Capital Press | Capital Press Sat, 22 Oct 2016 20:12:48 -0400 en Capital Press | The number of female farmers continues to grow Thu, 20 Oct 2016 08:48:45 -0400 LILLIA CALLUM-PENSOThe Greenville News TAYLORS, S.C. (AP) — There is something special about catching the sun rising above the tips of trees. This is the view that greets Kasie Jo Layman every morning when she goes to work at Sandy Flat Berry Patch, where Layman oversees specialty products for the 400-acre farm.

Even on a recent busy Monday morning, Layman was able to sneak away, driving the farm’s beat up pickup truck up the side of the tangled but sprawling hillside to a point just above the trees.

“Isn’t it nice?” she says, smiling at the landscape before her. “In the wintertime, when the leaves shed you can see all the mountains all around.

“There’s freedom up here.”

Layman, 29, didn’t set out to be a farmer. Growing up in southern Illinois, the daughter of a carpenter and a stay-at-home mom, she thought she’d do something more practical. But now, two years into the farming life, she can’t imagine doing anything else. She is among a growing crop of women choosing the same path.

As the demand for local food grows, so does the need for local farmers. And agriculture, long the bastion of men, is attracting more women. Female farmers now make up about 30 percent of the farmer operators in the U.S., a number that has nearly tripled in the past three decades, according to the U.S. Census. And while the numbers of male and female farmers dipped a bit in the most recent census, in the Upstate, there has been growing interest among women.

As academic program director for the Sustainable Agriculture program at Greenville Tech, Rebecca McKinney has seen a shift firsthand. About 80 percent of the inquiries McKinney fields are from women, and this year’s premier class is about two thirds women.

“I tell everybody it’s because we get it,” says Rebecca McKinney, whose work is also part of Greenville Tech’s Culinary Institute of the Carolinas. “We understand why you should be putting healthy food in your body, why you should be glad to be out in the sun with your hands in the soil.”

In an ever-growing industry (the state’s agribusiness industry has a $41.7 billion impact according to a 2013 report), the growth of women at all levels of the agricultural spectrum has the chance to significantly impact the food system, particularly in the area of sustainable farming. Women-operated farms tend to be smaller, and run with a focus on environmental and personal health, McKinney says, meaning more attention to environmental preservation and to things like organics and traditional heirloom varieties.

“I think this is the salvation of food systems in general,” McKinney says. “This is happening with women and men both in our area that I see, the people coming into farming now are very likely to have children and grandchildren with them and to involve them in the processes and what I see is they’re basically raising the next generation or two or three of farmers.”

Here are some facts you might not have known about Cherokee Bell tomatoes. One, they will dye your hands yellow after just five minutes of picking them; two, they are delicate things, bruising easily, and require a soft touch; and three, there is definitely a right way to pick them.

“You have to feel the way it hangs off the vine and then move it slowly in the opposite direction.

After studying computer science and engineering in college, Layman said it became clear that office life would not suit her.

She moved to Alaska in search of adventure, something different, and there, in the bleakest of climate zones, got interested in farming.

Fast forward to 2014 when she visited her older sister in Greenville. The area seemed perfect for farming, so Layman decided to stay and pursue her dream. She met Ruth Ann Lynn one day while working part-time at a local gym.

“She said how about working part-time at a farm too,” Layman says smiling. “Yeah right! It’s 70 hours during strawberry season!”

Now, two years later, Layman lives in a basement apartment at the farm and oversees most of the specialty wholesale accounts. These include roadside markets, specialty stores like Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery and restaurants.

On that recent Monday morning, Layman was out the door by 7 a.m. and had several boxes full of heirloom tomatoes by 8:30 a.m.

“It’s crazy what happiness amounts to in life,” Layman says, taking a moment to pause. “I know there’s a lot of factors — relationships, religion. But your job takes up your entire life, so you have to be happy with that, you know?”

That is how Laura Collins looks at her shift into the agricultural realm as well. Her interest blossomed from everyday tasks like canning and gardening, and then slowly grew into more.

Today, the 30-year-old Collins lives and works at Bio-Way Farm, in Ware Shoals, and two years in she doesn’t regret her choice.

This past spring, Collins completed Clemson’s New and Beginning Farmer program, and she registered for an LLC to start a specialty herbs business. With Herbalicious, Collins hopes to supply what she sees as a niche market for culinary and medicinal herbs.

“Maybe it’s a desire for independence,” Collins says. “I have a lot of female friends that that’s all they’ve dreamt about is having a family and a husband, whereas there is a newer age of people that doesn’t really care much for that, and so maybe they’re more like me, seeing farming as a viable option, seeing farming as something they can do because there is more equality and just different goals and different lifestyle choices.”

In many cases, these emerging farmers are giving up a chance to make more money in other jobs.

“I want to be my own boss, maybe,” says Kimberly Ferlauto, 36.

Ferlauto has a masters from Georgetown and over a decade of experience working in the nonprofit sector, but, she said, she got burnt out.

Ferlauto is among the first students to go through the sustainable agriculture program at Greenville Tech, which launched this past August. Currently, she also is working at Moon Hare Gardens, a small farm in Greer, where she oversees the farms heirloom crops and is also testing the waters of her own business venture.

Not having grown up in agriculture, the program at Greenville Tech is helping Ferlauto form connections within the local farming community, and she hopes it will help create a fulfilling and a lucrative business.

“Part of what I’m going to figure out in the program is where the gaps are in the current farming community,” Ferlauto says. “What is there not enough supply of? Where could I plug in and be not just be doing more of what everybody else is?”

You can make a living at farming, McKinney says, but too often people can’t separate their hobby from the business they want to create. That’s why Greenville Tech’s program is as focused on marketing and brand development as it is on soil health and machinery.

Greenville Tech created the Sustainable Agriculture program in 2014 as a way to connect the dots of a growing local-focused culinary movement and the growing need for farmers. The program, which is housed under the umbrella of the Culinary Institute of the Carolinas allows students of all levels the chance to learn how to grow a farming business. Students can work directly with culinary students, with both learning how to work together to mutual benefit.

The program’s focus on sustainability is intentional. The practice is more environmentally friendly because it eschews traditional chemical herbicides and pesticides for methods like cover cropping and crop rotation.

And with more chefs interested in local food, there is more of a market for sustainably raised products. The average organic farmer can make money, McKinney assured. A good average might be about $20,000 a year per acre farmed, excluding cost of labor, or even $35,000 in a good year, McKinney said.

“It takes creativity sometimes to find the market that will support you, but as interest in local food grows and grows in Greenville, I think we have so many options for where farmers can sell products,” McKinney says. “And I think we’ll have so many more options for the types of products that we can produce that have a market.”

That’s where sustainable farming has come into play a big role particularly for new and beginning farmers, both male and female. Since it requires less land and less equipment, the startup costs are much lower. For Ferlauto, sustainable fit both her desire for healthy living and better food, and her budget.

“Commodity farming is for the big guys,” Ferlauto said. “That’s hard to do, but it’s also just not appealing to me. Maybe it’s the nurturer in us women that makes us want to be more on the sustainable track, because for me it’s about nurturing the land as well as the vegetables and the people you’re feeding.”

Challenging traditions

Margie Levine likes to tell the story about the time she went to buy farm equipment only to be told to get her husband. The 62-year-old owner and operator of Crescent Farm chuckles as she recounts the quest for a tractor part. It wasn’t the first time she was overlooked because she was a woman, and it likely won’t be the last.

“I wish it wasn’t like that, and I don’t know why, but when I tell people I’m a farmer they’re like ‘Oh, what does that mean, you have a little garden out back?’ “ Levine said with a smile. “Uh, no.”

At the age of 60, and many decades homesteading and working on other farms, Levine became a farm owner when she purchased the former Parson Produce in 2014. She launched Crescent Farm the same year and has grown quite the reputation among local restaurants as having some of the best, most interesting certified organic products around.

On a recent Wednesday, Levine was making deliveries to some of her clients: Stella’s Southern Bistro, American Grocery Restaurant, Kitchen Sync, GB&D, Dive ‘n’ Boar and Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery. The former teacher has always had a hand in the agricultural realm. She has owned cows and chickens, raised pigs and made her own maple syrup, but this is the first time she has been in charge of everything, and it’s meant that Levine sees things from a new vantage point.

