Capital Press | Capital Press Sat, 1 Aug 2015 23:12:57 -0400 en Capital Press | Wheat Marketing Center seeks new executive director Fri, 31 Jul 2015 15:28:21 -0400 Matw Weaver The search is underway for a new director at the Wheat Marketing Center in Portland, Ore.

“We’ve already had a number of people express interest in the position,” said Bill Flory, a Culdesac, Idaho, farmer and center board chairman.

Executive director David Shelton resigned in early July after 16 years. Flory said no reason was given.

“We wish him well,” he said.

The position requires a management perspective and understanding of the industry, Flory said.

“The wheat marketing center is the crossroads of the world as far as technical expertise, problem-solving, opportunity exploration with our customers and the products their markets require,” he said.

The center aligns with U.S. Wheat Associates’ mission as the export market development arm of the industry, Flory said.

Flory expects the search to last 45 to 60 days.

“With the caliber of applications we’re getting already, I don’t think we’re going to have to leave it open for a long period of time,” he said.

Flory said it’s an exciting time for the center, pointing to product development with overseas customers. Flory and center technical director Gary Hou will meet with wheat buyers in Central America next month to discuss milling and baking challenges.

“There’s always challenges, but a number of us see those as opportunities,” he said. “The world is highly competitive and we’ve got to have the resources to continue to sell wheat and provide our customers with the technological tools they need.”

State funding moves Connell rail project forward Fri, 31 Jul 2015 10:04:43 -0400 Matw Weaver Railroad congestion near Connell, Wash., that slows the shipment of agricultural crops and supplies is closer to a solution, thanks to $10 million from the state legislature, according to project supporters.

Washington legislators recently approved the funding in the 2015-2017 Transportation Revenue package.

The funding will be divided into $5 million in each of the 2015-2017 and 2017-2019 bienniums.

The project will help the regional delivery of goods from farm to market, said Jed Crowther, Connell city administrator.

The rail traffic “pinchpoint” occurs where the Columbia Basin Railroad line intersects with the BNSF Railway mainline between Spokane and Pasco, Wash. The interchange will be moved roughly 1.5 miles south of its current location.

Rail traffic has increased from 5,000 to roughly 12,000 cars per year, Crowther said.

Future freight could increase dramatically, said Pat Boss, consultant for the Columbia Basin Railroad.

About $2 billion in agricultural products are shipped through the region by rail. Boss said affected cargo is roughly 50 percent agricultural freight, including grain, frozen vegetables and canola.

A planning study for preliminary design is underway. Crowther said it’s still early to determine final costs. Boss said there may be additional federal funding, but said the $10 million adds “a huge bit of credibility.”

Crowther expects the project to be finished in three to four years. He expects “a significant push” to coordinate with BNSF’s efforts to double-track its mainline between Spokane and Pasco.

Projects to address railroad congestion in Warden and Moses Lake received $2 million and $21 million, respectively, Boss said. Those projects may result in more traffic through Connell, Boss said.

Strawberry production keeps pace despite heat, fewer acres Fri, 31 Jul 2015 13:41:20 -0400 Tim Hearden WATSONVILLE, Calif. — With California’s peak strawberry harvest season winding down, production is keeping up with last year’s near-record pace despite some unusually warm weather and a slight decline in acreage.

Statewide, producers had shipped 139.26 million flats of strawberries as of July 25 — about 110,000 more than at the same point last year, according to the California Strawberry Commission.

Two of the state’s three major growing regions — the Watsonville and Santa Maria areas — are significantly ahead of last year, notes the commission’s weekly Pink Sheet, a production report.

The pace continues as growers were expected to plant 37,438 acres this year, a decline from last year’s total of 38,937 and from the 2013 total acreage of 40,816, as water shortages and the prolific qualities of newer varieties have influenced growers’ planting decisions.

Warmer-than-usual weather — particularly at night — has caused some berries to ripen so quickly that they had to be diverted to processing, commission spokeswoman Carolyn O’Donnell said. Berries sent to processing aren’t included in the fresh-market totals.

“Sometimes it can be because there’s plenty of fresh so they’re diverting some of it,” O’Donnell said. “It also sometimes has to do with the quality.”

Strawberries are picked somewhere in California year-round, with the peak season occurring in late spring when all of the state’s major producing regions — around Watsonville, Santa Maria and Oxnard — are shipping berries.

Growers have enjoyed seven record-setting production years in the last nine seasons, barely missing an eighth in 2014 when December rain dampened yields. After a fast start this year, unsettled spring weather eased the pace of production.

Shipments are nearly 4 million crates ahead of where they were at this point in 2013, the last record-setting year, the commission reports. Global production of strawberries is up this year, with 200.3 million flats shipped as of July 30 compared to 198.6 million a year earlier, according to the industry-compiled National Berry Report.

The shipping-point prices for medium-to-large flats of strawberries from Watsonville and Santa Maria are about $10 for conventional and $12 for organic, up significantly from the $7 for commercial and $10 for organic charged a year ago, according to the report.

Much of the remaining season will hinge on how much rain is generated by El Nino conditions, which are expected to be strong this winter. Warm storms can complicate strawberry harvest, as the rain can cause ripe berries to become moldy and waterlogged.

“It’s always about how that water comes,” O’Donnell said. “Usually when we think of El Nino we think of deluges. Too much water in a short period of time isn’t good for anybody. … If it arrives in a steady stream, that’s great, but if it comes in episodic deluges then it’s more of a concern to growers in how it will affect their fields.”

Among other berries, according to the National Berry Report:

• Blueberry growers in the Golden State had put out about 8.2 million flats as of July 29, down from 8.7 million at the same point last year. Oregon production is ahead of last year’s pace, with 2.6 million flats so far this year compared to a little more than 2 million at the end of July 2014. Production is up worldwide with nearly 70 million flats produced compared to 62.5 million a year ago.

• Nearly 19.23 million flats of raspberries have been produced in California, down slightly from 19.27 million at the end of July 2014. Global production is up significantly, with nearly 42.3 million flats produced this year compared to 36 million for the same period in 2014.

• Blackberry production is ahead of last year in California, with nearly 2.2 million flats compared to 1.9 million at the same point last year. Globally, growers have produced 28.8 million flats compared to 26.2 million at the same point last summer.

28 state AGs want WOTUS implementation delayed Fri, 31 Jul 2015 10:13:53 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas Attorneys General from 28 states have requested EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers delay implementation of a controversial rule they say unlawfully expands the agencies’ jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.

The AGs on July 28 sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army, Civil Works, Jo Ellen Darcy asking them to immediately extend the effective date, Aug. 28, of the new rule defining waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) by at least nine months to allow for appropriate judicial review.

The 28 states, including Idaho, immediately challenged the rule in five separate lawsuits filed upon or soon after its June 29 appearance in the Federal Register.

“ … it will necessarily take some time for the courts to resolve the merits of these various cases with their different claims,” the AGs stated in the letter.

“Even under a fairly aggressive schedule, the pending challenges will likely not be fully briefed and argued for at least nine months,” they stated.

Absent a court-granted preliminary injunction, the agencies’ intended implementation will cause immediate harm to states, their regulatory programs and local industries by increased permitting and compliance requirements under the agencies’ “sweeping new asserted jurisdiction,” the AGs said.

The agencies’ increased jurisdiction comes at the direct expense of states, which previously had exclusive jurisdiction over state waters. It exceeds the statutory authority of Congress under the Commerce Clause and infringes upon state’s rights under the 10th Amendment of the Constitution, they stated.

In addition to injuring states’ sovereign capacity, increased burden will be placed on states as they develop and build infrastructure projects, increasing the cost and complexity of obtaining necessary permits, the AGs stated.

The new regulation will also have a significant impact on agriculture, homebuilding, oil and gas, and mining as those industries try to navigate between established state regulatory programs and new burdensome and conflicting federal requirements, the officials stated.

“Given the gravity of the Constitutional issues implicated by the states’ claims and to avoid these hardships, the courts should be granted the opportunity to resolve the pending challenges to the agencies’ new WOTUS Rule,” the AGs stated.

In a written statement in response to Capital Press’ request for comment, EPA stated (in part):

“While we can’t comment on the lawsuit, it’s important to remember that EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized the Clean Water Rule because protection for many of the nation’s streams and wetlands had been confusing, complex, and time-consuming as the result of Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.

“… the Agencies developed a rule that ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined, more predictably determined, and easier for businesses and industry to understand.”

Capital Press has also contacted the Idaho Attorney General’s office and the North Dakota AG’s office, which has led states’ efforts in the WOTUS challenge.

That office said it had no comment beyond a press release issued on Thursday in which North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem stated: “A federal rule of this scope and significance needs thorough judicial review before costly and disruptive burdens are imposed on North Dakotans. The rule is unnecessary, unlawful, and will do nothing to increase water quality in our state.”

