Shift to cane would reduce available acreage for food crops


Capital Press

PENDLETON, Ore. -- Umatilla and Morrow county growers would love another crop for their rotations, according to a wheat industry leader. But not at the expense of the area's food-processing industry.

Minus an influx of irrigation water, the loss of one or more of the area's food processors is a possibility if Portland General Electric follows through on plans to operate its Boardman power plant with locally grown biomass.

That was the message delivered the State Board of Agriculture from Craig Reeder, president of the Oregon Wheat Growers League and vice president of Hale Companies, a diversified farm operation headquartered in Hermiston.

PGE is considering operating the plant six months a year with locally grown Arundo donax, or giant cane, beginning in 2021.

PGE currently powers the plant with coal, but has agreed to stop burning coal at the plant by 2020.

PGE officials say they need 60,000 acres of locally grown giant cane to power their plant during summer and winter months, when electricity use peaks.

The area's 220,000 acres of irrigated agriculture support about a dozen food processing plants.

Area farmers are restricted from accessing their full irrigation rights on another 65,000 acres due to declining ground water.

"We would love to have another crop (for rotation)," Reeder said. "But at this level, something is going to give," including the possible loss of one or more processing plants.

"It boils back down to water," Reeder said.

PGE is working with three growers and the Oregon State University Extension Service in Hermiston to determine if giant cane is suitable for the area.

The utility plans a test burn in 2014.

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