Her days are long, but satisfying, she says.

“It gives you hope,” Levine says. “It’s like every day you start again, like yesterday I tried that and it didn’t work, so well, today I’m going to try it this way instead. I have hope that I’m going to get up tomorrow morning and be able to see these sweet potatoes that I planted six months ago. I think that kind of keeps you rolling.”

Back at Sandy Flat Berry Patch, Layman is immersed in picking tomatoes. Today’s crop of Cherokee Purples, a tasty heirloom variety, is slated for Swamp Rabbit Café and Grocery, and so Layman is extra careful with her technique. She moves swiftly but gently, carefully inspecting each tomato before placing it (never tossing) into a box.

She’ll cover about 18 rows of 450 feet before she’s done. As she moves along each, Layman smiles.

“There’s so much freedom with farming right now,” she said. “You can do what you want. You’re in control of most of it. God’s in control of all of it, but then you have this certain amount of control. You get to choose what you’re eating, you get to choose what other people are eating.”

Oregon water regulators seek $3 million Fri, 21 Oct 2016 16:06:41 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski SALEM — Oregon’s water regulators are seeking more than $3 million to better handle problems with groundwater depletion and water rights enforcement.

In its 2017-2019 budget proposal, the Oregon Water Resources Department wants state lawmakers to pay for 11 new positions while increasing the pay and duties of several existing positions.

The agency will ask for three funding “packages” to be included in Gov. Kate Brown’s recommended budget for the next biennium.

Concerns about water have grown in recent years due to drought as well as increased public scrutiny.

Last year, groundwater depletion concerns in Southeast Oregon’s Harney Basin prompted OWRD to suspend drilling of most new agricultural wells.

In August, the Oregonian newspaper also ran a package of articles, “Draining Oregon,” claiming the agency had allowed over-pumping by farmers.

“In some locations throughout the state, groundwater aquifers are no longer capable of sustaining additional development,” OWRD acknowledges in its “budget narrative” for the three funding proposals.

• Groundwater studies: Scientists from OWRD require about five to six years to finish a groundwater study within a single basin, such as the current Harney Basin study.

Without more staff, though, the agency can only conduct one basin study at a time.

To allow OWRD to undertake two studies at once, the agency has proposed hiring five new employees — a hydrologist, two hydrographers and two hydrogeologists — at a cost of more than $1.8 million.

• Water rights enforcement: Drought and new water demands have also saddled regional watermasters, who enforce water rights, with greater workloads at a time financial support from county governments has dwindled.

Aside from causing “delays in regulation” and “excessive overtime,” the workload has reduced watermasters’ visibility in the field, which is needed to deter illegal water usage, according to OWRD.

To alleviate this burden, the agency proposes hiring five new regional assistant watermasters and a new hydrologic technician to help with water monitoring.

The $1 million funding package would also raise the status of five existing hydrologic technicians so they could take on additional duties while receiving higher pay.

• Well inspection: Groundwater supplies are at risk from “misconstructed, poorly maintained and improperly abandoned” wells, according to OWRD’s budget narrative.

To ensure wells are properly built and kept up, OWRD relies on well inspectors. Though it’s authorized to employ six well inspectors, the agency only has enough income for four.

OWRD wants to hire two new well inspectors and upgrade the status of all six positions, which would entail more responsibilities and higher pay, with about $337,000 from the general fund.

Under this proposal, the agency would also generate revenues by imposing new and larger fees.

Landowners are allowed to drill their own wells, but they require more intense oversight and assistance from OWRD well inspectors than do licensed well drillers.

To help offset these costs, the agency proposes increasing the landowner permit application fee from $25 to $500, raising about $20,000 a year.

Professional drillers would also pay a new fee of $100 for wells that require variances from construction standards, generating another $25,000 a year.

Western governors’ initiative seeks to improve forest, rangeland management Fri, 21 Oct 2016 11:23:37 -0400 Sean Ellis BOISE — Sharing successful experiences that improve the management of Western forests and rangeland was discussed Oct. 20-21 in Boise.

The “National Forest and Rangeland Management Initiative” brought together states, land managers, industry, local leaders and federal officials to share best practices and explore policy options that could improve forest and rangeland management.

Western Governors’ Association officials hope the results of the initiative will position the organization to recommend congressional efforts to improve forest and rangeland management.

It was launched Aug. 15 by WGA Chairman and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. The two-day Boise workshop is the second of five that will be held in different Western states.

By focusing on steps that can be taken to increase forest and rangeland health, “we are also taking steps to increase their resilience to wildfire and other threats like insects and disease and invasive species,” said WGA Executive Director Jim Ogsbury.

“We hope that these conversations will yield a number of recommendations on best management practices and tools that can help Western governors, the federal government and local communities to strengthen their forests and rangeland habitats, revitalize forest health and help break the current vicious cycle of catastrophic Western wildfires,” he said.

Every Western state has had successes and failures when it comes to managing rangeland and forests, said Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.

“It’s important we share those experiences … with everybody else,” he said.

Otter said all the ideas will be thrown into a pot “and we’ll render those down into actionable items.”

Those ideas and experiences will come from states, the federal government, the environmental community, local officials and industry, he said.

“This is a big deal,” he told Capital Press later.

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation CEO Rick Keller, one of about 80 people who attended the Boise workshop, said he liked the idea of bringing all the stakeholders together “to talk about common issues and solutions.”

“We hear a lot of the things that don’t work; it’s nice to hear some of the things that are working,” he said.

Jim Lyons, deputy assistant secretary of land and minerals management for the U.S. Department of the Interior, commended WGA for the initiative.

“These are important issues, regionally and nationally, and these discussions will help frame solutions to these concerns as we move forward,” he said.

Western forests and rangeland are facing significant challenges from fire, drought, invasive species, insects and disease, and development, Lyons said.

“These challenges cry out for new vision, new strategies and leadership that can sustain these landscapes, their communities and the legacy of the Western way of life,” he said.

Otter said he hopes the initiative results in the federal government placing more weight on input from states and local managers.

“It seems like they don’t place value on the people that are on the ground,” he said. “I would like to see them put equal value and weight on every input and not just from the folks in Washington, D.C.”

USDA moves ahead with new GIPSA rules Fri, 21 Oct 2016 12:13:23 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas USDA’s advancement of its rules regarding competitive injury and undue preference under the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Act has met with renewed opposition from some livestock groups and renewed enthusiasm from others.

The Farmer Fair Practices Rules are a product of flawed 2010 rulemaking that was finalized in 2011 and repeatedly defunded in congressional appropriations bills, said Colin Woodall, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s vice president of governmental affairs.

The rules have not yet seen the light of day, but NCBA suspects not much will change in USDA’s newest attempt to address “fairness” with a subjective definition that will open the door to litigation and limit producers’ marketing options, he said.

The rules would not require a showing of injury (to overall market competition) to claim a violation under GIPSA.

That means if a producer thinks his price is unfair, he can report it and sue the packer, the feedlot and even other producers, Woodall said.

For instance, if a producer thinks it is unfair for another producer to receive a premium based on genetics and that he should have the same opportunity even though he didn’t invest in genetics, he can sue that producer claiming he was complicit in the arrangement, he said.

It’s going to threaten marketing arrangements and value-added programs and push the industry back toward more commodity cattle, he said.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said the agency is considering excluding certain provisions from the earlier rules, including marketing arrangements, but that’s no guarantee, Woodall said.

National Pork Producers Council is also concerned with the resurrected rules, saying they will create legal uncertainty in the industry.

The concern is that producers will no longer need to prove that a meatpacker’s action injured or diminished competition in a “marketplace.” They will only need to show that a practice was “unfair” to them or that an “undue” or “unreasonable” preference or advantage was given to another producer or producers, NPPC stated in a press release.

The organization points out the Senate rejected a “no competitive injury” provision in the 2008 Farm Bill and eight federal appeals courts have held that an action must have harmed marketplace competition to be a violation of GIPSA.

R-CALF USA and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association are in full support of USDA moving forward with the rules, saying producers would no longer have to show harm or competitive injury to the entire industry to file a complaint.