Six other lawsuit challenging the WOTUS rule represent agriculture, private property owners, businesses, chambers of commerce, energy companies, trade associations, manufacturers, home builders, forest owners, road and transportation builders, real estate investors, and legal foundations.

On July 21, a district judge in Georgia ordered EPA and the Corps to respond to a motion by the state of Georgia, et al, for preliminary injunction by July 31 and set a court date for Aug. 12.

Also on July 21, the federal government filed a motion to temporarily stay all proceeding and consolidate the 11 district court challenges in a single district court.

Onion field trial seeks optimal thrip-control program Fri, 31 Jul 2015 11:18:48 -0400 Sean Ellis ONTARIO, Ore. — Oregon State University researchers in Eastern Oregon are trying to help onion growers figure out which mix of insecticide treatments is most effective, and economical, for controlling thrips populations.

Researchers are rotating chemistries, using them at different times of the season and applying them in varying intervals, said Stuart Reitz, an OSU cropping systems extension agent.

Onion thrips cause feeding damage and are also a vector for the iris yellow spot virus, which can significantly lower onion yields.

There are no good biological controls for the insects and onion growers say that not spraying for them in this region isn’t an option.

“Onion thrips are a bigger problem than anything else in onion production,” Reitz said. “If you don’t do anything to manage thrips in the Treasure Valley, you’re not going to have very good onions.”

Onion growers used to spray three or four times a year for thrips but in recent years they have had to spray as many as eight to 10 times in a season, said Nyssa farmer Paul Skeen.

“The key ingredient in controlling thrips is getting on it early and keeping their populations down,” he said. “When in doubt, you spray.”

But each treatment costs money and the main goal of the OSU trial is to try to find a season-long control program that will allow growers to reduce the number of times they spray, Reitz said.

Researchers are also trying to determine if products have a longer residual effect at certain times of the season. If they do, growers could get by with spraying less often.

“It’s getting so costly to control them and we want to see if we can reduce that cost for growers,” he said.

There are only six products that are effective for controlling onion thrips and researchers also want to develop a treatment program that allows growers to rotate chemistries often to avoid insect resistance, Reitz said.

Malheur County farmer Bill Johnson said the ongoing OSU trial is helping growers zero in on the optimal treatment program for thrips.

“We continue to have issues with flexibility in some of the chemistries we work with,” he said. “We’re just trying to find the right mix of chemistries. There are a lot of complexities (involved).”

This year’s trial includes some experimental onion varieties that could have resistance to thrips.

The varieties come from New Mexico State University’s onion breeding program, which wants to see how they perform in an area with strong thrips pressure, and the early results are encouraging, Reitz said.

“We seem to be seeing lower numbers of thrips on some of these experimental lines,” he said.

If any of the varieties do have genetic resistance to thrips and that trait can be bred into commercially acceptable lines, that would help onion growers in this region immensely, Reitz said.

“It would have huge benefits all around, helping growers’ bottom line as well as avoiding problems like insecticide resistance,” he said.

Idaho farm personal income drops 18 percent in first quarter Fri, 31 Jul 2015 10:23:23 -0400 Sean Ellis BOISE — A sharp drop in Idaho farm income was a major reason the state’s personal income total dropped slightly during the first three months of 2015.

Total personal income in the state’s farming sector was $2.8 billion on a seasonally adjusted basis during the first quarter of 2015, an 18 percent decrease from the $3.4 billion total recorded during the fourth quarter of 2014.

Personal income is an individual’s total earnings and includes wages, investment earnings and government transfer payments such as unemployment benefits.

Those totals, which were reported by the Idaho Department of Labor, are based on U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

Idaho farm profits — the proprietor’s profit — totaled $2 billion during the first quarter, a 23 percent decrease from $2.6 billion during the fourth quarter of 2014.

Statewide, total personal income dropped by a tenth of a percentage point to $62.76 billion during the first quarter.

Large gains in farm income have helped drive the state’s personal income growth the past several years. For example, total Idaho personal income increased 5.3 percent in 2014, in large part because of a 19.7 percent increase in farm income.

But that role was reversed during the first three months of 2015.

According to an IDL news release, several sectors of the economy showed gains in personal income of more than 2 percent during the first quarter “but it was not enough to offset a seasonal decline in farm earning of 18 percent, followed by significant declines in durable goods at 10 percent and mining at nearly 3.8 percent.”

Farm personal income in Idaho grew from $2.37 billion in 2012 to $2.77 billion in 2013 and $3.32 billion in 2014.

The drop in farm income didn’t surprise University of Idaho agricultural economists. After four straight years of record cash receipts, Idaho agriculture is slowing somewhat, said UI economist Garth Taylor.

“We’re looking at soft prices for every crop in the state basically, except for beef,” he said. “Cash receipts will be way, way down this year.”

UI economist Ben Eborn said Idaho cash receipts could be down significantly from last year’s record $9.7 billion total.

“I’m estimating that for all of Idaho agriculture, cash receipts this year will be down about 20 percent,” he said.

Dairy accounts for a large share of the state’s farm receipts, he said, and milk prices are 28 percent below last year’s record level.

Based on the average Idaho milk price of $16.50 so far in 2015, Eborn said Idaho dairy receipts could be down $800 million to $1 billion this year compared with 2014.

Heat, drought take toll on Western milk production Fri, 31 Jul 2015 10:39:09 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas Lower milk production in the West due to triple-digit temperatures and a widening drought is putting a dent in national production figures even as dairy farmers east of the Continental Divide post healthy year-over-year increases.

June milk production in the 23 major dairy states, at 16.4 billion pounds, slowed to 0.7 percent above year-ago levels, following a 1.7 percent average increase from January through May, according to USDA National Agricultural Statistic Service.

Production in California was down 4.3 percent in June compared with June of last year. Milk production was down 153 million pounds on 1,000 fewer cows and a deficit of 85 pounds per cow.

A lot of it has to do with the quality of available feed, said Tom Barcellos, a Porterville, Calif., producer and an executive director of Western United Dairymen.

The drought and a lack of water has his operation redirecting what little water it has from alfalfa and corn to other forages, such as sorghum. Some other producers might be making adjustments to rations based on current milk prices, and some might be focused on low-cost inputs, he said.

Warm weather coupled with intermittent drizzles has also resulted in higher humidity that “just knocks it out of cows,” he said.

Idaho slowed production from a 2.8 percent increase in May to only 1 percent in June. Milk production was up 12 million pounds on an additional 9,000 cows but with a loss of 10 pounds per cow.

Some of the downturn is probably forage quality, but last summer’s high temperatures stressed cows across the state, affecting this year’s calving cycle, said Tony VanderHulst, a Wendell, Idaho, dairy farmer and president of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association.

His gut — and a lot of dry cows — tells him lower production is due to the long delay in cows breeding back last summer, he said.

It took cows four months to recuperate from the heat last July and August. They didn’t start settling down and getting pregnant until November and December, and milk starts tailing off at five months pregnant, he said.

“We really didn’t have a spring flush,” he added.

His operation has a fuller-than-usual dry pen for this time of year, and June’s triple-digit temperatures didn’t help production, he said.

This summer’s heat also took a toll in Washington state. June production dropped only slightly, 0.4 percent, but the loss of 2 million pounds was on an additional 2,000 cows and a deficit of 20 pounds per cow.

“Extreme temperatures took a lot of loads out of the Yakima Valley … dried up a lot of milk,” said Sunnyside, Wash., producer Tony Veiga, president of Washington State Dairy Federation.

And the drought and heat are certainly affecting the quality of feed being grown, he said.

The hot summer is also affecting feed crops in Oregon, limiting forage crops to two cuttings instead of three or four, said Tami Kerr, executive director of Oregon Dairy Farmers Association.

But it also affects cow comfort, with cows eating less and producing less milk, she said.

Oregon’s June milk production dropped 3.2 percent, down 7 million pounds on 2,000 fewer cows and a loss of 30 pounds per cow.

Lower production from other big producers also helped rein in U.S. milk production. Texas was down 2.1 percent, and New Mexico was down 4.5 percent.

Wine industry gears up for launch of pending AVA Fri, 31 Jul 2015 10:14:52 -0400 Sean Ellis LEWISTON, Idaho — Idaho’s wine industry and a coalition of economic development groups, cities and counties are gearing up to promote the pending Lewis-Clark Valley American Viticultural Area.

An AVA is a specific wine grape growing region that is federally designated because it has certain growing conditions, boundaries and history.

It’s anticipated the proposed AVA will be approved early next year.

It’s critically important that the AVA be promoted and marketed heavily and correctly from the get-go, said Idaho Wine Commission Executive Director Moya Shatz-Dolsby.

The IWC is using part of an $88,000 specialty crop grant it obtained from the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to organize a media tour of the AVA once it’s approved.

“You need to make sure you do it right because as soon as that AVA goes live, you’re going to get a huge splash in the media,” Shatz-Dolsby said. “You want to make sure it’s executed well because you have one chance to look good.”

