Capital Press | Capital Press Fri, 2 Oct 2015 19:38:57 -0400 en Capital Press | Researcher offers irrigation options for farmers Fri, 2 Oct 2015 14:19:08 -0400 Dan Wheat PROSSER, Wash. — Growers can consider options to save irrigation water as they face the likelihood of a second drought year in a row, a Washington State University irrigation specialist says.

Center-pivot irrigation systems can be 10 to 15 percent more efficient with low-energy precision applications (LEPA) and low-energy spray applications (LESA), said Troy Peters, an irrigation specialist at WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center at Prosser.

“Deficit irrigation, where we don’t irrigate as much as crops want, has been going on for some time. We know quite a bit about how different crops respond to different deficits and different times of the year, but not many people in the Pacific Northwest are using low-energy applications,” Peters said.

LEPA dribbles water onto the ground and LESA lowers pivot arm spray heads to just above crops, lessening loss of water to wind drift and evaporation, Peters said.

It’s worked successfully in the South for some time but hasn’t been used much in Washington because there hasn’t been a need, he said.

“We’re trying to demonstrate its efficiency and, where appropriate get growers to turn to it,” he said.

Because the systems apply the same amounts of water in less time there’s greater propensity for ponding and runoff, particularly on steep slopes and tight soils, he said.

“It won’t be applicable everywhere,” he said.

Speeding up pivots to apply less water per pass and changing tillage methods are ways ponding and runoff can be addressed, he said.

Growers can contact him for field evaluations. LEPA and LESA save power because they operate with less pressure. The energy savings pay for the cost of converting pumps and equipment in about two years, he said.

Other things growers can do is irrigate only when crops need it and stress crops during vegetative development in late spring rather than during fruit development, Peters said.

Water stress during vegetative development has less impact on yield and quality than stress during flowering stage or growth of potatoes, corn, wheat or other crops, he said.

“Many people irrigate just in case and a lot of water is lost to deep percolation. The soil can’t hold it and it goes down into aquifers. It’s timing. How much and when. We have irrigation scheduling tools on mobile apps tied to AgWeatherNet that helps with that,” he said.

AgWeatherNet provides access to weather data from WSU’s automated weather station network and computerized models and decision aids for farmers.

The tools aren’t widely used because of cost and time it takes growers to interpret data, he said.

Fully automated irrigation controls, such as those used for lawns and gardens, are not available for commercial agricultural use because companies don’t want to be liable for crop losses, Peters said.

“No one wants to pay for a pivot of potatoes at $10,000 an acre,” he said.

So many farmers still run pivots manually and others customize their own automated systems, he said.

Wolf-plagued Washington rancher caught in the middle Fri, 2 Oct 2015 13:58:06 -0400 Don Jenkins Washington’s most-scrutinized rancher, Dave Dashiell, says he’s not sure whether he’ll stay on the state’s wolf advisory group or if he’ll even remain in the sheep business.

“I’ve been pushed and pulled in every direction,” Dashiell said Friday. “If I’m not in a no-win situation, it’s darn close to that.”

Dashiell has apparently lost more livestock to wolves than any rancher in the state. Coincidentally, he has been on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s wolf advisory group since it was created in 2013. The dual roles are thrusting him into the spotlight, again.

He didn’t attend this week’s WAG meeting in Ellensburg because the organization he represents, the Cattle Producers of Washington, quit the group. CPoW said WAG had become a forum for theoretical discussions that excused WDFW from managing problem wolves.

“It’s a worthless group from the cattlemen’s standpoint,” said Stevens County Cattlemen’s Association President Justin Hedrick, who was the Cattle Producers alternate member. “We’re worse off than three years ago when the group started.”

Dashiell was one of three people who signed CPoW’s resignation letter.

“It was pretty hard for me to give a convincing argument (the group) was doing any good,” Dashiell said. “Going to meetings didn’t keep my sheep from being slaughtered and my dog from being torn up.”

Nevertheless, Dashiell hasn’t ruled out staying on the panel and representing himself. He remains listed as a member. WDFW has ramped up its investment in using the WAG to mediate conflicts over wolf management.

“I guess the value to participate is so you are informed on what they’re up to. As far as solving the problem, I don’t know if it will or not,” Dashiell said. “Maybe things are turning in the right direction, maybe. It’s hard to say. … I guess it’s a work in progress. I don’t have a whole bunch of time to work this thing out.”

CPoW withdrew less than two weeks after Dashiell tentatively agreed at a WAG meeting in early September to work with conservation groups on a 2016 grazing plan. Dashiell said reaction from colleagues about the potential collaboration wasn’t “too bad.”

“Everyone who talked to me said they understood the position on the deal, but I did hear some rumbling that environmentalists were going to make my grazing plan, and they were going to call all the shots,” Dashiell said. “We didn’t give up lethal control. We didn’t give up anything.”

Environmentalists were cautious, too, about supporting a plan that would risk depredations on livestock, followed by pressure to lethally remove wolves.

“It took some soul-searching on the spot,” said Tim Coleman, director of the Kettle Range Conservation Group. “The whole idea of killing wolves before they’re recovered is very difficult and almost unacceptable.”

Dashiell said he’s lost confidence in non-lethal wolf deterrence, though he’s still open to working with environmentalists, especially if they want to endure camping out with the sheep. But he’s not sure what he’ll do next year.

He estimates he lost 300 sheep to wolves in 2014. WDFW shot one wolf, but the Huckleberry pack remains largely whole and has split into two groups. Wolves mauled one of Dashiell’s sheep dogs this summer. Dashiell said the dog has healed and hangs around the house.

“He’s way more friendly and sociable than he ever was,” Dashiell said. “I don’t know if he’ll work again.”

To avoid further losses to sheep, Dashiell kept his flock this summer in Eltopia in south-central Washington and spent more than $10,000 a month on hay. The sheep were safe, but ended the summer underweight, he said.

“They like green grass, brush and shade in the summertime,” he said. “It just didn’t work. It kept the sheep alive, but there’s no money to be made.

“They’re going to have to go someplace because we’re not going to do that again,” Dashiell said. “Any place in the mountains, there’s wolves, so I don’t know where you go.”

If he brings the flock back to northeast Washington and depredations occur, “I’ll be accused of just doing it so lethal control will kick in,” Dashiell said. “I want to stay in the sheep business, but don’t know if I can or not.”

CPoW drops out of wolf advisory group, wants it abolished Fri, 2 Oct 2015 13:20:45 -0400 Dan Wheat ELLENSBURG, Wash. — The Cattle Producers of Washington has withdrawn from the state’s Wolf Advisory Group, calling it “inept and pointless” and saying it has prevented any action by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in dealing with wolves that kill livestock.

The department should abolish the advisory group — known by the acronym WAG — courageously take on wolf management that’s fair to communities impacted by wolves and should not “stand idle as livestock operations that are vital to rural communities perish under inadequate public policy,” said Monte McPeak, CPoW president, in a letter dated Sept. 10 that was sent to the Fish and Wildlife Commission and department director Jim Unsworth.

“WAG has consistently prevented any real action by WDFW, creating dire circumstances for the ranch families and communities that have been negatively impacted” by wolves, McPeak wrote. Continuing to participate in WAG would work in opposition to CPoW’s mission of sustaining, improving and protecting the state’s cattle industry, he wrote.

WAG meetings often consist of theoretical discussions while ignoring data and wolf management tools in other states, he said in the letter. WDFW uses WAG to delay action as it waits for “some kind of unattainable consensus from WAG,” and WAG refuses to seriously discuss lethal removal, he wrote.

A majority of WAG members always want one more depredation before removing wolves and CPoW has no desire to work with a facilitator who closes WAG meetings to the public, creating “a secret and obscure environment to discuss an issue of high public importance,” McPeak wrote.