“The rules will facilitate competition by defining the legal framework within which our markets can begin to function properly,” said Bill Bullard, R-CALF’s CEO.

“With clear delineations between which market practices are allowed and which are not, producers can self-monitor and self-enforce industry competition without having to wait on the government to act on their behalf,” he said.

In a statement commending USDA, USCA President Kenny Graner said, “These common sense clarifications protect U.S. ranchers and feeders from anti-competitive buying practices and help to advance true price discovery in a competitive marketplace.”

Livestock groups weigh in on grazing restriction Fri, 21 Oct 2016 11:53:29 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas The Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association disagree with what they say is an arbitrary stubble-height requirement in federal rangeland management plans to conserve sage grouse habitat.

The 7-inch height required by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service is based on flawed methodology, isn’t possible in some areas and is not related to nesting success, the groups contend.

In addition, the requirement puts intense pressure on grazing rotation and long-term range health, they stated in a report delivered to the federal agencies.

The concern is in removing grazing and the ability to reduce fuel loads, which reduces the primary threat to sage grouse — wildfire, said Ethan Land, PLC executive director and NCBA executive director of federal lands.

“Across the board, we’re seeing implementation that’s disproportionately affecting ranchers despite the fact that we are a critical force for conservation benefit for the greater sage grouse,” he said.

Recent studies show the agencies “just flat got it wrong” and the methodology that was used is simply not an accurate way to quantify the correlation between grass height in the early season and the survival of sage grouse nests, he said.

“When you take the science and apply it properly, what you see is no correlation between those two things,” he said.

The flaw is rooted in the timing of grass height measurements based on the fate of the nest. Measurements are taken either at nest predation or nest success, which can be a difference of as much as 39 days.

Predation often happens closer to the time eggs are laid in early spring when grasses are still growing, whereas grass height measurements for successful nests are usually conducted in late spring when eggs have hatched and grass is taller, Lane said.

“Grass and forb height and diversity do matter … but to say that grass height alone can predict whether or not a nest will be successful is not consistent with recent science,” the groups say in the report. “Enforcing an annual stubble height requirement is at best, suspect.”

The issue has been a topic of discussion since the resource management plans came out a year ago, accompanying the Department of the Interior’s decision that an ESA listing for the greater sage grouse wasn’t warranted, Lane said.

“We felt it was time to weigh in in a substantive way and make sure the land management agencies understood just how off-track these plans have gone and some suggestions for how to get them back to a place where they’re really addressing those primary threats — wildfire, invasive species and development on the landscape, all of which are best controlled with grazing,” he said.

PLC and NCBA think restrictive management plans are driven by the agencies’ desire to satisfy litigious environmental groups or wanting to show they’re taking enough regulatory action and because grazing is the easiest thing to regulate, he said.

Tree fruit trade groups’ merger effort slows Fri, 21 Oct 2016 11:38:47 -0400 Dan Wheat ELLENSBURG, Wash. — Efforts have slowed to combine two trade organizations that handle foreign market issues for the Washington tree fruit industry.

The Northwest Horticultural Council and Northwest Fruit Exporters, both in Yakima, have been considering closer operations for two years.

“I’d hoped to report we are well on our way, but we hit a roadblock over the summer,” Chris Schlect, president of NHC, reported at a Washington Apple Commission meeting in Ellensburg, Oct. 20.

The plan is for NFE to come “under the umbrella” of NHC, but keep its own revenue stream, Schlect said.

NHC is ready to make it happen but Mike Saunders, chairman of the NFE board, has concerns, Schlect said, adding he had hoped to have the effort finished before he retires at the end of March.

Later, Schlect said the intent is better coordination of NFE and NHC and having a clearer voice at the federal level. He said having NFE remain a separate legal entity with its own board contracting with NHC for management would maintain NFE’s trade certificate allowing shippers to share export information.

Contacted later, Mike Saunders, co-owner of Apple King in Yakima, said he personally sees no advantage to joining, that NFE and NHC already coordinate well and that federal agencies know, or can figure out, which one to contact.

NFE has attorneys checking to make sure it can keep its trade certificate if it is managed by NHC, which is involved in lobbying, Saunders said.

The U.S. Justice Department is concerned about organizations setting prices on product for domestic consumption, but NFE doesn’t do that, Schlect said.

The trade certificate allows two or more shippers to give NFE information on timing and volumes of shipment of cherries to Japan so that NFE can coordinate efficient Japanese inspections for the benefit of all, Schlect said. The shippers don’t necessarily know what each other is doing, he said.

Another reason for separation is that NHC and NFE are funded differently, Saunders said. NHC is funded by donations from groups including the Apple Commission, while NFE receives grower assessments, he said.

“Basically, we’ve been asked to look into this and we are,” Saunders said. “We need to make sure our board and whole membership are up to speed on this.”

NHC was incorporated in 1947 to assist in handling problems common in the Northwest tree fruit industry. It focuses on national and international policy issues impacting growers and shippers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

NFE was established as a nonprofit corporation in 1985 to manage export market preparation procedures for fresh sweet cherries bound for Japan. In 1992, its role was expanded to include the export of apples to Mexico, China and Japan.

In March 2014, at the initiative of the Apple Commission, apple market access regarding China, Japan, Vietnam, India, Australia, South Africa, Egypt and Israel were switched from NFE to NHC.

NFE continued handling apple market access to Mexico and protocols or work plans for export of apples to foreign countries.

UI researcher finalizing free online water tool Fri, 21 Oct 2016 11:16:41 -0400 John O’Connell KIMBERLY, Idaho — A University of Idaho researcher is working to develop a free, web-based mapping tool using satellite imagery to help farmers throughout the world track crop water use.

Rick Allen, a water resources engineering professor at UI’s Kimberly Research and Extension Center, and experts from University of Nebraska and the Desert Research Institute in Nevada are collaborating on the tool, which uses thermal imaging cameras mounted on NASA Landsat satellites.

Their mapping program, called Eeflux, uses Google Earth Engine’s infrastructure. A basic “beta” version is already online at, but Allen said it’s still unreliable and requires further honing. Within about five months, Allen expects to have the bugs worked out and should begin promoting the tool to growers.

“Put this on your radar as a producer that there are some good things coming that are web-based and free,” Allen said.

In the mid-1990s, a Dutch researcher came up with a method of using satellite thermal imagery to estimate evapotranspiration, which quantifies evaporation from soil and plant tissue. The researcher visited Allen in 2000, when the state was seeking methods to monitor groundwater use throughout the Eastern Snake Plain, and helped him get started with the approach.

Allen has been striving to improve the method for U.S. conditions throughout the past 16 years. He and his colleagues developed a program called Metric, which uses Landsat data dating back to 1984 to identify water-use trends over time.

He and his colleagues have hosted several trainings in recent years to help universities, state water resource departments and consulting firms use Metric. California state water managers recently reached an agreement to use Metric to track groundwater use, and the Idaho Department of Water Resources, which has helped to fund the research, has long used the program.

IDWR Deputy Director Mat Weaver said the department has primarily used Metric to corroborate water diversion measurements, and to calibrate its groundwater models. For the past year, however, Weaver said IDWR has tested Metric’s ability to provide real-time analysis, hoping to expand its use into delivery call management.

“Really what we’re doing is a proof of concept,” Weaver said. “It seems like we’re able to do it (for administration).”

About three years ago, Google approached Allen and his colleagues about creating a simple, automated version of Metric that could be made available to users worldwide. Allen said the tool should help growers spot problems with irrigation runoff or plugged nozzles, and provide information for making water rights transfers or calculating mitigation obligations. He anticipates within a year, the free tool will be refined to the point that it will enable growers to calculate annual water consumption.

NASA originally planned to remove the costly thermal imaging camera from its Landsat 8, which launched in 2013. Allen said the camera was retained due to an outpouring of concern from Western water users.

Sheep industry criticizes H-2A rule changes Fri, 21 Oct 2016 11:14:54 -0400 John O’Connell INKOM, Idaho — Federal reforms implemented a year ago haven’t enticed more domestic workers to take sheep industry jobs, say leaders of an organization that hires foreign labor for Western sheep ranchers.

