my kids are helping now. But there’s a lot of pressure in this business with all that is involved now. There are more regulations and issues. It’s not as simple as it used to be.”

The family’s first orchard was planted by Packer’s grandfather, Clarence Packer, who came to the Hood River Valley to work on the railroad. Clarence Packer gradually expanded his orchards to 60 acres and eventually that acreage was evenly inherited by Packer’s three sons, one of those being Leslie Packer, Larry’s father.

Leslie Packer added 100 acres to his operation. Larry Packer helped his father in the orchard business even while working at other jobs during his 20s and then became a full-time orchardist about 25 years ago when in his early 30s.

Packer Orchards has fruit trees on three tracts, but all are within a 3-mile radius. And Larry Packer is the only family member of his generation who is farming full-time.

“I wouldn’t know what else to do,” Packer said during a mid-March lunch break from orchard work.

Over the years the emphasis in the Hood River area orchards has shifted from growing apples to growing pears and cherries. Packer Orchards harvested 800 tons of summer and winter pears and 150 tons of cherries in 2014.

“This valley grows a good portion of the world’s winter pears,” said Tammi Packer, Larry’s wife.

The Packers’ business is a member of Diamond Fruit Growers, a cooperative of mainly pear and cherry growers. The co-op markets and sells Hood River fruit worldwide.

The Packers expanded their business in 1992 when Tammi Packer started selling fruit at the Farmers in the Park market in Hood River. At the same time, she began baking products at the certified community kitchen at the local fairgrounds and selling those at the market. A few years later, the Packers expanded again and added bigger farmers’ markets in Portland and Gresham, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., to their schedule.

In 1997, another expansion involved opening a fruit stand and bakery next to one of the family’s orchards and alongside Highway 35 eight miles south of Hood River.

“We opened our own stand because we needed a larger kitchen for daily baking,” Tammi Packer said.

The stand is open seasonally from March through November and is a stop on the Hood River Valley Fruit Loop. The stand has nine full-time employees who bake goodies and make other fruit products for the farmers’ markets in the Portland area that are open year-round.

“We now go to 20 farmers’ markets during the peak season from May through October,” Tammi Packer said. “We’re at a farmers’ market every day of the week except Friday. It can get a little crazy around here getting things loaded, especially on Fridays.”

Packer Orchards still has some apple trees, but those and its peach trees produce fruit for sale at the farmers’ markets.

Larry and Tammi Packer are pleased their three children are involved in the business. All have grown up in the orchards and now Rochelle, 25, takes care of the marketing and organizes the schedule and employees for the farmers’ markets, John, 20, works with his dad in the orchards and Jennifer, 18, and a high school senior, supervises the Packer booth at the Gresham farmers’ market.

Packer Orchards & Bakery

Where: Hood River, Oregon

Owners: Larry and Tammi Packer

Acreage: 110

Crop: Pears, cherries, apples and peaches

Markets: Diamond Fruit Growers, Hood River, Oregon, and up to 20 farmers’ markets

Orchard caters to kids and families Wed, 15 Apr 2015 18:59:27 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas Carol and Burton Briggs bought their orchard in September 2009 and started doing U-pick the next month.

“It was a quick, short learning curve, that first year,” she said. “We’ve increased our yield every year since, except in 2013 when the late spring freeze cut everyone’s crop way back.

“Last year, however, we had the best year ever.”

The Emmett, Idaho, operation, which they call Candy Apple Orchards, was part of a larger orchard that was subdivided.

“We are nestled among other small orchards,” she said.

They offer demonstrations for school groups and others who are interested in how an orchard operates. She has a website for people who want directions, the hours the orchard is open and various events.

“We have an old cider press and my husband does a demo for school groups,” she said. “We give the kids pasteurized cider to taste. Last year we had 12 groups, about 265 people, mostly pre-school children. We also had groups of home-schooled children, and people from senior centers.”

The tours and field trips have been a good marketing tool.

“Parents come with one of their children for the school field trip and then come back on the weekend with the rest of the family,” Carol Briggs said.

The orchard opens the same weekend as the Emmett Harvest Festival and Street Fair, so a lot of people come at that time.

Their orchard is a team effort.

“Burton takes care of the trees and the property and I run the U-pick,” she said.

They have orchard buckets, and long-handled fruit pickers — so people can reach up into the trees.

“We don’t use ladders, so it’s safer for the public. Even little children can pick fruit high in the tree, and have a lot of fun using the pickers.”

They also have a little retail store where she sells apple butter, pumpkin butter and jams — and frozen take-and-bake apple pies that she makes.

“We planted pumpkins one year and did really well, and hope to have some available this year for people at the same time they come to pick apples,” she said.

They have picnic tables, and some folks just bring blankets and eat a picnic lunch on the lawn in the orchard. One family comes every year for a family reunion.

“This is a nice setting for people to get together,” she said. “Some groups come out for supper after school and bring a picnic dinner and pick apples.”