IWC will coordinate its efforts with Clearwater Economic Development Association, which received a $67,000 specialty crop grant from the ISDA to promote and market the AVA.

CEDA will use the funds to implement a marketing launch to introduce the AVA’s grape growers and vintners to consumers, tourism operators and potential markets.

The funding will help ensure the AVA “gets a bang-up launch,” said CEDA Economic Development Specialist Deb Smith.

“You really do only have one chance to do it right,” she said. “You can’t launch year after year. You have to do it right the first time.”

CEDA will also create a five-year marketing plan for the AVA.

“You can’t just market it for year one and then stop,” Smith said. “We’re trying to approach this much like a business.”

The proposed 306,658-acre Lewis-Clark Valley AVA includes parts of five counties in Idaho and Washington and is centered around a 40-mile long strip of canyons surrounding the cities of Lewiston and Clarkston.

The area was a premier wine grape growing region in the early 20th Century but that disappeared after Prohibition.

Evidence of the region’s former winemaking history, including hundreds of acres of abandoned vineyards, are all around the region, said Melissa Sanborn, owner and winemaker for Colters Creek Winery, which is included in the AVA.

In the early 2000s, wine grapes started to make a comeback in the region and the proposed AVA now includes four wineries and 12 grape growers.

“It’s definitely coming back and it’s coming back strong,” Sanborn said. “We’re looking forward to promoting the heck out of the AVA once it’s finalized.”

Hop output to increase despite drought Fri, 31 Jul 2015 10:02:05 -0400 Dan Wheat MOXEE, Wash. — U.S. hop production will be up 5 percent this year despite heat and drought in the Yakima Valley where 70 to 80 percent of the nation’s hops are grown.

The increase is due to more acres in production, but the crop still “will be very short relative to demand” from the craft brewing industry, said Doug MacKinnon, president of 47 Hops, a Yakima hop dealer.

The U.S. crop was estimated at 74.5 million pounds at the International Hop Growers’ Congress in Germany the week of July 27, according to Hop Growers of America and the Washington Hop Commission, both in Moxee. That’s up 3.5 million pounds from 2014 but short of the record of 94.7 million pounds in 2009.

German and other European crops are down 10 to 20 percent. The world crop is estimated at 198.2 million pounds, down from 211 million in 2014.

MacKinnon, who attended the congress, said German production, which is approximately 40 percent of world production, is a very mixed bag.

“Above average temperatures and lack of rain have taken what was a beautiful crop with enormous potential just six short weeks ago and turned it into a crop that has the potential to be the worst in recent memory,” he said.

Drought and winds are damaging the German crop, estimated to be 16 percent short of 2014 in yields, but it could be far worse without significant rain in the next few weeks, MacKinnon said. Some German growers at the congress said yields could be down 25 percent or even rival 2003 when the German crop was short 50 percent, he said.

Most of the European crop is not irrigated. Most of the Yakima Valley crop is. Yakima growers largely switched to drip irrigation in recent years to save water.

The U.S. is second to Germany in world production and brewers have been concerned drought will reduce the Yakima crop.

Some aroma varieties in the Yakima Valley may drop 10 to 15 percent below average in yields, Hop Growers of America said.

Heat has “severely affected” several varieties but actually improved the outlook of the Cascade variety, MacKinnon said. Some growers in the Wapato Irrigation Project have been “seriously affected” by lack of water, but most growers have not been affected by the drought, he said.

The bigger concern is another dry winter doing greater harm to the 2016 crop, he said.

In June, the National Agricultural Statistics Service said U.S. hop acreage increased 16 percent. Washington is at 32,205 acres, up 3,347 from last year. Oregon is 6,807 up 1,397 from last year and Idaho is 4,975 up 1,232. The increase is driven by craft breweries projecting 20 percent annual growth through 2020.

Hop harvest in the Yakima Valley typically starts in late August and runs through September.

Monsanto execs discuss opportunities, challenges Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:57:04 -0400 Eric Mortenson ST. LOUIS – Population increase, world food demand, climate change, biotechnology and data science mean agriculture is “much more at center stage than it’s ever been,” Monsanto’s chairman and chief executive officer said.

“Sometimes we talk about farmers as if they were separate from society,” Hugh Grant said. “The reality is, they are at the heart of society.”

In wide-ranging talks with journalists touring Monsanto’s Chesterfield Village Research Facility outside St. Louis, Grant and other Monsanto executives fielded questions ranging from GMO controversies to the company’s attempt to buy rival Syngenta. Several acknowledged the company has been slow to engage GMO critics and was surprised by the vitriolic reaction to Monsanto’s work. Some said the company must become more transparent and better explain its role in agriculture.

“What we need to do a much better job on is explaining where food comes from, how food is produced and who’s producing it,” said Grant, a native of Scotland who became chairman and CEO in 2012.

Turning to trends, Grant said the westernization of Chinese diets, with more red meat consumption, drives the increased demand for corn as animal feed. Of interest to Northwest growers, he said wheat has not kept pace with yield gains achieved in corn and soybeans and “needs some help.”

The company in July opened a wheat breeding and research facility in Filer, Idaho. Monsanto previously experimented with GMO wheat but dropped it when Pacific Northwest growers said their buyers, particularly in Asia, did not want it.

On other topics, Grant was asked about Monsanto’s responsibility for obesity and diabetes rates.

“My abilities to change your eating habits are limited,” he said. “The tragedy today is you can have obesity and malnourishment coexistent.”

Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer and winner of the 2013 World Food Prize along with two others, said the world’s population is projected to top 10 billion by 2050.

The demand for food will double, and production will have to double in the Americas and triple in Africa and Asia to keep pace, Fraley said.

“It will take all the tools that man can assemble,” he said.

On climate change, a one- or two-degree temperature rise won’t turn the Midwest into a desert but will usher in the rise of new pests, weeds and diseases, Fraley said.

But Fraley said biotechnology and emerging data science give researchers the ability to respond by developing seeds “gene by gene” while farmers use drones, satellites and sensors to map fields “meter by meter.”

“The average tractor has more computer power in it than the first spaceship that went to the moon,” he said. “Better seeds and data are driving the next Green Revolution.”

Fraley said Monsanto is still interested in buying Syngenta and has sweetened its offer to the Swiss ag chemical company. Fraley said Monsanto would acquire Syngenta’s chemistry business and would sell off Syngenta’s seed business to assure competition. Critics say Monsanto is seeking a monopoly.

Other company executives who spoke during the event were Brett Begemann, president and chief operating officer, and Michael Frank, vice president of global commercial operations.

The 20 journalists attending were part of the National Press Foundation’s “Food, From Farm to Table” fellowship held July 19-22 in St. Louis. Monsanto was a sponsor of the fellowship, along with the Organic Trade Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the AARP Foundation, which includes senior nutrition among its concerns.

Monsanto’s sponsorship was criticized on social media. In a widely-shared post, the website said associating with a “highly polarizing company with an aggressive PR agenda might not appear to be the most logical course of action for a journalism nonprofit” such as the National Press Foundation.

Drone company CEO envisions future of farming Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:49:47 -0400 Eric Mortenson CLACKAMAS, Ore. — Stephen Burtt has seen the future and it’s. ... wait, let him ask you: Have you seen “Star Wars?”

Drones are everywhere in those movies, Burtt says. Doing jobs in the background, delivering goods, fixing things — their presence is so routine that no one even notices.

And that, he says, could be the future of American farms. A drone, perhaps one of his Aerial Technology International multi-rotored Quadcopters, launches itself in the morning to carry out pre-programmed tasks. Flying over the field, it uses sensors and cameras to look for diseases and pests, take inventory, check irrigation, assemble yield information or make harvest decisions.

Returning to its charging station, it downloads the information to the farmer or even to other machines, which move out on their own to pick, spray, water, cut or till.

“It’s terrestrial and airborne robots that run the farm of the future,” Burtt says.

Burtt’s three-year-old company, founded with his boyhood friend Lawrence Dennis, is among the startup tech firms aiming to get a piece of the action. Doubters question the cost and usefulness of the technology, but multiple companies and universities are engaged in research while waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to set rules for commercial use of drones.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates drone technology will produce an $82 billion economic impact and create more than 100,000 jobs by 2025. Many in the field see agriculture as a key opportunity for growth, in part because farmers eagerly seek data and are early adopters of technology that can save them time and money.

The Pacific Northwest is home to major drone developers such as Insitu Inc. and other companies. A fledgling company in Wilsonville, Ore., HoneyComb Corp., makes a fixed-wing AgDrone that it is marketing to farmers. Burtt’s company uses miniature helicopters; he believes the vertical take-off and landing capability makes it easier to launch, control and land.

He and partner Dennis, whom he’s known since seventh grade and who worked on helicopters in the military, teamed up in business about eight years ago.

