Capital Press | Capital Press Sat, 27 Aug 2016 17:33:21 -0400 en Capital Press | Meridian FFA ‘Learns to Do, Does to Learn and Earns to Live’ at Canyon County Fair Fri, 26 Aug 2016 14:51:19 -0400 Loretta LacyMeridian FFA Reporter Starting on July 26, the Canyon County Fair was held at the Caldwell, Idaho, fairgrounds.

Canyon County Fair lasted for six days and ended on July 31. This fair gives Meridian FFA members the chance to show and sell the livestock they’ve been raising and working with as their Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAEs) for the past year. We had 33 members show livestock at this fair this year.

The following members showed swine:

• Ashlee Bowen

• Zack Davis (3rd in FFA Swine Showmanship)

The following members showed dairy heifers:

• Kristin Nesbitt (Grand Champion FFA Dairy Showman and Grand Champion FFA Round Robin)

• Sierra Horton (Reserve Champion FFA Dairy Showman and Reserve Grand Champion Jr. Jersey Heifer)

• Mollie Hiscox

• Cameron King

• Ashton Shaul

• Jordyn Bettencourt

• Kayla Shubert

The following members showed dairy goats:

• Maddie Bennett (Grand Champion FFA Goat Showman)

• Kaitlyn Steppe

The following members showed meat goats:

• Maddie Bennett (4th in FFA Goat Showmanship)

• Ryan Bennett

Elise Campbell placed first in her beef cattle feeder class.

The following members showed market lambs:

• Hannah Smith (Reserve Champion FFA Sheep Showman; Reserve Champion Natural Lamb)

• Cody Ball (3rd in FFA Sheep Showmanship)

• Kaitlyn Steppe (4th in FFA Sheep Showmanship)

• Loretta Lacy (5th in FFA Sheep Showmanship)

• Mollie Hiscox

• William Stokes

• Kaitlyn Muniz

• Karlyn Roberts

• Kali Simitzes

• Summer Miller

• Mallie Miller

• Joe Wieting

• Ashton Shaul

• Cameron King

• Dani Turnbough

• Zach Ball

• Chloe Varley

• Katelyn Putizer

• Caydan Stirm

• Blake Hildebrand

• Tyson Hernandez

• Brock Shurtz

The following members also showed breeding lambs:

• Hannah Smith

• Joe Wieting

• Kaitlyn Steppe

The Meridian FFA Chapter would like to thank Canyon County Exhibits Supervisor Diana Sinner, and Canyon County Fair Director Rosalie Cope for the time and hard work they put in to make this year’s fair a success.

Meridian FFA would also like to thank the following major buyers of Meridian FFA market animals at the Canyon County 4-H/FFA Market Sale: Les Schwab, Albertsons, Forage Genetics, Dan Sample, D&B Supply, Custom Butcher, and Sunny and Justin Christensen Farms.

Anyone who supports an FFA member’s SAE is helping that individual gain invaluable skills in time management, record keeping and financial independence. Meridian FFA thanks all the parents, advisors and buyers who helped these 33 members gain experience in agricultural entrepreneurship.

Nurseries should prepare for next recession, economist says Fri, 26 Aug 2016 13:28:54 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski PORTLAND — There’s no reason to panic, but nursery producers should begin preparing to weather the next downturn in the U.S. economy, according to horticulture economist Charlie Hall.

Several indicators suggest the economy will continue slowly chugging along for the time being, but based on historical data, the country is overdue for a recession, Hall said at the Oregon Association of Nurseries Farwest Show in Portland, Ore.

“We don’t have a lot of red flags over the next 18 to 24 months, but we will go into recession at some point,” he said.

Nursery producers should consider this current time frame as a reprieve and develop a game plan for dealing with various financial scenarios, said Hall, a professor at Texas A&M University.

“We need to start right now informing our contingency plans,” Hall said. “There’s nothing holding us back but ourselves.”

Sales of nursery products and services surged for years as the baby boomer generation married, had children and bought houses, but they began slowing in the 1990s and are now flat, he said.

Because they’re in a mature industry, nurseries are prone to disruptions — as evidenced by the large number of companies that went out of business during the last financial crisis, Hall said.

“The interesting thing about this stage is that any disturbance will cause a shakeout,” he said.

At this point, housing starts are getting back to normal and there’s growth in the number of mortgages, both of which are positive for the nursery industry, he said. People are also quitting jobs to take higher-paying ones, and members of the millennial generation — known for delaying marriage and family — are beginning to form more households.

Lower fuel prices also provide consumers with more spending money, though they won’t necessarily spend all of it on nursery goods and services, Hall said.

Only 42 percent of consumers buy plants in an average year and 25 percent spend money on landscape services, he said. While these numbers aren’t great, they do imply the industry has the potential to increase sales frequency, he said.

Nurseries tend to emphasize prettiness and newness in plants, while they should be focusing on their functionality, Hall said. For example, studying in the presence of plants has been shown to improve students’ academic performance and test results.

Other research has indicated that plants and landscaping increase property values, building occupancy rates, improve water quality and reduce healthcare costs.

Pet-related sales have grown despite the recession, which shows people are willing to spend money to feel happy, he said. Nurseries should find a way to tap into this dynamic.

“We will pay whatever it takes to improve the quality of our lives,” Hall said.

Nurseries can appeal to the altruism of the millennial generation by promoting the environmental benefits of plants, such as helping butterflies and pollinators, said Brie Arthur, “green industry communicator” who writes and speaks about horticulture.

“I want the world to be a better place with how I spend my money,” she said.

Selling rare or heirloom varieties of plants can also help nurseries stand out from the pack, Arthur said. “You should be differentiating yourself through the plants you carry.”

Drought returns to Washington’s westside Fri, 26 Aug 2016 14:18:45 -0400 Don Jenkins For the first time in nine months, drought has crept back into Western Washington, with the U.S. Drought Monitor classifying all or parts of five counties in “moderate drought.”

Conditions remain far better than last August, when the entire state was in “severe drought” or worse. Still, a rapid snow melt in April and a recent hot spell have brought drought to all or parts of Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific and Wahkiakum counties.

“We’ve been really dry in August, which isn’t surprising, we don’t expect much precipitation, but that area in particular has had a big precipitation deficit,” Washington State Assistant Climatologist Karin Bumbaco said. “It’s more likely to get worse because I don’t expect to have a big rain event before the end of August.”

After one of the worse droughts in state history, a return to more normal weather erased the drought in Western Washington by late November last year and throughout the state by late March.

The Drought Monitor, a partnership between the federal government and the University of Nebraska, has classified about 4 percent of the state in southeastern Washington as being in a moderate drought all summer.

On Thursday, the monitor added the southwest corner, approximately doubling the percentage of the state in drought to nearly 8 percent. The rest of the state is classified as abnormally dry.

Pacific County cranberry grower Malcolm McPhail said he’s had to irrigate bogs more often in the heat, in some cases pumping water from dwindling water supplies.

“We’re definitely seeing the water situation in the ponds,” he said. “This would be the second-driest summer I can recall.”

The return of drought to southwest Washington is unlikely to mean new restrictions on water rights, Department of Ecology officials said.

Ecology already had curtailed the water rights of 93 irrigators in the Chehalis River Basin. The water rights were issued after the state adopted minimum flow standards for the basin’s river and tributaries in 1976.

Ecology issued the curtailment notices May 20 after a warm April melted the basin’s low-elevation snow. Although conditions were more severe last summer, water use in the basin wasn’t curtailed until July.

“Based on our experience of last summer, we were looking at all of our basins statewide,” said Mike Gallagher, Ecology’s southwest region water manager. “The warm April really made a difference this year.”