The orchard is not a money-making venture.

“It’s a break-even, give-back-to-the-community operation — something we enjoy doing. The trees were here when we bought our property, and we just tried to pick up where the former owner left off and continue creating a family environment.”

Carol and Burton are both retired.

“He has two daughters; one lives in Emmett and sometimes helps us. My mother likes to sit in front of our little store during the U-pick to greet people and give directions.”

It all adds to the friendly, informal atmosphere.

Candy Apple Orchard

Owners: Carol and Burton Briggs

Location: Emmett, Idaho

In business: Since 2009

Size: 1 acre, 100 apple trees — Red and Golden Delicious, Rome Beauties


City couple finds themselves in orchard Wed, 15 Apr 2015 18:56:02 -0400 LACEY JARRELL David and Nicole Stewart just embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.

In January, the couple traded in their Philadelphia row house for a three-bedroom farmhouse and a 19.4-acre orchard in Grenada, Calif.

Neither has much experience with farming, but after learning Hunter Orchards, an established organic farm well-known for its peaches, was for sale, they decided to dive in.

“It kind of had everything we were looking for; we just didn’t realize it was now,” said Nicole, a former lawyer who imagined settling on a farm in retirement.

Kirsten Olson and her husband, John Tannaci, who owned and operated Hunter Orchards for 25 years, sold the farm to the couple. To ensure the orchard succeeds, they have agreed to mentor the Stewarts.

“They are exceptional students,” Olson said. “They are attentive and ask fabulous questions.”

David joked that he and Nicole are still getting their “farm legs,” and that this year’s warm weather and early onset of blossoms is giving them a run for their money.

“With the weather this year, things are about a month ahead of time,” Nicole said. “It is overwhelming, but in a great way.”

The orchard features 10 acres of peaches, apricots, nectarines, pears, plums, cherries and apples. Shortly after the Stewarts purchased the farm, the couple also installed a 2,100-square-foot high tunnel where they grow squash, beets, lettuce, potatoes and garlic.

“I had no idea how much I would love farming,” David said. “I think when you stick your hands in the dirt and you put a seed there, and that seed turns into a beautiful radish and someone buys it, you feel like that whole cycle is life.

“It’s hard to think of a more essential job in the world than creating food. The value that you put on the work you’re doing goes up exponentially.”

Right now David’s main focus is pruning the fruit trees and preparing the orchard for harvest. Former owner Tannaci is teaching Nicole how to use turbines to keep a killer frost from striking the trees. If everything goes according to plan, the trees will produce well.

Olson said the biggest surprise for Nicole and David will be the intensity and delight of harvest.

“We know it’s going to be insanely busy, but we’re looking forward to getting out there,” Nicole said. “We’re nervous, but in an excited way.”

The orchard has established vendors at the Mount Shasta Farmers’ Market and in San Francisco. Nicole said the couple is planning to reach out this year to Ashland and Grants Pass markets. She noted that the local desire for organic and year-round crops is growing.

“Maybe as some of the trees age out, instead of replacing them with more peach trees, we’ll put in another high tunnel so we can do more vegetables locally,” she said. “We’re really excited about that, too.”

The transition from city life to rural living has been easier and more rewarding than the Stewarts imagined it could be.

“I miss family and friends, but I don’t miss the city at all. I love the peace,” she said. “It all feels like it was meant to be.”

Potatoes are the stars at this farm Thu, 2 Apr 2015 09:46:18 -0400 LACEY JARRELL Gemstar potatoes are the star of the show for one Southern Oregon farm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unruh said his operation the “ultimate family farm.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The name of their farm is a combination of names.

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

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

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

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

Water is a challenge on dry years.

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

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

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

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

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

Chris also runs the forage harvester and combine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donley Farm

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

Location: Near Shoshone, Idaho, since 1976

Crops: Corn, hay, sugar beets and malt barley

Size: 5,000 acres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unruh said his operation the “ultimate family farm.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fewel Farms

Owner: Scott and Josh Fewel

Started: 1977

Acres: 880

Location: Prosser, Wash.

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

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

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

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

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

“Probably more downs than ups,” Chin said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heavenly Hills Harvest Farm

Owners: Merritt Mitchell-Wajeeh and Brooks Mitchell

Year started: 2007

Acres: 92

Location: Sunnyside, Wash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott said the land was filled with opportunity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

McIlrath Farms

Owners: Scott, Esther and Brian McIlrath

Location: Tieton, Wash.

Acres: 200

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

Year started: 1976

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This will be their fifth year growing mustard.

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

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

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

Gallup Farm

Owner: Gordon Gallup

Farming more than 40 years

Crops grown: Wheat, barley, alfalfa, mustard

Acres: 5,000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The four brothers spread the workload.

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

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

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

The farm market started about 25 years ago.

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

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

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

Stoddard Farms

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

Location: Near Grace, Idaho, since 1956

Crops: Malt barley and seed potatoes

Acres: 4,000