They originally were drawn to the idea of using drones for mapping and shooting films. “The idea just grabbed me,” Burtt says. “If we can get a camera in the air, we can have a business.”

The development of brushless motor gimbals, which hold a mounted camera steady even if the craft carrying it bucks and bobs, provided video that was “beautiful and cinematic,” Burtt says.

ATI, the company they founded three years ago, has nine employees and concentrates on building and selling unmanned aerial systems; some custom, some out-of-the-box ready to fly. The company prides itself on training users.

“If someone buys an ag drone from us, we better make sure they succeed with it,” he says.

While some copters go for mapping and filming purposes, agricultural uses appear to hold promise, Burtt says.

Agronomists “all seem to think it’s invaluable,” he says. Most demonstration requests have come from vineyard operators, who appear to be keenly interested.

Bugs need to be worked out, starting with FAA approval. Business privacy is another concern to address. “Some farmers are very concerned about where their data goes,” Burtt says. “They don’t want their data to leave their farm.”

But Burtt is confident his company is on the right track.

“The vision of the future farm is robotic,” he says.

This article was originally published on Dec. 26, 2014.

Stephen Burtt

Occupation: CEO and co-owner of Aerial Technology International in Clackamas, Ore. Boyhood friend Lawrence Dennis is co-owner and chief technology officer.

Age: 34

Background: Born in England, he moved with his family to the U.S. as a child and grew up in Milwaukie, Ore.

Education: Not an engineer, he holds a bachelor’s degree in conflict resolution from Portland State University. “You have no idea how much conflict there is in this industry,” he says with a laugh.

Entrepreneurial spark: The excitement, challenge and element of risk that comes from doing “something that no one has ever done before.”

Italian innovator moves west Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:49:39 -0400 Stefano Musacchi: A top thinker in tree fruit physiology finds a home in Washington state

By Dan Wheat

Capital Press

WENATCHEE, Wash. — He arrived in Wenatchee a year ago, heralded by those who hired him at Washington State University as one of the best thinkers in tree fruit physiology and production in the world.

And Stefano Musacchi hasn’t disappointed as endowed chair of tree fruit physiology and management at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, says Jay Brunner, center director.

“Dr. Musacchi has lived up to expectations. He has shown that he is the right person for the position in many ways and his leadership will pay many dividends for horticultural science and the Washington tree fruit industry for years to come,” Brunner said.

He praised Musacchi’s knowledge, ideas, attention to detail and skill in collaborating with colleagues at the center and in the industry.

Musacchi, 49, grew up on an orchard in Ferrara, Italy, managed by his father who also managed a tree fruit nursery and bred strawberries. Young Musacchi joined in all the work and enjoyed helping with the breeding.

“If you asked me what I wanted to do in life, when I was a kid, I said, ‘I am doing it now,’” Musacchi said with a smile.

His college years were at the University of Bologna, where he received his master’s degree in agricultural sciences in 1990 and his doctorate in pomology in 1996. He became an assistant professor there in 2000.

His research centered on pomology and physiology of fruit trees and pear breeding. He studied propagation, training systems, rootstocks and cultivars.

He became best known internationally for his innovations of developing the biaxial fruit tree structure for apples and pears and inventing the super slender axe for cherries.

The biaxis for apples and pears involves the removal of the central leader of the tree and development of leaders from two side limbs. It spreads the tree into a single growth plane on trellises to form fruiting walls. This allows maximum light penetration through the leaves of the tree canopy for better fruit growth and color and high, uniform fruit production. Musacchi says it’s easiest for mechanical pruning and thinning and easiest to harvest because fruit is readily seen.

The tree’s energy is divided and vigor is controlled, particularly in fertile soil.

But biaxis shouldn’t be used for all varieties because some, like Granny Smith, need some shade to stay green, he said.

“We have the possibility to cultivate 28 variety of apples and each has a different story,” Musacchi said. “Some are green. Others are red and yellow. There isn’t a unique system to grow them all.”

Part of his work now is determining which system works best for which variety.

There are three main systems for high-density apple and pear orchards. The V-trellis and vertical tall spindle are most common in Central Washington. The biaxis is just being introduced and used by a few growers.

Large old fruit trees of yesteryear are still common but few people plant them now. Compact, high-density trees yield more fruit and are easier to prune and harvest.

The biaxis is common in Italy, where strict limits on pesticide residues and high labor costs have squeezed grower profits and made every aspect of horticulture, including tree canopy design, critical for maximum mechanization, Musacchi said.

The super slender axe for cherries is a single leader tree, a modification of the vertical tall spindle, to control tree growth, reduce bud clusters and produce large cherries on short limbs and the trunk. Low production per tree is compensated for with high-density plantings and production has reached 90 percent at 9.5-row (large) cherries.

Musacchi’s focus at WSU is on apples and pears since Matt Whiting, plant physiologist at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, concentrates on cherries.

Among Musacchi’s projects is researching use of a DA meter in pre-storage sorting of pears to determine optimum storage life of fruit. The meter measures the chlorophyll content of fruit, indicating its ripeness.

“Now we pick fruit assuming it’s all the same, but it isn’t true,” he said. “The DA meter allows us to measure the level of ripening so we know how to store the fruit.”

Another project is researching summer and fall pruning of d’Anjou pear to reduce vigorous tree growth. Currently, growers prune in winter. But Musacchi believes that stimulates growth. He’s trying to prove that pruning right after fruit harvest in summer and fall will reduce vigor and allow better light penetration of the canopy to produce more pears lower on trees.

“Right now, 70 percent of the crop is in the outside zone of the canopy. We want to bring more fruit to the bottom, partly because it will be easier to pick,” he said.

He’s also studying using biaxis tree structure in pears to control vigor and have earlier crops.

Fruiting walls are in the future for pears for mechanization but progress has been slowed because there’s no good rootstock available to produce high-density trees, he said.

Kate Evans, WSU tree breeder, Amit Dhingra, WSU genomist, and Todd Einhorn, Oregon State University horticulturist, are working to develop such rootstocks.

Musacchi and others are researching a replacement for Manchurian crab apples as apple pollinators in an effort to reduce disease in apples for export to China. In 2012, China banned U.S. apples for diseases and the industry is trying to regain access.

He’s also working on determining the best management and training system — V-trellis, vertical tall spindle or biaxis — for the new WSU apple variety. Researchers refer to it by its breeding name, WA 38. It will be marketed as Cosmic Crisp.

Musacchi said his job is to understand and improve what is possible in the short term for apples and pears while thinking ahead for the long term.

“Everything that can increase the physiological performance of trees and orchard management,” he said, “that’s what I’m about.”

This article was originally published on July 18, 2014.

Stefano Musacchi

Age: 49

Born and raised: Ferrara, Italy.

Family: Wife, Debora Bassi, is an attorney. Daughter, Lucia, 10.

Education: University of Bologna, master’s degree in agricultural sciences, 1990; doctorate in pomology, 1996.

Occupation: Washington State University endowed chair of tree fruit physiology and management.

Organic farm diversifies market channels Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:49:31 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski Philomath, Ore. — John Eveland’s farming venture started modestly enough: He wanted a source of fresh produce for his sister’s vegetarian restaurant.

Eveland had helped run Nearly Normal’s in Corvallis, Ore., since it was launched in 1979, but he was often disappointed with the quality of the vegetables he obtained from wholesalers.

After “dabbling” with growing tomatoes and other crops, Eveland and his wife, Sally Brewer, decided to start a farm in 1987.

“We had no concept of what this would look like,” said Eveland.

“Still don’t,” joked Brewer.

That first year, they joined with three other people to farm 20 leased acres.

The group did not function well together due to other job obligations and a lack of coordination among the partners.

“It was just a disaster,” said Eveland.

Undeterred, Eveland and Brewer struck out on their own and scaled back to five acres and a “hand-to-mouth” existence.

Their Gathering Together Farm grew along with the demand for organic food, which has experienced a tremendous surge in the past 25 years.

The couple now farms 60 acres of vegetables near Philomath, Ore., with their operation selling more than $2.5 million worth of produce through multiple market channels. At peak season, the firm employs more than 100 people.

“It’s not a small business anymore,” said Eveland.

While the farm’s name and philosophy is reminiscent of “late ’70s hippies,” the company actually operates like a sophisticated machine, said Larry Lev, an agricultural economist at Oregon State University.

“It’s an excellent example of a different way to be a successful farmer,” said Lev.

The company derives its revenues from farmers’ markets, wholesale buyers, a farm stand, restaurant accounts, a community supported agriculture program and a joint venture seed business.

That diversification helps insulate Gathering Together Farm from downturns in any one market channel, said Lev.

“They can ride out the ups and downs,” he said. “It allows them to be very resilient.”

Eveland and Brewer did not initially envision such a complex sales model — it evolved naturally over time.

In addition to their original customer, Nearly Normal’s restaurant, they began selling produce through farmers’ markets.