WDFW spent $76,000 to remove the Wedge wolf pack in 2012 but is spending $850,000 on the WAG facilitator for two years, the letter says.

In two days of WAG meetings in Ellensburg, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, there was no direct public mention of CPoW’s withdrawal. WAG facilitator, Francine Madden, said she alluded to it but not by name.

“I want us to be respectful of that (CPoW’s) decision but remain open to engagement,” she said later. “If there is any way we can be supportive of their community, then I would do that. The door is open to re-engagement at any time and in any form.”

She said the $850,000 for two years goes to her nonprofit organization, Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration in Washington, D.C., and not directly to her. She said she had seen CPoW’s letter but had no comment on it.

Donny Martorello, WDFW wolf policy coordinator, said it’s unfortunate CPoW dropped out, that he valued the organization as a stakeholder and appreciates its reasons.

“We’re not delaying any management action based on WAG,” Martorello said. “WAG is looking for cohesion on controversial parts of our protocol but that doesn’t pause any management of wolves.”

Jack Field, executive vice president of Washington Cattlemen’s Association who is on WAG and has expressed frustration with its slowness, said he respects CPoW’s decision but that his board decided to stay at the table.

“I’m glad we did because yesterday afternoon (Oct. 1), we finally “quit writing conceptual thoughts on butcher paper and went line-by-line through a checklist of non-lethal actions. That was huge. If we come into the next meeting with the same focus we will do a lot of good things,” Field said.

Madden said she intends to get the group to agree on a checklist for standing behind lethal action when needed. Paula Swedeen, carnivore policy lead in Olympia for Conservation Northwest, said she’s willing to do that.

Shawn Cantrell, director of Defenders of Wildlife in Seattle, said it’s hard to trust ranchers who won’t sign cooperative wolf management agreements with WDFW. Swedeen agreed regarding public land.

The department has an obligation to protect ranchers who don’t sign agreements, said Jay Shepherd, of WDFW.

“I would guess there are people in here on WAG who don’t want any lethal measures taken. They may accommodate it at the extreme, but fundamentally they don’t want to see any wolf killed and others in the room who want to see all the wolves back out of Washington,” said Dan McKinley, regional director of the Mule Deer Foundation, of Spangle, Wash.

The group worked through a WDFW checklist of livestock-wolf mitigation measures, bouncing questions off its member Nick Martinez, of Washington State Sheep Producers and a Moxee sheep rancher, to tailor a possible plan toward him. They covered handling mortality, treatment of sick or injured livestock, sheep turnout and wolf hazing.

Swedeen and others pushed for greater human presence — range riders and sheepherders — as a deterrent to wolves early on in any potential conflicts.

Martinez said an understanding is needed so WAG isn’t always pushing for one more thing before wolves can be killed.

“I hope we get to a definition on range rider. Right now if you talked to five producers and five conservationists, you could get 10 answers,” Field said. “There’s a lot of variability in handling mortality. It was beneficial for conservation folks to hear that.”

The group talked about coming up with generic plans for sheep and cattle and specific plans for Martinez and Dave Dashiell, a Hunter rancher who lost 300 sheep to wolves, and was the CPoW member of WAG.

WSU to dedicate new plant growth facility Fri, 2 Oct 2015 12:23:45 -0400 Matw Weaver Washington State University will mark the opening of its $15 million plant growth facility with a dedication ceremony Oct. 17.

The building “epitomizes” the partnership between WSU Extension, the Washington Grain Commission and USDA Agricultural Research Service, said Rich Koenig, associate dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences and director of WSU Extension.

The facility opened in late summer and is occupied by the WSU and USDA wheat breeding programs. In addition to greenhouse space, it offers room for the WSU doubled haploid laboratory, which is designed to speed up the wheat-breeding process, allowing breeders to save years when selecting key wheat traits. It also includes an herbicide spray room for controlled applications for research and controlled-environment seed storage, Koenig said.

WSU and the commission each paid $5 million for construction of the building, while the research service’s allocation paid for growth chambers, Koenig said.

“They can’t fund a building, but they can fund things within a building,” he said.

The dedication ceremony is invitation-only due to space limitations, but farmers interested in a tour of the facility can contact Koenig’s office at 509-335-2933 or Agricultural Research Center director Jim Moyer’s office at 509-335-4563.

Koenig credited the commission with helping to remove bottlenecks from the plant-breeding process through its support for the facility, the doubled haploid lab and investments in the USDA ARS genotyping lab.

The plant growth facility came about because the commission asked WSU the single biggest limiting factor in developing new wheat varieties. The response was a lack of greenhouse space, Koenig said.

“This will allow those breeding programs to reduce the amount of time it takes from cross to getting varieties into the field and into growers’ hands,” Koenig said.

The ceremony will honor the long partnership between all three entities, Koenig said. In the 1950s, the then-Washington Wheat Commission was organized and began supporting USDA and WSU research at the university, he said.

Ironman record holder to promote Idaho potatoes Fri, 2 Oct 2015 12:04:13 -0400 John O’Connell EAGLE, Idaho — An icon in endurance sports has agreed to promote the nutritional value of Idaho potatoes while raising funds for an organization that assists families in adopting international children with Down syndrome.

The Idaho Potato Commission has donated $25,000 per year to Utah-based Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome, also known as RODS Racing, since the organization was founded in 2013.

IPC President and CEO Frank Muir has agreed to let RODS use IPC’s annual contribution to bring Ironman triathlete James Lawrence, known as the Iron Cowboy, on board for a two-year contract as a RODS spokesman “fueled by Idaho potatoes.”

“Potatoes have been a staple in my fitness nutrition for years,” Lawrence said, via email.

Lawrence, of Utah, recently set a record by completing 50 Ironman races in 50 days covering all 50 states. An Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. Lawrence’s supporters set up courses and arranged special races in each state.

Lawrence said he pursued the record — which he considers to be the toughest endurance feat ever accomplished — to inspire others to be more active.

“During the 50 events in 50 days through all 50 states, my team made sure I had potatoes on hand,” Lawrence said. “They were a part of my daily routine and fueled my way into the history books as the only person alive to complete the 50-50-50 challenge.”

RODS now has 200 long-distance athletes who find sponsors for their races to help families who adopt a chosen RODS child. RODS covers roughly half of international adoption fees, which can approach $40,000.

Muir explained endurance sports are a good fit for promoting Idaho potatoes, as many distance athletes keep foil-wrapped spuds in their pouches for an in-race energy boost. He’s confident Lawrence will raise the organization’s profile, and send a positive message about potato nutrition.

“Anybody who does long-distance training, running or biking, potatoes are a very important part of their diet,” Muir said. “They minimize muscle cramping and are easy to digest.”

Lawrence likes to cut his spuds into cubes and bake them into “crispy treats,” consumed during his biking sessions.

In the near future, Lawrence intends to focus on fundraising, speaking and coaching.

RODS founder Brady Murray said his organization has raised nearly $500,000 thus far and has set a goal of raising $1 million during the next two years, capitalizing on Lawrence’s name recognition. Murray said 10 international children with Down syndrome now have loving homes thanks to IPC’s contributions.

Murray said Lawrence is especially concerned about childhood obesity and has been active in promoting a healthy lifestyle for children.

“This is an opportunity for Idaho potatoes to have an incredible spokesperson,” Murray said. “James is a big advocate for whole foods and using potatoes as a fuel source for endurance athletes.”

Murray founded RODS after his son was born with Down syndrome and he learned in many foreign countries, children with the disorder are institutionalized.

Murray and his wife are in the process of adopting their own RODS child, and he intends to start selecting RODS children with other disorders.