Also in Western Washington, Ecology again curtailed water rights to a handful of irrigators in Whatcom County and two irrigation districts in Skagit County. No further curtailments are being prepared in northwestern Washington, an Ecology spokesman said.

In early August, Ecology issued curtailment notices to 14 irrigators along the Tucannon River and Asotin Creek in southeastern Washington, but none since then, Ecology drought relief coordinator Jeff Marti said.

“Although conditions are much below normal, we are doing much better than last year,” he said.

In a sign of improved conditions, 45 percent of Washington’s streams were lower than normal Friday, compared to 85 percent on the same date last year, according to a network of 148 gauges maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The state declares a drought emergency in areas projected to suffer economic hardship because water supplies fall 75 percent below normal.

Marti said water supplies in parts of southwest Washington are likely to be below the threshold. “It isn’t apparent there is going to be widespread hardship,” he said.

Cranberry growers on the coast reaped a near record crop last year after August rains helped replenish ponds in time to flood bogs for the harvest.

Pistachio growers poised for record crop Fri, 26 Aug 2016 13:56:51 -0400 Tim Hearden After a couple of seasons of disappointing crops, pistachio growers appear poised to shatter a 4-year-old record with production that could weigh in at as much as 800 million pounds.

Trees are loaded with nuts after achieving sufficient chill hours last winter for the first time in three years and after winter rains improved drought conditions in many orchards, said Richard Matoian, executive director of American Pistachio Growers in Fresno.

As a result, growers and processors expect to easily surpass the then-record 2012 crop of 555 million pounds, more than 551 million of which came from California, Matoian said.

“The range will likely be somewhere between … 650 and 800 million pounds” this year, he said.

The projection comes as the harvest has started for the earliest varieties and is expected to be in full swing in September. Pistachios are grown on more than 300,000 acres, according to APG.

The apparent bumper crop follows a 2015 season in which the drought and a lack of winter chilling hours caused growers to encounter an inordinate amount of “blanks” — fully formed shells in which a nut never developed inside.

In a typical season, blanks might make up 10 percent of a crop, but in some orchards last season the number was closer to 70 percent.

With the short crop, growers expected to receive considerably more for their nuts. But the U.S.’ main competitor, Iran, had two large crops in a row, which enabled the country to gain market share in American export destinations such as China, Matoian said.

This year, growers have been initially guaranteed between $1.70 and $1.80 per pound, down from the roughly $3.50 per pound growers received for their 2014 crop, he said.

However, the price could end up rising via a negotiated “marketing bonus” that growers usually receive at the season’s end, Matoian said. One factor that could push prices up is a frost in Iran that cut into that nation’s production, which could enable the U.S. to regain markets it had lost, he said.

Last season’s light yields were a blip of sorts amid a winning streak for pistachios, whose popularity has increased in recent years while acreage has ballooned from 105,000 acres in 2005, Matoian has said.

Nearly all of the United States’ pistachio production is in California, and 97 percent of that is in the San Joaquin Valley.

The acreage has continued to boom despite the drought, largely because pistachio trees have a longer life span than other nut trees and can survive several years in a row of water stress even if they don’t produce nuts.

Growers believed that they would produce a big crop once enough chilling hours mounted and rains fell in the previous winter.

“As I talk with growers … they’re still very positive and very high about pistachios in comparison with other commodities,” Matoian said. “We’re still doing pretty darn well.”

Sorghum facility would provide farmers with stable rotation crop Fri, 26 Aug 2016 13:38:00 -0400 Sean Ellis PARMA, Idaho — A planned $90 million sorghum processing facility will provide farmers in the region a new rotation crop that fetches a stable price every year.

The facility, Treasure Valley Renewables, will also use waste from dairies and other agricultural sources.

“This is an absolutely great project for this area,” said Neill Goodfellow, director of Agrienergy Producers Association, a 25-farmer cooperative that will grow the sorghum used by the facility. “It will give farmers a stable price for that crop year after year.”

Nyssa, Ore., farmer Charlie Barlow, one of the farmers who will grow the sorghum, said the project has been several years in the making, and it’s exciting to see it start to come together.

Having a new rotation crop with a stable price will be a big benefit to growers, he said. In years like this, when commodity prices are depressed, that would mean lot, he said.

“It gives us a stable crop, something we can count on year in and year out,” he said. “It would probably be a middle of the road type rotation crop, a little bit better than some of the rotation crops we have now.”

But, he added, sorghum won’t replace the area’s main cash crops such as onions, potatoes and sugar beets.

Kurt Christensen, one of the project organizers, said the facility will handle about 1,500 acres of sorghum a year. The high-biomass sorghum was developed specifically to be high in fiber.

The fiber will be pulped and molded into paper products used by the restaurant industry.

The facility will include an anaerobic digester plant that will use the sorghum byproduct and agricultural and food waste to produce electricity and compressed natural gas.

While the facility will consider any type of agricultural waste that would work in the digester, “dairy waste is an important part of that,” Christensen said.

Byproducts produced at the facility will include fertilizer, compost and livestock bedding for local farmers, ranchers and dairies.

The biogas produced by the digester facility will be compressed and put into a commercial natural gas pipeline and used for dual-fuel vehicles.

Organizers provided details of the project to area residents Aug. 25 during a neighborhood meeting at Parma City Hall.

The 48-acre site is off Shelton Road, where Highway 95 and Highway 26 meet.

For the project to move forward, the property must be rezoned from agricultural to heavy industrial.

There was no opposition to the project at the meeting, though there were questions about possible noise, traffic, odor and lighting impacts.

Christensen said the company will do everything it can to mitigate any possible impacts.

“We really want to be good neighbors,” he said.

Organizers said the entire project will take about 17-19 months to complete. Some parts, such as the digester facility, which will provide the electricity to run the sorghum plant, are expected to be operational next year.

Spokane Ag Expo invites photo contest entries Fri, 26 Aug 2016 13:11:18 -0400 The Spokane Ag Expo, celebrating its 40th anniversary, invites entries to its annual photo contest.

Photographers are asked to submit photos depicting “Agriculture in the Inland Northwest” by Nov. 21 to the Spokane Ag Expo office at 801 W. Riverside, Ste. 100, Spokane, WA 99201.

All of the photographs entered will be displayed at Spokane Ag Expo 2017, which will be in the Spokane Convention Center Complex Exhibit Hall on Feb. 7-9.

“Every year the photography contest is a popular event for all ages at the show during Ag Week in Spokane,” show director Myrna O’Leary said in a press release. “The impressive photo gallery is a favorite stopping place for everyone attending the show.”

The winning entries will receive cash prizes and ribbons for first, second and third place in both the adult and youth (under 18 years of age) divisions.

Ribbons will also be awarded for honorable mention and director’s choice.

Everyone who enters will also receive two free tickets to Spokane Ag Expo that are good for all three days of the show, she said.

Contestants are asked to submit either color or black-and-white prints (the minimum size is 8-by-10 inches and maximum size is 11-by-14 inches). Photos must to be mounted on cardboard or matted, but not framed, with their entry form attached to the back.

Photos also must be submitted in “high quality” on a disc clearly marked with the photographer’s name and contact information. No more than four photos can be entered by any contestant. Winners in each category will be judged by area photographers, based on theme, composition and creativity. Contest rules and entry forms can be found at

Spokane Ag Expo features more than 300 exhibitors utilizing over 120,000 square feet of show space.

