Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon

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Updated: 2 hours 48 min ago

Lambing keeps farmer busy in foothills of Coast Range

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 06:35

RAINIER, Ore. — Scotty Davidson started raising sheep in 4-H because they were the only animals he wasn’t allergic to.

He has continued to raise them because he likes them. Now retired, Davidson is able to give them his full attention, which is necessary in the coyote-infested hills of Columbia County. With 240 new lambs on the ground, Davidson and his five guard dogs are on duty around the clock.

Davidson’s farm is a 28-acre wooded parcel about 10 miles west of Rainier, Oregon. While part of his flock is pasturing on rye grass fields near Corvallis, lambing takes place in the barn near his house. Once the lambs are born, he transports them and the ewes to pasture he rents in nearby Clatskanie.

“Raising sheep here in the foothills of the Coast Range means one thing for sure — coyotes,” Davidson said. “I have five guard dogs (Maremmas) — I keep two here at the lambing barn, two in Clatskanie and the other one on a strip of land I rent underneath some Bonneville Power lines.”

USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service says about 190,000 sheep and lambs are raised on 2,753 farms in Oregon. Davidson’s flock accounts for a big percentage of the 1,000 sheep in Columbia County.

With hundreds of lambs on hand, Davidson has a set process.

“I lamb and ear tag them in the barn before loading them on the truck for the trip to Clatskanie,” he said. “I load the new lambs in a large pet carrier so they won’t get trampled on the way.”

Davidson retired after 30 years as a Columbia County deputy sheriff.

“The positive for raising sheep where Davidson is, is that we can use the grass cycle well,” Chip Bubl, long-time Oregon State University Extension agent for Columbia County, said. “We get 60 to 70 percent growth from mid-April to early July so we can graze efficiently and put meat on the lambs.

“Coyotes, internal parasites and foot rot, however, are another matter,” Bubl said. “These health problems especially need a lot of thought and planning help from our veterinarians. There are not a lot of new materials developed to help with these problems.”

Bubl said Davidson’s worming management plan is targeted.

“We are trying to make worming management targeted to ewes, time the worming when those parasite numbers are high, try to target treatments based on parasite loads in droppings per-sheep and breed for more parasite resistant lambs,” he said. “Scotty knows what he’s doing and is doing a good job.”

“It is just a given that parasite and coyote problems come with 46-inches a year of rain and living in the foothills of the Coast Range,” Davidson said. “In the meantime, with the help of my boys, who are involved in 4-H and the guard dogs, we’re seeing a nice crop of lambs.”

Monsanto GE wheat lawsuit settlement excludes OSU

Wed, 03/18/2015 - 13:13

Capital Press

Monsanto Company will pay $50,000 each to agricultural colleges in seven states as part of a settlement of class action lawsuits filed after the May 2013 discovery of genetically-engineered in Eastern Oregon.

The settlement contains no money for Oregon State University, however. It was OSU weed scientist Carol Mallory-Smith who confirmed the wheat found growing in the Eastern Oregon was “Roundup Ready,” meaning it could withstand Monsanto’s trademark herbicide. No GMO wheat has been approved for commercial use.

The discovery touched off an uproar that threatened Pacific Northwest soft white wheat exports to Asia, where it is used for noodles, cakes and crackers. Japan and South Korea temporarily suspended purchases as inspectors with the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, APHIS, attempted to trace the wheat to its origin. The investigation ended a year later without a definitive answer.

In the meantime, growers in multiple states filed suit against Monsanto, alleging they’d been harmed by the discovery even though in most cases they grow different wheat varieties and sell to different markets. The settlement announced March 18 involves wheat farmers in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi,

Monsanto said it would give $50,000 to the agricultural school at the land grant university in each state. Growers and their attorneys will be reimbursed an undisclosed amount for a portion of the expenses and fees they incurred in the case, the company said in a news release.

In a prepared statement, Monsanto attorney Kyle McClain said, “Rather than paying the costs of protracted litigation, this agreement puts that money to work in research and development efforts for the wheat industry. Resolution in this manner is reasonable and in the best interest of all of the parties.”

Oregon, Washington and Idaho growers were not participants in the suit, and are not parties to the settlement. Their claims were covered in a previous $2.357 million settlement

Oregon State University, a land grant university, did not receive compensation.

Dan Arp, dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Science, said the school had some “modest expenses” related to testing the GE wheat, but had not sought nor been offered compensation.

“We jumped in in our role as a land grant university, and we applied our knowledge and expertise,” Arp said.

Lawmakers consider reforms to herbicide spraying rules

Wed, 03/18/2015 - 06:13

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Legislature is working on reforming Oregon’s regulations governing aerial spraying of herbicides on industrial timberlands.

The Oregonian reports that Eugene Democrat Sen. Chris Edwards has convened a workgroup on the issue. It holds its first session Tuesday in Salem.

Edwards is the chairman of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. He says current regulations are not protecting people who live near industrial forestlands, but it remains to be seen what reforms are politically feasible.

Oregon regulations currently require spray buffer zones along fish-bearing streams, but not around schools or homes. There is no requirement to warn people that spraying will occur on a specified day. And people who feel spray has fallen over their land cannot sue for damages under the state’s Right to Farm Act.

Last spring, the Oregon Department of Agriculture determined that a helicopter company hired to spray herbicides on industrial timberlands in Curry County “more than likely” allowed spray to fall over people’s homes, but did not go so far as to say the spray made people sick.

The state later fined Pacific Air Research Inc. and pesticide applicator Steven Owen $10,000 each and suspended their commercial pesticide licenses for a year for providing false and misleading information during the investigation.

A hearing is pending on Owen’s administrative appeal, and a call to Pacific Air Research for comment wasn’t immediately returned.

State and federal investigations began in 2011 after tests showed residents around Triangle Lake in the Coast Range outside Eugene had herbicides in their urine. The people live near industrial timberlands where herbicides were sprayed.

Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, wants to make Oregon’s spraying regulations more like those in Washington and California, making it easier for people to know what is going on and requiring operators to notify neighbors of plans to spray and burn logging debris. He wants to require the state Board of Forestry to restore buffer zones around schools and homes, which were removed in 1996.

A package of bills in the House from Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, would require more training for pilots and investigators of spraying complaints, and it would provide more money for investigations. Clem, who received more than $23,000 in campaign contributions from the timber industry since 2008, questioned the notifications and buffers Dembrow was proposing.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Kate Brown said her office would have someone at the workgroup.

Bad water situation in Eastern Oregon getting worse

Wed, 03/18/2015 - 06:07

ONTARIO, Ore. — The water supply situation for farmers who depend on the Owyhee Irrigation District has gone from bad to worse.

The roughly 170 farmers who showed up for the district’s annual water supply report March 17 were told they could tentatively expect to receive 1.3 acre-feet of water this year.

That’s well below their normal 4 acre-foot allotment and even less than the 1.7 they received in 2014, which was one of the worst water supply years in the project’s 80-year history.

“Its worse than I thought,” Nyssa farmer Curt Sisson said following the meeting.

Sisson and other farmers in the region left a lot more ground than normal idle last year and planted more crops that use less water.

“We’ll have to do that again,” Sisson said.

The OID supplies water for 1,800 farms and 120,000 acres of irrigated land in Eastern Oregon and part of Southwestern Idaho.

Despite sharply reducing last year’s allotment, the system still ran dry in August, two months earlier than normal.

There were 182,000 acre-feet of available water stored in the Owyhee reservoir as of March 17, about 40,000 acre-feet more than this time last year, said OID Manager Jay Chamberlin.

However, there is virtually no snow left in the Owyhee basin and reservoir in-flow levels are bleak, he added.

Chamberlin presented a picture of the basin he took several weeks ago from an airplane that showed no snowpack.

“There’s no snow. It’s just bare,” he said.

Reservoir storage is a little better this year, “but we had a lot better snowpack and stream flows last year,” he said.

Because there’s no snow left to bank on, this year’s water supply will likely be less than last year’s, he said. “The only thing that can turn that around is some unusual storm events.”

Based on the 30-year average, there should be about 400,00 acre-feet of storage water in the reservoir right now.

Most of the snow the basin did receive washed out about 1.5 months early this year because of rain and warmer temperatures, he said. As a result, river in-flows into the reservoir peaked after Christmas.

“That’s historically unprecedented,” Chamberlin said. “We should be building snowpack at Christmas time.”

Chamberlin said 2014 and 1992 were the worst water supply years ever for the district.

While past bad water years were immediately followed by good water years, he said, the basin has now suffered through four straight dry years and 2015 could actually turn out to be worse than 2014.

“We have not been through these conditions, ever, in the life of the project,” he said. “That cumulative effect is what’s getting us.”

Brian Sauer, a Bureau of Reclamation water operations manager, said the April-June weather forecast, which calls for warmer temperatures and an equal chance of wetter or drier conditions, doesn’t look like it will help the situation.

“This year is going to look, unfortunately, like last year, at least from a water supply standpoint,” he said.

Precision ag faces growing pains, experts say

Tue, 03/17/2015 - 13:04

SALEM — Precision agriculture is bound to hit some growing pains as new high-tech farming tools become more prevalent and powerful, experts say.

As more devices communicate wirelessly via the electromagnetic spectrum, the bandwidth available for their signals becomes more crowded, according to speakers March 17 at the Precision Farming Expo.

The phenomenon could be problematic as unmanned aerial vehicles, often called drones, require more bandwidth as they grow more complex, said Gretchen West, vice president of business development and regulatory affairs for DroneDeploy, which specializes in the technology.

“If there’s no bandwidth to operate them, you’re grounded,” she said.

Demand for bandwidth is expected to keep growing with autonomous cars and the “internet of things” — the phenomenon in which more objects gather and transmit information, said Clive Blacker, precision agriculture specialist with UK Trade & Investment, a government agency in the United Kingdom, and operator of the Precision Decisions company.

“I think it has the potential to be a big limitation if we’re not careful,” he said.

Agriculture got a preview of the potential conflicts looming over bandwidth with the dispute over LightSquared, a company that planned to roll out a powerful new telecommunications network.

The system threatened to interfere with radiowave frequencies used by Global Positioning Systems and was opposed by farm machinery companies and other users of GPS technology. LightSquared ultimately filed for bankruptcy after the Federal Communications Commission revoked approval for the plan.

Telecommunications is not the only field in which crowding is an issue, said Blacker.

Much of the increased efficiency in farming can be attributed to bigger machinery, but it cannot continue growing rapidly due to the size and weight limits of existing roads, railways, bridges and tunnels, he said.

“It will be a physical impossibility for shipping and movement,” Blacker said.

Larger implements also necessitate improvements in precision technology if farmers are to collect the most accurate data about their fields, he said.

For example, if the cutter bar on a combine is made twice as long but doesn’t incorporate more yield sensors, the resulting yield map of a field is effectively less detailed.

The same challenge exists for equipment that applies fertilizers or pesticides: if it becomes larger, then more complexity is necessary for variable-rate applications.

Blacker said he’s also concerned that technology companies want to control or restrict data. For example, hardware manufacturers generally want data collected with their tools to be interpreted and analyzed with their proprietary software systems.

“There’s a concern that the data is going to be more inaccessible, rather than accessible,” he said.

Aside from limiting how the farmer uses data, this approach also threatens to render some information obsolete if a manufacturer goes out of business or stops producing a line of hardware.

Blacker said field data he collected in 1990s is now unusable because it doesn’t work with modern technology formats.

“If we’re not careful, we may start losing data because of technology changes,” he said.

Oregon expands sage grouse conservation agreements

Tue, 03/17/2015 - 12:50

Oregon’s collaborative model of protecting sage grouse habitat expands this week as private landowners represented by five soil and water conservation districts sign on to agreements that cover more than 2.3 million acres.

