Nominations open for Young Cattle Producer Conference

University of Idaho Extension and the Idaho Cattle Association are calling for participant nominations for the second annual Young Cattle Producer Conference.

The conference will give young cattle producers an opportunity to receive in-depth education on the cattle industry in Idaho. Participating in this conference will provide valuable tools that will help young producers be successful in the cattle business, organizers said.

The program will be offered annually to young producers between the age of 18 and 40. Anyone can nominate a young producer or nominate themselves for the free conference. Only 20 participants will be selected to attend.

This year’s conference will be June 20-22 in Caldwell and the surrounding area. It will begin at 1 p.m. on June 20 with an overview of the cattle industry in Idaho. Speakers include representatives from the packing, feedlot, stocker, cow-calf and purebred industries. The afternoon will conclude with a panel discussion on marketing beef cattle and a steak dinner.

The next day, participants will listen to speakers from Northwest Farm Credit Services, University of Idaho Extension and the Public Lands Council to learn about current issues facing the cattle industry, including financing a cattle operation, risk management tools and public land issues.

A meat cutting demonstration and taste testing will be conducted before lunch. In the afternoon, participants will load a bus for a tour of the cattle industry in western Idaho. Stops include a feedlot, packing facility, and a purebred operation in the Treasure Valley.

The evening will conclude with a barbecue dinner at Shaw Cattle Company and a round table discussion with members of the Idaho Cattle Association and University of Idaho Extension faculty.

Friday, June 22, will begin early with a session on “how to become involved” with speakers from the Idaho Cattle Association, Idaho Beef Council, Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission and Idaho Farm Bureau.

Following the morning session, participants will be recognized in a short graduation ceremony, and the conference will adjourn at 11 a.m.

Nomination forms are available Jim Church, University of Idaho Extension, (208) 983-2667, jchurch@uidaho.edu or a local University of Idaho Extension office. Nominations are due on May 10.

There are also opportunities to contribute to this program by becoming a program sponsor or to sponsor an attendee by contacting Church. Sponsorship forms are also available at www.idahocattle.org .


Idaho Extension plans workshop on grafting, pruning

University of Idaho Extension is hosting a basic grafting/pruning workshop May 9 in Shelley.

Participants will learn the basics of grafting and pruning and have the opportunity to graft an apple tree of their own. Fifteen grafts will be available for $5 each, first come first served. Otherwise, the workshop is free.

The workshop will be from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at North Bingham Park, 587 E 1250 N, Shelley. Call 208-785-8060 for more information or to register.

 


USDA conducting ag census followup calls

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service has begun in-person and telephone followup with producers who have not yet submitted a 2017 Census of Agriculture questionnaire.

NASS has received more than 1.5 million completed questionnaires. But the national return rate is currently lower than at this point in the 2012 Census.

“NASS is grateful for the response from producers to date, but it is important that the others who received a Census questionnaire join their neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family in being part of the Census count,” said NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer.

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 such as land use, acreage, cropping practices and infrastructure. Participation is required under federal law.

“If you produced and sold $1,000 or more of agricultural product in 2017, or normally would have produced and sold that much, we need to hear from you,” said Hamer. “If you’re a landowner who leases your land to a producer, we need to hear from you. If you received a census but do not fit this definition of a farm, please write your status on the form and send it back.”

Producers can respond to the 2017 Census of Agriculture online at www.agcounts.usda.gov or by mail.

For more information about the 2017 Census of Agriculture or for assistance with the questionnaire, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov or call toll-free (888) 424-7828.


Student loans an obstacle for many young farmers

It has been said the best way to get into farming is to “marry it or inherit it.” The risks are many and obstacles to entry are age-old — access to land, water, markets and capital. But regardless of whether new farmers married it, inherited it, or neither, one new barrier becoming increasingly problematic is student loan debt, according to the National Young Farmers Coalition.