For further information on the Spokane Ag Expo and the photo contest, call 509-321-3633 or visit

Researchers modifying yeast to turn ag residue into biofuel Fri, 26 Aug 2016 11:47:01 -0400 Matw Weaver A team of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute recently published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers analyzed the genomes of 29 yeasts, including 16 with newly sequenced genomes.

None of them are conventional yeasts used to make bread or beer, said Tom Jeffries, senior author of the paper and an professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He is also president of the Xylome Corp. in Madison, Wis., which is developing the “unconventional” yeasts.

With the genetic code for the yeasts, Xylome can modify how genes are expressed to “produce more of what we want to make,” Jeffries said. “Our organisms already do what we want them to do, we just get them to do it better.”

The company is using genetic modification techniques, but is not introducing genes from outside the organism, he said.

The ethanol industry could eventually turn corn stover and other agricultural and processing residues into the biofuels.

“We could make more biofuels without having to harvest or grow more corn,” Jeffries said.

The idea has potential for any crop that produces significant residues, including corn, wheat, soybeans and sugar beets, he said.

One of the most expensive aspects of using agricultural residues is collection and transportation, Jeffries said.

Farmers will need a combine that simultaneously harvests corn grain and stover. Such a machine is supposed to be in the works, Jeffries said.

The cost of transporting the stover is also a problem.

Small plants that demonstrate the conversion of corn stover into ethanol are popping up, Jeffries said, but need to draw from farms farther away to be profitable.

The economics need to make sense for a farmer to haul the residue, Jeffries said.

“It’s a question of finding what market is big enough, what feedstocks work and how you can get the conversion down to where it’s economical,” Jeffries said.

Xylome plans to enter the second phase of a National Science Foundation grant shortly.

The company is working with ethanol producers, primarily in Wisconsin and Brazil, to provide new yeast technology to convert their byproducts into higher-value products.


UC-Davis testing fertilizer that turns ‘farm-to-fork’ on its head Fri, 26 Aug 2016 10:16:52 -0400 Tim Hearden DAVIS, Calif. — University researchers are working with a local company to turn the concept of “farm-to-fork” on its head.

The Sacramento-based company, California Safe Soil, has gone from “fork to farm” by developing a natural liquid fertilizer from food waste, which it calls H2H, for Harvest-to-Harvest.

University of California-Davis professor Edwin Davis and others at the Department of Entomology and Nematology have launched a three-year trial of the fertilizer on a new planting of almonds, testing the product’s effect on the trees’ development, nitrogen leaching and soil health. Lewis and CSS are also testing the fertilizer on several other commodities around the state.

Researchers believe the natural nutrients from the fertilizer could help growers cut their nitrogen use by as much as half, according to a UC news release.

“I’m really interested in what effects it has on soil biology and how it compares in terms of the effects of nitrogen leaching … to other food waste composts that we’re using as well as with traditional nitrogen fertilizers,” said Amanda Hodson, a project scientist.

Brothers Dan and Dave Morash launched California Safe Soil in 2012 with a goal of converting leftover grocery-store food into a nutrient-rich soil amendment, according to the release.

Unlike standard compost, which can take several months to create, H2H is produced in about three hours through grinding, heating and breaking it down with enzymes, the university explains. The fertilizer is now used on about 13,000 acres of farmland in California.

In their trials, Lewis and his team want to examine the fertilizer’s cumulative effect on crop yield, soil fertility, soil structure and the soil’s ability to hold water, and find the best balance of conventional and liquid fertilizer to optimize crop yields and reduce nitrogen seepage into groundwater.

Finding useful natural fertilizers could be critical for growers as regional water boards have put more scrutiny on nitrogen leaching. Further, a new state law requires a certain percentage of all commercial food waste to be recycled, prompting “a lot of interest” in composting, Hodson said.

Idaho seeks growers’ input on pollinator plan Fri, 26 Aug 2016 10:21:20 -0400 John O’Connell BOISE — The Idaho State Department of Agriculture is forming a committee of agricultural organizations and other stakeholders to help devise a statewide plan protecting the health of pollinating insects.

The first meeting is scheduled for Sept. 27, and 17 organizations have already been invited, including the Idaho Potato Commission, the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Seed Association, Treasure Valley Beekeepers Club and the Idaho Honey Industry Association.

ISDA will welcome any other organizations interested in participating in the discussion, said George Robinson, administrator of the agency’s Division of Agricultural Resources.

ISDA staff have created a “straw-man” draft, drawing heavily from North Dakota’s state pollinator plan, to spur discussion, Robinson said. Robsinson explained the draft is a guidance document, outlining best practices for each interest group to benefit pollinator health, with an emphasis on strong communication.

“(Plans) vary a lot from state to state,” Robinson said. “I think that is a reflection of those states going to their stakeholders and asking them, ‘What’s best for our state?’”

Pollinator protection plans have been adopted or are being drafted in 45 states, according to Dudley Hoskins, public policy counsel with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, a leading advocate of state pollinator plans. Hoskins explained five states, including California, implemented the first plans in response to concerns about the rising mortality of pollinators such as bees and monarch butterflies.

In May 2015, a pollinator task force convened by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and USDA issued a report, recommending that states draft pollinator plans.

“These are not meant to be a regulatory vehicle,” Hoskins said, adding effective plans have prioritized “sharing information about each other’s practices and challenges.”

Hoskins said the initial states to implement plans have made great progress for pollinators.

“These are clear returns on investment we’ve seen in a handful of states already,” Hoskins said.

Oakley potato farmer Randy Hardy will represent the IPC on Idaho’s committee. Hardy said virtually all of Idaho’s conventional potato producers use the systemic insecticide imidacloprid to protect their crops from diseases such as potato leafroll virus. The chemical is in the neonicotinoid class, which has been targeted for regulation due to possible impacts on pollinators. Hardy said spud growers apply the chemical as a seed treatment or in-furrow, having no effect on bees.

“If (regulators) know states are watching (pollinator health) and monitoring and coming up with their own procedures, it will go a long way,” Hardy said.

Scott Hamilton, a Nampa beekeeper who serves as vice president of the Idaho Honey Industry Association, believes pollinator declines have been caused by several factors, including harmful mites and pesticides, but improving communication and education is the best approach to address the problem.

“Farmers aren’t out to kill pollinators,” Hamilton said. “A lot of farmers use bees to pollinate their seed crops.”

East Idaho farmers help protect neighbors from wildfire Fri, 26 Aug 2016 10:08:01 -0400 John O’Connell IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Even as Ken Christensen watched some of his rangeland burn, he was overwhelmed with gratitude for his neighbors, who brought a fleet of tractors and discs to dig fire lines and help protect the rest of his property.

The Henry’s Fork fire started early Aug. 21, sparked 7 miles east of Idaho Falls by an undetermined human cause. It had expanded to 52,233 acres by Aug. 25, with 30 percent of it contained.

Fire officials say the area includes dryland farms, rangeland and land in the Conservation Reserve Program. No estimates of damage to agricultural land or the loss of livestock have been made.

However, officials say they are certain farmers who contributed their time and heavy equipment to the battle have minimized losses and protected homes.

“I think our community really came together and these farmers really stepped in way above and beyond to help us out. They were a godsend,” said Dave Coffey, deputy chief of operations with the Idaho Falls Fire Department. “They created fire breaks and put homes in a safe zone, where I didn’t have to worry about them.”

The Henry’s Creek fire has been devastating to Christensen, who estimates 2,800 acres of his rangeland has burned. He’d planned to use that ground as fall pasture. He’s also lost about 2 miles of fencing.

But the rancher also counts his blessings that he hasn’t lost any cattle, and for the tireless efforts of neighboring farmers, who first showed up on the afternoon of Aug. 21 and returned the next day when the fire flared.