The agreements reached with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cover ranchers and other landowners in Baker, Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Lake, Malheur and southern Union counties. A signing ceremony was scheduled March 18 in Juntura, in Malheur County in the southeast corner of the state.

Landowners who voluntarily sign what is called a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, or CCAA, agree to manage their range in a way that removes or reduces threats to greater sage grouse. The bird is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act this fall.

In return, landowners are protected from additional regulation for 30 years, even if sage grouse are listed as endangered. Oregon ranchers describe the requirements as reasonable. They agree to do such things as mark fences so bird don’t fly into them, remove intrusive juniper trees that provide perches for grouse predators and crowd out sage, put escape ramps in watering troughs and keep grazing cattle out of grouse gathering areas, called leks, during mating season.

Paul Henson, supervisor of the USFWS’s Oregon office, says the peace of mind that comes from regulatory protection is a powerful incentive for landowners.

The potential endangered species listing of sage grouse is a concern in 11 Western states, because it could restrict grazing, farming, mining and energy development on millions of acres. Most grouse habitat is on public land overseen by the federal Bureau of Land Management, which has its own grouse conservation agreement with the wildlife service. In the Oregon agreements, soil and water conservation districts act as intermediaries between private landowners and federal wildlife officials. Participants say the arrangement works because the districts have strong local ties and are trusted by ranchers.

Counting an earlier agreement brokered by the Harney County Soil and Water Conservation District and an agreement with the Department of State Lands, more than 4 million acres of grouse habitat in Oregon is covered by conservation accords.

Brown declares drought in 2 Oregon counties

Tue, 03/17/2015 - 10:28

SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday that she declared a drought emergency in Lake and Malheur counties in southeastern Oregon.

Oregon received an average amount of precipitation since the fall, but warmer temperatures caused more rain than usual. As a result, the state is headed into summer with less snow than many areas need.

Snowpack has already peaked for the season, and it hit record lows in many locations in the Cascades and elsewhere across the state, according to a federal report.

“In a year such as this when there is limited snowpack, summer streamflow volumes are expected be below normal and streams will likely peak earlier than normal,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Conservation Service wrote in a March basin report for Oregon. “Rainfall over the next couple months may help improve reservoir storage and increase streamflows during the storm events, but it will not help with streamflow this summer.”

Brown’s signature of the drought declaration Monday came after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued a drought declaration Friday for three regions of that state: the Olympic Peninsula, on the east side of the central Cascade Mountains including Yakima and Wenatchee, and the Walla Walla region.

In Oregon, Lake and Malheur county commissioners had requested the drought declaration. Officials in three other counties — Crook, Harney and Klamath — are considering whether to ask the state to include them in the drought designation, said Racquel Rancier, senior policy coordinator for the Oregon Water Resources Department. Requests from counties are reviewed by the state drought council, which in turn issues recommendations to the governor.

Brown said in a press release Tuesday that projected forecasts in Lake and Malheur counties “look bleak.”

“In addition to creating an increased wildfire risk, this drought presents hardships to crops, agriculture, communities, recreation, and wildlife, all of which rely on Oregon’s water resources,” Brown said. “I will continue working with federal, state, and local partners to help Oregonians in this part of the state through this challenging situation.”

The drought declaration allows state water managers to use additional tools to help farmers and other people who face water shortages. Options include speeding up decisions on water permits and issuing emergency temporary permits for people who cannot access water using their permanent rights due to the drought. For example, someone who usually diverts water from a stream that ran dry could apply for a temporary groundwater permit, Rancier said.

The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.

Medical pot growers fear hemp will ruin their crop

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 05:53

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Southern Oregon farmers growing marijuana for medicine don’t want fields of pot’s prosaic cousin, industrial hemp, growing nearby.

They say cross-pollination could turn their high-grade buds into throwback, seedy marijuana, something out of the 1960s that takes forever to get a user high.

Southern Oregon is part of the Emerald Triangle pot-growing region that extends into Northern California.

Pot growers there say they were caught by surprise when a medical marijuana grower from the town of Eagle Point, Edgar Winters, got the first state permit to grow hemp, The Oregonian reported.

Historically, hemp has been used to fashion rope, but now it is a component of clothing, food and cosmetics. Although it’s related to marijuana, it has negligible levels of the ingredient known as THC that makes marijuana intoxicating.

The Oregon Legislature legalized hemp farming in 2009, but the state didn’t write rules until it was clear the federal government wouldn’t interfere. Hemp is still illegal under federal law.

In the meantime, a public vote to legalize recreational marijuana also affirmed the legality of hemp.

Medical marijuana farmers have been raising crops openly and outdoors for years. They are protected by a provision in state law that allows patients to designate growers.

The southern Oregon farmers fear hemp pollen would find its way to their unpollinated female cannabis flowers, slowing their growth and leading to seeds. The result: weak pot.

“No one will buy seeded flowers, period,” said grower Cedar Grey of Williams. “The flower market is so competitive these days. You have to have world-class flowers. Anything that is seeded is reminiscent of the 1960s or pot from Mexico. No one is interested in that at all.”

Growers have suggested confining industrial hemp to the dry eastern part of Oregon.

Winters said he doesn’t see a major problem. The growing cycle for hemp is shorter than the one for outdoor marijuana, and an earlier harvest means no threat to cannabis, he said.

“It’s been doable all over the world,” Winters said.

But hemp advocate Anndrea Hermann says it’s a “hard pill to swallow” and acknowledges that the medical marijuana growers have reason to be concerned.

“Is there a risk? Yes, there is a risk to the marijuana growers,” Hermann said.

Hermann, who lives in Canada, teaches a course on the crop at Oregon State University, serves as president of the Hemp Industries Association and owns a hemp products company.

The state Agriculture Department’s program manager on hemp, Ron Pence, says it can regulate the location of some crops, but not industrial hemp.

