Family operation gives 'an extremely long leash to try new things'
By MITCH LIES
HELIX, Ore. -- The day Tyson Raymond received his high school diploma, he set his sights on college and life in the big city. His life as a small-town farmer was over, he said.
His high school chemistry teacher wasn't so sure.
"He would tease me and say, 'You'll be back,'" Raymond said. "I said, 'You just wait, I'm never coming back.'
"Seven years later, he's right," Raymond said.
Sometimes losing an argument is a good thing.
Raymond, 31, today manages the wheat operation on the Raymond family farm. His brother, Ryan, manages the cattle.
Raymond is also the president of the Oregon Wheat Growers League, a position he assumed in January.
Raymond was working at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, on track for medical school, when he decided the big city life wasn't for him.
"It was taking me an hour to get to work, and I could see OHSU from my back door," he said. "It was just not for me."
When his father, Tony, called and said the farm's longtime hired hand was leaving, Raymond left the Willamette Valley for Helix.
Raymond has been given what he calls "an extremely long leash to try new things" on the family farm. And he has taken advantage.
"Fortunately, we haven't had any catastrophic wrecks," he said.
He implemented a minimum-till operation shortly after returning in 2006.
"I wanted to reduce some of the runoff problem that pulling a plow presents," he said. "I wanted to increase organic matter. And a number of neighbors had demonstrated a mulch-till system was effective. And I liked it."
Last fall, Raymond planted canola on the farm for the first time, dedicating 600 acres to the crop.
When he first arrived in Helix, Raymond sought advice from what he called "the good farmers."
"Essentially, what I did when I got home was I drove around and identified the good farmers," he said. "I ask them questions to this day."
Running a fifth-generation farm, while rewarding, is not without pressure.
"It's a challenge not to be the guy that screws it up," he said. "Every generation that's been on the farm has improved it. And that challenge to do the same in my time is a real one."
Raymond and his wife, Kate, have two boys: Uriah, 3, and Malachi, 2.
The family lives with Raymond's parents, grandparents, his brother and his family on the farm.
Kate's job as marketing manager for Spring Valley Vineyard in Walla Walla, Wash., has afforded Raymond an opportunity to meet people across the U.S., as Raymond frequently accompanies his wife on marketing trips.
Raymond also travels as president of the Oregon Wheat Growers League. He was in the state Capitol in February testifying in support of a bill to increase irrigation water withdrawals from the Columbia River.
On the state level, Raymond said the league is focusing on right-to-farm issues, pesticide issues, acquiring more irrigation water from the Columbia River and trying to increase funding for the Oregon State University Extension Service.
He also believes it is important for farmers to remind urban legislators from the Willamette Valley of the importance of agriculture to the state's economy and its environment.
"I think we need to talk to valley representatives and senators about the good things that agriculture does," he said.
On a federal level, Raymond said the wheat league supports eliminating direct payments in the 2012 Farm Bill in exchange for an improved crop-insurance program.
"Direct payments aren't palatable to the general public," he said. "But we don't want to give everything away and not get anything in return."
To date, Raymond has good reviews for his work as league president.
"It's not an easy time to be president of the league," said Blake Rowe, CEO of the league and administrator of the Oregon Wheat Commission. "Between the farm bill and what's happening with agency budgets, the OSU budget, pesticides and water quality coming down from EPA, there is a lot of stuff on the plate.
"And Tyson has been really good about staying engaged," Rowe said. "He's been very good about doing the homework to be current and doing an effective job at trying to lead the league through some tough issues."
Looking back on his decision to leave the Willamette Valley, Raymond said life there had some benefits over life on the farm.
"There are aspects of living in the valley that I miss," Raymond said. "In the valley, there are so many different types of people in a relatively small space. And you can learn a lot from them.
"But at the end of the day, there is no better place in the world to raise a family than right here, at the end of a 2-mile-long dead-end road," he said.
The commute also is much easier.
"It's a pretty easy commute," he said of traversing the few yards from his house to his office. "Unless it's really icy."
Family: Wife, Kate, and two sons
Hometown: Helix, Ore.
Education: Bachelor's degree in biology, 2003, Willamette University