“It was so impressive how many farmers showed up,” Christensen said.

He acknowledged he was at a loss for words when he sought to thank one of the growers who raced to establish a fire break before the flames arrived.

“You’re kind of at your wit’s end standing there and watching your place burn,” Christensen said. “I didn’t know what to say to that guy except, ‘Thanks.’ He’s busting his machine going over this rocky ground.”

Christensen also used his equipment to dig a fire line that protected an alfalfa field, where his cattle are now grazing. He’s asked Bonneville County to issue a disaster declaration, enabling him to graze CRP acres.

Some of Mark Blatter’s fencing and CRP land also burned. His five sons worked with shovels to help establish a fire line and “a lot of neighbors got in there and really worked it.”

Idaho Potato Commissioner James Hoff said the fire started about 3 miles from his farm but the winds never pushed it in his direction. He and his father, Tom, took a break from preparing for spud harvest and helped their neighbors, using about 200 gallons of fuel to dig several miles of fire line. Hoff fought the fire for several hours on both Aug. 21 and Aug. 22. The labor left him exhausted, with a bad headache.

“It kind of looked like everything was going to be under control. Then they lost control at 1 a.m. on Monday,” Hoff said. “The winds picked up. It just took off like a shot.”

Hoff aided several property owners, including Christensen, and he and his father agreed to change locations on the night of Aug. 22 at the request of the fire department to protect a neighborhood.

According to a fire information officer with the Great Basin Incident Management Team 7, 289 firefighters were dispatched to the fire, which has been fueled by high winds and low humidity. Bonneville County sheriff’s deputies have contacted homeowners asking them to prepare for possible evacuation.

Friends of Family Farmers wants ‘shift’ in ODA direction Fri, 26 Aug 2016 09:44:11 -0400 Eric Mortenson Don’t count Friends of Family Farmers among the groups praising the legacy of Katy Coba, the departing director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

In a prepared statement, the Salem-based advocacy group said Coba has overseen a “growing shift towards promoting large, corporate, factory-scale farming operations in Oregon even as the state has been losing small and mid-sized family farms in large numbers.”

The group called on Gov. Kate Brown to “pro-actively shift the agency in a direction that better represents the strong commitment that Oregonians have to supporting sustainable, family-scale farms and agriculture.”

Brown’s office announced Aug. 24 that Coba has been appointed the state’s chief operating officer and director of the Department of Administrative Services, the state’s top administrative agency. The appointment is effective Oct. 1, pending confirmation by the Oregon Senate in September. Coba has been ag director since 2003.

Ivan Maluski, Friends of Family Farmers policy director, said Coba’s experience in state government should serve her well, and said the group appreciated being able to raise issues and make its points during her tenure.

But he noted several disagreements with Coba’s administration over the years.

He said the department was unwilling to support regulations that would protect farmers from genetically engineered crops and the growth of “factory farms.”

He said the department tried to expand canola production areas in the Willamette Valley in 2012. Specialty seed producers and food safety activists filed suit to stop the action, and the state Court of Appeals sided with opponents. The Legislature eventually allocated money for Oregon State University to set up canola test plots and report back by November 2017.

In the past, the group criticized the appointment of Marty Myers to the Oregon Board of Agriculture, which advises the director and the department. Myers is general manager of Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman, which describes itself as one of the nation’s largest dairy operations. It has 24,000 dairy cows that produce an estimated 170,000 gallons of milk daily. The operation also maintains a herd of 25,000 replacement heifers, according to the company website.

Maluski said the group is concerned about the increasing presence in Oregon of large agri-business firms such as Threemile Canyon Farms and Lost Valley Ranch, which is seeking state permits to operate a 30,000 cow dairy, also in the Boardman area. The state has “almost never said no to a large CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) permit,” he said.

The group also questions the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Maluski said it could result in Oregon becoming an outlet for “factory farm” production flowing to Asia.

Maluski said Friends of Family Farmers doesn’t have a specific person in mind to replace Coba.

“As we indicated, we hope Gov. Brown sees this as an opportunity to shift the agency a little bit and help make sure there’s a stronger commitment to support small and mid-size farmers in this state, and sustainable agriculture,” he said.

Ag Pavilion educates thousands of fairgoers each year about Idaho farming Fri, 26 Aug 2016 09:45:44 -0400 Sean Ellis BOISE — From a “sand box” filled with corn, beans and wheat to educational videos and free samples of mint-flavored water, the Agriculture Pavilion at the Western Idaho Fair prides itself on having something for all ages.

The goal is simple: to teach each of the roughly 16,000 people who visit the pavilion each year relevant things about agriculture that they will remember.

“We really want people to walk away from here and go, ‘Wow, I know a whole lot more ... about where my food comes from and I have a deeper appreciation for the people involved in agriculture,’” said Rick Waitley, executive director of Food Producers of Idaho, which created the pavilion in 1994.

The large tent that houses the pavilion includes 51 booths sponsored by farm commissions and associations and ag-related agencies. It is in Boise now and will move to the Twin Falls County Fair next week.

“Hidden” in plain sight among the booths are 26 facts about agriculture. Visitors are given a quiz and must find 10 of those facts.

The facts include that 90 percent of the world’s Kentucky bluegrass is grown in the Pacific Northwest, 97 percent of Idaho’s ranches are family owned, one farmer feeds 168 people, Idaho ranks third in the nation in hay production and an acre is about the size of a football field.

Idaho Farm Service Agency Executive Director Mark Samson, who is on the pavilion steering committee, said the tent includes a wealth of information about Idaho crops and farming and most visitors are floored by how much food Idaho produces.

A sign tells visitors that if Idahoans had to eat all the food produced in their state each year, they would have to consume 49 potatoes, 3 cups of beans, 195 slices of bread, one 8-ounce steak and 43 glasses of milk — every day.

“A comment I heard today three times is, ‘We didn’t know Idaho is the third largest dairy producer in the United States,’” Samson said.

Pavilion visitor Terry Riemenapp wasn’t surprised or overly impressed to learn Idaho ranks No. 3 in dairy production. She moved here from Wisconsin several years ago.

But she was stunned by how much other food Idaho farmers and ranchers produce.

“I was shocked to learn how much produce comes out of Idaho,” she said. “I wasn’t aware of all the different things grown here, from mint to honey to wood products.”

Riemenapp said the pavilion is a highlight of her annual visit to the fair and she and husband Tom now bring the grandkids as well.

“I always make it a point to come here at some point while we’re at the fair,” she said. “I won’t miss it.”

Samson said educating people like the Riemenapps about farming and the various environment-protecting conservation efforts producers engage in is a main goal of the pavilion.

“We feel to educate them will make them more supportive of our industry,” he said.

Potato truck takes to Hudson River during New York visit Fri, 26 Aug 2016 09:35:51 -0400 John O’Connell NEW YORK CITY — The Idaho Potato Commission can thank the New York City Police Department for drawing attention to a grandiose publicity stunt orchestrated Aug. 24 in the Big Apple.

The department issued a tongue-in-cheek all-points bulletin over the police scanner advising officers to “be on the lookout for a big potato floating down the Hudson River.”

From that moment, IPC officials’ phones began ringing incessantly with the coveted national media inquiries they hoped to generate by floating their Idaho icon — the Great Big Idaho Potato Truck — past the Statue of Liberty on a barge, pulled by a tugboat.

The 6-ton replica Russet Burbank on a flat-bed truck has toured the country for the past five years to raise awareness of Idaho potatoes and drawing attention to IPC charitable donations in communities along its route. IPC is already planning a sixth tour.