Report highlights dairy industry progress in sustainability Fri, 2 Oct 2015 11:46:24 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas The measure of sustainability in agriculture has moved beyond environmental stewardship to also encompass a wide variety of markers that involve social and economic issues.

Dairy farmers manage natural resources on top of managing their operations every day. But how food is produced, the care and treatment of animals and the availability of a safe, nutritious, affordable supply of dairy foods also comes up in conversations with customers and consumers, said Juan Tricarico, vice president of sustainability research with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

The 2014 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Report, released last week, highlights the shared commitment of U.S. dairy farmers, processors and manufacturers to provide nutritious products in a way that is improving the social, economic and environmental performance of the industry, according to the Innovation Center, which was established by dairy farmers’ checkoff dollars through Dairy Management Inc.

Sustainability is a maturing topic, going beyond the focus of the environment. The objective of the dairy industry is to create a strong connection with customers and consumers on the many aspects of sustainability to benefit both the industry and consumers, Tricarico said in an interview from the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., Oct. 1.

At its heart, he said, is a great story of U.S. dairy farmers converting natural resources to healthy dairy products using only 8 percent of total available farmland.

“From a small piece of land, dairy farmers are contributing a substantial amount of nutrients critical to enjoying a healthy life,” he said.

Since 1944, U.S. milk production has quadrupled, but the industry uses 90 percent less cropland, consumes 65 percent less water and emits 63 percent fewer greenhouse gases, according to the Innovation Center.

“It’s a story of success because the dairy industry as a whole has reduced use of natural resources and also greenhouse gases substantially,” Tricarico said.

But sustainability also encompasses farmers’ ability to continue farming and to pass a viable operation onto future generations. Educating customers and consumers on the industry’s efforts and progress toward the things they care about is part of that sustainability, he said.

Everybody wants to be able to go to the supermarket and have dairy products available at a reasonable price. But consumers also want assurance of resource conservation and animal welfare, and they care about social responsibility, he said.

The annual sustainability report helps communicate the efforts, impacts and contributions of the dairy industry, he said.

That is particularly important in engaging customers who have daily interaction with consumers, he said.

They get questions from consumers and need to be able to articulate the impacts and contributions of dairy and that dairy products are produced in a responsible manner, both environmentally and in the care of animals, he said.

The report is also a reflection of the efforts of individual farmers and the challenges they face to continue to be better stewards. They are resourceful individuals and always looking for ways to improve, he said.

“The more our customers understand how dairy farming is done and the effort of dairy farmers to be efficient and reduce impacts, the better off the industry is,” he said.

Checkoff money is also being used in social media campaigns to boost consumer confidence and equip the industry and its supporters with facts and information to share with the public, he said.

University of Idaho ag college chooses new dean Fri, 2 Oct 2015 10:10:30 -0400 Sean Ellis MOSCOW, Idaho — Michael Parrella will be the new dean of University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

He has accepted the position and will take over as dean of CALS effective Feb. 1.

Parrella comes to UI from the University of California-Davis, where he served as the chair of the Department of Entomology and Nemtatology and as associate dean of that university’s agricultural sciences department.

“I am excited about joining the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Idaho,” he stated in a UI press release. “The president and provost have a wonderful vision to move the university forward and CALS has a critical role to play.”

Parrella has a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Rutgers University and a master’s and doctorate degrees in entomology from Virginia Tech.

“A number of stakeholders appreciated that he was an entomologist with a ‘hard’ science background,” Food Producers of Idaho Executive Director Rick Waitley said in the news release. FPI represents most of the main agricultural groups in Idaho.

Idaho Falls grower to join IPC board Fri, 2 Oct 2015 10:07:54 -0400 John O’Connell EAGLE, Idaho — James Hoff is a small-scale potato producer by modern standards, raising 250 acres of Russet Burbanks for the fresh market this season.

But lately, the Idaho Falls grower has been making a large impact on his industry.

During its October meeting, the Idaho Potato Commission will appoint Hoff, 47, to replace departing board member Boyd Foster, of Ririe.

Last fall, Hoff — a pilot with a small fleet of vintage airplanes in a hangar on his farm — costarred in an Idaho Potato Commission commercial, in which he piloted his 1943 Boeing Stearman biplane in search of the “missing” Great Big Idaho Potato Truck.

Hoff has also served two six-year terms with the U.S. Potato Board, with his most recent term ending in 2013, and ended his tenure as president of Potato Growers of Idaho in January.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter appointed Hoff from three nominees.

“It’s quite an honor and a privilege to be able to serve the Idaho potato industry at that level,” Hoff said.

He was nominated by American Falls grower Klaren Koompin.

“James is very bright and very engaged in the potato industry, and he has a good background,” Koompin said.

IPC Commissioner Randy Hardy, of Oakley, believes Hoff made great strides with PGI, a political action committee that supports state lawmakers who back the potato industry. During his five-year tenure, Hoff helped increase PGI’s annual fundraising from roughly $18,000 to about $45,000.

As PGI president, Hoff also occasionally attended IPC meetings to report on his organization and got to know some of the staff and other board members.

“The biggest thing for me is that Idaho retains its strong identity as the potato state,” said Hoff, who credits IPC with creating that perception.

Hoff’s personal efforts build Idaho potato awareness haven’t gone unnoticed. For a few days of his ongoing harvest, he hosted a German film maker producing a documentary about Idaho, who saw the airplane commercial. He also received a letter from crop duster pilot who researched the Stearman’s registration number and confirmed he’d flown it in the 1960s.

Hoff’s farm was purchased in 1903 by his great-grandfather. He and his wife, Dara, have two daughters, Savannah, 19, and Paige, 15.

Also during the meeting, commissioners Dan Nakamura and Lynn Wilcox will be sowrn in for their second three-year terms.

Growers report painless water, energy savings through irrigation method Fri, 2 Oct 2015 09:37:16 -0400 John O’Connell Capital Press

MUD LAKE, Idaho — Local farmer Steve Shively believes a trial in one of his alfalfa fields proves a simple, cost-effective new irrigation method can help Idaho producers save significantly on water and energy.

As part of a research project with Bonneville Power and University of Idaho Extension irrigation specialist Howard Neibling, Shively converted a single span of a pivot irrigating alfalfa to low-energy sprinkler application, or LESA. He also tried it in wheat, but hail damage skewed results.

LESA utilizes long hoses that dangle low-pressure sprinkler heads about a foot from the ground, distributing water beneath the plant canopy to reduce evaporative losses by 20 to 30 percent over the course of the season.

“LESA reduced (water) loss from 80 percent efficiency or less to 90 percent or better. That’s where the savings are coming from,” Shively said.

LESA nozzles are positioned about 4.5 feet apart on pivots, rather than 9 feet apart under conventional configurations. It’s Neibling’s derivation of low-energy, precision application (LEPA), which dribbles water from special nozzles on hoses rather than spraying it. Dribbler nozzles designed for LEPA, popular in Texas, don’t put out enough water to establish crops in low-rainfall regions such as Idaho.

Water also better infiltrated Shively’s soils under LESA. During a Sept. 22 field day on Shively’s farm, Neibling drilled 5 feet deep and still found soil moisture within the LESA ring of the pivot’s rotation, compared with dry soil less than a foot deep in other areas of the alfalfa field. Under LESA, Shively yielded 2.74 bales of hay per acre, compared with 1.87 bales in the rest of the field. An energy audit confirmed Shively also stands to save $2,000 per year in power for each 140-acre pivot he converts.

Neibling attributes Shively’s yield boost to a pump that provided too little pressure for most of the pivot but was adequate for low-pressure LESA nozzles.