Instead, officials of the Twin Falls, Idaho-based Western Range Association believe the November 2015 rule changes to the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program have become needlessly complicated and delayed approvals of badly needed workers.

Henry Etcheverry, an Eastern Idaho Basque sheep rancher who started a three-year term as the association’s president in June, said his organization’s more than 200 sheep operations have collectively hired only two domestic workers since the changes were enacted.

One worker was fired for being intoxicated on the job. The other never showed up for work.

Sheep ranchers are required to advertise job openings before filling them with foreign H-2A workers, but Etcheverry finds the few locals who express interest are typically out for a “camping trip.”

“It’s just a pipe dream,” Etcheverry said. “This government thinks there should be availability of (jobs) for domestic people, but domestic people don’t want to herd sheep — at least not for any period of time.”

H-2A visas fill a critical labor need for U.S. agriculture. But Etcheverry said the application process is so complicated that most operations rely on outside help, such as the association.

Etcheverry intends to visit with federal officials about the need for reforms during a November sheep producers’ convention in Sun Valley, Idaho.

H-2A workers are allowed to work at a U.S. sheep ranch for up to three years, with their status renewed annually.

According to a government fact sheet, the program changes improve administrative efficiencies and “promote greater consistency in the review of H-2A applications, provide workers employed in the U.S. with improved health benefits and protections and provide greater clarity for employers with respect to compliance of program requirements.”

Sheep ranchers, however, say the federal government couldn’t keep pace with H-2A applications under the revised rules and failed to process renewals in time, forcing many operations to send workers home and then bear the expense of re-processing them and bringing them back.

Castleford, Idaho, rancher Mike Guerry had to return 30 workers to Peru and Chile from January through March.

He noted the new rules roughly double minimum wages for sheep workers over the next three years, though sheep prices are down. Other changes require operators to give each employee a cell phone and prohibit compensating workers who would rather use their own phones, restrict workers from cutting wood and restrict lodging and dining facilities from within 500 yards of a corral, though watching sheep is a key role of a sheepherder.

Guerry said operators may even be fined for failing to publicize benefits offered in excess of minimum requirements.

Tremonton, Utah, rancher Lane Jensen, the association’s interim executive director, said another change specifies herders can’t deliver supplies to one another.

Jensen said the association is lobbying to restore the status of members who were short of workers and kept them past deadlines when the government failed to renew their H-2A visas.

Alternative fruit crops showing promise Idaho Fri, 21 Oct 2016 10:15:07 -0400 Sean Ellis PARMA, Idaho — Some alternative fruit crops being researched at University of Idaho’s Parma experiment station are showing promising results.

“The alternative fruit crop studies are very, very promising,” said researcher Essie Fallahi, who heads UI’s pomology program and is leading the study. “Some of the fruits that we are getting for the first time are fantastic.”

Fallahi has been experimenting with different fruit varieties from that country and around the world that he thinks could grow well in Idaho.

They include blackberries, quince, pears, table grapes, strawberries, persimmon and nut crops such as walnuts, pecans and almonds.

None of these crops are grown commercially on a significant scale in Idaho, but Fallahi believes some of them can be.

Fallahi said blackberry varieties being studied at Parma “are doing amazingly well. This year we have fantastic (results) among the berries we tested.”

Pears from Iran that are being tested at Parma reached “tremendous” sizes in 2016, the first year they were harvested. “The size is ... at least a time and a half bigger than ordinary pears,” he said.

Parma researchers are also looking at 17 new varieties of table grapes, which are a fledgling industry in Idaho.

“I think that we will find they will make all the other table grapes (grown in Idaho) pale in comparison,” Fallahi said. “This is very, very encouraging.”

Strawberry varieties planted for the first time at Parma last year are also performing well, he said.

Fallahi said the station has two years of results for most of the alternative crop varieties but would like four years of results before providing hard recommendations to growers.

“We are two years away from having solid recommendations,” he said. “A lot (more) information is coming.”

The Parma station’s alternative crop work has been supported by Idaho State Department of Agriculture specialty crop grants as well as the southwestern Idaho commercial fruit industry.

Jerry Henggeler, general manager and co-owner of Henggeler Packing Co., said he is particularly interested in the nut and pear varieties studied at the Parma station.

But his company is also keeping an eye on all the fruits studied there.

“You’re always looking for something that might be your next niche that will fit into your portfolio,” Henggeler said.

He said the work done by Parma fruit researchers is invaluable to Idaho growers because they need to know how certain varieties will perform under Idaho conditions, but can’t afford to do that research on their own.

“The first thing you want to know is, will the crop grow here with our weather, ground conditions and our winters,” Henggeler said. “(Fallahi) and his crew are very, very particular. When we get numbers from them, we’re pretty confident in those numbers.”

Michael Williamson, manager of Williamson Orchards and Vineyards, said that niche markets are critical for Idaho’s commercial fruit growers and the Parma fruit trials “are a great way to keep Idaho on the cutting edge of possibilities.”

WSU researchers working to build a better soybean Fri, 21 Oct 2016 10:19:10 -0400 Matw Weaver Soybeans with an improved nitrogen flow could lead to increased plant productivity and less use of fertilizer, says a Washington State University researcher.

“We’re trying to create nitrogen-use efficiency,” said Mechthild Tegeder, professor of plant molecular physiology in Pullman, Wash. “Plants take nitrogen up more efficiently or, after uptake, they utilize it more efficiently.”

Tegeder recently published a paper in Current Biology about modifying soybean plants in a greenhouse. The modified plants fix twice as much nitrogen from the atmosphere compared to natural soybeans, grow larger and produce up to 36 percent more seeds.

“The farmer would need to fertilize less and still get higher or the same amount of yield,” Tegeder said.

The plants are genetically modified, introducing a gene from a bean into a soybean.

“I wouldn’t have any concerns with this approach at all,” she said.

But she is aware of the general discussion and concern about GMOs.

“I think at one point, one has to make a decision: What can help us in the future?” she said. “But I also believe not every approach is the same. If we can produce higher yield or plants that produce yield wih higher nitrogen-use efficiency so we have less input of nitrogen fertilizer and potentially protect the environment from increased runoff or leaching, to me, I think this has a huge benefit.”

Tegeder is studying a similar strategy for peas. The same idea could be applied to “a broad range” of other crops, including wheat, grasses and canola, she said.

Researchers have pursued better ways to improve nitrogen fixation for decades, said Jeff Rumney, director of research for the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council.

“Lots of strategies have been tried, but it looks like the work that’s being done here could really make a significant difference in understanding this system and enhancing it in the field,” Rumney said.

Tegeder grew the modified plants in greenhouses. The next step is to try them in actual field conditions.

“We need to see if they continue to outperform the control plants in the field,” she said. “Having said that, I think this strategy will be highly successful. We don’t see any limiting factor, at least right now.”

Tegeder will apply for grant funding for field research. She’d like to work with breeders and seed companies to apply her findings.

“Really, the next step is to prove this technology in the field,” Rumney said. “Getting it in the field will make a big difference for producers.”

Washington gets $4.3 million in specialty crop grants Fri, 21 Oct 2016 09:57:54 -0400 OLYMPIA — The USDA and Washington State Department of Agriculture have announced $4.3 million in grants for 21 specialty crop projects.

Washington ranks second nationally, behind California, in production of specialty crops, including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops and floriculture.

Awards range from $55,000 to $300,000 and go to agricultural commodity commissions, associations, and nonprofits. Nine went to Washington State University.

Pears, apples, berries, nursery, lentils, potatoes and projects to enhance food safety are among funded projects.

Washington has received more than $27 million over the past nine years in specialty crop block grants.

Information on the 21 projects is available at

— Dan Wheat

Food security group will offer advice to next president Fri, 21 Oct 2016 09:52:35 -0400 Eric Mortenson A Chicago think-tank that often comments on agricultural issues has formed a task force to inform the winner of this year’s presidential election on steps the U.S. government and private sector can take to reduce world hunger.

The Presidential Transition Plan Task Force will be led by former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman and former Rep. Douglas Bereuter. They were appointed by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

The council considers international food security to be a matter of U.S. national security, and in April 2015 issued a report on that topic.