IPC Commissioner Randy Hardy, of Oakley, said the truck was on the water for several hours, photographed by onlookers from tour buses and ferry boats during its cruise.

“I think there will be a lot of media play on it from here on,” Hardy said shortly after the potato truck docked.

IPC President and CEO Frank Muir said the giant, floating spud was the top story on the news feed in New York City taxi cabs.

“There were TV crews filming it from helicopters. We’ve been picked up by all of the major media here, including the highest circulation radio station, as well as the TV station here,” Muir said.

Muir said IPC began planning the event and securing the necessary permits about a year ago, moving to the water based on restrictions against semi-trucks on certain Manhattan streets.

In conjunction with the spectacle on the Hudson, IPC also gave a New York City soup kitchen a voucher for 12,000 pounds of Idaho potatoes — roughly equivalent to the serving size of the replica spud. Muir and his cohorts volunteered at the kitchen Aug. 25 to help serve baked Idaho potatoes.

John-Harvard Reid, associate director of Holy Apostle Soup Kitchen, said his kitchen serves 1,000 homeless guests every Monday through Friday and hasn’t missed a meal in 34 years, including during Hurricane Sandy.

“Getting a baked potato is like something you remember from home,” Reid said. “A lot of times when you’re homeless, you don’t get those comfort meals that make you feel like you’re home again.”

In other IPC news, sports reporter Heather Cox took photographs and footage of IPC mascot Spuddy Buddy at the Summer Olympics in Brazil, with an emphasis on volleyball coverage. Cox has posted images from the Olympics on social media.

Washington anglers can fish without license after computer hack; Oregon, Idaho impacted Fri, 26 Aug 2016 09:25:35 -0400 Don Jenkins The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will allow fishing and shellfish gathering without a license through Tuesday while cyber investigators probe a computer security breach that exposed the personal information of hunters and anglers in several states.

WDFW shut down the sale of all fishing and hunting licenses Thursday when the breach was discovered in a system maintained by Active Network. The Dallas, Texas-based company provides online registration services.

The breach affected other Western states, including Idaho and Oregon.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game suspended online sales, but said licenses could still be purchased at offices and businesses, which use a separate system.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife also has indefinitely suspended online sales. Licenses are available from dealers and ODFW offices, a spokeswoman said.

WDFW suspended all sales, including those made by phone or from dealers.

WDFW is working with the state Office of Cyber Security to investigate the breach and restore sales as soon as possible, according to WDFW.

Through Tuesday, WDFW will not require anglers to have a vehicle pass to park at state fishing sites.

Other rules, such as seasons, size limits, bag limits and closures will remain in effort.

Current fishing regulations are online at

Licensing requirements will go back into effect Wednesday, according to WDFW.

Hunters will have to wait to buy licenses until the sales system can be restored. The agency said it anticipates being able to sell licenses before major hunting seasons begin in September.

Anglers will not be required to complete a catch record card for any salmon, steelhead, sturgeon or crab they catch from Aug. 25 to Aug. 30.

Efforts to reach Active Network were unsuccessful. According to its website, the company has 42,000 customers and handles 100 million online transactions annually for a variety of events, and government and business services.

Penalties reduced for Oregon pesticide applicator Fri, 26 Aug 2016 09:17:49 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski Oregon farm regulators have agreed with an administrative law judge’s recommendation to reduce penalties for a pesticide application accused of ignoring a stop-spray order.

Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, has issued a final order to revoke for one year the pesticide applicator licenses of Applebee Aviation and its owner, Mike Applebee.

Originally, the agency sought five-year revocations for both the company and Applebee.

Applebee Aviation and its owner must also pay roughly $53,500 in civil penalties under the final order, down from the $180,000 initially sought by ODA.

The company admitted to carrying out several spray operations after its applicator license was suspended by ODA in September 2015 after the agency found it hadn’t properly outfitted employees with protective gear.

Applebee claimed that spraying continued because he wasn’t notified of the suspension due to an out-of-state hunting trip and because it was unclear whether the suspension applied to federal lands.

Last month, Senior Administrative Law Judge Jennifer Rackstraw held that Applebee should have done more to stop spraying when he had “reasonable knowledge” of the suspension and “recklessly disregarded” ODA’s opinion that he shouldn’t treat federal property.

However, she found that the five-year license revocations were “excessively harsh” in light of the circumstances and because two previous violations were relatively minor.

Coba could have overruled Rackstraw’s order but instead upheld it with minor changes.

The agency decided to reduce penalties because only four of the 16 violations committed by Applebee and his company were found to be grossly negligent through the administrative process, and thus qualified for enhanced penalties, said Bruce Pokarney, communications director for ODA.

“Evidence came out about what he knew and at what time,” Pokarney said.

Though the administrative process is now complete, Applebee can challenge Coba’s final order before the Oregon Court of Appeals. He’s currently appealing the original emergency suspension issued by the agency.

Capital Press was unable to reach Applebee or his attorney as of press time.

Two men in Nevada standoff case plead guilty in federal court Fri, 26 Aug 2016 09:06:16 -0400 KEN RITTER LAS VEGAS (AP) — Two defendants became the first to plead guilty Thursday to federal charges in an armed confrontation with U.S. officials over grazing rights near cattleman and open-range advocate Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada.

Gerald “Jerry” DeLemus and Blaine Cooper each admitted to conspiring with others who engaged in a tense gunpoint standoff with federal Bureau of Land Management agents in April 2014 near Bundy’s property about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Both told U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro they weren’t physically present for the standoff.

But they acknowledged interfering with the execution of federal court orders by recruiting and organizing armed gunmen to support Bundy and sons Ammon, Ryan, Mel and Dave Bundy in efforts to prevent the roundup of Bundy cattle from the scenic Gold Butte area.

Their plea deals call for sentences of six years in federal prison, although their defense attorneys can seek leniency at sentencing Dec. 1. Each also could be fined up to $500,000 and be subject to up to three years of government supervision after prison.

Cooper, 37, from Humboldt, Arizona, also pleaded guilty to assault on a federal officer.

DeLemus, 61, of Rochester, New Hampshire, arrived in Nevada hours after the confrontation started. His second felony plea was to an interstate extortion charge, admitting he drove cross-country with guns with an intent to display “force and aggression” to stop the roundup.

DeLemus, a former U.S. Marine, spent weeks afterward living in a tent and organizing armed patrols near the Bundy ranch outside Bunkerville.

DeLemus was also politically active at home in New Hampshire, where his wife, Susan DeLemus, is a Republican state assemblywoman. He stopped several times Thursday to confer with his attorney while entering his guilty pleas.

“I don’t know that I threatened anyone,” DeLemus told the judge at one point, “but I made public statements hoping it would end peacefully.”

Prosecutors characterized DeLemus and Cooper as “mid-level organizers” and leaders of the conspiracy to prevent federal agents and contract cowboys from rounding up Bundy cattle that federal officials said were trespassing on public land.

“Federal law enforcement officers must be able to engage in their official duties, including executing federal court orders, without fear of assault or losing their lives,” U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden said in a statement after the pleas.

DeLemus and Cooper became the first among 19 defendants to take plea deals in the case in Las Vegas.

Trial for some of the remaining 17 defendants is scheduled to begin Feb. 2 on charges including threatening a federal officer, carrying a firearm in a crime of violence and obstruction.

Seven defendants in the Nevada case, including Cooper and Bundy’s sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, are also among 26 people charged in Portland, Oregon, in connection with a 41-day occupation of a wildlife refuge earlier this year.

Eleven people have taken plea deals in the Oregon case, including Cooper. The Oregon trial is scheduled to begin next month.