Democratic Rep. Peter Buckley of Ashland says growers peppered his office with emails once Winters’ plans became public. He said lawmakers are exploring potential solutions to protect both crops.

“Nobody wants one crop to endanger another crop,” he said.

Proposed limits on animal prizes worry cattlemen’s group

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 05:31

Proposed restrictions on “rabbit scrambles” and similar contests that award live animals as prizes have alarmed the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, which fears impacts on rodeo events.

House Bill 2641 is intended to prevent injuries to animals during “scramble” competitions, in which young children try to catch rabbits or other small animals to keep as pets.

Such contests also cause problems after the event, when the prize animals are given to shelters after people decide they don’t want to care for them, said Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis, who introduced the legislation.

The bill was inspired by the controversy over a rabbit scramble in Lane County but Gomberg said he did not want to limit the provisions to that species or region.

Under HB 2641, animals could not be “chased, kicked or otherwise subjected to offensive physical contact” during the contest.

The event’s organizer would also have to allow contestants to return the animals for six months after the competition.

Violating the statute by “unlawfully awarding an animal as a prize” would be a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association is in “protective mode” regarding the bill because the group does not want it to infringe on rodeo events, said Jim Welsh, its political advocate, during a Feb. 19 hearing of the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

While the OCA does not support the legislation as currently written, it would favor a “work group” to improve the language, he said.

Glenn Kolb, executive director of the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association, said his group was also uneasy about provisions in the bill.

Specifically, the bill requires that “minimum care” be provided to animals before the contest, but veterinarians can only attest to the condition of an animal during the time of examination, so this provision is impractical for event organizers, he said.

Also, the OVMA dislikes the provision allowing the prize winners to return animals for six months, as this would let them shirk responsibility, Kolb said.

Gomber told the committee that he’d be willing to amend the legislation, such as exempting fish from the bill or creating a minimum weight for animal prizes so that “greased pig” contests are not banned.

Farm regulators ponder marijuana oversight

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 05:18

Marijuana legalization in Oregon has farm regulators pondering how cultivation of the psychoactive crop will square with existing rules for agriculture.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has primary jurisdiction over recreational marijuana, which was legalized in Oregon last year with voter approval of Measure 91.

However, some aspects of regulating the crop may come under the authority of the Oregon Department of Agriculture and other state agencies, experts say.

Officials from OLCC are scrambling to write rules for overseeing marijuana production, processing and sales but currently “have no idea” what role other regulators will play, said Steve Marks, OLCC’s executive director, during a Feb. 18 Oregon Board of Agriculture meeting.

Possessing and growing limited quantities of marijuana for personal use will become legal in July and OLCC will begin issuing business licenses for commercial growing and processing in early 2016, he said.

Regulating these commercial processes may bear on subjects with which ODA already has expertise — for example, pesticide rules for farmers are enforced by the agency, said Tom Burns, director of OLCC’s marijuana programs.

No chemicals are registered for marijuana by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which raises the question of whether ODA would be expected to test the crop for pesticides, he said.

“Who is going to enforce that, if in fact we are going to enforce it?” Burns said.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture may offer some guidance, as the agency compiled a list of 273 pesticides that can be used on recreational marijuana. Voters in that state legalized the crop in 2012.

Marijuana is smoked and extracts from the plant are eaten, which complicates the question of pesticide safety, said Erik Johansen, the agency’s policy assistant for registration services.

Also, the EPA is “adamant” there are no allowable tolerances of registered pesticide residues on the crop, which remains illegal under federal law, he said.

For these reasons, WSDA examined chemicals that EPA classifies as organic, biopesticide or “minimal risk” and are thus exempt from tolerance levels or federal registration, Johansen said.

The state agency narrowed that list by identifying pesticides that can be applied to a wide range of crops, he said. “If it’s fairly broadly written, it could be interpreted as allowing other uses.”

While WSDA can offer advice and guidance to the Washington State Liquor Control Board — which oversees recreational marijuana — farm regulators are not responsible for testing or enforcement of pesticide rules for that crop, Johansen said.

Oregon plans to learn from the experience of regulators in Washington and Colorado, where marijuana was legalized earlier, said Marks.

With alcohol, though, no two states have the same regulations, so Oregon can expect to develop a unique program for marijuana, he said.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture is happy to let OLCC take the lead in setting regulations but hopes to avoid duplicative rules, said Katy Coba, the agency’s director.

Commercial kitchens and plant nurseries are already licensed by ODA, but it must still be decided whether the agency will be responsible for licensing marijuana plant producers and manufacturers of edible marijuana products, she said.

OLCC’s recreational marijuana rules may also intersect with existing regulations for water quality, overseen by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, as well as irrigation, which is under the Oregon Water Resources Department’s jurisdiction, said Burns.

Experts say marijuana legalization raises numerous other questions.

Will growing the crop allow landowners to qualify for farm property tax deferrals?

Is marijuana cultivation protected under Oregon’s “right to farm” law, which shields growers from certain lawsuits and local ordinances against farming practices?

Another uncertainty is how marijuana operations fit under Oregon’s land use rules, said Marks.

Processing facilities, farm stands and promotional events are permitted in exclusive farm use zones, though it’s unclear if such uses will be allowable for marijuana, he said.

Small processors get a big boost

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 05:17

USDA exemption, change in Oregon law opens doors for poultry slaughterhouses

By Eric Mortenson

Capital Press

BORING, ORE. — Fernando the rooster is doomed, no way around it. Owner Leslie Standen says the “Latin lover” has been bothering the ladies in her backyard flock and bossing around her other rooster, Henry, who has tenure.

“So my hand-fed rooster is going to be dinner,” she said.

Which is how she and Fernando ended up at Harrington’s Poultry Processing, 25 miles east of Portland.

Harrington’s is one of the old guard in a rapidly growing sector of ag services: Small-scale slaughterhouses either operated by or catering to small farmers. Some also find themselves doing the dirty work for urban hipsters who raise backyard flocks.

