Naked barley flashes potential, versatility

Naked barley is turning heads among researchers as a sexy choice for organic farmers looking to access a variety of different markets, including food, beer and animal feed.

While most commonly grown barleys have indigestible outer-layer hulls stuck onto the grain, naked barley is the result of a mutation that naturally strips the hull away, leaving seeds exposed.

Oregon State University is now leading a three-year, five state project to test new varieties of naked barley, with $2 million in funding from the USDA Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative. Partners include Washington State University representing the Pacific Northwest, the universities of Minnesota and Wisconsin-Madison representing the Midwest, and Cornell University representing the Northeast.

Pat Hayes, a barley breeder and professor of crop and soil science at OSU, said naked barleys have been around for almost 10,000 years, though they have not gained much traction in the U.S.

“We are all united in the goal to provide organic gardeners, growers, processors and consumers with an alternative crop, food and raw material that will be economically rewarding and sustainable,” Hayes said.

Barley used to a much larger part of Oregon grain production, Hayes explained, though almost all of it went to the animal feed markets, where low prices made it a money-losing proposition.

By removing the seed hulls, barley can be used in a number of foods like porridges and baked goods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also linked whole grain barley to reduced risk of heart disease.

The difficulty, Hayes said, is that removing the hull must be done by machinery, and can also grind away the bran, which results in pearled barley losing its whole grain status. That is not an issue, however, with naked barley.

“If you want to be marketing barley as a whole grain, the way to do that is to have a naked barley where you don’t have to grind the hull off the grain,” Hayes said.

Barley hulls do have an advantage in the beer world, acting as a natural filter during the initial phases of brewing, though Hayes said that can be overcome with a technology known as mash filtration. A number of Oregon breweries now use mash filters, he said, which are actually more efficient and deliver more gallons of beer per pound of barley.

Recently, OSU developed the first fall-planted variety of naked barley specifically for the Northwest — appropriately named “Buck.” Hayes said the university partnered with Breakside Brewery in Portland last December to brew an experimental beer named Buck Naked Golden Ale, which quickly sold out.

With potentially more markets open to naked barley, Hayes said growers may find the crop an appealing option, especially among wheat farmers looking for a viable rotation crop.

“You use exactly the same machinery (for barley) as you use for wheat,” he said. “We’re such a productive state that not only can we first meet our local demands, but we need to keep an eye on those export markets.”

Growers interested in learning more about naked barley are encouraged to attend OSU’s annual barley field day, scheduled for June 1 in Corvallis.


Oregon event focuses on farming challenges

JOSEPH, Ore. — Wallowa County is well known for its bronze art and dramatic scenery, but agriculture remains its economic base. In February the county’s literary nonprofit, Fishtrap, presents a weekend of conversations entitled, Winter Fishtrap: The New Agrarians.

Held at the Joseph Center for Arts and Culture in Joseph Feb. 16 through 18, Fishtrap will host regional and local organizations as well as community members to discuss today’s farming challenges from succession planning to the culture of agriculture at the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture in Joseph.

Mike Midlo, Fishtrap’s program manager, said the New Agrarians schedule sets the problems, provides a structured conversation and looks for solutions and a list of action items.

“We chose the subject of agrarians because we know there are people really struggling to make it here and elsewhere,” Midlo said. “If agriculture is important to us as citizens of the West, we want to know what we can do to help farmers succeed.”

The panel discussions and breakout sessions will be interactive and inclusive, Midlo said, giving everyone a voice to come to a greater understanding.

“Whether you are a young farmer or part of the older generation we want to know what the real world solutions are.”

Kate Greenberg, Western program director for the National Young Farmer’s Coalition, will deliver the opening address on Friday night as well as facilitate breakout sessions and moderate panel discussions over the course of the weekend. Joining her is Nellie McAdams, farm preservation program director for Rogue Farm Corps, as well as Kathleen Ackley of the Wallowa Land Trust and Sara Miller and Kristy Athens with Northeast Oregon Economic Development District.

Oregon policy makers will also be on hand to discuss agricultural perspectives from tilling the ground to proposing legislation like Mike Hayward, former chairman of the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners, Brett Brownscombe of Portland State’s National Policy Consensus Center and John Williams, Wallowa County’s Oregon State University Extension agent.