The national organization conducted a survey of over 700 beginning and aspiring farmers and ranchers and found that student loan debt was a key obstacle to making a living in agriculture or getting started. More than half of respondents were currently farming but struggling to make their student loan payments on a farm income, and one third reported they didn’t pursue farming or were postponing a career in agriculture due to student loan debt. Among these respondents the average student loan debt was $35,000 — a lot for a greenhorn trying to get started on a farmer’s salary.

This survey reflects a national trend in student loan debt. One in five of all American households held some student loan debt according to a Pew Research Center study in 2012. The rates of student loan debt among young people are even higher — 37 percent for those 18 to 29 — and the typical college grads owes the equivalent of two years of income. Nationwide student loan debt has more than doubled to $1.3 trillion from 2004 to 2014. These numbers add up to a national crisis — one that also impacts young farmers and ranchers and the future of the agricultural landscape.

Caleb Howard is a young, part-time rancher and agriculture real estate broker in Joseph, Ore. He feels lucky he and his wife, Katie, left the University of Idaho with a manageable amount of student debt.

“I had a about $17,000 in debt, but if I had left school with $60,000 or $70,000, that would be a different story,” Howard, who studied rangeland management and animal science production, said. “Some students in the same program as me had triple the debt I had. If my wife and I were paying $600 to $700 per month in school debt, we couldn’t afford to farm.”

Student loans are what Howard called “bad debt” because these payments siphon funds away from starting, building, and growing farm businesses in rural communities.

Karie Walker, a Farm Services Agency loan officer in Pendleton, Ore., agrees student loan debt can impede borrowing and farmer success.

“High monthly [student loan] payments can funnel the borrower’s income in one direction and may not leave them with adequate amounts to make their annual farm loan payment,” she said.

While most federal student loans are on a 10-year repayment program, Walker notes that in the 1990s and early 2000s, many students ended up with much longer repayment plans.

“Hefty monthly payments can certainly affect the success of a new operation, especially knowing that they may affect the operation for up to 30 years,” she said.

Just as the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) survey found, people may be delaying a career in farming due to student loan debt. “We have a number of people that grew up farming or ranching, move to off-farm employment, then leave their careers to start farming later in life,” Walker said.

NYFC hopes to address the student loan debt barrier and get more farmers on the land is to add them to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The program was created in 2007 to help public service professionals such as teachers, nurses, public interest attorneys, government employees and nonprofit professionals pay off federal student debt and incentivize more people to join the public service ranks.

NYCF is pushing for farmers to be included on that list and for farming to be seen as a critical public service.

But is farming a public service?

“Farming offers a public service through food production and stewardship of natural resources that we share,” said Kate Greenberg, western program director for NYFC.

Given the importance of agriculture and the fact that only 6 percent of farmers are under age 35, Greenberg says farmers are a good match for the existing loan forgiveness program.

“Just as we have a critical shortage of new nurses, doctors, and social workers, we have a critical shortage of new farmers,” she said. “Farmers are absolutely critical. This program is one way to build out the pipeline to get more people farming.”

To qualify for the program under the NYCF proposal, new farmers would work full time on a farm that makes at least $35,000 and files a Schedule F tax forms, but would not have to own a business or land. “We wanted to be sure that the people who qualify are building a business or career in agriculture whether or not they own a business or own land,” she said. “We recognize that land access and ownership is not equitable across the country because of historical ag policy and discrimination.”

After 10 years of farming and on-time, income-based payments, the government would cancel the balance of the farmer’s federal student loans.

This approach to incentivizing farming is already being used in New York. The New York State Young Farmers Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program offers loan repayment up to $50,000 for grads who start a farm business within two years of graduating from a New York university and operate their farm five years. So far the number of farmers in the program is small and funding is limited.

Greenberg says making farmers eligible for student loan repayment or forgiveness will support different entry points into agriculture.

“First, multi-generational family farm kids are currently at a crossroads between going to college and taking over the farm,” she said. “Many parents are encouraging kids to get an education, but loan forgiveness would allow them to not have to choose between the farm and a college education.”