The CSA program, through which buyers pre-pay for a portion of the farm’s crops, helped stabilize the company financially.

“For the first time, we had money in the spring we could spend on inputs,” said Eveland.

The couple also became early shareholders in the Organically Grown Co., which over time developed into a major wholesale distributor of organic goods.

Another opportunity arose when nearby farmers Frank and Karen Morton needed more land to expand their seed company, Wild Garden Seed.

As part of the joint venture, the Mortons produce their organic seed on the Gathering Together Farm property.

The arrangement provides a source of revenue and seed, but the succession of different flowering crops also has agronomic benefits.

“We have a healthier army of beneficial insects,” said Eveland.

Then there’s the company’s “farm stand,” which acts as its public face and is actually much more elaborate than the name implies.

The structure serves as a miniature grocery store for the farm’s vegetables and a porch-front restaurant for meals made from its produce.

“We wanted to utilize our cosmetically challenged vegetables,” said Brewer of the idea to serve meals.

What started out as a simple offering of soups and salads has now progressed to gourmet cuisine, with a chef serving such fare as “tagliatelle with Italian kale and pork ragu.”

The farm stand’s out-of-the-way location has managed to attract skilled chefs because they’re largely able to run the restaurant as their own business, said Brewer.

“We come in and drop product on him, tell him this is interesting, this is good,” said Eveland.

Delegating authority is instrumental to the farm’s business model, as trusted employees are charged with overseeing the company’s different components.

“It’s also their drive and their desire, it’s not just coming from us,” said Brewer.

This article was first published on Aug. 8, 2015.

John Eveland and Sally Brewer

Occupation: Owners, Gathering Together Farm

Hometown: Philomath, Ore.

Family: Married, three grown daughters

Ages: John is 65, Sally is 55

Education: John Eveland obtained a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Iowa State University in 1971 and a master’s degree in counseling psychology from the University of Oregon in 1978. Sally Brewer obtained a bachelor’s degree in environmental education from the University of New Hampshire in 1987 and a master’s degree in education from Oregon State University in 1988.

WSU scientist searches for seeds of success Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:49:09 -0400 Don Jenkins MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — A scientist who investigates diseases that afflict vegetables in northwest Washington grew up in a large city in South Africa uninterested in plants.

Lindsey du Toit was attracted to biology, however. And as a second-year college student, she was required to take a class in plant pathology.

On field trips, du Toit saw large commercial farms and small-scale growers scratching out a living.

In either case, she was struck by how the health of plants can help or harm the fortunes of humans.

“It really makes an impact when you see diseases in that diversity of circumstances,” du Toit said. “It was that combination of people and science that got me interested.”

Over the next decade, that interest propelled du Toit from Durban, South Africa, to the Washington State University research center in Mount Vernon, Wash. — cities separated by 10,528 miles.

Since 2000, du Toit, 44, has worked with farmers and companies to improve small-seed production in the Skagit Valley, which yields much of the world’s seeds for spinach, cabbage and many other vegetables.

Growers praise her scientific knowledge, work ethic and enthusiasm.

“Farmers revere Lindsey,” Skagit Valley seed grower Kirby Johnson said. “She’s on top of everything all the time.”

The Skagit Valley produces dozens of commercial crops. The diversity makes farming there complex, and growers look to WSU for expertise, said Dave Hedlin, the third-generation owner of Hedlin Farms.

“We have all kinds of problems and all kinds of questions. Lindsey is one of those scientists who is willing to step in, roll up her sleeves and help,” Hedlin said. “She kind of exemplifies what you want in a scientist, as far as a farmer goes.”

Du Toit ended up majoring in plant pathology at the University of Natal-Pietermaritzburg in South Africa. As an undergraduate, she heard a visiting professor from Illinois lecture on the U.S. cooperative extension system.

Du Toit wanted to learn more about these offices devoted to helping farmers and, nudged along by a friend, approached the professor.

The contact led du Toit to the University of Illinois for graduate school. She earned master’s and doctorate degrees in plant pathology. All the while, she intended to return to South Africa.

In the meantime, du Toit took a job in 1998 at the WSU Research & Extension Center in Puyallup. She helped people identify plant diseases. Some brought in potted plants. Others were stressed out over groves of valuable trees.

She confirmed her ties to the Northwest by landing the position in Mount Vernon as director of the vegetable seed pathology team, a small group of research assistants and graduate students.

Rather than just identifying diseases, her job became to find the cure.

She came with a handicap, however. She had expertise in neither Northwest vegetables nor seeds, of any type.

She looked to farmers and seed company representatives to teach her. “I think that turned out to be very beneficial, but I did it out of desperation,” du Toit said. “I was like a sponge.”

In Illinois, corn was the fodder for du Toit’s master’s thesis and doctorate dissertation. At Mount Vernon, she encountered a different type of farming.

“It didn’t take long to bring her up to speed,” Johnson said. “She forgot the corn smut she was an expert in when she came here and dived into spinach.”

Seed crops grown in the Skagit Valley can have a high return. One acre can yield enough seed to grow 50 million pounds of cabbage.

But the risks are high, too. That’s partly because seed crops are in the ground for so long, du Toit said. “Which means there is more time for things to go wrong.”

Du Toit said her research has no finish line. Pathogens arise, humans react and pathogens counteract.

Her research projects include finding ways to curb fusarium wilt, the scourge of spinach seed growers. As part of her research, du Toit has stored in a greenhouse piles of dirt clumped in about two dozen paper containers the right size for a small order of fries.

Each handful of dirt has been treated in a particular way. The hope is that one will yield clues on how to cope with the fungus, which inhabits the ground long after the seed is harvested, making the field unsuitable for spinach for a decade or more.

Du Toit hopes to shorten that period. If the time can be halved, perhaps spinach seed production can be doubled in the Skagit Valley.

Johnson, who grows beet and spinach seeds, said a rotation schedule shorter than 10 years for spinach is trouble.

“The target is to get to five or six years. Are they going to get there? I don’t know. If we do, it’s going to be thanks in part to Lindsey,” he said.

Besides advising growers, conducting research and teaching graduate students, du Toit speaks at conferences around the world.

She has no plans to take up farming.

“It scares me when I look at the risk a farmer takes on,” she said. “I think there are a lot more secure jobs.”

This article was first published on Sept. 12, 2014.

Lindsey du Toit

Hometown: Durban, South Africa

Age: 44

Family: Single

Education: Bachelor’s degree University of Natal-Pietermaritzburg; master’s degree and doctorate University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Forester no stranger to controversy Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:48:55 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski Forester Norm Johnson was enticed by “a career that lets me wander around the woods,” but his time is often spent in the thicket of controversy.

During his three decades as a forestry professor at Oregon State University, Johnson has shaped key federal forest policies while drawing fire from environmentalists and the timber industry.

“He’s had a real imprint on forest management out here,” said Josh Laughlin, executive director of the Cascadia Wildlands environmental group.

His role in forming the Northwest Forest Plan, which established a conservation and harvest regime for federal lands in 1994, is often cited as a signature achievement.

Making an impact in such a contentious field is impossible without ruffling a few feathers, so Johnson is by now accustomed to criticism.

He nonetheless seems taken aback by the recent rancor surrounding his advocacy for increasing “early seral” conditions in federal forests.

“Boy, have I caught hell over this,” he said.

The proposition is currently facing an onslaught of opposition from environmentalists who claim that it marks a return to clear-cutting mature stands. The forest products industry also isn’t enthusiastic about the idea, as it delays the production of harvestable timber.

Despite the tough reception, Johnson makes no apologies for the concept.

“Am I sorry we’re doing this? No. Will we keep going? Yes,” he said.

When moist forests in the Northwest were still untouched by the descendants of European settlers, it was natural for wildfires to create openings in the canopy, he said.

Before being reclaimed by trees, these sunny clearings were initially populated by shrubs and other plants that produce flowers, fruits and seeds for wildlife to eat.

“It’s a tremendous food source for an amazing variety of creatures,” Johnson said. “It’s really in a lot of ways the most biologically diverse stage in a forest.”

At this point, though, such early seral habitat is actually scarcer than old growth in federal forests, which are dominated by fairly uniform stands of evenly aged trees, he said.

Managers with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are currently focused on thinning projects to achieve a more complex structure associated with “late successional” forests.

Inevitably, though, federal forests will run out of areas suitable for commercial thinning, putting the USFS and BLM on a trajectory of further declines in timber volume, Johnson said.

In the minds of Johnson and his research collaborator, University of Oregon ecology professor Jerry Franklin, the solution to these problems is to emulate natural disturbances.

Their recommendation to federal forest managers is for a “variable retention harvest” in which patches of forest are logged and left treeless for years, generating timber while clearing the way for early seral habitat.

“That’s the part that really got us into hot water,” Johnson said. “We’ve made everyone mad.”

Allowing parcels to be overcome with shrubs is considered a “regeneration failure” by industry-oriented foresters, while some environmentalists think the strategy shows Johnson has “gone over to the dark side,” he said.