Shively estimates LESA setups cost $4,000 to $5,000 more than conventional nozzle systems, but all of the parts are available locally, and he said growers should recoup their investments in less than two seasons.

Next season, he plans to convert whole pivots to LESA.

Neibling, in the final year of a three-year LESA test project, has also tried the method in Arco, Malta and parts of Nevada, using it successfully in spring grains, potatoes, alfalfa and corn.

Nevada growers were able to shut down full LESA pivots for up to two days per week, while conventional pivots had to run continuously to provide crops the same level of moisture, Neibling said. Washington State University is also testing the technology in commercial fields. Neibling hopes to continue his LESA research, noting UI cereal scientists are pursuing funds to study how LESA may reduce headblight and lodging in grain by keeping water off of plant heads.

Neibling believes LESA is an ideal option for Idaho groundwater irrigators, such as Shively, who will be asked to reduce well water use by nearly 11 percent next season as part of a settlement for the Surface Water Coalition’s call.

“This is why I’m excited about this technology. It should allow growers to meet that reduction without a decrease in yield or number of acres,” Neibling said.

Washington Supreme Court approves closed advisory group meetings Fri, 2 Oct 2015 09:28:07 -0400 Don Jenkins OLYMPIA — The Washington Supreme Court on Thursday ruled public agencies can close some advisory group meetings to the public, rejecting a claim by a property-rights group that San Juan County violated the state’s open meetings law in crafting land-use restrictions.

The 6-3 decision found that the county’s “critical areas ordinance team” wasn’t required to announce meetings or allow the public to attend.

San Juan County’s administrator formed the group in 2012 as the county updated its Growth Management Act rules for buffers around wetlands, wildlife habitat and other areas.

The Citizens Alliance for Property Rights Legal Fund sued to overturn the policies, arguing they were invalid because the advisory group’s closed meetings were illegal.

At issue was whether the state’s Open Public Meetings Act applies to groups that could influence policies but don’t have the final say.

State agencies commonly have advisory panels on topics such as wolf recovery, agriculture-related water issues and wildlife management.

A Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife policy calls for its advisory group meetings to be public, but recently it closed portions of two Wolf Advisory Group meetings.

The high court’s majority cited three reasons San Juan County didn’t violate the law: The group didn’t include a majority of the county council; it apparently wasn’t created by the council; and it didn’t act on behalf of the council.

Writing for the majority, Justice Charles Wiggins noted there was no official list of members or written purpose for the “informal group.” The plaintiffs were able to determine after filing suit that the group included three council members, county planners and a scientific consultant.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Mary Yu said the group’s vague nature didn’t justify closing the meetings.

“Nothing about the (Open Public Meetings Act) endorses the view that informality is an adequate substitute for open government,” she wrote. “This lack of documentation and institutional amnesia only emphasized the importance of public oversight under the (meetings law.)”

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the Washington State Association of Municipal Attorneys filed briefs supporting San Juan County.

The alliance’s court allies includes Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, the Building Industry Association of Washington and the Pacific Legal Foundation.

A Superior Court judge and the Court of Appeals had dismissed the alliance’s complaint, but the group’s president, Jeff Wright, said Thursday in an interview that he thought the alliance would prevail in the Supreme Court.

He said the ruling provided public agencies with a “blueprint” for evading public scrutiny.

“They drove a truck right though the middle of the law,” Wright said. “I would say probably our next step is to work with legislators to come up with a legal fix.”

Idaho, Oregon onion prices higher, bulb size smaller Fri, 2 Oct 2015 09:18:56 -0400 Sean Ellis ONTARIO, Ore. — As onion farmers in the Treasure Valley area of Idaho and Oregon gather in the remainder of this year’s crop, they are enjoying prices that are significantly better than last year.

But onion size and yields are expected to be down because of a severe heat wave earlier in the growing season that affected plant growth.

“The size is down a tiny bit because of the heat but the quality looks pretty good. With all the heat we had ... the crop fared better than I thought it was going to,” said Nyssa, Ore., grower Paul Skeen. “We’re looking forward to a good market.”

The price for a 50-pound bag of jumbo onions is around $8 right now, up from about $4.50 at this time last year.

“That’s a very good market for harvest time,” said Kay Riley, manager of Snake River Produce in Nyssa, one of about 30 onion shippers in the region.

“It looks like it will be a pretty average crop,” he said. “Quality seems to be good (but) size on some lots is a little smaller than normal.”

The area of southwestern Idaho and Malheur County, Ore., is one of the largest onion growing regions in the country, but acreage has decreased somewhat since 2013 because of a significantly reduced water supply on the Oregon side.

According to estimates by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, there will be 8,400 acres of onions harvested on the Idaho side in 2015 and 9,000 acres on the Oregon side.

That 17,400-acre total is down from the 19,900-acre total in 2013, when 9,000 acres were harvested in Idaho and 10,900 were harvested in Malheur County.

According to NASS, 9,300 acres of onions were harvested in Malheur County and 6,900 acres in Idaho in 2014, a total of 16,200.

While Eastern Oregon onion acres are about the same as last year, Idaho has seen a significant increase this year due to the water situation, said Oregon State University Cropping Systems Extension Agent Stuart Reitz.

“They had a little bit better water situation over there,” he said about Idaho. “A lot of it is driven by the drought.”

Reitz said a lot of onion fields in the valley were affected by a nine-day stretch of 100-degree temperatures that ended July 4.

“That took its toll on the plants. We didn’t see the size we normally get around here,” he said. “Some plants seemed to run out of gas by the end of July.”

But Idaho farmer Sid Freeman said his onion crop looked great, which he attributed to the drip irrigation system he installed two years ago.

“This is the best crop we’ve ever grown,” he said, adding that the heat wave ended before it hurt his onion plants. “It stopped just in time. It didn’t do a whole lot of damage.”

Because the drip system allowed him to mange inputs more intensely, “the onions were in good enough condition going into that heat spell that they didn’t degrade,” Freeman said.

Portland daily grain report Fri, 2 Oct 2015 09:17:24 -0400 Portland, Ore., Friday, Oct. 2, 2015

USDA Market News

All Bids in dollars per bushel. Bids are limited and not fully established in early trading.

Bids for grains delivered to Portland, Oregon in dollars per bushel.

In early trading December wheat futures trended 1.25 to 2.25 cents per bushel lower compared to Thursday’s closes.

Bids for US 1 Soft White Wheat delivered to Portland in unit trains and barges for October delivery for ordinary protein were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as steady to lower compared to Thursday’s noon bids for the same delivery period. Bids for guaranteed maximum 10.5 protein were not well tested in early trading but were indicated as lower compared to Thursday’s noon bids.

Bids for 11.5 percent protein US 1 Hard Red Winter Wheat for October delivery were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as lower compared to Thursday’s noon bids. Some exporters are not issuing bids for nearby delivery.

Bids for 14 percent protein US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat for October delivery were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as generally lower compared to Thursday’s noon bids. Some exporters are not issuing bids for nearby delivery.

Bids for US 2 Yellow Corn delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle trains during October trended higher compared to Thursday’s noon bids.

Bids for US 1 Yellow Soybeans delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle trains during October were lower in early trading.