With the world population projected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, “Investing in food security and improved health and nutrition for the world’s people is not simply a humanitarian matter. It is squarely in the interests of the United States,” the report’s authors concluded.

The council recommended the U.S. use its agricultural research and education infrastructure to train the next generation of leaders in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Land-grant universities such as Oregon State University, Washington State University, the University of Idaho and the University of California-Davis “should be at the center of a cooperative international effort to reduce hunger and malnutrition around the world,” the study said.


Previous Capital Press coverage of the issue


Innate spuds withstand boxer’s attack Fri, 21 Oct 2016 09:34:02 -0400 BOISE — Holly Holm has won world championship titles in boxing and mixed martial arts, but for all the damage she’s inflicted in the ring, officials with J.R. Simplot Co. say she couldn’t damage their Innate line of genetically modified potatoes.

Holm made a guest appearance Oct. 15 at the Produce Marketing Association’s 2016 Fresh Summit trade show in Orlando, Fla., where she was asked to attempt to bruise a bag of Simplot’s White Russet brand of spuds, Simplot spokesman Doug Cole said.

The potatoes were engineered with Simplot’s trademark Innate technology, which introduces other potato genes to impart a list of improved traits, including up to a 44 percent reduction in bruising, as well as fewer black spots.

Soft durum wheat could replace hard durum wheat Fri, 21 Oct 2016 09:20:45 -0400 Matw Weaver PULLMAN, Wash. — Soft durum wheat could ultimately replace conventional hard durum wheat and increase demand, says a USDA researcher.

Durum is a market class of wheat, primarily grown in the Great Plains, used in pasta.

Because of its extremely hard kernels, durum can only be milled into a granular substance called semolina. This limits demand, said Craig Morris, director of the USDA Western Wheat Quality Lab in Pullman, Wash.

Morris works with the genetics of kernel texture. The genes for kernel softness could be moved into durum wheat through breeding, reinventing the wheat class, he said.

“Quinoa’s a niche; this is bigger than a niche,” Morris said.

Durum wheat represents 8-10 percent of roughly 780 million metric tons of wheat grown globally, Morris said.

The lab has converted six commercial durum varieties to soft durum. Morris said they look identical to the parent variety, and pasta is equal or better to regular durum pasta.

Soft durum wheat would not be genetically modified wheat, Morris said.

Durum yields are equal or superior to bread wheat varieties in hotter, more arid locations, with good tolerance of drought heat, Morris said. Durum also generally has good disease resistance.

“Now we basically have completely thrown off the shackles of durum wheat, while in no way losing any of its desirable characteristics,” he said.

Harvest Ridge Organics in Lewiston, Idaho, tested soft durum wheat varieties for growing and milling.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a huge market, but I think there’s certain people that are very interested in the things they can do with this,” said owner Doug McIntosh.

Barkley Seed in Yuma, Ariz., recently received a license from USDA to use the trait in a desert durum variety. The company will plant roughly 80 acres this fall.

President Michael Edgar contacted several overseas companies about soft durum.

“If we have an inquiry from someone interested in at least testing the soft durum, we can supply them currently with a 20-pound or 40-pound sample without a problem,” Edgar said. “But if that individual comes back and says ‘I would like to have a full container,’ we don’t have that quantity.”

Durum is the highest-value wheat crop, Morris said. It’s presently selling at $5.95 per bushel to $6.50 per bushel in Montana grain elevators, compared to soft white wheat at $4.52 per bushel to $4.82 per bushel in Portland.

Morris expects buyers will have to pay at least durum prices, if not more, for soft durum wheat, given the cost of segregating it. He doesn’t expect it to replace soft white wheat.

The USDA sought and received a patent for soft durum wheat. Farmers would apply to grow it. Morris said this ensures no market disruption.

Morris said a company or university breeder would need to take on further development.

Morris believes soft durum wheat will eventually completely replace hard durum wheat in the coming decades and expand production.

“It’s hard to be objective, but at least in terms of durum wheat, I would say it’s something akin to when Orville Vogel brought in the semi-dwarf gene to soft white wheat,” Morris said. “It’s perhaps of that magnitude.”

Parks director: More worker sex harassment cases likely Fri, 21 Oct 2016 09:08:46 -0400 KEITH RIDLER BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The outgoing director of the National Park Service says the agency must attract younger and more racially diverse visitors to the areas it manages and will probably uncover more cases of sexual harassment in its workforce.

Jon Jarvis is ending his 40-year career in January. His final full year coincides with the park service’s 100th anniversary.

The service this year was rocked with corroborated allegations of sexual harassment in its 22,000-employee workforce.

Some lawmakers called for Jarvis’ resignation.

He says he was due to leave the service in January when a new U.S. president takes office.

He calls the sexual harassment horrible and unacceptable and says he was unaware it had been taking place.

He expects more cases to emerge with the agency actively investigating.

Cold brew sales are hot at Dunkin’ Donuts Fri, 21 Oct 2016 09:06:56 -0400 JOSEPH PISANIAP Business Writer NEW YORK (AP) — Hot sales of the new cold-brew coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts helped offset lower customer traffic, the company said Thursday, as quarterly revenue dipped and the company offered a downbeat outlook.

The cold brew drink costs more than the chain’s regular iced coffee. Nigel Travis, CEO of parent company Dunkin’ Brands, said the cold brew has been particularly popular with millennial customers.

“They like the taste profile of it,” Travis said. “It’s certainly in vogue.”

The chain has been adding more specialty coffee offerings over the past several years, such as macchiatos and other espresso drinks, to better compete with rival Starbucks Corp. Travis said the cold brew — made by steeping coffee beans for 12 hours — was its most successful product launch in the last 16 years.

Although less people came to Dunkin’ Donuts shops in the last quarter, those that did spent more money. Buyers of iced drinks are more likely to purchase food or more coffee than those that buy hot drinks, Travis said. Dunkin’ Donuts attributed a 2 percent rise in U.S. stores open at least a year to its iced coffee.

But parent company Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. also said it now expects total revenue for the company to grow less than previously expected, mainly due to its other chain, Baskin-Robbins.

The company now expects full-year revenue growth of about 2 percent, down from a forecast of 3 percent to 5 percent. It blamed lower demand for ice cream at its international Baskin-Robbins stores.

Shares of Dunkin’ Brands fell $1.89, or 3.8 percent, to $49.08 in afternoon trading.

The company earned $52.7 million, or 57 cents per share, for the three months ended Sept. 24, up from $46.2 million, or 48 cents per share, a year earlier. Adjusted earnings were 60 cents per share, which was 2 cents better than Wall Street had expected, according to analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research.

Revenue slipped 1.3 percent to $207.1 million, well short of analyst projections of $213.3 million. Dunkin’ Brands cited the sale of its remaining company-owned and -operated stores. It said that after the sale, all of its stores are franchised. Dunkin’ Brands, based in Canton, Massachusetts, said there are 12,000 Dunkin’ Donuts locations and 7,700 Baskin-Robbins locations around the world.

NE Washington county takes ‘defensive’ posture toward wolfpack Fri, 21 Oct 2016 08:24:43 -0400 Don Jenkins The Ferry County Sheriff’s Office will monitor the remnants of the Profanity Peak pack in northeastern Washington, watching to see whether the wolves come into conflict with livestock, people or pets, according to Sheriff Ray Maycumber.

Maycumber in an email Thursday confirmed that his office was taking a “defensive position” now that the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has stopped hunting for the pack’s surviving adult and three pups.

The pack’s movements have been disrupted and it probably won’t establish new behavior patterns until hunting season ends and fewer people are in its territory, Maycumber said.

The sheriff said he will has deputized a trapper and will consult with state wildlife managers about the threat the pack poses “as the situation unfolds.”

“We are also gathering information on other wolf sightings not attributed to the Profanity Peak pack, which have been close to residences and school bus routes,” Maycumber said.

WDFW announced Wednesday that it was ending the hunt for the pack after shooting six adults and one pup between Aug. 5 and Sept. 29. An eighth wolf, another pup, presumably died of natural causes, according to WDFW.

WDFW had planned to eliminate the entire pack, but the adult and pups were elusive in the rugged and heavily forested region, WDFW wolf policy lead Donny Martorello said.