A 2011 change in Oregon law freed poultry processors from state licensing if they handle no more than 1,000 birds per year, raise the birds themselves and process them on site. The legislation changed Oregon law to line up with the federal standard, which says producers are exempt from mandatory USDA inspection and can sell uncooked poultry on the farm and at farmers’ markets if they stay below the 1,000-bird threshhold.

“It was the first olive branch to small farmers from the Oregon Legislature,” said Will Fargo, a food safety specialist with the Oregon Department of Agriculture who works with small-scale processors. “It’s one of the greatest success stories for small farmers. It’s allowed a lot of small farmers to get their products to market.”

The ag department now lists more than 30 small on-farm, stand-alone and mobile poultry processors.

The state legislation was intended to provide new economic opportunities for small farms and to increase consumer access to locally produced meat, said Ivan Maluski, director of Friends of Family Farmers, which backed the bill along with the Oregon Farmers’ Market Association.

“I think there is a recognition by ODA and the Legislature that local food, direct-to-consumer sales and small farms are important parts of agriculture in Oregon, and that market demand for this is growing,” Maluski said in an email. “We think that will only increase as time goes on.”

There’s a bigger commercial aspect blossoming as well. Processors such as Harrington’s and Mineral Springs Poultry, in Willamina, Ore., can take advantage of a “small enterprise” USDA exemption that allows them to process up to 20,000 birds annually without having to have an on-site USDA inspector.

Under the exemption, people who have their birds processed at facilities such as Harrington’s or Mineral Springs can then sell them not only at farmers’ markets, but to grocery stores and restaurants as well.

“When I started to do that, that blew the doors wide open,” said Nels Youngberg, owner of Mineral Springs Poultry. “Anybody who raised a few chickens, they could take their birds and go out and sell them. That changed the game plan for a lot of folks.”

Youngberg said about six years ago he increasingly began doing business with new farmers, usually young people with a couple acres, who would bring him a dozen, 20 or 100 chickens at a time for processing. Some are primarily entrepreneurs, looking to create income on the side, while others are deeply concerned about how grocery store food is raised and processed.

“That creates a lot of fear,” Youngberg said. “They find out it’s better to raise their own meat, grow their own vegetables — that’s been a major thrust on it.

“I’ve seen a lot of them come and go, but every year we get somebody new,” he said.

Fargo, of the ODA, agrees. “I think it’s partially the local food movement,” he said. “People are skeptical about raising chickens in a confined environment, they’re concerned about all the things involved with that.”

So far, Oregon’s small processors have operated without food safety problems, he said.

Fargo said he’s received inquiries from four or five other states that are looking for ways to accommodate small farmers and small processors. “It’s absolutely a national thing,” he said.

Proof of that may be the Niche Meat Processors Assistance Network, which shares information among affiliates in 40 states. Lauren Gwin, a small farms and community food systems specialist with Oregon State University Extension, is co-coordinator of the network.

Consumers are interested in pasture-raised poultry, sustainable production methods and humane treatment of farm animals, Gwin said. In addition, occasional salmonella outbreaks at large-scale processing facilities have “given some people pause.”

Despite that, small processors may struggle to transition beyond niche status, she said.

“Let’s be frank, conventional, mainstream meat production is enormous,” Gwin said. “This type of alternative meat … is very, very small. How do you mainstream some of this into more conventional channels?”

But she said some small producers will accomplish that.

“They’re very entrepreneurial,” she said. “These people will figure out where they fit in the market.”

Back at Harrington’s Poultry Processing, owner Scott Ogle makes quick work of Fernando the rooster. Ogle, a wise-cracking third-generation “chicken killer,” places the bird upside down in a “kill cone” and swiftly cuts its throat to bleed him out.

Ogle said he gets a mix of customers, including one who brings him a couple hundred chickens every other week and sells to restaurants.

“I get a lot from in town,” he said. “People bring me roosters because they can’t crow in town.”

A brief soak in hot water, followed by a tumble in a metal drum lined with rubber knobs, removes Fernando’s feathers. The rooster’s head and feet come off with quick chops, and Ogle slides the carcass to assistant Stephanie Morse for final cleaning. Then it’s off to a chilling bath.

By the time owner Leslie Standen returns, Fernando is bagged and ready to go.

“You want your liver, gizzard and heart?” Ogle asks. Standen says she does, and accepts her bagged rooster with mixed feelings.

“Oh,” she says, “I should take him home and bury him instead of eat him.”

New Oregon governor urges quick fix to dockworker conflict

Wed, 02/18/2015 - 13:11

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — On her first day in office, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown urged a quick settlement to a dispute between dockworkers and their employers that has hamstrung international trade through West Coast seaports.

Brown joined the governors of California and Washington state on Wednesday in issuing a statement saying the impasse has disrupted trade and is threatening jobs and state economies.

The labor dispute has tied up 29 ports that handle around $1 trillion in trade annually. Dozens of ships are anchored up and down the West Coast as they wait for dock space.

Brown on Wednesday took over as Oregon’s governor from fellow Democrat John Kitzhaber, who resigned over an ethics scandal. As secretary of state, Brown was next in line for the governor’s job.

Restrictions proposed for hazard-prone land

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 11:26

Hazard-prone properties in Oregon could face development restrictions under a land use bill that critics say is overbroad.

Under House Bill 2633, the state’s Department of Land Conservation and Development would set policies to limit construction and retrofit, relocate or remove buildings in areas vulnerable to natural hazards.

Proponents of the legislation say it’s necessary to prevent costly property damage in areas susceptible to land slides, flooding and wildfires.

Conservation groups such as 1,000 Friends of Oregon argue the bill is necessary to implement Goal 7 of Oregon’s statewide land use planning system, which calls for local governments to evaluate natural hazards and reduce risks to future development.

However, critics say the current language of HB 2633 is too general.