To develop the weekend’s list of events Midlo said a committee of community members was asked, “What is important for people living in Wallowa County and the greater West?”

“We wanted to look at what are the barriers to becoming a farmer today,” Midlo said.

Instead of “how-to” workshops, Midlo said Fishtrap brought together a group of people with diverse voices to talk about something that is commonly important. The theme became The New Agrarians with so many concerns arising about land succession and an aging workforce.

Diminishing farmland and farmers are growing concerns in Oregon. When there is no one to take over the family farm or ranch, producers face tough choices like selling land to be converted into housing developments, driving up land prices and making land too expensive to farm. Zoning laws also impact land use in communities where agriculture is still a primary business.

“Stats show something like 60 percent of farm land is going to change hands in the next 20 years and most farmers are over 60 years old,” Midlo said.

Since 1988 Fishtrap has hosted writing workshops, classes and lectures. While the organization is best known outside Wallowa County for its weeklong event, Summer Fishtrap, held in July at a camp just south of the shores of Wallowa Lake, most of the organization’s offerings are geared to locals.

Winter Fishtrap, Midlo said, is designed to be accessible to a lot of the county’s workforce, farmers, ranchers, forest workers and wildland firefighters who are not available in the summer months and to meet people where they are — whether a producer, a consumer or a policy maker.

“What we are good at is pulling people together; bringing together diverse voices about something that is commonly important,” Midlo said.


Local seed movement takes root

BOISE — Casey O’Leary is the brains behind an effort to take the local food movement one step further and ensure people in Idaho and the Intermountain West have locally grown seed to grow that food.

O’Leary, who owns a small urban farm in Boise, is also the founder and manager of the Snake River Seed Cooperative. This group of 27 small farmers from around the region produces local seeds that are put in garden packets and sold at retail nurseries around the state.

Most of the seeds are sold to backyard gardeners while some are purchased by small-scale farmers.

“It isn’t truly local food if it’s grown from a seed that has to be brought in from somewhere else,” said O’Leary, “We’re trying to make the local seed piece come together. We’re trying to connect the concept of local food grown from local seeds.”

O’Leary started the cooperative four years ago. Members currently grow about 300 varieties of vegetable, herb and flower seeds. The co-op sold about 30,000 seed packets last year.

“So we’re not huge but we’re growing,” O’Leary said. “We want to create a robust, regional seed shed.”

While the co-op has grown to include 27 farmers, “(O’Leary) is the master orchestrator behind the co-op and convincing farmers to grow more seed,” said SRSC member and Middleton farmer Mike Sommer.

Sommer said his involvement in the co-op has led him to start growing more of his own seed.

“We spend thousands of dollars a year on seed and I’m sure other farmers do as well,” he said. “It could save us a lot of money.”

O’Leary said seed grown locally will adapt to local conditions better than seed grown in a different region.

“The longer you grow seeds in a certain location, the more they adapt to your environment, so the seeds you grow here do better here,” she said. “When you buy a seed packet off the shelf, there’s literally no transparency in where those seeds have been grown.”

She said the group is trying to create a culture around local seeds.

“They’re not just a faceless thing you start with to grow your vegetables,” she said. “They have a huge cultural history and a huge economic value, and local gardens that use local seed do better.”

O’Leary said local seeds are the next frontier in the local food movement.

“So many people have made that connection between local food and how it impacts local communities and local economies,” she said. “Now we need to take it that step further and talk about the seeds that are growing the ‘local’ food.”

She said the plan is to create a robust, regional seed shed that includes Idaho, western Washington, western Oregon, northern Nevada, northern Utah, eastern Wyoming and eastern Montana.

Born and raised in Boise, O’Leary turned to farming 15 years ago, partly through her experience with environmental activism and “also through getting fired from a lot of customer service jobs. I decided I should maybe work with plants instead of people.”


Farmers say bill’s restrictions would devastate crops

OLYMPIA — Washington farmers pushed back Thursday against a proposal to require growers to give the state Health Department up to a seven-day notice every time they spray pesticides.

A delay in reacting to bug and disease outbreaks would devastate crops, farmers told the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee.