Second, she notes that many new farmers are first generation farmers who don’t know they want to farm until they get a college education.

Third, she says, “You have to think about future farmers that may not even be born yet.” She argues the future norm could be much easier entry into farming. Loan forgiveness could help pave a pathway back to the farm and reverse the rural brain drain. “Being able to return with an education builds rural communities.”

What advice can aspiring farmers and ranchers take about managing student loan debt?

Northwest Farm Credit Services (FCS) Relationship Manager Andrea Krahmer said student loan debt is factored into assessing a borrower’s credit worthiness and the level of student debt matters. However, Krahmer also said Northwest FCS offers loan programs specifically for new and small farmers.

“We can be flexible with underwriting guidelines and extra student loan debt may still be OK with some positive offsetting credit factors,” she said.

Krahmer and FSA loan officer Karie Walker both advise that maintaining credit worthiness, regardless of the amount of student debt is key. So is paying student loan debt on time every time.

According to Krahmer, “it becomes even more important to use credit sources responsibly which includes having good credit scores and minimal other consumer debt beyond student loans.” Krahmer explained that student loan debt is not like a car loan, which has a physical asset to offset the loan liability. “Knowledge obtained from attending college is certainly an asset but not something that can be recorded on a financial statement.”

While he can’t put his college education on a balance sheet, young rancher Caleb Howard believes getting a bachelor’s degree was worth it. He also advises there are other options.

“I wouldn’t change my college experience for anything in the world, but maybe a trade school is better preparation for less money,” he said.

Until student loan forgiveness is widely available to new farmers and ranchers, Howard said you can get ahead of your debt while in school. “Get a part-time job. It will go miles.”


OSU hosts ‘Living on the Land’ workshop series

Oregon State University will kickoff  a five-part workshop series on land stewardship May 8.

Living on the Land is a workshop series tailored for small acreage landowners and those new to managing land. The program is sponsored by the OSU Extension Service in Marion County and the Silverton Grange  No. 748. It will be conducted at the Silverton Grange, 201 Division St. NE, Silverton.

The five classes in the series will be conducted on Tuesday nights from 6-8:30pm. Participants may register for individual classes for $10 each, $30 for the whole series, or $45 for two farm partners.

The classes will be as follows:

May 8 – Land Stewardship Planning.

May 15 – Woodlands and Riparian Area Management.

May 22 – Pasture and Manure Management.

May 29 – Soils and Weeds.

June 5 – Water Rights and Well Water.

For more information, contact Victoria Binning at 503-373-3774 or victoria.binning@oregonstate.edu. To register, go to http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/mid-valley/events .


Temperature swings throw ‘curveball’ at SW Oregon tree fruit

ROSEBURG, Ore. — The roller coaster weather temperatures of earlier this year has had a negative effect on some fruit orchards in southwestern Oregon.

According to growers in both the Rogue and Umpqua basins, apricot trees were severely impacted. Some peach varieties may have also suffered, but growers are remaining optimistic that those trees will still produce some fruit.

What led up to this situation were severe temperature swings. January’s temperatures were slightly warmer than normal and early February featured eight days of spring-like weather with high temperatures ranging from 55 to 66 degrees.

Fruit buds on apricot and some nectarine and peach trees were already slightly advanced because of January’s warmth and then February’s “false spring” increased that advancement into the mid-bloom stage.

But then in the Umpqua Basin area, a morning low of 22 degrees was recorded on Feb. 13. Some more temperatures down into the 20s followed with the average low being 34 degrees and the average high being 49 for the next 11 days. The result was that sap stopped flowing in some of the fruit trees.

With buds halfway through the bloom cycle and no sap flowing, it is possible the partially developed pollen in the buds died. There was then nothing in the blossoms to attract bees so pollination did not take place.

“Mother Nature threw us a real curveball this year with some beautiful days in January and February and then the stone fruits got hammered by several mid- to upper 20-degree days,” said Steve Renquist, the Oregon State Extension horticulturalist for Douglas County. “The cold damages the ovary on the flower and then the ovary is not receptive to being pollinated and it dies.”