Much of Oregon could experience an earthquake or other catastrophe, said Dave Hunnicutt, president of the Oregonians in Action property rights group.

“The bill has the potential to affect every area in the state,” he said during a Feb. 12 hearing in the House Committee on Rural Communities, Land Use and Water.

Hunnicutt said he’s not opposed to the concept of HB 2633 but is alarmed by its breadth, since retrofits or relocations of structures could be “tremendously damaging” to property owners.

“The language is dangerous,” he said.

The DLCD is oriented toward land use planning and may not be the appropriate state agency to make certain decisions, he said.

For example, the Oregon Department of Forestry or Department of Geology and Mineral Industries have more experience in determining which areas are prone to landslides, Hunnicutt said.

Similarly, retrofitting structures pertains to building codes, not planning, he said.

Hunnicutt said he’d like to work with the bill’s sponsors to amend the language and make it more specific.

The legislation should include exemptions for agricultural properties, said Mary Anne Nash, public policy counsel for the Oregon Farm Bureau.

For example, a farmer may have an old barn or another structure in a flood-prone area that would be too costly to retrofit or move, she said.

Farm groups oppose merging state agencies

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 07:42

SALEM — Legislation that would examine merging natural resource agencies in Oregon is opposed by farm and timber groups as a “solution in search of a problem.”

Under Senate Bill 24, a task force appointed by legislative leaders and the governor would “study the benefits of abolishing or consolidating” 14 state agencies charged with managing natural resources.

Aside from the possibility of saving money, consolidation could improve the state government’s efficiency in analysis and permitting, said Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland.

However, the task force may decide that Oregon is better off with the current structure, Dembrow said during a Fed. 16 hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

The Oregon Farm Bureau is confident the agencies are already functioning smoothly and doesn’t think it’s necessary to spend time contemplating alternatives, said Katie Fast, the group’s vice president of public policy.

Promoting agriculture is an important part of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s mission but may get swamped by other priorities if it was merged with other agencies that are solely focused on regulation, she said.

The boards and commissions that oversee state agencies have also developed expertise that’s specific to natural resource industries, Fast said.

These governing bodies are already asked to handle many complex issues, said Heath Curtiss, director of government affairs for the Oregon Forest Industries Council.

If boards or commissions were merged to oversee a broader regulatory sphere, their members would struggle to develop expertise and would have little choice but to defer to agency officials, he said.

It would be possible to merge natural resource agencies without eliminating department directors or commissions, but at that point the added efficiency is questionable and consolidation may just amount to another layer of government, Curtiss said.

A larger bureaucracy is undesirable because it could encumber the resolution of regulatory questions or seek to overrule the decisions of state agencies, said Mike Freese, vice president of Associated Oregon Industries.

The committee also considered two other bills characterized as “agency consolidation light” by Richard Whitman, natural resources policy director for Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Senate Bill 201 would create “natural resources alignment coordinators” to work with regional teams and help agencies make regulatory decisions, while Senate Bill 203 would establish a “natural resources partnership coordinator” to find cooperation opportunities with private interests as well as other government entities.

Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, asked why new positions are necessary since state agencies are already trying to coordinate with each other.

“We are doing it on an ad hoc basis and leaving opportunities on the table that we should be taking advantage of, frankly,” said Whitman.

Tiny Oregon chub threatened no longer

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 07:23

The Oregon chub, a 3-inch minnow that lives only in the Willamette River basin, is the first fish to be removed from the federal endangered species list.

Federal and state officials planned to announce the completion of a 22-year recovery process during a ceremony Feb. 17 at the Finley Wildlife Refuge near Corvallis, Ore. Oregon farmers and other landowners contributed to the effort by signing “safe harbor” arrangements in which they agreed to manage land in a way that did not further harm the fish. In particular, landowners agreed not to drain waterways, promised not to introduce non-native fish that would compete with the chub and agreed not to apply pesticides or other ag chemicals directly into waterways. In return, they were held harmless from additional regulation.

The Oregon chub lives in slow-moving sloughs, bogs and beaver ponds along the Willamette River. It lost habitat as those areas were drained or developed. The fish was listed as endangered in 1993, at which time the population was estimated at fewer than 1,000 fish in eight locations. By 2013, however, a survey estimated the chub population at approximately 160,000 fish in 83 spots.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Endangered Species Act, announced in 2014 that it intended to remove the chub from the list, and completed that process this year.

Only a handful of animals, most notably bald eagles, have been removed from the endangered species list.

Klamath CC students go to national competition

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 06:38

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Sometimes the best lessons are learned outside the classroom.

For six students in Ty Kliewer’s Livestock Judging class at Klamath Community College, the learning took place last month when they traveled to the National Western Livestock Show in Denver to compete in livestock judging competition.

It was the first time KCC students participated in the high-level national competition, and proved an eye-opener for team members, including Jake McCarty and Veronica Turner.

“I think it was neat for us to look up to the other teams and see what we could do,” said McCarty, 21, a full-time KCC ag major. He also works full-time for Balin Ranches, is president of the collegiate FFA and an intern for the Klamath Bull and Horse Sale.

“Going into it, we really didn’t know what to expect,” McCarty said. “We hadn’t done a professional judging competition before. We were pretty confident going into it, and as a whole we did pretty good.”

“It’s crazy to see how different and how much more advanced they were,” Turner, 19, who is majoring in agricultural science, said of competitors from four-year schools like Texas A&M and Ohio State that have major ag problems. “It makes you want to work harder next time you compete.”

Turner and McCarty were part of a team that included Emily Cole, Garrett Gardner, Sarah Gerdes and Logan Dean. Kliewer, 36, an adjunct teacher who sells breeding bulls and farms hay and grain at his Klamath County ranch, accompanied the group.

“It was a pretty big jump from anything they’ve ever done before. Our kids were pretty green in comparison,” Kliewer said, noting some larger schools recruit students for competitions.