EPA: Mine waste overflows Colorado treatment plant Fri, 26 Aug 2016 09:03:45 -0400 DENVER (AP) — Discolored water containing metals escaped into a Colorado creek from a wastewater treatment plant after heavy rain fell near the site of an earlier mine waste spill, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday.

The EPA hasn’t identified the metals or quantities that were released in the incident Tuesday near the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado.

Local officials said the release wasn’t big enough to warrant a public advisory.

Last year, an EPA-led crew inadvertently triggered a 3 million-gallon spill while doing preliminary cleanup work at the mine, tainting rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The EPA estimates that spill sent 880,000 pounds of metals into the Animas River, including arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc.

The treatment plant was installed to clean up water still flowing from the mine while the EPA looks for a long-term solution. The agency has proposed a Superfund cleanup for the Gold King and 47 other nearby mining sites.

The agency said the metals released Tuesday had been at least partially treated and would settle out of the creek quickly.

The rains sent so much water into the treatment plant that part of the process was overwhelmed, the EPA said. The problem was corrected in about two hours, the agency said in a written statement.

The incident was first reported by the Durango Herald.

The overflow was too small to affect irrigation ditches, drinking water or recreation, La Plata County emergency director Butch Knowlton told the Herald.

Obama plans to create world’s largest marine protected area Fri, 26 Aug 2016 08:40:18 -0400 KEVIN FREKING WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Friday expanded a national monument off the coast of Hawaii, creating a safe zone for tuna, sea turtles and thousands of other species in what will be the world’s largest marine protected area.

Obama’s proclamation quadrupled in size a monument originally created by President George W. Bush in 2006. The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument will contain some 582,578 square miles, more than twice the size of Texas.

The president is slated to travel to the monument next week to mark the new designation and cite the need to protect public lands and waters from climate change. The president was born in Hawaii and spent much of his childhood there.

In creating the new monument, Obama cited its “diverse ecological communities” as well as “great cultural significance to the Native Hawaiian community and a connection to early Polynesian culture worthy of protection and understanding.”

The monument designation bans commercial fishing and any new mining, as is the case within the existing monument. Recreational fishing will be allowed through a permit, as will be scientific research and the removal of fish and other resources for Native Hawaiian cultural practices.

The regional council that manages U.S. waters in the Pacific Islands voiced disappointment with Obama’s decision, saying it “serves a political legacy” rather than a conservation benefit.

The council recommends catch limits and other steps designed to sustain fisheries. It said it recommended other expansion options that would have minimized impacts to the Hawaii longline fishery, which supplies a large portion of the fresh tuna and other fish consumed in Hawaii.

“Closing 60 percent of Hawaii’s waters to commercial fishing, when science is telling us that it will not lead to more productive local fisheries, makes no sense,” said Edwin Ebiusi Jr., chairman of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council “Today is a sad day in the history of Hawaii’s fisheries and a negative blow to our local food security.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts helped lead the push to expand the monument. It says research shows that very large, fully protected marine reserves are necessary to rebuild fish populations and diversity of species.

“By expanding the monument, President Obama has increased protections for one of the most biologically and culturally significant places on the planet” said Joshua S. Reichert, an executive vice president at Pew.

The White House is describing the expansion as helping to protect more than 7,000 species and improving the resiliency of an ecosystem dealing with ocean acidification and warming. It also is emphasizing that the expanded area is considered a sacred place for Native Hawaiians.

Shipwrecks and downed aircraft from the Battle of Midway in World War II dot the expansion area. The battle marked a major shift in the war. Obama will travel to the Midway Atoll to discuss the expansion.

With the announcement, Obama will have created or expanded 26 national monuments. The administration said Obama has protected more acreage through national monument designations than any other president.

The White House said the expansion is a response to a proposal from Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz and prominent Native Hawaiian leaders. The federal government will also give Hawaii’s Department of Natural Resources and Office of Hawaiian Affairs a greater role in managing the monument, an arrangement requested by Schatz and Gov. David Ige.

Climate change taking toll on American pika’s Western lands Fri, 26 Aug 2016 08:24:21 -0400 BRADY McCOMBS SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Populations of a small rabbit-like animal known as the American pika are vanishing in many mountainous areas of the West as climate change alters its habitat, according to findings of a study released Thursday by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The range for the mountain-dwelling herbivore is decreasing in southern Utah, northeastern California and in the Great Basin that covers most of Nevada and parts of Utah, Oregon, Idaho and California, the federal agency concluded after studying the cuddly looking critter from 2012-2015.

The findings come more than a decade after the same agency, and same lead researcher, concluded in 2003 that pika populations were dwindling, at least partly because of global warming. This new study makes a more authoritative statement about the role of global warming on the animal.

“The longer we go along, the evidence continues to suggest that climate is the single strongest factor,” said Erik Beever, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and lead author. “It’s not to say it’s the only thing, but by far it’s the largest single factor.”

The pika’s habitat on mountain slopes, known as talus, are hotter and drier in the summer and more harsh in the winter with less snowpack to serve as an insulator, Beever said.

The study bolsters the case for wildlife advocacy groups that have been pushing for years to have the animal added to the endangered species list amid concerns about global warming.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a request in 2010, saying not all populations were declining. A new request was made this April by a high school student in New York state.

A preliminary decision on that request is due out in early September, but the agency’s staff won’t take into account the new study, said spokeswoman Serena Baker. That’s because they are bound by rules to only take into account information submitted with the petition, she said.

Noah Greenwald, the Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species director, said the new research confirms that climate change is putting the animal at real risk. He said they may consider filing a new endangered species petition or sending in supporting information for the existing petition to ensure future generations are treated to seeing the critters during mountain hikes.

“It’s gotta be one of the cutest animals in North America. It’s like a cross between a bunny rabbit and prairie dog,” Greenwald said. “Part of what makes our world interesting is the diversity of animals and plants that you can see when you go to different species.

The pika is similar in size to a hamster but their big, round ears and thick brown and black fur have made them a favorite of backpackers and hikers.

President Barack Obama mentioned the plight of the pika this summer when he spoke at Yosemite National Park about the damage climate change is inflicting on the nation’s national parks. He said the pika was being forced further upslope at Yosemite to escape the heat.

The study didn’t quantify how many total American pika still exist, but honed in on several areas where the small animal no longer roams in search of grass, weeds and wildflowers to eat.

At Utah’s Zion National Park, they’re gone all together despite being seen as recently as 2011. In nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument, they’re no longer in three-fourths of their historical habitat, Beever said.

Pikas were only found in 11 of 29 sites where they once lived in northeastern California.

In the Great Basin, which stretches from Utah’s Wasatch Mountains in the east to the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains in the west, the population is down about 44 percent compared to historical records.

“It’s not that they’ve just moved, they are gone all together,” Beever said.

Researchers did find that the animal is thriving in a few places, such as the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, Beever said.

Those findings show a species can both benefit and suffer from climate change depending on the habitat.

“This is a species that gives us a little bit of an insight into what is going on these more isolated parts of our landscapes up in these mountain ecosystems,” Beever said.

More plaintiffs join suit challenging anti-corporate farming law Fri, 26 Aug 2016 08:28:59 -0400 BLAKE NICHOLSON BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The number of plaintiffs suing to abolish North Dakota’s anti-corporate farming law has expanded and now includes people and companies with ties to four U.S. states and a former Soviet republic.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who is defending the law, said the addition of plaintiffs only exacerbates problems with what he considers an overly vague lawsuit.