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White Wheat - delivered by Unit Trains and Barges

Ordinary protein

Oct mostly 5.5075, ranging 5.4675-5.5500

Nov 5.5500-5.5675

Dec 5.5500-5.6675

Jan 5.5500-5.7250

Feb 5.5500-5.7250

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Oct mostly 6.7175, ranging 6.6675-6.7675

Nov 6.6675-6.8175

Dec 6.6675-6.8675

Jan 6.6750-6.7200

Feb 6.6750-6.7200

US 1 White Club Wheat - delivered by Unit Trains and Barges

Ordinary protein

Oct mostly 5.5075, ranging 5.4675-5.5500

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Oct mostly 8.2175, ranging 8.1675-8.2675

US 1 Hard Red Winter Wheat - (Exporter bids-falling numbers of 300 or


Ordinary protein 5.8525-6.1225

11 pct protein 6.0525-6.2425

11.5 pct protein

Oct 6.1525-6.3025

Nov 6.1525-6.2025

Dec 6.1525-6.2025

Jan 6.2425-6.2925

Feb 6.2425-6.2925

12 pct protein 6.2025-6.3325

13 pct protein 6.2625-6.3925

US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat (with a minimum of 300 falling numbers, a maximum

of 0.5 part per million vomitoxin, and a maximum of one percent total damage)

13 pct protein 6.2800-6.4600

14 pct protein

Oct 6.6000-6.7000

Nov 6.3500-6.7300

Dec 6.4500-6.7800

Jan 6.4275-6.8275

Feb 6.4275-6.8275

15 pct protein 6.7600-6.8200

16 pct protein 6.9200-6.9400

US 2 Yellow Corn

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Oct 4.6500-4.8400

Nov 4.6600-4.6900

Dec 4.7000-4.7100

Jan 4.8150-4.8350

Feb 4.8250-4.8350

Mar 4.8350-4.8550

US 1 Yellow Soybeans

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Oct 9.7525-9.8525

Nov 9.7725-9.8125

Dec 9.7700-9.8100

Jan 9.7600-9.8100

US 2 Heavy White Oats 3.7750

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Sep 2015

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges 5.3800

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 5.6800

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 5.8600

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 6.3300

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, OR

Bigger is better for this pumpkin grower Fri, 2 Oct 2015 09:03:39 -0400 SPENSER HEAPSThe Daily Herald PROVO, Utah (AP) — Ed Dennis is not your typical gardener.

The 750-square-foot plot in his backyard in Highland was dedicated to just one plant this year: a pumpkin.

On Saturday, Dennis saw the culmination of nearly six months of toiling in the dirt as his prized pumpkin was hoisted by a fork lift and gently placed on a digital scale at this year’s Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers Weigh Off.

Calculations based on the size of the pumpkin indicated it would be somewhere in the mid-900-pound range, but whether Dennis could break the 1,000-pound mark was up in the air.

“You just never know until you put it on the scale,” Dennis said.

This was Dennis’ fifth year growing giant pumpkins, and each year he’s steadily improved. He’s about doubled the size of his pumpkins every year, growing one in 2014 that weighed in at 432 pounds.

“Obviously the first few years we really didn’t know what we were doing,” he said.

While growing vegetables of any kind requires a bit of attention to detail, growing a giant pumpkin takes the science to another level.

This year’s adventure began with soil preparation in March. In mid-April, Dennis began germinating a pumpkin seed from the Atlantic Giant variety. Soaked in a mix of water, seaweed and hydrogen peroxide, the seed was placed on a hot pad and kept at 85 degrees for a couple days until it sprouted.

The seed was then placed in high-quality potting soil, along with special bacterias and seaweed to stimulate root growth. A grow light illuminated the sprout for 16 to 18 hours a day. Once the sprout’s first true leaf showed, it was transferred to a hoop house in the garden, where heating coils keep the soil at exactly 75 degrees.

Dennis said there’s not much visible action for the first month while the plant spreads and the root system develops. A mix of soil, fungicide and fertilizer is used to bury the vines to help grow more roots.

On May 17, Dennis cross pollinated one of his plant’s female blossoms with pellet from another grower’s male blossom. About 15 days later was when the pumpkin began to grow quite aggressively, Dennis said. From days 25 through 40, the pumpkin really started to explode.

“Over that 15- to 16-day window it gained over 500 pounds,” Dennis said. “So it was averaging a little over 32 pounds per day. And there were a few days where it gained over 40 pounds.”

Dennis, who works as a CPA in Salt Lake City, would get home from work and marvel at how much bigger the pumpkin had gotten since he left that morning.

“It’s just unbelievable how fast it can grow,” he said.

After work, Dennis would strap a headlamp on his head and go spend some time tending to the plant.

“You’re with it just about every day. In fact, it was difficult even to go on vacation,” he said.

Dennis and his wife Laurel did take a four-day vacation in August, but they had a friend come over and fertilize and spray insecticide and fungicide every day while they were gone.

Insects and fungus are big problems for giant pumpkins, Dennis said, so they use insecticide and fungicide aggressively. There’s no effort to grow the plants organically because they wouldn’t be good to eat at that size anyway.

On the day before the Weigh Off, Dennis enlisted the help of a friend and his fork lift to remove the pumpkin from the garden.

“We’ve never had one big enough that we had to have a piece of equipment to lift it,” Dennis said.

His stress was apparent as the giant pumpkin was slowly lifted off the ground using a specially made pumpkin lifting ring and straps.

The next morning, Dennis towed his giant pumpkin on a trailer to the 11th annual Utah Giant Pumpkin Growers Weigh Off at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi. There it sat next to other giant pumpkins, ready for it’s turn on the scales.

When the time came, Dennis stood with his wife, daughter and grandchildren and waited for the pumpkin’s number to be revealed.

It weighed in at 953 pounds. Dennis threw a fist in the air, but his celebration was restrained.

“We’re pleased that it was that big. It was a little lighter than we’d hoped, but that’s still really good,” he said.

Dennis said hitting 1,000 pounds is the mark of a good grower, and he would really like to crest that mark.

“I’m relieved,” he said. “I really can’t be disappointed with a 950-pound pumpkin.”

Dennis acknowledged not everybody would want to sink the kind of time, energy and money he spent on his pumpkin to grow something that you can’t eat in the end.

He said the reward is not only the satisfaction of having refined the skills necessary to grow such a huge plant, it’s also the camaraderie between growers and the time he gets to spend with his family.

“My whole family enjoys it. My two daughters both grow pumpkins, so my wife and I work on this one,” Dennis said. “And our grandkids love it. That’s what really keeps us growing.”

Dennis said the other growers in Utah are a fascinating and diverse group of people. They aren’t protective of their methods — seasoned growers don’t hesitate to help out the new guys.

“I haven’t found a pumpkin grower who I don’t like,” Dennis said. “They’re all just a lot of fun to be around.”

Before his pumpkin had even been lifted off the scale, Dennis said he was already mentally planning for next year’s grow.

Farmer finds woolly mammoth bones in soybean field Fri, 2 Oct 2015 08:57:44 -0400 LIMA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — An eastern Michigan farmer has made a mammoth find while digging in a field.

The Ann Arbor News reports the bones of a woolly mammoth were found by James Bristle in a soy field Monday night in Washtenaw County’s Lima Township. Bristle says he and a friend were digging when they found what they thought was a mud-covered, bent fence post.

University of Michigan professor Dan Fisher confirmed the remains were a woolly mammoth Thursday morning. He and others worked to dig out the skull and a huge tusk.

Fisher says there are only 10 similar sites in Michigan in recorded history where such a significant portion of a woolly mammoth skeleton was found. He says this one was likely 40 years old and was probably killed by humans.

ConAgra cuts 1,500 jobs; moving HQ from Omaha to Chicago Fri, 2 Oct 2015 08:31:06 -0400 JOSH FUNKAP Business Writer OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — ConAgra Foods will eliminate 1,500 jobs — which represents 30 percent of its office-based workforce — and move its headquarters to Chicago from Omaha, Nebraska, with the goal of creating a more-efficient packaged food company.

Company officials said Thursday that its new Chicago headquarters will have about 700 workers by next summer, including top executives and consumer foods employees that are currently divided between Omaha and Naperville, Illinois. The company will keep about 1,200 employees in Omaha to handle research and development, supply chain management and some administrative functions.