“We were definitely the underdogs,” said Keith Duren, who oversees KCC’s ag programs.

He supports the livestock judging class in part for its spinoff benefits. During competitions, student judges must be able to make decisions, explain and defend those decisions while being concise and articulate.

“You definitely build those skills we value in leaders. You also learn to work with a team and with different personalities,” Duren said.

Kliewer, who competed in livestock judging competitions as a student at Lane Community College and Oregon State University, said he wants others to share those experiences, and to better prepare themselves for a range of possible careers.

“I look back and see how that prepared me for life,” he said. “It improved my public speaking skills a lot.”

In the competition, students judged beef cattle, pigs, meat goats and sheep.

“I know from here on out I’ll look at cattle or pigs or sheep differently,” said McCarty. “Definitely down the road it opens up opportunities for some of us.”

While his long-range plans call for having his own ranch and raising beef cattle, McCarty also is considering working at a large feed lot, in ag sales or with genetics companies.

“It was really beneficial,” said Turner, who developed an interest in cattle in the fourth grade. She participated in FFA classes and livestock judging in high school but termed the national competition “a real eye-opener.”

Along with lessons learned by the six team members, Duren and Kliewer hope, on a broad level, competing in a national competition will provide exposure for KCC and, for the ag department, help attract more students.

“Everyone learned a lot,” Kliewer said. “Those skills translate literally to any job you have.”

Legend in Eastern Oregon agriculture dies

Tue, 02/17/2015 - 06:19

Umatilla County lost a giant in the agricultural community on Sunday when Chester “Chet” Prior died at age 78.

Prior owned Eagle Ranch outside Echo and lobbied on a local, state and national level on agricultural issues. He held several prominent roles, including previous chair of the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center Authority and sitting president of the Hermiston Development Corp. But he was also characterized by those who knew him as a humble man who preferred to work behind the scenes.

He was so modest, in fact, that when he was presented with Hermiston Man of the Year for 2010 he stood up as soon as he realized presenter Phil Hamm was talking about him and told him that he didn’t need to list any more accomplishments.

Craig Reeder, vice president of Hale Farms, was sitting at Prior’s table and remembers Prior’s embarrassment at being honored.

He said Prior was a “true gentleman” who earned the respect of everyone who associated with him and it is hard to imagine the agricultural community without Prior at the table.

“He mentored a lot of us younger guys. ... He’s one of those guys that for the next generation, we’ve never known the business without him,” Reeder said.

He said Prior often called to persuade Reeder to join him in donating to scholarships and other worthy causes.

“He’s how communities are built,” Reeder said.

Kim B. Puzey said he first got to know Prior in 1994, when Prior was a Port of Umatilla commissioner and Puzey was hired as the port’s new manager.

“Chet was passionate and generous and brilliant,” Puzey said.

He said any time it was imperative something was done right, Prior was the man to call, which is why he was a clear choice for chair of the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center Authority and to fill the Hermiston Development Corp. president’s role after founder Joe Burns retired.

“If you drive around to the major projects in Hermiston in the last two decades there is hardly anything you would find that doesn’t have the Prior name on it as a sponsor or a contributor or a benefactor,” Puzey said.

Lloyd Piercy, owner of Sno Road Winery in Echo, said Prior was a staple at Echo events, providing the equipment for community cleanups and founding the local food bank. Prior was scheduled to serve as trail boss of this year’s Red 2 Red ride next week.

“He was the heart of Echo,” Piercy said. “There was not a charity he wasn’t involved in.”

Piercy said Prior was “irreplaceable” to Echo. He said from an agricultural community perspective Prior’s skill and passion for lobbying to improve the water situation in Umatilla County will also be missed.

“There are no words to describe the sadness around here,” Piercy said.

He said he also respected Prior’s hard work in building a legacy for his sons, Art and David, through the family farm and Prior’s habit of making time for family, most recently to share his grandsons’ passion for duck hunting.

Other accomplishments of Prior’s included helping found the Oregon Water Coalition and Farmers Ending Hunger, and serving on the boards of the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce, Oregon State University Extension Center, Umatilla County Budget Committee, Potato Growers Bargaining Committee, Hermiston Airport Advisory Board and Good Shepherd Medical Center.

Prices up, supply down at Klamath bull sale

Mon, 02/16/2015 - 08:44

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. ­— The supply of bulls was down, but prices were sharply up at the 55th Annual Klamath Bull and Horse Sale.

“We didn’t have as many bulls as we would like but the prices were up,” said sale chairman Jason Chapman, noting the top selling bull sold for $10,000, nearly double the highest price, $5,200, for a bull at the 2014 sale.

In all, 55 bulls were sold at an average price of $5,397 and total gross of $296,850 at the sale, which was held earlier this month at the Klamath County Fairgrounds in Klamath Falls by the Klamath Cattlemen’s Association.

In addition, six lots of five heifers were sold with the average price $2,480 and gross of $74,375. The top selling set of heifers sold for $14,625. Five horses were sold for a total of $30,450, with the top selling horse going for $11,500.

“Prices were up on pretty much everything,” Chapman said of bulls and heifers.

He said bull numbers were down from previous years, when the norm was about 100. Only 60 bulls were submitted this year but five were sifted and graded out. Chapman said the decline was expected because in recent years, when calf prices were high, breeders sold many of the calves. He said the higher prices at this year’s sale reflects the short supply.

Buyers for bulls and heifers came from a four state area — Oregon, California, Nevada and Washington along with consignors from around the West. While the bull sale was the highlight, the four-day event included cattle dog trials, a big rope competition and western trade show.

“We had a great turnout for the dog trials and for everything else,” Chapman said, noting total attendance was higher than in 2014.

“Everything went pretty smooth,” he said, noting and about a dozen bull sale committee members were assisted during the event by about 50 people. Planning for next year’s sale began this week.

Avian flu detected in Deschutes County flock

Sat, 02/14/2015 - 11:50

A highly pathogenic type of avian flu has been found in a backyard flock of birds in Central Oregon, the state Department of Agriculture says.