WDFW officials say they will resume the hunt this year if the pack attacks more livestock, but they rated the chances of that as low.

Investigators have not confirmed an attack on cattle since Oct. 3, and cows are coming off grazing allotments in the Colville National Forest, where most of the attacks have occurred.

Ferry County Commissioner Mike Blankenship said Thursday he was frustrated that WDFW didn’t eliminate the pack, as planned.

“I just don’t see the department’s fortitude there,” he said.

Commissioners in August raised the possibility of challenging the state’s authority over the state-protected species by passing a resolution authorizing Maycumber to spend the resources to remove the entire pack.

Blankenship said it will be up to the sheriff how to respond to the pack, but that he foresees a growing risk to public safety and ranching, one of the county’s few sources of economic activity.

WDFW has attributed up to 15 depredations since July 8 to the Profanity Peak pack, though ranchers says that represents only a fraction of actual losses. Bill McIrvin, co-owner of the Diamond M Ranch, said at a county commissioners meeting in late July that wolves were attacking about one calf a day.

“What am I suppose to do, let the McIrvins lose another hundred head?” Blankenship asked.

Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity said she was relieved WDFW had suspended the culling of the pack. “The whole thing is deeply unfortunate and misguided. It never should have happened in the first place,” she said.

WDFW should spend more money on preventing attacks on livestock and compensating ranchers for losses, rather than shooting wolves, she said. Ranchers who graze on public lands also should expect losses to wolves, she said.

Detroit investigating hepatitis A link to Whole Foods store Fri, 21 Oct 2016 09:05:01 -0400 NEW YORK (AP) — The Detroit Health Department says it’s investigating if two cases of hepatitis A, the contagious liver disease, are tied to prepared food from a local Whole Foods store.

Whole Foods Market says a store employee has been diagnosed with the disease. The second case involves a Detroit resident who ate at that Whole Foods location’s prepared foods section.

The health agency says it’s not clear how either case was contracted but recommends vaccinations for anyone who ate prepared food from the Whole Foods, which is at 115 Mack Ave. just north of downtown Detroit, from Oct. 6 to 12.

The Austin, Texas-based supermarket chain said Thursday that it is reviewing food logs and safety procedures.

Whole Foods shares slipped 1.5 percent to $28.29 Thursday.

Wal-Mart invests $50M in China’s online grocery business Fri, 21 Oct 2016 09:03:25 -0400 NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart is investing $50 million in New Dada, China’s largest online grocery and logistics company, as it moves to strengthen its foothold in the nation’s fiercely competitive food market.

The move, announced late Thursday, is an extension of Wal-Mart’s pact with, China’s no. 2 e-commerce site. New Dada, partly owned by, has more than 25 million registered customers and delivers to more than 300 cities.

China is a key growth market for Wal-Mart — potentially lucrative but challenging. The world’s largest retailer has increased its stake in to 10.8 percent, following an initial deal that gave ownership of its Chinese e-commerce site Yihaodian.

Wal-Mart said earlier this week it will be using New Dada’s network to offer customers two-hour delivery on groceries ordered from Wal-Mart stores.

Groups argue proposal would rescind water rights Fri, 21 Oct 2016 08:59:49 -0400 Tim Hearden SACRAMENTO — A state proposal to send more water down the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers to benefit fish would harm farms and ranches and could lead to lawsuits, farm groups argue.

The State Water Resources Control Board is taking comments through Dec. 16 on a plan to require up to 75 percent of what would be the rivers’ natural flows to reach the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

About 48 percent of the rivers’ outflow is now diverted for agriculture and cities, asserts a scientific report by California’s top water panel.

But the plan could lead to “significant lawsuits” because it would essentially rescind water rights, said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual.

“It sets a terrible precedent,” Nelsen said. “It cancels out all pre-1914 water rights by fiat and it establishes new water rights, and I don’t think you can do that ... Once you start taking water rights, then you’ve got a dictatorship.

“I would argue that was never envisioned when that board was set up,” he said.

Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, said in a statement that dedicating more river flows to fish amounts to “a one-two punch” aimed at rural residents and businesses.

He noted the Sacramento River plan, announced Oct. 19, would dedicate more Delta outflow to fish during the winter and spring — when the water could be filling reservoirs for both human and environmental uses later in the year.

By limiting water that could be stored in reservoirs, the plan would reduce surface-water supplies for much of California, Wenger said.

“The state board’s river flow plans threaten to sentence rural California to perpetual drought, in the name of fishery flows that may very well prove ineffective,” he said.

Water board officials argue that greater quantities of Delta outflow are needed in the winter and spring to support species and habitat, noting that the number of juvenile salmon migrating out of the Delta in spring increases with increased flow.

Over the coming months, board members will study the potential impacts from letting as little as 35 percent to as much as 75 percent of the rivers’ unimpeded flows go to the Pacific Ocean.

The board is also considering setting limits on reverse flows in the Old and Middle rivers at the southern end of the Delta, which are caused by the state and federal project pumps and trap fish, officials contend. The plan also includes salinity objectives in the southern Delta.

But Wenger countered that previous decisions to flush more water through the Delta have not resulted in greater fish populations.

“If more water equaled more fish, we should be seeing results, but we’re not,” he said. “We will continue to insist that water supplies dedicated to fish be subject to the same metrics and efficiency standards as those that farmers and homeowners must meet.”

Scientists have spent years studying how to improve water quality in the Delta, which provides irrigation water for nearly 4 million acres of farmland to the south and water for millions of urban residents. The Delta has a host of environmental problems, including saltwater intrusion.

Protections for fish have already led to drastic reductions in pumping south of the Delta. Growers without senior water rights received no federal water in 2014 and 2015 because of the drought, and farms on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley received only 5 percent of their requested allocations this year.

The water board will hold a public workshop on the proposal on Dec. 7, and there will be several additional opportunities to comment as the proposal moves forward. For information on the plan and how to comment, visit

Winter outlook: Dry in S. California Fri, 21 Oct 2016 08:57:00 -0400 SETH BORENSTEINAP Science Writer WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal forecasters predict this winter may paint the U.S. in stripes of different weather: Warmer and drier than normal in the south, and colder and wetter than usual in the far north.

The National Weather Service winter outlook, issued Thursday, gets murky in the nation’s middle belt, with no particular expectation for trends in temperature or precipitation.

Still, some nasty storms might make the winter there memorable, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the weather service’s Climate Prediction Center.

The major driver of the winter forecast is a budding La Nina, a cooling of the central Pacific that warps weather worldwide and is the flip side of the better-known El Nino, Halpert said.

For the South and California, “the big story is likely to be drought,” Halpert said.

And that’s not good news for California, which is in year five of its drought. The winter is the state’s crucial wet season when snow and rain gets stored up for the rest of year. Halpert said the state’s winter looks to come up dry, especially in Southern California.

“It’s probably going to take a couple of wet winters in a row to put a big dent into this drought now,” said weather service drought expert David Miskus. He said it will take “many, many years and it’s got to be above normal precipitation.”

The northern cold band that the weather service predicts is mostly from Montana to Michigan. Maine is the exception, with unusually warm weather expected.

The prediction center’s track record on its winter outlooks is about 25 percent better than random chance for temperature and slightly less than that for precipitation, Halpert said.

Private weather forecasters are predicting quite a different winter. They foresee a harsher one for much of the nation, including a return of the dreaded polar vortex, which funnels cold Arctic air into the U.S.

Judah Cohen of Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Lexington, Massachusetts, forecasts an unusually cold winter for the eastern and middle two-thirds of the nation, especially raw east of the Mississippi River.

Cohen, whose research is funded by the National Science Foundation and closely followed by meteorologists, links North America’s winter weather to Siberian snow cover in October.

He agrees that Maine will have a warm winter, and also predicts a warm Southwest.

The private Accuweather of State College, Pennsylvania, calls for frequent storms in the Northeast, early snow in the Great Lakes, bitter cold in the northern tier and occasional cold in the middle. Like other forecasters, it predicts a warm and dry southwest, with some hope for rain and snow from San Francisco northward.

S. Dakota teen dies in grain bin accident Fri, 21 Oct 2016 08:43:17 -0400 WINNER, S.D. (AP) — The town of Winner is mourning a 16-year-old boy who died in a farm accident.