Mark Brosi, the owner of Sugar Tree Farms near Winston, Ore., said he wouldn’t have much of an apricot crop.

“There are only a couple buds per tree,” he said.

Kathy O’Leary, who owns Valley View Orchard near Ashland, Ore., said she probably lost her apricot crop.

Dave Belzberg, owner of Rolling Hills Farm near Medford, Ore., said he removed his apricot trees several years ago “because they were always getting frosted.”

When it comes to peaches and nectarines, the growers are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Brosi said his nectarines don’t look all that great and his peaches only look “halfway good.” O’Leary said she is not sure how much the weather impacted her future peach crop, but Belzberg, whose orchard is on a west slope, said his peach trees look “healthy and happy.” He said west sites tend to be cooler than east sites and he added that his trees weren’t flowering during the cold spell so he didn’t anticipate any loss.

Evan Kruse, co-owner of Kruse Farms near Roseburg, said it was too early to tell how his peach trees handled the cold.

“This is definitely a situation where micro-climates played a factor,” he said. “There can be 3- to 4-degree temperature swings so there may or may not be damage to a crop depending on its location.”

Both Kruse and Brosi said there could be a silver lining for the stone fruit orchards that did suffer some damage and subsequent crop loss. That would mean less thinning of fruit would be needed at a later time.

“To lose a few is not a drastic deal,” Brosi said. “Thinning is expensive. It could almost be a good thing.”

“A lighter fruit set would mean less hand labor for thinning and that’s a major cost in peaches and apples,” Kruse said.

Renquist, however, explained that a tree will put more energy into its vegetative growth when it is not growing fruit. That will mean more pruning will eventually be needed.

Because fruit buds on pear and apple trees bloom about a month later than stone fruits, those trees were not advanced enough to be impacted by the extreme temperature changes. The growers also said their cherry trees were not affected.

“I don’t think it does us any good to be pessimists regarding the weather conditions,” Kruse said. “If we were, it wouldn’t do us any good to even put a seed in the ground. You just have to have a little bit of faith and some optimism.”


NOAA sees warm months ahead for Northwest

The Northwest’s late spring, summer and fall likely will be hotter and drier than usual as the Pacific Ocean warms up, leading toward a possible El Nino next winter, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Thursday.

Sea-surface temperatures along the equator are slowly rising from below normal to average, according to NOAA. By fall, climatologists anticipate temperatures will be above normal, a heating of the ocean associated with warm winters and low snowpacks in the Cascades.

“Right now, I’d have to forecast a less than average snowpack. I reserve the right to change my forecast,” Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond said.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center foresees above-average temperatures and below-normal precipitation for May, June and July in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Northern California.

Bond said he had more confidence in the temperature forecast.

“I would say that with the (forecasting) models there is a pretty strong consensus that it will be on the warm side,” he said. “I would be loath to put too much stock in the precipitation forecast.”

NOAA’s outlook relies heavily on the Pacific Ocean transitioning from La Nina, a cooling of sea temperatures, to El Nino, a warming. La Nina has prevailed since last fall, but chances are good that sea temperatures will be normal by May, according to NOAA.

La Nina generally means colder and wetter winters in the northern U.S. and the opposite in the southern U.S.

Although never strong, this La Nina has delivered for Washington irrigators.

Snowpacks in 11 basins monitored by the Natural Resources Conservation Service were all well above average Thursday. Northern Idaho snowpacks also are well above normal, and some Northern Oregon snowpacks have rallied to above or near normal after a slow start.

To the south, snowpacks in the rest of Oregon and Northern California are below normal. A drought in Eastern Washington that covers almost one-third of the state is expected to persist for at least the next several months, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday.

Ocean temperatures may gradually increase over the summer. By October, the odds begin to favor a weak El Nino.