“Mummy berry, botrytis fruit rot, powdery mildew, aphids, mites, spotted wing drosophila and other diseases and pests can get out of hand in much less time than this,” Whatcom County berry farmer Rob Dhaliwal said.

Senate Bill 6529, introduced by Seattle Democrat Rebecca Saldana, provoked a rare level of opposition from farm groups. Major commodity commissions and small organic farmers alike testified against the bill.

Asked by a senator to rate the bill’s threat to agriculture on a scale from one to 10, Eastern Washington wheat farmer Nicole Berg answered “10.”

The bill must pass the committee by Feb. 2 to stay alive for this session. Some senators said they doubted the legislation was ready to advance. Saldana conceded that there was strong opposition, but said she wanted to talk with farmers to refine her proposal between now and next year. “This is something I’d like to continue to work on,” she said.

Some farmers said they’d be happy to talk, but were also leery about where it would lead.

The bill’s premise, according to its preamble, is that pesticide applications are a “consistent source of pesticide exposure and pose significant risks to community members.”

Other provisions of the bill would require making public each month the type and amount of pesticide applied for each spraying. Farmers and pesticide applicators not filing the right information could be fined $7,500.

Farmers objected to having to reveal their management practices to competitors. They also said they were worried the information would be used against them in lawsuits.

“Pesticide drift events are already illegal and they are rare,” Dhaliwal said. “We’re not going to expose our employees to something we don’t want our kids around.”

Under the bill, farmers would have to notify the Health Department four business days before spraying, so weekends and holidays would extend the lag time. Health officials would then be obligated to give rural residents and schools within a quarter-mile a two-hour notice.

Saldana said she wanted to “empower those folks that are nearby farms to have the information from a public health perspective.”

“I’ll just say that’s my interest, making sure people have information, so they can make decisions,” she said.

Representatives from the Washington State Labor Council, Columbia Legal Services, Washington Environmental Council, Washington Education Association and Washington State PTA endorsed the bill at the hearing.

Farmers and pesticide applicators stressed they don’t know four or more days in advance whether the wind and rain will let them spray.

“Most often aerial applicators are Minutemen for growers,” said Gavin Morse, a Warden, Wash., applicator and president of the Association of Washington Aerial Applicators. “Wind and environmental conditions do not operate on a schedule.”

The state Department of Agriculture in 2017 issued seven fines in incidents that exposed people to pesticides from farms. In the worst case, which did not involve applying a pesticide, fumigant tablets that were improperly disposed of exposed 11 men, including farmworkers, a garbage truck driver and emergency responders, to poisonous gas.


Deadline approaching for Census of Agriculture surveys

The deadline is fast approaching for farmers and ranchers to complete their surveys for the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

Chris Mertz, Northwest region director for the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service in Olympia, Wash., said surveys were mailed out in December to 107,253 producers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Responses are due back to the agency by Monday, Feb. 5. The final 2017 census will be released in February 2019.

Every five years, the Census of Agriculture provides a state-by-state, county-by-county look at farm size, production and demographics across the U.S. Survey questions include things like land use, acreage, cropping practices and infrastructure.

“It’s not just government using this data,” Mertz said. “A lot of people are using the information on behalf of farmers to make sure they are being successful.”

For example, farm groups and lobbyists may use the census to advocate for policies or push for economic development in rural America, Mertz said. He pointed to the last census in 2012 which included questions about on-farm computer and internet usage. Five years later, President Donald Trump has signed two executive orders aimed at boosting rural broadband access.

“If you think about it, there’s a lot of infrastructure investment there,” Mertz said.

The census is also beneficial for small farmers, Mertz said, especially at the county level.

“There is still a lot of interest in small farms across the country,” he said. “In the Northwest, we have quite a few small farms.”

In a statement released late last year, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said every response matters.

“The Census of Agriculture is USDA’s largest data collection endeavor, providing some of the most widely used statistics in the industry,” Perdue said. “Collected in service to American agriculture since 1840, the census gives every producer the opportunity to be represented so that informed decisions can support their efforts to provide the world with food, fuel, feed and fiber.”

Farmers are legally required to respond to the census. Individual grower information is kept anonymous and used solely for statistical purposes.