The blowback from environmentalists suggests that Johnson and Franklin have tried to deal with a “social science element” that they’re not well-equipped to handle, said Scott Horngren, an attorney with the American Forest Resource Council timber industry group.

Only a small portion of federal lands can be logged, so the decision to turn such areas into “brush fields” is questionable, he said. “You ought to be managing that for timber production.”

From the environmental perspective, the timing of the early seral strategy is dubious in light of the pressure on federal lands to produce timber revenues in rural areas.

“It gained a lot of prominence as western Oregon counties’ financial security was more and more unknown,” said Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands.

There is a shortage of complex early seral habitat, but it would be better restored by allowing some forest fires to burn and avoiding salvage logging, said Andy Kerr, former executive director of the Oregon Wild environmental group.

In Kerr’s view, Johnson’s strategy is overly influenced by economic considerations. “It’s driven more by getting logs out than by what the forest needs,” he said.

Though they have disparate views of his work, timber and environmental groups can agree on one thing: Johnson has played a pivotal position in the longstanding debate over federal forests.

“He’s got the ear of some important people,” said Horngren.

When Johnson was studying forestry in the 1960s, critical environmental laws hadn’t yet been passed and conflicts over forest management were still bubbling below the surface.

By the time he signed on as a forestry professor in 1985, the issue was coming to the forefront.

“I realized Oregon was in the middle of a major shift in how federal forests are managed, and I wanted to be a part of it,” he said.

Johnson developed a computer model called 4-Plan that the Forest Service adopted to calculate sustainable harvest levels in national forests.

The formula was based on the volume of growing timber needed to replace stands that were cut, but over time it became apparent that other considerations — such as rare species and water quality — were gaining in political importance.

Johnson and several other scientists were recruited by members of Congress to study these issues, which eventually led to his participation in a group that designed the Northwest Forest Plan.

Lawmakers and federal managers have since continued to depend on his expertise when crafting timber projects such as the White Castle project near Myrtle Creek, Ore., which is considered a test case for the early seral strategy. Environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the project and a federal judge recently agreed it was approved unlawfully.

Johnson continues to stir up controversy, but the overall thrust of his ideas has nonetheless moved forestry forward, said Kerr. “The forests are better off because of Norm Johnson’s decades of work.”

This article was first published on March 20, 2015.

Norm Johnson

Occupation: Forestry professor at Oregon State University

Hometown: Corvallis, Ore.

Education: Bachelor of science in forestry from the University of California-Berkleley in 1965, Ph.D. in forest management and economics from Oregon State University in 1973

Age: 72

Family: Wife, Debbie, and four grown children

Commission exec keeps industry connected Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:48:51 -0400 Matw Weaver Mary Palmer Sullivan cultivates relationships, whether it’s between Washington grain growers and their overseas customers or between the commission she represents and the university researchers who bring innovations to the industry.

As the vice president of the Washington State Grain Commission, Sullivan works with foreign trade teams that visit the U.S. Trade teams the commission has hosted this summer include groups from Panama, South Korea, the Philippines and Japan. Sullivan also leads tours of industry members and government officials to provide them with information about the intricacies of the region’s wheat industry.

“Mary is always out there for the growers — I call her the go-to, get-it-done kind of person,” said Nicole Berg, a Paterson, Wash., wheat farmer and president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers.

Sullivan works with Washington State University researchers whose projects are funded by the commission. Roughly 40 projects receive about $2.4 million in farmers’ investments. She makes sure researchers meet the commission’s expectations.

Sullivan is a good liaison between researchers and the farmers on the commission, USDA Agricultural Research Service geneticist Deven See said.

“I think she’s a lot more engaged with the growers than maybe some of us scientists are,” he said. “She helps bridge that communication barrier between us.”

She also goes to bat for researchers to help them obtain funding for their work. See said Sullivan worked years to help obtain adequate federal funding for his Western Regional Small Grains Genotyping Laboratory on the WSU campus in Pullman.

“Mary is a gal who does more than she lets on,” Berg said. “She takes everything in and is very methodical in her approaches and thought processes.”

Sullivan’s family has roots in agriculture, and as a youth she was involved in 4-H and FFA, which she credits with giving her the confidence and interest in agriculture.

“The things that I’ve challenged myself to do over the years, I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t been in 4-H,” she said. “It gave me that fire that made me want to continue to be in agriculture.”

Sullivan first studied dairy science at WSU, but decided to pursue a career in agriculture communications. She graduated at the same time a position opened on the Washington Barley Commission 26 years ago.

“I’m the barley babe,” she said with a grin, using Berg’s nickname for her. “I love barley.... The beer and malting industry, they’re so much fun and just good people.”

When the barley commission merged with the wheat commission in 1997, it gave Sullivan a chance to start fresh with wheat. The best thing about the job is constantly learning, she said.

“My heart was in ag, I wanted to be in ag,” she said. “I love my job, I love what I do, I love the people I represent, I love the people I work with in this industry — they’re the salt of the earth. It’s a good industry, and they’ve been kind enough to keep me this long.”

This article was first published on Aug. 15, 2015.

Mary Palmer Sullivan

Age: 47

Title: Vice president, Washington Grain Commission

Hometown: Redmond, Wash.

Current location: Valleyford, Wash.

Education: Bachelor of science, Washington State University

Family: One son, 23 years old


Buyers help small farmers bridge urban-rural divide Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:48:42 -0400 Eric Mortenson PORTLAND — In case there is any doubt how New Seasons Market views its vendors, a reminder is posted in the entry of the chain’s less-than-palatial headquarters in North Portland.

Among the seven points listed: “We like small” and “We like local.” And the first one, at the top of the list: “We play fair.”

A slice of Pacific Northwest farmers and ranchers, many of them small, organic and operating on slender margins, are glad they do. Since its founding in 2000, New Seasons has emerged as an innovative market lifeline for producers who might be struggling otherwise. The store’s buyers seek out local suppliers whose products and operations mesh with the New Seasons mindset.

The store’s point people include Jeff Fairchild, 59, the produce director, and Alan Hummel, 53, the meat and seafood director and recently appointed to oversee the produce and floral programs as well. Both are veterans of the alternative grocery store business and have been with New Seasons from the beginning, in addition to being friends for 30 years.

Both say they’ve been granted the independence to fill the store with products selected not by price and not just by quality, but which represent New Seasons’ values of sustainability, community, relationships and healthy food.

“What’s driving us is not price,” Fairchild says. “The food I offer my customers is food I’d want to buy.”

Choosing vendors based on the lowest price and biggest producer doesn’t appeal to Hummel. “It would be easier, but it would be boring,” he says.

In foodie Portland, it’s a formula that works. The chain has grown to 13 stores in the Portland-Vancouver, Wash., region, has nearly 2,700 employees and plans to open four more stores by summer 2015. Ten percent of after-tax profits go to nonprofits working to ease hunger, protect the environment or educate young people.

It isn’t a cheap place to shop, but attracts an informed, engaged customer base that wants to know where its food comes from, prefers that it come from a nearby family farm or ranch and is willing to pay more. It’s a customer base to whom good land stewardship and a sustainable food system are as important as flavor and quality.

Equally important, the customers rely on New Seasons to understand that and act accordingly.

“We respect and honor that trust,” Hummel says. “If I was asked to introduce a line of product I didn’t believe in, I wouldn’t do it.”

The atmosphere and expectations result in the store’s buyers becoming directly involved in their vendors’ operations. New Seasons has provided no-interest loans and even taken work parties to farms to help producers meet sustainability and animal welfare certification standards important to customers.

Hummel says the store’s ongoing challenge, as it expands, is to continue finding and working with like-minded regional growers and food manufacturers.

Fairchild, his cohort, says — only half joking — that he’d like to see producers gain the resources to give him a better crop every year.

“I would define success as New Seasons and the partners I’m working with are both able to have financially viable businesses,” Fairchild says. “For a lot of these people, we’ve given them renewed confidence and the consistent markets that allow them to continue to grow and expand.”

This article was first published on Sept. 5, 2014.

Jeff Fairchild

Age: 59

Position: Produce director

Alan Hummel

Age: 53

Position: Meat and seafood director, supervisor of produce and floral departments

Responsibilities: Seek out farmers and ranchers who are producing vegetables, grains, meat or seafood in a manner acceptable to urban consumers who desire healthy, sustainable local food and are willing to pay more to get it.

Upshot: Fairchild and Hummel have been granted the independence to find producers, make deals and help tweak operations. “Jeff and I have not been supervised in the last 30 years,” Hummel says.

Serving replant disease a meal of mustard Fri, 31 Jul 2015 09:48:31 -0400 Dan Wheat WENATCHEE, Wash. — Mark Mazzola has been investigating replant disease in apple orchards for 20 years and says he’s found a solution that may work better than soil fumigation.