The North Dakota Farm Bureau, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and a Wisconsin dairy company that wants to expand into North Dakota sued in federal court in June. They want a judge to declare unconstitutional the nearly century-old law that aims to protect the state’s family farming heritage by barring large corporations from owning agricultural operations.

The original plaintiffs were recently joined by: a North Dakota hog farmer who is a member of the North Dakota Sow Center, which owns and operates several hog facilities and has partners in North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa; the North Dakota Pork Council; a North Dakota cattle rancher who wants to expand; and Global Beef Consultants, which provides cattle consulting and export services and also owns two ranches in Kazakhstan.

The new plaintiffs either didn’t respond to messages seeking comment this week or referred calls to attorneys. Attorney Claire Smith did not respond to questions other than to say the additional plaintiffs help “demonstrate the negative impacts of the challenged legislation.”

The lawsuit asserts that North Dakota’s anti-corporate farming law hurts the agriculture industry by restricting business tools available to farmers, lowering the value of their operations, discriminating against residents of other states and interfering with interstate commerce. It asks a judge to declare the law unconstitutional and bar the state attorney general from enforcing it.

Stenehjem has said the lawsuit is too vague for him to even respond, and he’s asked U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland to order the plaintiffs to more specifically detail why they believe the law is unconstitutional. Stenehjem has said in court filings that the state is “requesting reasonably” that the plaintiffs identify what specific problems they allege in a chapter of law that “consists of over 6,500 words and comprises over 100 individually numbered provisions in the North Dakota Century Code.”

Stenehjem said in court documents filed Wednesday that the addition of four more plaintiffs “exponentially exacerbates the ambiguities and vagueness” of the lawsuit.

“Farm Bureau’s amended complaint fails to separate which specific constitutional claims and counts are attributed to what individual plaintiff, as well as which allegations of fact are intended to support which count or constitutional claim by what plaintiff,” he said.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have said Stenehjem has demonstrated that he understands why the lawsuit is being challenged and that he has enough information to file an initial response.

Hovland has not yet ruled on Stenehjem’s request.

WDFW: 4 more wolves in Profanity Peak pack shot Thu, 25 Aug 2016 17:09:08 -0400 Don Jenkins Washington wildlife managers have killed this week four more wolves in the Profanity Peak pack, bringing the total to six as the Department of Fish and Wildlife seeks to eliminate the entire pack from Ferry County.

The department shot an adult male Sunday and the next day killed a female pup and two adults, including at least one male, according to WDFW wolf policy leader Donny Martorello.

The sex of the second adult is unknown, according to WDFW. The wolf was killed from a helicopter, but has not been found.

Previously, the department shot two female adults Aug. 5. WDFW suspended the hunt Aug. 18, but resumed it the next day when the department confirmed wolves had attacked more calves.

WDFW originally planned to “partially remove” the Profanity Peak pack, but decided to eliminate the entire pack after depredations on cattle continued.

Prior to the six shootings, the pack had six adults and five pups, according to WDFW.

WDFW has confirmed the pack has killed or injured eight cattle since July 8. The pack probably attacked at least seven other cattle, according to WDFW, though investigators were unable to absolutely confirm the cattle were attacked by wolves.

The state has never exterminated an entire pack to stop attacks on livestock. WDFW announced plans to remove the Wedge Pack from Stevens County in 2012. Officials shot seven wolves, but two in the pack survived.

Authorities shot one wolf in the Huckleberry Pack in Stevens County in 2014. The wolves were preying on a herd of sheep.

Washington fire sparks suit over federal firefighting powers Thu, 25 Aug 2016 12:56:19 -0400 Don Jenkins A federal lawsuit stemming from a 65,000-acre fire in Central Washington last summer challenges the U.S. Forest Service’s authority to suspend environmental laws and take emergency actions during a wildfire.

A Eugene-based environmental group, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, alleges that the agency broke the law by not analyzing the environmental effects of building a 50-mile long, 30-foot wide “community protection line.”

At the time, fire officials said the line was to safeguard rural hamlets in Chelan County from the Wolverine Fire burning in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

The fire remained miles away, and the line was unnecessary, destructive and violated the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirement to assess beforehand the impact of federal actions, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Aug. 16 in the U.S. District Court in Spokane.

Andy Stahl, the environmental group’s executive director, said Wednesday his organization wants the Forest Service to review how it fights fires, before continuing to give incident commanders free reign to declare an emergency.

“The Forest Service needs to make informed, thoughtful decisions,” he said. “Obviously, if you’re in the middle of a war, right in the middle of conflict, you don’t have time to make the analysis of what makes sense and what doesn’t.”

The Forest Service declined to comment on the lawsuit.

A spokeswoman for the Washington Forest Protection Association, which represents private timberland owners, said the organization was concerned about inhibiting the ability of fire commanders to contain blazes burning on adjacent federal lands

“The goal is to actively manage for healthy forests so we’re not put in a position to take extreme actions, but when we have to take extreme actions, we need to have that ability to act,” the spokeswoman, Cindy Mitchell, said. “When the woods are on fire, the woods are on fire.”

For authority to take emergency measures, the Forest Service relies on an administrative rule. The lawsuit alleges the rule should be declared invalid because the Forest Service adopted it without assessing its environmental impact.

Logging, building fire lines and setting back burns are federal actions that could significantly affect the environment and require an assessment, according to the lawsuit.

The lightning-sparked Wolverine Fire contributed to Washington’s worst fire season ever. The fire started July 29 near the northwestern shore of Lake Chelan and burned until mid-September.

Building the line required logging more than 100 acres of spotted owl habitat and degraded scenery along forest roads enjoyed by visitors, according to the lawsuit.

The fire was environmentally damaging too, according to a post-fire report by the Forest Service.

The fire harmed 19 miles of fish-bearing streams and greatly increased the risk of sediment eroding into critical habitat for threatened and endangered fish species, according to the report.

Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics is not affiliated with the federal agency, though its boards members are current or retired agency employees, Stahl said.

The group sued the Forest Service in 2003 and again in 2008, challenging the agency’s use of aerial fire retardant. The agency in 2011 adopted new rules limiting the dropping of fire retardant near waterways with fish.

Initiative has something for everyone not to like Thu, 25 Aug 2016 10:27:15 -0400 We’ll just blurt this out: We don’t see any need to raise taxes in Washington state — or any other state, for that matter.

Yet voters in several states this fall will see tax-increase initiatives on their general election ballots.

Every election, special interest groups and politicians cook up ideas for spending OPM — Other People’s Money.

They say they want to save the climate, pay for schools, feed the needy and any number of other goals. But their “solution” for accomplishing these goals is heaping more taxes on citizens and businesses.

Here’s a question: If those are the highest priorities, why not cut the lowest priorities from the state budgets and reallocate that money?

In Washington, Initiative 732 will be on the ballot. It’s a tax on Washingtonians, pure and simple. Even the sponsors say the initiative, if it passes, would raise gasoline prices 10 to 20 cents. That’s on top of state and federal gas prices, which combined are already 67.8 cents a gallon and among the highest in the nation.

Opponents estimate the impact will be even higher, adding 25 cents to the gasoline and diesel tax burden. Add that to an estimated 10 percent increase in the cost of electricity and a 15 percent increase in the cost of natural gas.

Taken together, that means the cost of farming, ranching and processing food will increase in Washington state.

The goal of Initiative 732 is reducing carbon output in Washington state. OK, what will that do to our changing climate? No, really. How much, exactly, will it reduce or reverse climate change?