About 1,000 people will lose their jobs in Omaha and roughly 300 Omaha jobs will move to Chicago.

The Naperville office, about an hour southwest of ConAgra’s new headquarters in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, will close, and between 320 and 350 jobs from there will move to the city.

ConAgra, which makes Chef Boyardee, Slim Jim and Hebrew National hot dogs, said the job cuts exclude plant positions and do not include any impact from the planned sale of its private label operations. It anticipates about $345 million in one-time charges over the next two to three years related to the restructuring.

“It is critical that we run as lean and as efficient and as effective as possible,” ConAgra spokesman Jon Harris said.

The jobs being eliminated are primarily redundant positions or jobs that will be outsourced, ConAgra said Thursday.

The changes should create about $200 million in cost savings, with more than half of that realized by the end of fiscal 2017, according to ConAgra. The balance should be achieved in the following year. The company said the savings are in addition to approximately $150 million in cost cuts over the last two years. It anticipates the plans giving a “modest benefit” to fiscal 2016 earnings.

ConAgra reported a first-quarter loss of $1.2 billion last month. The company has been pressured by a major stockholder, Jana Partners, which says ConAgra’s results have been disappointing since it bought Ralcorp for $5 billion two years ago. ConAgra said in June that it will sell the unit so that it can better focus on improving its own name brands.

ConAgra CEO Sean Connolly said it made sense to consolidate operations in Chicago because most of the company’s consumer food division was already based in the area. Previously, frozen foods were based in Omaha while other consumer products were in Naperville.

“Today the businesses are split by temperature state,” Connolly said. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think about how the consumer shops.”

Connolly is attempting to sculpt a leaner company that can develop new products to satisfy consumer tastes more quickly while generating healthier profits.

The American palate has shifted rapidly in recent years, with consumers seeking foods that are less processed and healthier.

ConAgra will receive an unspecified amount of tax credits from Illinois based on the salaries of the jobs it plans to move to the state.

Omaha, civic and business leaders have acknowledged that the loss of ConAgra’s headquarters will be a blow to the region. Gov. Pete Ricketts and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert had been in talks with ConAgra about incentive packages to keep the company in the city.

ConAgra was founded in 1919 and moved to Omaha in 1922. It developed its current headquarters complex of five office buildings, research labs and parking along the Missouri River after threatening in 1986 to leave the state for Tennessee.

At that point, Nebraska approved a package of tax incentives and exemptions to keep ConAgra in Omaha, and the city demolished a historic warehouse district to make way for the headquarters.

“I feel like we went to bat for them,” Stothert said. “I’m very disappointed that they are leaving.”

ConAgra plans to continue using its sprawling campus downtown, but after the cuts are made some of the space might be leased to other businesses, company spokeswoman Lanie Friedman said.

ConAgra has been a major investor in every major community initiative over the years, so losing their headquarters will hurt, said David Brown, president of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

But Brown pointed out that Omaha’s business community remains strong with four companies listed in the Fortune 500.

N.C. governor visits rally defending hog farming industry Fri, 2 Oct 2015 08:26:32 -0400 GARY D. ROBERTSON RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s hog industry has been getting organized this year to combat what it considers misleading information about its farming operations and to oppose litigation challenging its environmental practices, and it took that fight to the state Capitol on Thursday.

A group called North Carolina Farm Families held a rally on the old Capitol grounds in Raleigh and dropped off more than 11,000 petitions with Gov. Pat McCrory. The governor addressed the crowd of more than 300, showing his support.

“We want our elected officials here in Raleigh to hear us and we want them to stand up for North Carolina farm families,” group president Ed Emory told the crowd. “Our opponents accuse hog farmers of causing environmental problems, and that’s simply not true.”

The group, which counts Smithfield Foods and Murphy-Brown LLC among dozens of supporting organizations, began after environmental advocacy groups and eastern North Carolina residents filed complaints against large-scale hog operations. Both Murphy-Brown and Smithfield are under the umbrella of China-based WH Group.

Speakers like North Carolina Pork Council CEO Deborah Johnson singled out the Waterkeeper Alliance, a New York-based environmental group that has sued the industry and erected billboards this summer blaming industrial hog operations for polluted rivers and stench in the air.

North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten said he was tired “of the constant attacks on you and your families from third-party lawsuits. I’m tired of the harassment by out-of-state lawyers.”

In a statement Thursday, the Waterkeeper Alliance said it sues when all other efforts have failed to stop pollution. The lagoon and spray systems that most hog operations still use to dispose of hog waste harm water quality, according to Matthew Starr, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, an alliance member.

“It’s way past time for the industry and local producers to be honest about their failed outhouse system of disposing of raw animal waste by dumping it on to fields,” Starr said.

A separate class-action lawsuit filed by hundreds of eastern North Carolina residents accuses Murphy-Brown, a pioneer in factory-style operations, of failing to do enough about the smells and flies associated with hog operations.

The Farm Families group says hog farmers are environmentally responsible and subject to annual inspections. More than 80 percent of the state’s hog farms are owned and operated by families, the group says. N.C. Farm Families or their allies have been producing mailers and generating mass phone calls promoting the industry’s contributions to the state.

“The way we’re represented is not true, and I think it’s important that we get the truth out that we do take care of our land and our animals,” said Megan Spence of Wayne County, whose family operates a farm that includes about 3,500 sows. The farm contracts its hogs to Smithfield.

McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor, told the crowd that state government leaders would fight for them, adding he respects farmers even when “extreme groups” don’t.

“We know you care for the environment, we know you respect the environment and you also respect the needs that we have for food for not only North Carolina for the rest of the world,” he said.

Despite bird flu, Minnesota still top turkey-producing state Fri, 2 Oct 2015 08:18:16 -0400 ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota has retained its ranking as the nation’s top turkey producing state despite this year’s bird flu outbreak.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting that the country will raise 228 million turkeys this year, down 4 percent from the number raised in 2014.

Minnesota lost about 5 million turkeys and 4 million egg-laying hens in the outbreak, which resulted in the deaths of 48 million birds overall. The USDA predicts Minnesota producers will raise 40 million turkeys this year, down 12 percent from 2014.

North Carolina, which escaped the outbreak, is the No. 2 turkey producing state. It’s expected to raise 29 million turkeys, up 2 percent from last year. Arkansas, which had only one farm affected, is third at 27 million turkeys, down 10 percent from last year.

North Dakota wheat stocks up 3 percent from a year ago Fri, 2 Oct 2015 08:18:14 -0400 FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Wheat stocks in North Dakota are up 3 percent from a year ago, to 322 million bushels.

The Agriculture Department says in its latest report that on-farm wheat stocks on Sept. 1 stood at 215 million bushels, down 19 percent from the previous year. But off-farm stocks totaled 107 million bushels, up 130 percent over the year.

Stocks of barley, soybeans, oats and sunflowers in North Dakota also were up on Sept. 1, while corn stocks were down.

Vineyards need to be ‘tucked in’ for winter Thu, 1 Oct 2015 09:31:16 -0400 Brenna Wiegand It’s all about the vines, Willamette Valley vineyard operators say.

“To ensure a great spring in the vineyard it’s important to have good vine health through the growing season,” Pete Paradis of Paradis Vineyard in Silverton, Ore., said. “This year water has been a critical issue and we have utilized our drip irrigation system more than ever before.”

Next is vine nutrition. The soil is monitored annually and a nutrient balance is achieved by adding recommended amounts of custom-blended fertilizer. Vine petiole analysis is commonly done to determine the vine’s nutrient uptake.

“Third and likely the most important thing is using fungicides to protect the vines from ever-persistent disease pressure,” Paradis said.