Winner High School junior Taylor Watzel became trapped in a grain bin Tuesday and died the following day, School Superintendent Bruce Carrier told The Daily Republic. Counselors and ministers were made available to students Wednesday and Thursday.

“Why Taylor? Why such a good kid? And honestly, a lot of my staff members are struggling with that same thing,” Principal Gerald Witte said. “Today’s the day where there’s probably a lot more life lessons than academic lessons.”

Watzel was a lineman and linebacker on the high school football team. The team displayed his No. 66 jersey on the sideline during a Thursday win over Jones County/White River. Fans also signed a large poster in his memory, and a moment of silence was held before kickoff.

“This is a really big win for us, considering what has happened here the last couple days,” senior Cameron Kuil said. “It has been hard on all of us, hard on the community. We just looked forward to coming out here tonight.”

Funeral services are set for 10 a.m. Monday in the Winner Armory, according to Mason Funeral Home.

California’s multi-billion-dollar nut boom keeps going Thu, 20 Oct 2016 09:14:40 -0400 Tim Hearden LOS MOLINOS, Calif. — For nearly a decade, the sky has been the limit for California tree nut growers.

As growing demand pushed prices upward, the number of acres devoted to almonds, walnuts and pistachios rocketed, leading to record production and billions of dollars of profits for growers, processors and exporters.

Until last year.

A price slide in the midst of last season’s record walnut harvest marked the first signs of vulnerability. Prices dropped from an average of $1.85 a pound in 2013 to about 81 cents last year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Meanwhile, almond prices have fallen by nearly half in the past year, from an average of $4 a pound in 2013 to $2.84 in 2015.

At the same time, the initial prices quoted to pistachio growers are about half the average of $3.57 a pound they received in 2014.

The sobering news accompanies record harvests for all three nut crops.

But third-generation walnut grower Bruce Lindauer isn’t worried about his farm’s long-term viability. He has seen plenty of ups and downs.

“I’m in it for the long haul,” said the owner of Lindauer Farm Management Inc. “If you’re a smart grower, when it’s over $2 a pound you sock some away, and when it’s like this you stop spending.”

Like Lindauer, most in the industry are taking the lull in prices in stride. The commodity groups are stepping up their efforts to find new customers for nuts, and growers are beginning to make orchard-management decisions that reflect new realities. If there’s a ceiling on how many nuts California can produce and still maintain profitability, they remain convinced they haven’t yet reached it.

“Leading into the new crop year, demand is strong,” said Richard Waycott, the Almond Board of California’s president and chief executive officer. “Pricing is at a range where it has rebounded from the lows that we hit back in April.”

Finite water resources amid the ongoing drought may slow the expansion a bit, and lower prices may mean tree nuts are less attractive to those who would plant orchards strictly as investments, said Daniel Sumner, director of the Agricultural Issues Center at the University of California-Davis.

“I wouldn’t say we’re done” expanding, Sumner said. “It partly depends on how we get things organized when it comes to groundwater and (issues surrounding) surface water.”

For years, California’s nut boom defied gravity. The production, bearing acreage, prices and total value of walnut and almond crops have been rapidly growing for the past two decades — particularly since 2005, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Bearing almond acreage has more than doubled, from 418,000 acres in 1995 to nearly 900,000 this year. Production has increased from 370 million pounds to an anticipated 2.05 billion pounds this year.

A 2014 study by Sumner and others found that almond production directly and indirectly contributes more than $21.5 billion annually to the economy and creates more than 100,000 jobs. Almonds account for about one-quarter of all farm exports from the state.

Walnut acreage has been trending upward since 1988, from 177,000 acres to 315,000 this year. Production has more than doubled during that period, to a record 670,000 tons this year, and the total crop value increased from $193 million in 1988 to $1.9 billion in 2014.

Pistachios are the other rising star, with 310,000 acres of trees in the state, according to the American Pistachio Growers. This year’s crop — estimated to be as much as 800 million pounds — will easily surpass the record crop of 555 million pounds in 2012. Nearly all U.S. pistachios grow in California.

Even more nut trees will come into production in the next few years. According to NASS, about 220,000 almond acres and 65,000 walnut acres were yet to begin bearing as of last year. About 70,000 acres of pistachio trees in the ground are non-bearing, said Richard Matoian, the Pistachio Growers executive director.

For all three nuts, planting a new orchard is a huge investment. Preparing and planting each acre of trees costs about $3,768 for walnuts, $2,327 for almonds and $1,932 for pistachios, according to the UC Cooperative Extension’s most recent cost estimates.

In the past year, supply has caught up to demand as international competitors ramped up production. As equilibrium was reached, prices fell. The overall value of last year’s walnut crop — $977 million — was a little more than half the record $1.9 billion 2014 crop, according to NASS.

“For us, we see the market as still pretty strong,” said Dennis Balint, president of the California Walnut Commission. “The problem is we’re seeing growth in other countries’ crops. China, if you believe what they report, is expecting a 10 percent higher crop.”

Chile will probably be looking at a record crop, he said. “We have to be cognizant of the fact that we are competing against other producers.”

While last year’s almond crop was smaller than the previous year’s, it still outperformed expectations, which caused a price slide, Waycott said. The current average price of $2.50 per pound for nonpareils is still profitable, industry insiders say.

Meanwhile, large pistachio crops in Iran during the past two years enabled that country to gain market share in destinations such as China. California growers dealt with a small crop last year because of drought and a lack of winter chilling hours, Matoian said.

This year, pistachio growers have been initially guaranteed between $1.70 and $1.80 per pound, down from an average of $3.57 per pound they received in 2014, he said. That price could increase via a negotiated “marketing bonus” that growers usually receive at the season’s end, he said.

Despite the price decreases, the average California tree nut farm is still profitable, according to the UCCE estimates. In established orchards, walnuts cost $4,703 an acre per year to produce and return $5,875 to the operation each year; almonds cost $3,890 an acre to produce and return $5,000; and pistachios cost $4,984 an acre to produce and return $7,224.

What makes California’s tree nut industries unique is they either dominate or own a large percentage of the world markets, so they’re heavily dependent on trade, said Eric Houk, director of the Agricultural Business Institute at California State University-Chico.

The state supplies 80 percent of the world’s almonds and 35-40 percent of the world’s walnuts and pistachios, he said.

With almonds, “weaker prices are not usually associated with increased foreign competition but a general decrease in foreign demand” as production continues to rise, he said in an email.

Walnut and pistachio growers face an increase in foreign competition, he said.

With global markets in flux, the commodity groups have also begun to aggressively court domestic consumers. The Walnut Commission has invested more than $17 million in the last two years to boost U.S. sales. The goal is to increase walnut consumption from 22 to 30 percent of U.S. households.

The Almond Board is also burnishing the industry’s image at home. Facing criticism from some quarters for its water use during the drought, the industry committed $2.1 million last year to research more sustainable farming practices such as whole-orchard recycling and groundwater banking, and “is really upping the game in terms of precision agriculture for the industry,” Waycott said.

Meanwhile, walnut farmers have begun switching to varieties such as Chandler, Howard and Tulare to get the highest yields and nut quality. To help them get the best possible returns, farm advisers have been offering tips on producing higher-quality, lighter kernels by closely monitoring water use and applying a plant growth regulator.

Modesto area almond and walnut grower Paul Wenger, the California Farm Bureau Federation president since 2009, said he has long suspected the state was producing more nuts than could be sustained in the long run.

“A lot of the expansion we’re seeing in agriculture isn’t the typical family farmer — it’s pension funds and hedge fund investors,” Wenger said. “If they can get a 2 or 3 percent annualized return, they’re OK with that.”

It will be interesting to see how family farmers can stand up against the institutional farm owners, he said. “I know down in the (San Joaquin) Valley we’ve got hedge funds drilling wells where family farmers would never do that. It’s a disposable dollar for a lot of these folks.”

Lindauer, the Los Molinos walnut grower, said lower prices make it more difficult to meet increasing expenses, including the state-mandated increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022 and a new law applying the 8-hour work day to agricultural workers. After 8 hours, they will receive overtime pay.