A combination of yellow and white mustard seed meals combats replant disease longer than fumigants by addressing the whole ecosystem of soil rather than just its chemistry, says Mazzola, a research plant pathologist at USDA’s Agriculture Research Service Tree Fruit Research Laboratory in Wenatchee.

Mustard seed meal also results in better tree growth and fruit yields than fumigation, he said.

Replant disease is pervasive when replanting an orchard and is a “major impediment to the establishment of an economically viable orchard,” Mazzola said.

Replant disease is a build-up of micro-organisms in soil from old tree roots that hampers the growth and productivity of new trees. It wasn’t much known before a disastrous freeze in 1968 and 1969 killed a lot of orchards in Central Washington.

Growers tore out dead trees and replanted new ones and began having more problems with diseases, Tom Auvil, research horticulturist at the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission in Wenatchee, has said.

The industry turned to fumigation but it doesn’t always work because temperature, soil texture and soil moisture all can hinder its effectiveness, Auvil said.

Mazzola, now 54, was hired at the ARS in Wenatchee in 1995, primarily to investigate replant disease. He has focused on apples but looked at pears and cherries, which are susceptible to the same pathogens.

He believes his undergraduate work in forest biology and strong foundation in ecology gives him a broad perspective in looking at replant disease and soils.

“Most people in this research come from agricultural programs like plant and soil science. It’s relatively rare to find people with an ecology background in plant pathology. I try to understand how soils function from a biological and ecological perspective,” he said.

Many diverse organisms are at work in soils, he said.

He has managed a nematode diagnostics lab, worked on rust fungi, soil bore fungi and bacteria and then studied the molecular genetics of bacteria that are pathogens of rice.

“You don’t find a lot of people who have worked on trees, beans, rice, wheat and now apples. We get pigeon-holed quickly,” he said.

In looking at replant disease, Mazzola first identified four fungal organisms and the lesion nematode as the main problems. He tested several cover crops to control the pathogens on the ground before it was replanted as orchard but without the results he was looking for. He left ground fallow for up to three years without a reduction in disease development.

About 15 years ago, there was a lot of interest in using mustards, canola, broccoli and other brassica plants as green manure in soil for their biologically active chemistries.

“But you can’t produce enough biomass to obtain the chemistry needed to suppress plant pathogens. Seed meal possesses higher quantities of these chemistries,” Mazzola said.

He began experimenting with seed meal from various brassica crops and found none of them alone controlled replant organisms. Then he tested various combinations and ratios. He landed on a 50-50 mix of yellow and white mustard seed meal applied in the fall before a spring planting.

The mix produces chemicals that kill the pathogens but also changes the microbiology of the soil to make it more resistant to re-infestation.

A field trial of Jonagold trees on Geneva 11 rootstock, planted in 2010, resulted in a 45 percent increase in fruit yield. Gala on Malling 9 and Geneva 11, also planted in 2010, in the mustard seed meal treated soil yielded 25 percent more fruit cumulatively in the first two years.

Mazzola used metagenome analysis, generating and sifting through millions of DNA sequences, to study roots and attached soil and found microbes in fumigated soil reverted back to their original state after two seasons while microbes in seed meal treatment were distinct and still suppressing disease after the fourth season.

“We’re able to identify all the bacteria and fungi colonizing the apple tree root system and improve the root-soil ecosystem to manage the pathogens of this disease,” he said.

Auvil has said Mazzola has done a great job of showing a wide array of organisms at work in tree fruit soil, but that the seed meal solution takes too much meal from too far away to be practical beyond test plots.

“Growers apply 20 tons per acre of compost in the fall to orchards,” Mazzola said, noting he applies mustard seed meal at 3 tons per acre and has successfully reduced that by one-third.

Mustard seed meal is mainly a biodiesel byproduct produced in the Midwest but mustard seed is grown in Washington and can be increased, he said.

“Growers will make this work,” he said, adding meal flakes have been turned into pellets commercially in California for easier application.

Interaction between Geneva rootstock and the seed meal are likely to allow further reductions in the quantities required, he said. And seed meal may not be the only solution. Mazzola continues to research other potential solutions.

“The Geneva rootstock was developed for precocity, dwarfing and fire blight resistance, not replant disease,” he said. “That’s a side benefit. It has a tolerance for replant disease. It handles it.”

Mazzola and Yanmin Zhu, an ARS geneticist in Wenatchee, and Gennaro Fazio, an ARS rootstock breeder in Geneva, N.Y., who developed the Geneva rootstock, are collaborating to investigate differences in gene expression with an eye toward developing a rootstock truly resistant to replant disease.

This article was first published on March 27, 2015.

Mark Mazzola

Age: 54

Born and raised: Boston, Mass.

Family: Wife, Michelle Mazzola, a funding consultant.

Education: Bachelor’s in forest biology, University of Vermont, 1983; master’s in forest pathology, University of Vermont, 1985; doctorate in plant pathology, Washington State University, 1990.

Occupation: Research plant pathologist, USDA ARS Tree Fruit Research Laboratory, Wenatchee, since 1995.

Previous work: Research plant pathologist, USDA ARS, Pullman, Wash., 1993-1995; post-doctorate research associate, Kansas State University, 1990-1993; manager, Nematode Diagnostic Laboratory, University of Vermont, 1985-1986.

Quote: “My interests were in natural resources and that related to my first hiking trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.”

SW Oregon wildfire spreads quickly in scorching heat Fri, 31 Jul 2015 08:58:17 -0400 CANYONVILLE, Ore. (AP) — Record-breaking heat and parched forestlands fueled a southwest Oregon wildfire that rapidly spread to nearly 10 square miles.

The Stouts fire started Thursday afternoon in the unincorporated community of Milo — east of Canyonville. A few hours later, helicopters were dumping pond water on the hillside flames and aerial tankers dropped retardant.

Gov. Kate Brown invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act so the Oregon fire marshal can mobilize resources from around the state to protect homes. About 450 firefighters were on the scene Friday.

Kyle Reed of the Douglas Forest Protective Associations says several homes were threatened, but none burned.

Nearly two dozen residents were told they could go to a crisis shelter at Canyonville Elementary, but the Roseburg News-Review reports that no one was there late Thursday.

The area near Canyonville has a history of explosive wildfires. The 1987 Bland Mountain fire destroyed 14 homes and killed loggers Mark Giles and James Moore.

Wyoming, Montana unsatisfied with federal sage grouse plan Fri, 31 Jul 2015 08:49:35 -0400 ALISON NOONand MEAD GRUVER HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The governors of Wyoming and Montana say a federal plan to protect the greater sage grouse is far more restrictive than Western states’ own programs to help the struggling species.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock told the U.S. Bureau of Land Management this week to rewrite major portions of a draft federal policy for protecting the ground-dwelling bird.

The governors submitted comments to the agency’s state directors in separate letters, both dated July 29, outlining their positions on the draft that was released May 28.

Mead said the BLM is wrong to portray livestock grazing as a threat to sage grouse. He said the agency incorrectly claims that determination would have no economic repercussions.

“This conclusion defies common sense,” Mead wrote.

Policies that could hurt Wyoming’s agricultural industry were supported in the federal plan by faulty analyses and preferentially pieced-together research, Mead said.

“The agencies cannot simply present conclusions based on conjecture and refuse to acknowledge likely adverse economic impacts because the exact extent of those impacts is not yet known,” Mead wrote. “The best estimates of impacts must be determined and included.”

Bullock said the federal plan spanning BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands in 10 states could impact Montana’s ability to cultivate its natural resources.

He said it includes “an unreasonable and unnecessary blanket prohibition on the leasing and development of oil and gas resources on federal lands in Montana,” as well as a ban on any new gravel mining.

The BLM was reviewing the governors’ comments Thursday afternoon and did not provide immediate comment.

Bullock told reporters on Thursday that he was frustrated by some aspects of the BLM plan. He said in his letter he was disappointed by the discrepancies between the federal proposal and state plans, considering the bureau recommended Wyoming’s core-habitat strategy to him in 2013.

A court has told the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide by Sept. 30 whether the birds need protection as a threatened or endangered species. A decision to list could severely restrict oil and gas drilling and other development in the region.

California’s hills blackened by wildfires Fri, 31 Jul 2015 08:37:12 -0400 LOWER LAKE, Calif. (AP) — The golden hills of California were being blackened Friday by a series of wildfires egged on by bone-dry vegetation, triple-digit temperatures and gusting winds.

A handful of homes have been consumed by the flames and hundreds of people chased from their houses as thousands of firefighters work to corral the fires.

Fourteen large fires are burning, mostly in the scorched northern half of the state and California’s incessant drought is only making matters worse.

“They only need a little wind to allow them to burn at an explosive rate,” said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection.

People are to blame for most wildfires, but Berlant said California’s drought provides the fuel to get the flames burning rapidly.



A fast-spreading wildfire north of San Francisco grew overnight, charring 21 square miles and torching a third home.