“In the vineyard industry there’s not a lot of getting winter prepared,” Chris Deckelman, of Meridian Estate Vineyard & Vitis Ridge Winery in Silverton, said. Including his own 100, Deckelman manages 250-280 acres of wine grapes in the Silverton area.

“When you’re all through picking — it can be the end of October some years — you wait until the plants go completely dormant, normally around Dec. 1-15, and then you start pruning and training again. It’s a labor thing, too; you’re trying to keep your labor force active 12 months of the year.”

For Phil Kramer of Alexeli Vineyard & Winery, the additional task of making wine means no off season.

“Right when I’m done making wine, I need to bottle the vintage from a year ago,” he said. “As soon as I’m done bottling I have to prune the vineyard and then finish the wine from the current vintage.”

After that the growing season’s on its way and Kramer’s running the tasting room and continually distributing his wine. “You can’t leave home in the summer because you have to spray every two weeks and I have labor doing work. ... It’s at least 10 hours a day generally and there are a lot of long days.”

The vines have done their work, too.

“After harvest the vines are tired; you would be too if you had to do what they do,” Paradis said. “We like to say they go to sleep after a cold spell in November. They have worked hard and we have taken care of them well. It’s time to rest.

“If we have done our job well they will rest well, allow us to trim their branches and arise renewed and ready for the next year.”

Last year Adelsheim Winery of Newberg, Ore., began leasing Pete and Donna Paradis’ entire 60-acre vineyard. Though their son Pierre still acts as field manager, he’s been focusing more on his off-site equipment contracting, Rainbow Valley Enterprises.

Bumper crop produces record olive oil yields in California Thu, 1 Oct 2015 12:49:40 -0400 Tim Hearden DAVIS, Calif. — With their harvest under way, growers of olives for oil are finding a bumper crop as the trees rebound in an “on” year for the alternate-bearing fruit.

The California Olive Oil Council is predicting a record yield of 4 million gallons this year, a huge jump from the 2.4 million gallons produced in 2014.

“Olives for oil are a very drought-tolerant crop, so we didn’t really have any doubts (because of) the drought,” said Lisa Pollack, the Berkeley-based council’s marketing director. “Last year we had some inclement weather conditions. … This year has just gone really well for production.”

Freezes, a wet spring and wind pressure hampered the crop last year, spoiling oil producers’ hopes of matching the 3.5 million gallons achieved in 2013. But the low yields enabled trees to rest and come roaring back this year.

At Pasture 42, a farm in Guinda, Calif., yields this year are up, said Dylan Stein, who was operating a tasting booth for the farm at a recent farmers’ market in Davis.

“Last year was a little slow for us,” he said. “It’s usually one year off and one on, and this is an ‘on’ year.”

Gary Pepe, who grows a small plot of olives for oil in Happy Valley, Calif., said this year’s crop is “OK.” But he, too, expects the season to go better than it did in 2014.

“Most of my crop was lost last year,” Pepe said. “My machine broke down, so a lot of it just fell to the ground.”

Another factor in this year’s expectation of record yields is that acreage of olives for oil is still on the rise, although not as briskly as it was several years ago, Pollack said. About 3,500 new acres are planted each year, she said. As of January, there were more than 35,000 acres total in California, she said.

The bumper crop comes as table olive growers are expecting a 62 percent boost in yields from last year. This year’s table olive crop is expected to weigh in at 60,000 tons, up significantly from last year’s 37,120 tons, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

California only produces about 4 percent of the olive oil on the world market, but it’s a lucrative crop for growers as the Golden State is becoming known for having top-quality extra-virgin oil.

For one thing, the olive oil council’s more than 400 members have their oil tested each year and receive the council’s seal, and last year a state olive oil commission was established to set a quality standard at the state level, Pollack said.

The industry has been working in recent years to differentiate California extra-virgin oil from imports, some of which are of poor quality, producers say.

“Prices are good,” Pollack said. “It’s more of trying to level the playing field in the supermarket. Until there are national standards, there’s a mix of things on the shelf. … I think there’s more and more consumer knowledge (about quality) every year.”

Ecology fines livestock owner over water pollution Thu, 1 Oct 2015 11:37:59 -0400 Don Jenkins A Northwest Washington couple has been fined $12,000 for allowing cattle to pollute water that flows into Drayton Harbor, a body long plagued by high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, the state Department of Ecology said Wednesday.

Jim and Victoria Snydar of Ferndale have up to about 40 cows that have unfettered access to a stream and cross it where the ground is largely bare, according to DOE records. The stream is a tributary of California Creek, which drains into the harbor in Whatcom County.

Recreation and commercial shellfish harvests in the harbor have been limited because of pollution.

Water samples taken in 2014 consistently showed water flowing off the Snydars’ property to have high concentrations of bacteria, according to DOE.

“The problems on this property are significant, but can be addressed with commonly used practices,” Doug Allen, manager of DOE’s Bellingham office, said in a written statement.

“We’ve made repeated attempts to work with the Snydars to help them make changes that would prevent pollution,” Allen said. “It’s unfortunate that we’ve gotten to this point.”

DOE penalties may be appealed to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board. Efforts to reach the Snydars were not successful.

The DOE also claimed that manure on the property was inadequately covered, improperly spread and accumulated in pastures and pens that slope toward water. The fine specifically stemmed from two water samples taken immediately downstream from the property.

The first sample, taken March 3, 2014, found bacteria levels 85 times greater than the state limit, according to DOE. The second sample, taken April 17, 2014, showed bacteria levels 46 times higher. Each sample resulted in a $6,000 penalty.

The DOE says it notified the Snydars about the water tests in July of 2014, but received no response. In April of this year, DOE sent another notice giving the Snydars until June to present a pollution-control plan.

DOE spokeswoman Krista Kenner said the Snydars did not respond. “The best-case scenario is that the fine gets his attention,” she said.

DOE enforcement records show no other fines levied against a livestock owner since a Skagit County farmer was penalized $1,000 in 2012 for not preventing manure from draining into ditches leading to a tributary of the Samish River.

In 2013, the state Supreme Court upheld DOE’s penalties levied in 2009 against Eastern Washington rancher Joe Lemire.

USDA proposes more scrutiny for biotech wheat field trials Thu, 1 Oct 2015 11:22:07 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski The USDA wants to increase its oversight of field trials for genetically engineered wheat due to past unauthorized releases of the crop.

The agency recently proposed requiring permits to conduct field trials for transgenic wheat, which is more rigorous than the current system of simply notifying regulators of such tests.

A variety of genetically engineered wheat resistant to glyphosate herbicides was found in an Oregon field in 2013, which prompted a USDA investigation because the cultivar wasn’t deregulated.

During its investigation, the agency found more unauthorized biotech wheat growing at an agricultural research station in Montana in 2014.

Due to those incidents, the USDA decided to enhance its regulatory requirements for field trials by mandating permits, which “will help prevent future compliance issues, protect plant health and the environment, and allow for flexibility in the length of the volunteer monitoring period and the specific permit conditions used to address how volunteers of GE wheat will be appropriately managed,” according to the agency.

For example, the agency can require biotech developers to regularly submit volunteer monitoring reports.

In 2015, biotech developers have notified the USDA of 620 acres of genetically engineered wheat field trials.

Most field trials for biotech crops are conducted under such notifications, which don’t require the USDA to establish basic standards prior to approving planting, said George Kimbrell, attorney for the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit that’s critical of federal biotech oversight.

“There’s no actual pre-planting approval like there is with a permit,” he said.

It’s yet to be determined whether requiring permits for wheat will reduce escapes of the crop, but it’s significant that USDA has singled out wheat when unauthorized releases have also occurred with other crops, Kimbrell said.