He said the new labor laws will force growers to “invest in enough machinery that we can get everything done in 8 hours that used to take 10 or 12.”

“We can’t be doing this and losing money,” he said.

At the same time, some farms that are heavily leveraged may have a hard time surviving if prices stay low, said Rick Buchner, a UC Cooperative Extension farm adviser in Red Bluff.

A few growers who planted nuts in place of prunes a few years ago when that crop’s prices fell may turn around and plant more plums, Buchner said. Prune producers had received an average of less than $1,000 per dry ton over the five years ending in 2010, but that price shot up to $2,400 per dry ton in 2014.

“The prune thing looks pretty promising now,” Buchner said. “I think we’re going to see some interest.”

But Buchner and others also point out the price cycles the nut industries have experienced.

For instance, almond prices “peaked around 1995, then again around 2005, and most recently in (early) 2015,” Chico State’s Houk said.

Each time, the peak was followed by short-term lulls in planting and production, but the overall trend has been an increase in acreage and production and prices have recovered as global demand has increased, he said.

“I think the industry is probably going to focus on increasing its marketing efforts and the lower prices will likely start increasing the quantity demanded in world markets,” Houk said. “When or if we get back to the peak prices we saw in 2015 is anybody’s guess.”

While he doesn’t see as much interest from investors now that prices are lower, UC Cooperative Extension pomology farm adviser Roger Duncan is still contacted almost daily by growers who send him soil and water tests to determine if they can grow almonds, he said.

“I think at this point, you still have to look at almond farming as a profitable business,” said Duncan, who is based in Modesto. “I don’t see any reason to believe ... it won’t continue to be that way. Where the ceiling is, I have absolutely no idea.

“We’ve always felt like we’re approaching the ceiling,” he said. “Since then we’ve more than doubled the industry since I’ve been here.”

For their part, industry leaders remain hopeful. The Walnut Commission’s Balint said the domestic market for walnuts rose by more than 11 percent this year because of a variety of factors, including lower prices.

“So although I wouldn’t advise people to run out and plant more walnuts, I don’t think that we necessarily have what I would call a serious problem,” at least yet, Balint said.

Over the past 20 years, the almond industry has “positioned itself well” by promoting the image of nuts as a healthful food, the Almond Board’s Waycott said.

“As we look out into the future, people have to eat and what should they be eating? Plant-based proteins are certainly preferred,” he said. “It’s going to be nutrient-dense products like ours that are going to be very much a part of the dietary mix, and you can’t grow them in many places.”

Veronica Nigh, an economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, agrees. Tree nuts are “more of a foodie food” than many other commodities, and they’re an important part of many cultures around the world, particularly in the Middle East, she said.

“If you’ve been using almonds in recipes for thousands of years, that’s not going anywhere,” Nigh said. “Just like anything else, we’re going to have some fluctuations, but it’s certainly a good long-term market.

“There’s still probably plenty of room for folks to get into the market and have a good business,” she said.

WDFW calls off hunt for Profanity Peak wolfpack Thu, 20 Oct 2016 09:22:02 -0400 Don Jenkins Washington wildlife managers have ended their hunt for the Profanity Peak pack, unless the surviving wolves attack more livestock, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

WDFW suspended the search for the pack’s lone surviving adult and three pups with the start of hunting season this week in Ferry County.

The department clarified Wednesday that it does not plan to come back after hunting season ends.

Investigators have not confirmed an attack on livestock since early October. With cows coming off summer grazing grounds in Ferry County, the likelihood of depredations in the near future is low, according to WDFW.

“If we see this pack continue to prey on livestock this year, we’ll go back,” WDFW policy lead Donny Martorello said in an interview Wednesday evening.

WDFW halted the operation after killing seven wolves — six adults and one pup. Another pup in the pack presumably died of natural causes, according to WDFW.

Martorello said it’s unknown whether the pack’s survivors will link up with another pack. Counting the Profanity Peak pack, there are 15 documented packs in the northeastern corner of Washington.

“There are lots of unknowns. We don’t know what will play out in the coming months,” he said.

The hunt for the Profanity Peak pack began Aug. 4 and proved to be another flash point between wolf advocates, wildlife managers and ranchers.

WDFW says the pack has attacked at least 10 cattle and probably at least five others since early July. As the attacks continued, mostly in the Colville National Forest, WDFW ramped up operations from shooting some wolves to eliminating the entire pack.

WDFW says it was following a protocol approved by an advisory group that included conservation and animal-rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States.

Both ranchers who lost livestock to the Profanity Peak pack met state requirements to use range-riders to watch their herds and to dispose of cattle carcasses to avoid attracting wolves, according to WDFW.

One rancher delayed turning out calves to allow them to gain weight and improve their chances of surviving a wolf attack, according to WDFW.

WDFW did not kill a wolf after Sept. 29, though the lone surviving adult had been trapped in early June and fitted with an electronic collar that transmitted her location. The wolf and another in the pack were caught and released after cattle were released into the national forest and about a month before depredations began.

Martorello said that even with the collar, the wolf was hard to find. Wolves are smart and move quickly, he said. “It’s a very unpredictable environment. It’s a very rugged environment,” he said.

WDFW counted 90 wolves in Washington at the end of 2015. The population has been growing at about 30 percent a year.

Martorello said the state can expect more conflicts between wolves and livestock. “It’s a predictable component of wolf management,” he said.

WDFW conducted the hunt without the assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, which had aided lethal-removal operations in 2012 and 2014.

A federal judge this year agreed with environmental groups that the federal agency couldn’t help the state without conducting a more thorough review of the environmental consequences. Wolves are not a federally protected species in the eastern one-third of Washington.

WDFW policy calls for the department to consider culling a pack after four confirmed depredations in one calendar year or six over two years. WDFW will review the policy over the winter with its Wolf Advisory Group.

Idaho seventh-graders to present research at genome conference Thu, 20 Oct 2016 11:42:43 -0400 John O’Connell POCATELLO, Idaho — For a few days, Virginia Jones’ seventh-graders will be peers with 3,000 leading genetic scientists and researchers, presenting their findings at the world’s largest agricultural genomics meeting.

The Holy Spirit Catholic School students will be the only children to prepare an abstract and professional poster for display at the Plant & Animal Genome Conference Jan. 14-18 in San Diego.

Their special circumstances are the result of the unique importance of their class project — helping USDA’s Aberdeen Agricultural Research Service evaluate 250 heirloom oat varieties for their ability to germinate in cold conditions.

“They don’t horse around when they’re doing this. There’s no playing or anything,” Jones said. “It’s a whole different thing when they’re actually doing real science versus a cook-book experiment.”

USDA-ARS research geneticist Kathy Klos, the mother of one of the seventh-graders, suggested the project — and arranged for them to present in San Diego, where the conference will waive the standard $600-per-person admission fee.

Klos hopes to develop new oat varieties capable of germinating earlier in the season, enabling them to out-compete weeds. The seventh-graders are charged with preparing clear boxes of moistened seeds to place in a refrigerator, recording the germination date of each variety and logging root growth in a spreadsheet.

Klos will show the students how to run computer software to compare their germination data against 4,000 randomly selected locations across the genome — hoping to identify commonalities within seeds that perform well in the cold. She’ll consider the data when making future oat crosses, a fact that isn’t lost on the students.

“I think of the bigger picture of the Earth and making it a better place,” said seventh-grader Jamal Choufffani.

Klos said the students were wise to select heirloom oat varieties, which are seldom planted commercially but are more genetically diverse than modern crosses.

“I thought (heirlooms) would be interesting,” said seventh-grader John Kaiser. “They’re not really used today, and we don’t really hear a lot about them.”

Though her facility offers tours to school children, Klos said soliciting their help in research is unprecedented in Aberdeen. Klos said a Brigham Young University graduate student will replicate the work for comparison.

“We’re going to be writing the abstract in the next two weeks and submitting it,” Klos said. “They’re going to get lots of attention. All of the scientists will enjoy seeing all of the young, up-and-coming scientists.”

Klos’ daughter, Athena, admits she’s a bit more careful in her measurements and attention to detail, knowing that renowned experts will pay attention, including her mother.

“It makes me feel like I’m part of her lab,” Athena Klos said.