It was only 5 percent contained Friday.

At least 650 residents have been evacuated from their homes as the blaze raged in hills covered in dense brush and oak trees and dotted with ranch homes. The fire is burning near Lower Lake, south of Clear Lake, a popular summer recreation spot.

The California National Guard on Thursday sent a fleet of eight helicopters to back up Cal Fire crews. They are dousing flames with water and will evacuate the injured, and help move around firefighters and their equipment.



A separate fire near the small town of Isleton in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta burned six or seven mobile homes Thursday evening before firefighters got it under control, said Steve Cantelme, chief of the Sacramento office of Emergency Services.

Cantelme said the fire was out Thursday night but crews remained on the scene raking through debris to ensure that no hot embers could reignite it.

Video from KCRA-TV in Sacramento showed mobile homes engulfed in wind-whipped flames at a property called Korth’s Pirate’s Lair Marina. Owner Kande Korth said everyone got out safely.



Crews battling a fire east of Napa Valley held their ground Friday more than a week after the fire started.

The fire has charred more than 12 square miles in Solano County.

At least 136 structures remain threatened, but evacuation orders have been lifted. It is 85 percent contained and crews are expecting to have the fire fully contained by Monday. The fire is about 45 miles east of Napa’s wine county and vineyards are not threatened.



A small fire near Groveland, a stop-off point for travelers headed to Yosemite National Park, has forced evacuations, but state Highway 120 remains open. The 265-acre fire 20 miles from the park’s entrance was 35 percent contained Friday.

In a separate foothills blaze northeast of Sacramento, evacuation orders have been lifted for residents of 50 homes. The fire, which ignited Saturday, burned through more than 3 1/2 square miles and is nearly three-quarters contained.



Residents of 200 homes in the Central California community of Cascadel Woods were ordered to evacuate Thursday. A wildfire burning near Bass Lake for several days spread overnight from 3 square miles to more than 6. It is 30 percent contained.

Authorities say a boy acknowledged starting the fire by playing with a lighter to burn pine needles in the dry Sierra Nevada. They say the boy faces criminal charges but remains out of custody because he and his family are cooperating.



Three smaller fires in the far north that started Wednesday each prompted evacuations. Two in Shasta County, 130 miles south of the Oregon border, were more than half contained.

California judge says she’ll likely uphold farmer water cuts Fri, 31 Jul 2015 08:33:31 -0400 SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California judge says she’ll likely side with state regulators seeking to cut agricultural water use in the drought.

At a hearing Thursday, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang said she believes the state’s revised approach to warning farmers of insufficient supplies is legal.

At issue are thousands of notices sent this year to farmers, government agencies and corporations with water rights telling them to cease pumping because rivers and streams were too dry to meet demand.

Chang previously ruled the initial notices violated the due process rights of farmers.

The State Water Resources Control Board responded by sending new letters that stripped out mandatory-sounding language. The West Side Irrigation District says the new letters are also illegal.

The judge did not issue a final ruling.

The state has threatened to fine users who take water illegally.

Big Island farmers to participate in feral pig project Fri, 31 Jul 2015 08:12:58 -0400 HILO, Hawaii (AP) — Five Big Island farmers have signed up to join federal efforts in a conversation pilot program aimed at addressing feral pig management.

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service announced in April that Hawaii and the U.S. territory of Guam would join Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi in the pilot program.

USDA official, Shirley Nakamura, said 12 people, including five from Hawaii County and seven from Guam, have signed up for the program.

“Our field offices are in the process of ranking the applications that were received,” she wrote in an email Wednesday. “We expect to select applications for funding sometime next week.”

Participants who are selected for the program will monitor feral swine damage over at least a three-year period. They will have to restore damage to natural resources and experiment with ways to control the animals.

“Feral swine is a problem on all the islands in the state,” Nakamura wrote. “Hawaii County was selected because of the extensive pig damage on the island, the interest expressed by a number of farmers in Hawaii County who are trying to address the problem, and the possibility of success for this pilot project.”

The program, which is being funded by the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, is designed to determine the impacts of feral pigs on natural resources and evaluate the effectiveness of practices used to reduce the impacts.

In 2007, a joint study by the USDA and the County of Hawaii found that feral swine was widespread on the Big Island. Of the 268 pigs tested for disease in the study, 23 tested positive for swine brucellosis and 44 tested positive for pseudorabies.

Early harvest begins for California wine grapes Thu, 30 Jul 2015 16:12:12 -0400 Tim Hearden NAPA, Calif. — The picking of wine grapes has begun in California’s most lucrative producing region, and vintners expect a slightly lighter crop with good quality and flavor.

Pickers in the Napa Valley were out in late July filling bins with the season’s first grapes — Pinot Noir. Within a few weeks they’ll gravitate to grapes crushed for white and then red wine varieties.

“They were earlier than last year, which was still an early year,” said Cate Conniff, spokeswoman for the Napa Valley Vintners Association. She said alternating warm and cool weather during the growing season led to an early bud break, a long flowering and fruit set period and an early harvest.

“The quality looks great,” Conniff said. “People are very excited about the flavors.”

The activity in the Napa Valley comes as the grape harvest overall in California is beginning to escalate, reports the National Agricultural Statistics Service in Sacramento.

Wine grapes amounted to about two-thirds of the grapes planted in the state last year, totaling 615,000 acres to 121,000 acres of table grapes and 192,000 acres of raisin-type grapes, according to NASS.

Wine producers expect a somewhat lighter than average crop because of the long flowering and fruit set period, Conniff said. However, Napa Valley vintners typically farm for low yields by culling fruit that’s not perfectly ripe “to only bring in the fruit that reflects the best flavor for the winemaker,” she said.

After three straight years of record-high crushes from 2011-13, wine producers in California saw a 12 percent drop in tonnage for last year’s crush, largely because of drought-related water shortages. But vintners said the smaller yield brought a more intense flavor that made 2014 a fine vintage year.

The lower yields appeared to push up prices, as the average price per ton for all varieties in 2014 was $743, up 4 percent from 2013, NASS observed. Grapes produced in Napa County received the highest average price of $4,077 per ton, a 10 percent jump from 2013, the agency reported.

While the drought “effects everyone in California,” wine grapes are not a water-intensive crop, Conniff said.

“Fine wine grapes are pretty low … in terms of water consumption, and because fine wine grapes and grape vines require a minimal amount of water, the people that are looking to those irrigation decisions certainly don’t want to over-water,” she said. “That does not add anything to the end quality of the grapes themselves … We’re certainly looking for concentrations of flavor.”

Grapes for sparkling wines are picked earlier because winemakers are looking for higher levels of acidity, Conniff said. The next grapes to come off the vines will be Sauvignon Blanc, whose harvest will begin in about two weeks, she said.

Chardonnay accounted for the largest percentage of the total crush volume last year at 17.3 percent, with Cabernet Sauvignon second at 12.3 percent, according to NASS.

California wine shipments in the U.S. were 220 million cases in 2014, up 4.4 percent from the previous year, with an estimated retail value of $24.6 billion, according to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute.

Wine from the Golden State made up 90 percent of U.S. exports, which reached $1.49 billion in winery revenues in 2014. That was the second-highest dollar value for U.S. wine exports and a 94 percent increase from five years ago, according to the Wine Institute.

‘Extreme drought’ hits Washington for first time in a decade Thu, 30 Jul 2015 16:03:26 -0400 Don Jenkins Almost one-third of Washington is suffering an “extreme drought,” the first time the state has reached those conditions in a decade, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday.

Meanwhile, a slice of Western Oregon running north and south through seven coastal counties is also in extreme drought for the first time.

Low streams, parched soils and the risk of wildfires tightened the drought’s grip on the West, according to the drought monitor, a partnership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The worsening of conditions was especially apparent in Washington, where every region has seen the severity of the drought increase.

Sections of Western, Central and Eastern Washington, making up nearly 32 percent of the state, is in extreme drought, one step above severe drought and one below exceptional drought. Portions of the state not in extreme drought are in severe drought. Only one-quarter of the state was in severe drought six weeks ago.

In 2005, Washington’s last statewide drought before this year, 14 percent of state reached extreme drought status in mid-

September and stayed for approximately three months.

In 2001, until this year generally recognized as the state’s worst drought since 1977, nearly 6 percent of Washington was in an extreme drought between September and November.

Idaho also saw an increase in the percentage of the state in extreme drought, jumping from 7 percent the week before to 22 percent.

California’s drought status was unchanged. Some 46 percent of the state is in an exceptional drought, while another 28 percent is in an extreme drought.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center forecasts that all of Washington has a strong chance of above average temperatures and below average rainfall through at least mid-October. The rest of the West has a better chance for normal temperatures and precipitation, according to the prediction center.

Some 34 percent of the U.S. Geological Survey’s 146 stream gauges in Washington were reporting record lows Thursday for the date.