The USDA’s announcement begs the question of why permits aren’t required for all field trials, he said. “It’s an indication field trial oversight has been inadequate.”

The Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents developers, said it’s still reviewing USDA’s permit proposal for wheat.

“Much of the research in GE wheat, however, is currently being conducted by small companies and public institutions.  At first glance, the (USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) proposal may have a greater impact on their ability to conduct field trials of GE wheat since they have fewer resources to deal with new regulatory requirements,” said Karen Batra, BIO’s food and agriculture communications director, in an email.

Monsanto, which developed the biotech wheat discovered in Oregon, also said it’s reviewing the proposal.

The company already works with industry and USDA stewardship programs to continuously improve its field trial process, a spokesperson said in an email.

Dry weather leads to higher protein levels in some wheat Thu, 1 Oct 2015 11:04:37 -0400 Matw Weaver SPOKANE — The drought has increased protein levels in some of Washington state’s wheat crop, industry representatives say.

Members of the Washington Grain Commission listed the main ill effects the dry growing season has had on the state’s wheat crop during its meeting Sept. 30 in Spokane.

Problems they mentioned included lower yields and protein levels higher than many customers prefer.

Customers in Asia that purchase U.S. wheat have lower protein requirements than much of the soft white wheat in the fields, industry representative Ty Jessup said.

Most overseas customers prefer 10.5 percent protein or less, but the crop has averaged a little more than 11 percent, commissioner Dana Herron said.

The industry does its best to address the issue by sampling protein levels and sorting or blending for the right specifications in the field, bins and railcars, Jessup said.

Herron suggested farmers consider switching from white wheat to red wheat, in which a higher protein level is desired.

“If Mother Nature is going to dictate dry weather for the next six months to a year, and we’re going to end up with a crop in a state that’s high protein, why do you want to get discounted for high protein when you can raise hard red winter wheat or dark northern spring wheat and get a premium for it?” Herron said. “Use Mother Nature to your advantage and get paid for it.”

Herron also said he is concerned about the availability of soft white spring wheat seed next year.

“One of the hardest things for a seed company to judge a year in advance is the demand for a variety like soft white spring wheat, not knowing the circumstances that may lead up to (a farmer’s) ultimate decision,” said Herron, co-owner of Tri-State Seed Co. in Connell, Wash.

If the drought continues, any winter damage will increase demand for spring wheat seed needed for replanting, Herron said.

Herron said the soft white wheat varieties Louise and Diva have been popular, for their drought tolerance and Hessian fly resistance, respectively. He recommends farmers consult with their seed dealer.

“I would really suggest you have that conversation before you need it,” Herron said.

Herron said red wheat supplies should be adequate, barring a winter disaster.

“What the industry really needs is a return to average moisture, then things would be normal,” he said.

Comments sharpen Washington’s debate over manure lagoons Thu, 1 Oct 2015 10:24:31 -0400 Don Jenkins UNION GAP, Wash. — The Washington Department of Ecology has yet to fully digest comments on its proposal to regulate manure lagoons, but a few key issues are emerging.

The issues include soil-testing mandates, reporting requirements and whether DOE rightly assumes unlined lagoons pollute groundwater, Heather Bartlett, the department’s water quality manager, said.

Manure lagoons figure prominently as DOE revises water-pollution controls for wherever livestock are gathered to feed at least 45 days in a year.

Only 10 operations in the state have permits for concentrated animal feeding operations. CAFO permits detail what producers must do to prevent surface water pollution.

DOE plans to extend the protection to groundwater and has tentatively proposed that any producer with an unlined manure lagoon obtain a CAFO permit.

The requirement could apply to hundreds of producers.

The Washington State Dairy Federation warns that permit requirements would drive some dairies out of business. The Washington Farm Bureau has challenged the assumption that unlined lagoons automatically pollute groundwater.

At a meeting at DOE’s Central Washington regional office Sept. 29, Bartlett outlined for the department’s Agriculture and Water Quality Advisory Committee concerns that DOE has heard so far about the proposal.

Topping the list is DOE’s stance on unlined lagoons. Only lagoons lined with two synthetic layers and with a leak-detection system between the layers would be exempt from CAFO requirements, according to DOE’s tentative proposal.

Bartlett said after the meeting that DOE believes pollution seeping from lagoons endangers groundwater, but the department remains open to other ways to reduce risks besides lining lagoons.

She said she couldn’t say whether DOE will alter its position on unlined lagoons. DOE expects to make a formal proposal late this year or early next year and have a final rule in place by summer.

“I don’t want to over promise and under deliver,” Bartlett said. “People in the environmental community are saying, ‘You’re not going far enough.’ ”

DOE released the preliminary proposal in August. A comment period will end Oct. 2. Once DOE updates its proposal, another comment period will follow.

Other concerns include:

• The dairy federation also says DOE’s proposal would interfere with the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s oversight of dairies. Bartlett said DOE and WSDA are working closely to sort out their roles.

• The proposal broadly calls for producers to update manure-handling plans whenever there is a “change in the design, construction, operation or maintenance” of the concentrated animal feeding operation. Bartlett said DOE recognizes the need for “latitude” in when it will require plan revisions.

• The proposal calls for testing soil before and after manure applications and at different depths. Depending on test results, farmers might have to use less fertilizer or stop fertilizing entirely. Bartlett said some have questioned the practicality of the testing requirements.

• The proposal calls for buffers to separate surface water from livestock and fields on which manure is spread. Farm groups say the buffers will take land out of production.

Bluetongue cases increase among wildlife, livestock Thu, 1 Oct 2015 10:17:33 -0400 Matw Weaver More instances of bluetongue virus have been found in Washington and Idaho deer and livestock than usual, the head of Washington’s animal diagnostic laboratory says.

Most of the samples submitted to the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory were from white-tailed deer. Other affected species included domestic sheep, bighorn sheep, mule deer, cows and a yak.

In all, the laboratory has confirmed the virus in 42 animals from Washington and Idaho.

The disease is caused by a virus transmitted by midges or gnats. It is not transferred between animals or to humans, said Tim Baszler, executive director of the diagnostic laboratory in Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

“As the gnats and midges go away, the problem will go away,” he said. “There seems to be more activity than usual, probably because of the dry summer we had.”

The lab detected bluetongue in animals from Whitman, Spokane, Asotin, Garfield, Pend Oreille and Stevens counties in Washington and Latah, Clearwater, Canyon and Nez Perce counties in Idaho. Samples from cattle and bighorn sheep submitted from Churchill and Mineral counties in Nevada were also confirmed to have bluetongue virus, according to a WSU press release.

Cattle and goats tend to be more resistant, Baszler said, but sheep and deer often die from the disease.

The virus infects blood vessels and animals get fluids in their lungs or hemorrhage.

The lab is working to identify the strains of the virus to determine the proper vaccine, Baszler said.

Producers in the affected areas, particularly sheep ranchers, should take whatever actions they can to protect their animals from insects or contact their local veterinarian about vaccine possibilities, Baszler said. He said gnats and midges are plentiful in areas with water and vegetation.

Baszler said ranchers should look for symptoms and submit samples to the lab.

“We’ll keep monitoring it, because we really need to find out these strains,” he said.

According to WSU, signs may include high fever, profuse salivation, nasal discharge, facial swelling and breathing difficulty. In severe cases, lung damage results in poor blood oxygenation, which may make the tongues and lips of animals appear bluer than normal, a symptom called cyanosis.

Samples submitted to the laboratory tested negative for epizootic hemorrhagic disease virus, which is uncommon in cattle. Bluetongue virus and EHD can both cause similar signs in the same species, but bluetongue can affect international trade, according to a WSU press release.