Census surveys can be filled out online or by mail, though online reporting is encouraged. Mertz said surveys take an average of 50 minutes to complete.

“Of course, there are some operations that are small and fairly simple,” he said. “Some of the larger, more complicated operations you expect will take a bit longer.”

More information is available at www.nass.usda.gov.


La Nina still augurs snow and rain, but drought returns to parts of NW

Federal climate forecasters said last week that the rest of winter most likely will be cool and wet in the Northwest, even as other federal weather watchers reported that dry and even drought conditions have crept back into Oregon, Idaho and Washington.

The Climate Prediction Center cited La Nina’s grip on the Tropical Pacific in forecasting that the next three months will be cooler and wetter than normal in Washington, the Idaho panhandle and most of Oregon.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Drought Monitor, produced by a separate agency, released a weekly update that showed parts of the Northwest was drying out, most notably in Oregon.

Some 11 percent of the state, spread across parts of 10 Eastern Oregon counties, is in a “moderate drought,” the lowest classification. It’s the first official sign of drought in Oregon since October. The swath of drought extends slightly into Idaho, taking in a little more than 1 percent of that state.

The new three-month outlook is similar to previous seasonal forecasts. La Nina, a cooling of ocean surface temperatures along the equator, generally brings below-average temperatures and above-normal precipitation to the northern U.S.

A weak to moderate La Nina formed last fall. Although this La Nina’s strength may have peaked, the ocean almost certainly won’t warm to normal temperatures until the spring, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

La Nina has yet to produce large amounts of snow in the mountains.

Oregon snowpacks are well below normal for mid-January, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Snowpacks in 11 basins monitored daily by NRCS ranged Thursday from a high of 56 percent in northeast Oregon to a low of 23 percent in the Klamath Basin in Southern Oregon.

Snowpacks in Washington, Idaho and Northern California are generally better, though some basins are well below normal.

A basin that feeds the Lower Columbia in southwest Washington was 65 percent of normal on Thursday, according to NRCS. The Owyhee Basin in the southwest corner of Idaho was at 37 percent. Snowpacks in Northern California basins were 65 percent or higher.

The percentage of Oregon that is abnormally dry increased to 65 percent from 22 percent the week before, according to the Drought Monitor.

Portions of southwest and south-central Washington, making up 9 percent of the state, are abnormally dry.


Farmers’ market workshops planned in Washington

The Washington Farmers Market Association is taking registrations for two, two-day workshops in Renton and Spokane.

The workshops are designed to provide training for market leaders on a variety of topics including promotions and marketing, data collection, best practices, financial tracking, and board and staff development.

Day 1 and 2 of the programs will be the similar at each location. In Renton, the program will be Feb. 10 and March 12 at the Renton Community Center. In Spokane the program will be April 6 and 7 at the Empire Health Foundation, Philanthropy Center.

Click here for more information about the workshops, or to register.

 


La Nina still augurs snow and rain, but drought returns to parts of NW

Federal climate forecasters saythat the rest of winter most likely will be cool and wet in the Northwest, even as other federal weather watchers reported that dry and even drought conditions have crept back into Oregon, Idaho and Washington.

The Climate Prediction Center cited La Nina’s grip on the Tropical Pacific in forecasting that the next three months will be cooler and wetter than normal in Washington, the Idaho panhandle and most of Oregon.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Drought Monitor, produced by a separate agency, released a weekly update that showed parts of the Northwest was drying out, most notably in Oregon.

Some 11 percent of the state, spread across parts of 10 Eastern Oregon counties, is in a “moderate drought,” the lowest classification. It’s the first official sign of drought in Oregon since October. The swath of drought extends slightly into Idaho, taking in a little more than 1 percent of that state.

The new three-month outlook is similar to previous seasonal forecasts. La Nina, a cooling of ocean surface temperatures along the equator, generally brings below-average temperatures and above-normal precipitation to the northern U.S.

A weak to moderate La Nina formed last fall. Although this La Nina’s strength may have peaked, the ocean almost certainly won’t warm to normal temperatures until the spring, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

La Nina has yet to produce large amounts of snow in the mountains.

