Capital Press | Seed and Row Crop http://www.capitalpress.com Capital Press Sat, 1 Aug 2015 06:40:42 -0400 en http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/staticimage/images/rss-logo.jpg Capital Press | Seed and Row Crop http://www.capitalpress.com Potatoes are the stars at this farm http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150402/potatoes-are-the-stars-at-this-farm http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150402/potatoes-are-the-stars-at-this-farm#Comments Thu, 2 Apr 2015 09:46:18 -0400 LACEY JARRELL http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150409961 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.

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Family farmers keep up with latest innovations http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/family-farmers-keep-up-with-latest-innovations http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/family-farmers-keep-up-with-latest-innovations#Comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 14:00:07 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150319906 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

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Potatoes are the stars at this farm http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/potatoes-are-the-stars-at-this-farm http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/potatoes-are-the-stars-at-this-farm#Comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 14:16:36 -0400 LACEY JARRELL http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150319899 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.

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Fewels keep changing to meet new challenges http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/fewels-keep-changing-to-meet-new-challenges http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/fewels-keep-changing-to-meet-new-challenges#Comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 14:14:20 -0400 Erick Peterson http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150319900 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

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Onions provide farm with steady income http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/onions-provide-farm-with-steady-income http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/onions-provide-farm-with-steady-income#Comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 14:12:27 -0400 LACEY JARRELL http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150319901 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.”

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Farm aims at creating community http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/farm-aims-at-creating-community http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/farm-aims-at-creating-community#Comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 14:10:55 -0400 Erick Peterson http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150319902 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

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Tieton farmers learn by doing http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/tieton-farmers-learn-by-doing http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/tieton-farmers-learn-by-doing#Comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 14:09:24 -0400 Erick Peterson http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150319903 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

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Mustard provides multiple benefits http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/mustard-provides-multiple-benefits http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/mustard-provides-multiple-benefits#Comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 14:02:49 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150319905 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

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Unique location produces top-quality spuds http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/unique-location-produces-top-quality-spuds http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/unique-location-produces-top-quality-spuds#Comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 13:50:21 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150319907 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

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Turfgrass specialist makes lawns, sports fields greener http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/turfgrass-specialist-makes-lawns-sports-fields-greener http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/turfgrass-specialist-makes-lawns-sports-fields-greener#Comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 13:39:30 -0400 Denise Ruttan http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150319908 On any given day Alec Kowalewski juggles quite a few plates.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Farm grows to include wide variety of crops http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/farm-grows-to-include-wide-variety-of-crops http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/farm-grows-to-include-wide-variety-of-crops#Comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 13:32:55 -0400 CRAIG REED http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150319909 ROSEBURG, Ore. — What started out as a raspberry farm on 1 acre back in 1975 has evolved over the past 40 years into a variety of berries and vegetables on about 88 acres.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Farm gives its customers the produce they want http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/farm-gives-its-customers-the-produce-they-want http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/farm-gives-its-customers-the-produce-they-want#Comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 13:31:00 -0400 Sarah Kickler Kelber http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150319910 Many things have changed since Fordyce Farm opened in 1959, but one has remained constant: strawberries.

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

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

Not everything has remained the same, however.

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

But he considers himself a “retail farmer.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Smaller is better for farmers’ market operation http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/smaller-is-better-for-farmers-market-operation http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/smaller-is-better-for-farmers-market-operation#Comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 13:27:51 -0400 CRAIG REED http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150319911 ROSEBURG, Ore. — Jim Leet gardened as a kid, as a soldier and for the last 10 years as a retiree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Company keeps sugarbeet farmers supplied with seed http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/company-keeps-sugarbeet-farmers-supplied-with-seed http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/company-keeps-sugarbeet-farmers-supplied-with-seed#Comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 13:25:13 -0400 Denise Ruttan http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150319912 Tucked amid the rolling grass seed fields and faded barns of the tiny town of Tangent, Ore., you’ll find a state-of-the-art sugarbeet seed processing facility with global reach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current research efforts focus on increasing disease tolerance and yield.

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

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

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

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

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Farmstand puts special emphasis on ‘fresh’ http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/farmstand-puts-special-emphasis-on-fresh http://www.capitalpress.com/SpecialSections/Seed/20150313/farmstand-puts-special-emphasis-on-fresh#Comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 13:23:22 -0400 Sarah Kickler Kelber http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2015150319913 Nancy Hendricks’ phone buzzes, and she pauses to look at the message.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hence the new tagline: “All things edible.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’ll save on seeds, too,” he adds.

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

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

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

Fresh to You Produce

Owners: Nancy and Carl Hendricks

Where: 41639 Stayton-Scio Road, Stayton, Oregon

Contact: (503) 769-9682

Online: www.ftyp.com, www.pinterest.com/freshtoyou

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

Farming since: 1980

Acres: 15

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

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