We don’t see the answers to those questions anywhere in the pro-Initiative 732 literature. What we see is a tax on carbon dioxide, which is produced by cars, trucks and factories. It’s also produced by people. More than 7 million Washingtonians exhale carbon dioxide — 5.9 billion pounds a year. At $25 a ton, that means under Initiative 732 the people of Washington should be taxed about $74 million, just for breathing.

Of course, Initiative 732 won’t tax people, just the businesses that employ them and the utilities that supply their electricity and their natural gas. And, of course, those costs will be passed on to the people, in the form of fewer jobs and higher prices.

Washingtonians are told they will benefit from the tax, because the sales tax would be reduced. Here’s a thought. Washington legislators could convene and reduce the sales tax any time they want. They don’t need an initiative to do it.

The irony of Initiative 732 is its alleged goal of reducing carbon output. Washington state businesses have already done just that without this initiative.

Even more telling is the list of organizations lining up against Initiative 732.

The Washington State Democratic Party is against it. So are the Washington State Labor Council and the state Sierra Club chapter.

So are the Washington Farm Bureau, Washington State Council of Farmer Cooperatives, Washington Association of Wheat Growers, Washington State Tree Fruit Association, Washington Potato and Onion Association, Washington State Dairy Federation, and the Washington Cattlemen’s Association.

Enough said.

When neighbors go to court Thu, 25 Aug 2016 10:26:09 -0400 An Albany, Ore., farmer has won a legal challenge against his straw compressing facility launched by his neighbors and now wants the plaintiffs to cover his legal bills.

The neighbors, happy to shell out money to put him out of business, didn’t count on losing and having to pony up for his defense. Pay back, they say, is a … disappointment.

Farmer John Gilmour operates a straw compressing facility on a farm he owns in Linn County. He uses the facility to prepare 5,000 tons of straw he produces and 25,000 tons from other farmers. Compressing straw into tighter bales makes easier its overseas shipment.

Gilmour initially applied for a conditional-use permit from Linn County, which viewed the operation as an agricultural processing plant not covered by the property’s agricultural zoning. The county granted the permit, but restricted the hours and days the facility could operate and regulated the routes available to trucks servicing the business.

But Gilmour said the conditions set out under the county’s permit made his business less competitive. He appealed to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, or LUBA. The board ruled for Gilmour, holding that compressing straw or hay into tighter bales is not “processing,” but instead is a form of crop preparation allowed on land zoned for farm use.

LUBA said Gilmour doesn’t need a permit to operate the facility.

That didn’t sit well with neighbors of the facility, who weren’t all that happy that the county had granted it a conditional-use permit in the first place. They say the facility, a relative newcomer to their rural neighborhood, takes in as many as 20 semi-trucks a day on their small road. One resident complained the neighborhood had taken on an industrial character.

Backed by two conservation groups, the neighbors appealed LUBA’s ruling to the Oregon Court of Appeals. They argued LUBA should have deferred to Linn County’s determination that compressing straw meets the definition of processing.

Instead, the court sided with LUBA and Gilmour. It ruled that straw-compressing is crop “preparation” allowed outright on farmland.

“The record reflects that the straw is unchanged in substance from when it is first baled in the field to when it is packaged for resale,” the appellate court said.

LUBA and the court are right, and the rulings provide important protections for farmers.

Now Gilmour has asked the court to order his neighbors to pay his legal fees — $50,911. Sauce for the goose, but not unexpected when neighborhood disputes are handled by lawyers and not by neighbors.

The neighbors’ complaints are not without merit. Many have lived peacefully for years on their rural acreages before Gilmour built his facility. No doubt its operation has made their lives less pleasant, perhaps even more dangerous.

But the zoning that makes possible their rural acreages makes possible Gilmour’s business. One of the consequences of living on farmland for its aesthetics is having to tolerate actual farming operations and the legitimate commercial enterprises they produce.

Strong dollar challenging U.S. agricultural industry Thu, 25 Aug 2016 10:24:28 -0400 Brad Flodin Agriculture is a risky business. From the time our ancestors first began cultivating crops, farmers have faced the possibility of losing their harvests to extreme weather events.

Whether it’s a hailstorm that destroys a grain or fruit crop, a flood that washes out a newly planted cornfield or a drought that turns grazing lands into a barren desert, uncooperative weather can upend the best-laid plans.

For example, if the end of this growing season happens to be extremely wet in some areas of the country, many commodities could be ruined, affecting processing, packaging, transportation and other sectors as well as producers.

Or if natural disasters strike in other countries, that could put pressure on U.S. supplies. Or, longer term, if the drought continues in California, the state’s agricultural sector could see a significant shift in the coming years as farmers attempt to adapt by changing crops.

And as if these traditional risks weren’t enough, farmers also have to deal with the effects of currency fluctuation on international trade.

Globalism and the terms of international trade have recently come under heavy criticism from both sides of the political aisle, but there’s no arguing that international trade is critical to farmers’ ability to feed the planet’s more than 7 billion inhabitants. Even countries that are capable of producing enough food to feed their own populations import many foodstuffs because people like variety in their diets.

But although most nations want access to global markets, the world economy is complex, with many variables affecting a nation’s competitiveness. One of these variables is the exchange rate. The continued strength of the U.S. dollar against most major currencies is one of American farmers’ top concerns at the moment, as it makes U.S. agricultural exports more expensive.

In its most recent forecast for fiscal year 2016, the USDA Economic Research Service projected that U.S. agricultural exports would decrease $15.2 billion from 2015, to $124.5 billion, while imports would increase to a record $114.8 billion.

These figures still represent an agricultural trade surplus of $9.7 billion, but it’s down from $25.7 billion in 2015 — and the lowest surplus since 2006. The productivity of the U.S. agricultural industry has long outpaced domestic demand, creating a trade surplus every year since 1960.

As a result of the decrease in exports, national net farm income and net cash income are both projected to drop this year.

Economists attribute the decline in exports to slower world economic growth, decreasing prices for bulk commodities (world grain stocks are currently high) and a strong U.S. dollar.

This creates a complicated situation for U.S. producers. At the same time prices are dropping and demand is slowing due to weak economies in many countries around the world, the position of U.S. farmers’ competitors — producers in Canada, Australia and South America, for example — are being strengthened by the exchange rate.

This puts significant pressure on American agriculture. U.S. commodities are more than 30 percent costlier than their Canadian counterparts. Some purchasers are willing to pay a premium for top-quality products, such as U.S. wheat, but not all products can be clearly differentiated. After all, sales of commodities are, by definition, driven primarily by price. Not all farmers are affected in the same way, as different products have different export markets with different currencies.

The strong dollar cuts both ways, of course, also making imports cheaper. So farmers who use imported inputs such as fertilizer or feed will have lower costs, which does help the bottom line but, depending on the crop, usually doesn’t fully compensate for the lower sale price of the final product.

Many producers utilize commodity contracts, options, or guidance from brokers to hedge against some of these risks, but there are costs associated with these approaches, so many producers simply opt to ride out the cycles.

If you’re a farmer, a conversation with your banker should be part of your strategic planning process as you look toward next season. In the next few weeks, you’ll likely receive a great deal of information about your harvest and crop yields and will then have a very short window for making future plans.

Talk to your banker about the market for your specific commodities and ask him or her for comparisons of financials so you can better understand how your farm stacks up with others in the industry.

Also request your banker’s assessment of your borrowing capacity, and ask what steps you should take to increase it — before you need a loan. Regular communication allows you to strengthen your relationship with your banker and builds trust on both sides, increasing the probability that you’ll get the resources you need when challenges or opportunities arise.

Brad Flodin is a vice president of Washington Trust Bank. He earned his finance degree at the University of Idaho and is a graduate of Western Agricultural Credit School at Washington State University.