Oregon snowpacks are well below normal for mid-January, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Snowpacks in 11 basins monitored daily by NRCS ranged Jan. 18  from a high of 56 percent in northeast Oregon to a low of 23 percent in the Klamath Basin in Southern Oregon.

Snowpacks in Washington, Idaho and Northern California are generally better, though some basins are well below normal.

A basin that feeds the Lower Columbia in southwest Washington was 65 percent of normal on Thursday, according to NRCS. The Owyhee Basin in the southwest corner of Idaho was at 37 percent. Snowpacks in Northern California basins were 65 percent or higher.

The percentage of Oregon that is abnormally dry increased to 65 percent from 22 percent the week before, according to the Drought Monitor.

Portions of southwest and south-central Washington, making up 9 percent of the state, are abnormally dry.

 


New air reporting mandate may apply to some small CAFOs

Even livestock operations defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as “small” may need to register their cows as sources of hazardous gases.

A federal court is expected to finalize an order Jan. 22 that will require untold thousands of farms to report that their animals are continuously releasing at least 100 pounds of ammonia or hydrogen sulfide per day.

According to the EPA, there is no generally accepted way to calculate emissions from decaying manure. The agency has not offered any guidance on the number of cows, pigs or poultry it takes to meet the threshold.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, citing research on grain-fed cattle in feedlots, says the mandate could apply to operations with as few as 200 head.

“You should look into it,” said Scott Yager, the association’s chief environmental counsel.

The mandate stems from a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against the EPA. The groups objected to EPA exempting agriculture from the Superfund law, which requires factories and shippers to report chemical leaks and spills.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last year rejected claims by the EPA that manure emissions were unlikely to warrant an emergency response. The court delayed enforcing its order until at least Jan. 22 to give the EPA time to develop a reporting form tailored to farms.

The EPA has not yet finished the form, according to an agency spokesman. Nevertheless, the EPA anticipates the court will implement the order.

Factors such as geography, climate and feed affect emissions. The agency hasn’t dismissed the chance that even some small confined animal feeding operations meet the threshold, especially in the summer. EPA defines small CAFOS as those with fewer than 300 heard.

EPA has posted university-developed worksheets to help cattle, pig and poultry producers calculate emissions. Estimates, however, vary depending on the worksheet used.

“You should complete a worksheet and get it notarized and keep it in your file,” Yager said.

The EPA has instructed producers to email the National Response Center, rather than deluge the Coast Guard-staffed center with phone calls. Within a month, producers will have to file a form with EPA regional offices.

“It’s not going to be fun for producers. It’s not complicated, but it’s different,” Washington State Dairy Federation policy director Jay Gordon said. “You check the box and then do something more productive.”

EPA has taken steps to make reporting easier. Farms won’t have to report every day that their livestock emitted gas. Instead, producers will be able to register their animals as continuously releasing gas.

EPA has detailed how to comply with the mandate on a website: epa.gov/animalwaste

“The EPA is doing its darnedest to be helpful,” Gordon said.

It’s unclear how many producers meet the reporting threshold. The EPA estimates 44,900, but that number was derived eight years ago and has not been updated. The cattlemen’s association calculated that more than 68,000 beef producers — or everyone with more than 200 head — might have to report.

The U.S. Poultry and Egg Association estimates 141,000 poultry farms will need to report.

The EPA says farmers won’t be expected to pinpoint emissions, just report a broad range. Farmers won’t be required to monitor or reduce emissions.

The egg and poultry association developed its own reporting form. The form includes a boilerplate estimate of emissions.

The cattlemen’s association also plans to offer its members a streamlined reporting form when the court makes the mandate final, Yager said.


NCAP organic farming conference set Jan. 20 in Boise

The Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides presents its ninth annual Organic Farming Conference Jan. 20 at the Boise Centre.

The one-day conference will include sessions on the farm bill; Coops in local food systems; organic certification; the heirloom corn project; and the state of organics. There will be farmer and buyer panels.

The cost of the conference is $50. For more information, and to register online, go to the NCAP website.

The conference is sponsored by USDA Risk Management Agency, Idaho State Department of Agriculture, Clif Bar, Oregon Tilth, University of Idaho Extension and SARE.