NOAA cautioned, however, that climatologists have been fooled before. “Though we appear headed a toward a cold-season El Nino, there have been several false starts in recent years where promising El Ninos simply faded away,” NOAA stated.

If NOAA’s forecast holds true, sea-surface temperatures will be much as they were the winter of 2014-15, the year of Washington’s “snowpack drought.” That winter, however, El Nino was combined with an unusually warm mass of water off Washington’s coast.

“Right now, there’s no indication it’s really going to warm up along our coast,” Bond said.

If an El Nino forms, it’s no sure bet that snowpacks will suffer. The last El Nino classified by climatologists as “very strong” was the winter of 2015-16, when Washington snowpacks and reservoirs were generally above average. By the end of the winter, the state had pulled out of the drought that had started in 2014.

“We kind of lucked out in the winter of 2015-2016,” Bond said. “What that shows is that each El Nino event is unique.”


Idaho water outlook looks good for irrigation season

Idaho’s snowpack season is ending on a positive note, providing many irrigators with adequately supplied river and reservoir systems to draw from as the growing season kicks into high gear.

Most river basins are near or above their annual average for snowpack, experts said at an April 12 Idaho Water Supply Committee meeting marking the traditional end of the snow-accumulation season.

A notable exception is the Owyhee River Basin that drains a chunk of Nevada, Oregon and Idaho. But even that system — containing just below one-third its average snowpack — should generate adequate supply for water users, thanks to ample amounts carried over in storage within Owyhee Reservoir from past years.

Strong precipitation in March boosted totals as of April 1, said Troy Lindquist, a National Weather Service senior hydrologist in Boise.

“And since April 1, we’ve had several storms move through the state,” he said. “That has brought some really good precipitation, which has continued to add to our high-elevation snowpack.” In contrast, warm and dry weather at this point in the season would melt snowpack early and ultimately reduce streamflows later in the summer.

Basin snowpacks range from 31 percent of average in the Owyhee River Basin to well over 130 percent for the Clearwater Basin in north central Idaho, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Water Supply Specialist Ron Abramovich said. Basins are generally in good shape thanks to snowpack near or above annual averages, and good carry-over storage in reservoirs.

Water users will have adequate supply this year, Abramovich said. “We are not facing any shortages, and we are able to put an ample amount back into the aquifer,” he said.

Irrigators can expect a full season given this year’s precipitation and last year’s carry-over storage, said Brian Sauer, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation water operations manager for the Snake River Area Office in Boise.

While Owyhee Reservoir won’t fill completely because of this year’s low snowpack — it was 81 percent full on April 12 — it will have adequate irrigation supplies for this season, he said. Water users will hope for better supply conditions next year, though the large reservoir near Adrian, Ore., is designed to store about twice as much water as a single season requires.

“In general, the irrigators are looking for an adequate water-supply year to meet their needs,” said Liz Cresto, Idaho Department of Water Resources Hydrology Section supervisor and Idaho Water Supply Committee chair.

An adequate or good water year means less likelihood for conflicts among users — particularly on the Upper Snake, where above-average runoff is predicted, Cresto said. That runoff bodes well for water to be carried over to next year in reservoir storage, she said.

Reservoirs in the Boise River Basin were expected to fill to 100 percent of capacity by mid-April as the Bureau of Reclamation reduces flood-control releases.


Brown marmorated stink bug reports increase

WENATCHEE, Wash. — Brown marmorated stink bugs are on the rise, mostly in Western Washington, according to Washington State University entomologists.

“In three weeks, we received 300 emails and phone calls, mostly from the state’s west side,” said Michael Bush, WSU Extension and entomologist in Yakima.

“We’ve never seen so much activity related to this bug and so quickly,” he said.

Most of the sightings are in King, Pierce and Thurston counties and have been occurring since mid-March as stink bugs emerge from overwintering in people’s homes, Bush said.

The six-legged bugs emit a smell of dirty socks when crushed. Thin white bands on their antennae distinguish them from other stink bug species.

The increase is worrisome to researchers and farmers because the bugs feed on more than 300 host plants and spreads by human movement.