ODA and the USDA Animal Health Inspection Service are setting up a quarantine zone around the property near Tumalo, Ore., to restrict movement of domestic birds in and out of the area. The property is secured and there have been no additional detections of bird flu in the area.

The flock of about 90 mixed poultry and other domestic birds includes chickens, ducks and turkeys that have had access to a couple of ponds on the property that are also frequented by migratory waterfowl. Avian influenza naturally resides in wild birds and it is fairly common for waterfowl to carry various strains of the virus.

Highly pathogenic bird flu has also been reported in backyard birds in Washington and Idaho, and in wild birds in all three Pacific Northwest states, according to ODA.

The Deschutes County detection is the second in Oregon. Bird flu was previously detected in a flock of backyard birds in Douglas County in December.

The virus has not been detected in commercial poultry operations in Oregon, Washington or Idaho. Avian influenza does not affect poultry meat or egg products, which remain safe to eat. Wild and domestic poultry should be properly cooked.

Backyard bird owners are encouraged to practice good biosecurity and to take steps that prevent contact between their birds and wild birds. They also should monitor their flock closely and report sick or dead birds to ODA at 1-800-347-7028. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking people to report wild bird deaths by calling 1-866-968-2600. People should avoid contact with sick or dead wild and domestic birds.

For more information on avian influenza and biosecurity measures, go to http://bit.do/ORbirdflu.

Oregon governor announces resignation

Fri, 02/13/2015 - 09:06

SALEM, Ore. (AP) Long-time Democratic Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has announced his resignation amid allegations his fiancee used her relationship with him to enrich herself.

Kitzhaber said his resignation would be effective on Wednesday. In a statement on Friday, he apologized to the people who helped him get re-elected in November and supported him for the past three decades.

He said it was not in his nature to “walk away from a job I have undertaken.”

The announcement is a stunning fall from grace for the state’s longest-serving chief executive.

Kitzhaber has consistently maintained that he and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, worked hard to avoid conflicts between her public and private roles.

Secretary of State Kate Brown, a Democrat like Kitzhaber, was expected to assume the office and become the first openly bisexual governor in the country. Unlike most states, Oregon doesn’t have a lieutenant governor, and the state Constitution puts the secretary of state next in line.

Kitzhaber called Brown back to Oregon from a conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this week. People close to Kitzhaber say he asked her to come back after deciding to resign in the wake of the influence-peddling allegations involving his fiancee, a green-energy consultant. But he then changed his mind, saying he wouldn’t step down, which led to a Wednesday meeting between Kitzhaber and Brown that she described as “strange.”

By Thursday, the leaders of the state House and Senate said he had to go. Other top officials in the overwhelmingly Democratic state also said Kitzhaber should resign.

“I finally said, ‘This has got to stop,’” Senate President Peter Courtney said after he met with Kitzhaber. “I don’t know what else to do right now. It seems to be escalating. It seems to be getting worse and worse.”

Kitzhaber handily won re-election in November to a fourth term after surviving the botched rollout of Oregon’s online health care exchange, which turned into a national embarrassment.

But the allegations surrounding his fiancée Cylvia Hayes’ work were more harmful, dominating headlines in the state following his victory.

A series of newspaper reports since October have chronicled Hayes’ work for organizations with an interest in Oregon public policy. At the same time, she was paid by advocacy groups, she played an active role in Kitzhaber’s administration, a potential conflict of interest.

The spotlight on Hayes led to her revealing that she accepted about $5,000 to illegally marry a man seeking immigration benefits in the 1990s. Later, she admitted she bought a remote property with the intent to grow marijuana.

Though questions about Hayes have swirled for months, the pressure on Kitzhaber intensified in recent weeks after newspapers raised questions about whether Hayes reported all her income on her tax returns. She has not publicly addressed the allegation and Kitzhaber has declined to. Earlier this week, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said she was launching a criminal investigation.

Kitzhaber has consistently maintained that he and Hayes worked hard to avoid conflicts between her public and private roles.

A fiercely private person, Kitzhaber has been forced to answer embarrassing and personal questions about his relationship. In response to questions at a news conference last month, Kitzhaber told reporters that he’s in love with Hayes, but he’s not blinded by it.

Kitzhaber, 67, met the 47-year-old Hayes before the 2002 election, when he was governor and she was a candidate for the state Legislature. She lost her race, but they later reconnected after Kitzhaber’s term ended.

After eight years out of office, Kitzhaber was elected governor again in 2011. Hayes used the title “first lady,” though the couple never married, and she took an active role in his administration. They were engaged last summer.

The scandal over alleged influence-peddling was not the only one to hammer Kitzhaber since his return as governor. Kitzhaber, a former emergency room physician and passionate advocate for health care reform, was embarrassed last year when Oregon was the only state that was unable to launch an online health insurance exchange in the first year of the federal health care law.

Oregon spent millions of dollars in federal grant money but has abandoned the technology for Cover Oregon. The state and its main technology contractor, Oracle Inc., are blaming each other for the failure in multiple lawsuits.

Before the Cover Oregon debacle, Kitzhaber had racked up a series of successes. He convinced lawmakers to overhaul the state Medicaid system, then convinced the Obama administration to give Oregon $2 billion to implement it. He spearheaded cuts to retirement benefits for public employees despite being elected with considerable help from the unions whose members lost out.

After the successes, top Republicans declined to challenge Kitzhaber in last year’s election. He easily defeated state Rep. Dennis Richardson, who relentlessly pounded Kitzhaber over the Hayes scandal but was unable to overcome Oregon voters’ aversion to his social conservative views.

Kitzhaber has an acute understanding of the Legislature and how to use the power of the governor’s office to achieve his objectives. He proved adept at isolating the people he disagreed with, but he also angered his supporters and was left with few friends. When he got into trouble, his fellow Democrats did not speak up.

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