“The more we learn about this stink bug species, the more amazed we are by its generalist feeding habits,” said Elizabeth Beers, entomologist at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee. She’s on a national team of scientists fighting it.

She urged people to keep reporting them with their name, address, date of discovery, numbers and photo of the bugs and email to: tfrec.reportbmsb@wsu.edu.

“We would love to come get your bugs for our research if you have an infestation of more than 50,” Beers said.

Called “The Beast of the East,” brown marmorated stink bugs were identified in Pennsylvania in 1996 and caused an estimated 30-percent loss in apple and peach crops in mid-Atlantic states in 2010. Growers there resorted to broad-spectrum synthetic pyrethroid pesticides to control the bugs at the expense of their Integrated Pest Management programs, Beers has said.

Brown marmorated stink bugs were found in Portland, Ore., in 2004 and later in the Willamette Valley, Medford, Hood River and Vancouver. They were first trapped in Yakima in 2012 and have been found in Walla Walla and Wenatchee.


Small producer targets big-ranch market by using genetics

NAMPA, Idaho — The heartiness and durability of Mick Boone’s bulls belie their birthplace: compact, suburban pasture land in part of the growing Boise metro area.

“They have been raised on long-grass hay, and they are range-ready,” he said.

Small producers tap cattle breeding and genetics data — via data bases, artificial-insemination catalogs, scientific reporting and person-to-person networking — traditionally associated with the industry’s biggest players, who analyzed their own large sample spaces over many decades.

The approach helped the Nampa-based Boone, 61, build a premium herd.

“This information is all available to the newest guy with his first cow,” Boone said. “It evens the playing field for the little guy.”

Benton Glaze, University of Idaho Extension beef cattle specialist in Twin Falls, sees operations of various sizes tapping sophisticated data.

“In general, producers are taking a closer look at genetics and using the tools available,” he said. DNA technology and Expected Progeny Difference trait analysis are among these tools.

Glaze said that while buying an elite, expensive bull who breeds 25 to 60 cows may not be feasible for a small operation with 15 to 20 cows, “any producer can access elite genetics by purchasing semen and utilizing artificial-insemination techniques.”

David Bohnert, director and professor at the Oregon State University Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center Burns and Union stations, said an extensive track record from many offspring was once needed to determine the accuracy of an Expected Progeny Difference trait. There are EPDs for everything from growth rate and milk production to calving ease and carcass characteristics.

“With the DNA tools we have now, we can get higher accuracy of the Expected Progeny Difference,” Bohnert said. And breed associations, he said, have value indices through which producers can look at multi-trait selection based on many years of data.

“Any size operation can take advantage of EPDs and their use,” Bohnert said. “And producers should.”

Boone said he expects to have 32 registered Angus cows and heifers this year, up from two around 2010. He built this headcount over time, starting when input costs were high, in part by trading bulls for registered heifers.

He said he enjoys the challenge of breeding the most feed-efficient animal.

“You never get satisfied,” Boone said, “but in the last four or five years I’ve really focused on breeding bulls through carefully selected genetics that will pass on the feed efficiency, and yet produce a quality carcass going to market.”

He aims to provide quality bulls and seed stock, with newer genetics and proven sires. He breeds them to thrive in desert climates, on rangeland and in hilly or rocky terrain. They stay a year or two before he sells them to ranchers who keep them five or six years.

“We breed and raise ranch-stock bulls that have not been creep-fed (grain-supplemented while very young) or pampered,” Boone said. “They leave here with their working clothes on.”

The idea is that the bull gains weight at a slower rate early on, but becomes a more durable and productive adult suited to rugged environments. Boone aims to supply a rancher with a bull that thrives, and passes on desirable traits consistently over time.

He grew up ranching, got out of the industry during a downturn, and got back into it slowly. He kept his rancher’s eye.

“We used to ranch just by looks,” Boone said. “Now we have the data to prove what we see is actually going into the carcass.”