Small garlic farm hit by Okanogan flood

OROVILLE, Wash. — It doesn’t sound like much — a $10,000 to $25,000 loss — but it’s a fair chunk in the annual income of Noah and Heather Burnell.

They’re small growers of garlic, probably one of the most unusual crop losses in this spring’s Okanogan Valley flood. And at 3,500-feet and 3 miles from the Canadian border they’re also probably one of the highest elevation and most northern garlic growers in the Lower 48 states.

Rapid mountain snowmelt has caused the worst flooding of the Okanogan Valley, particularly between Oroville and Tonasket, since 1972. Damage to houses, structures, hay fields and orchards along the Okanogan River will reach into the millions of dollars.

Snowmelt caused ground water to rise, flooding the Burnell’s garlic field at Ellemeham Mountain, 10 miles west of Oroville between Palmer Lake and Nighthawk.

The Burnells haven’t seen anything like it in the 22 years they’ve owned land on the mountain.

“Last year springs were popping up in the middle of the county road and our roads and this year it’s even more. One of our fields was completely under water. We dug ditches to drain it,” said Noah Burnell, 44.

A lot of it was snowmelt on the mountain but there’s always been snowmelt so he suspects some larger change in underground water movement.

The field is about half an acre. Burnell figures he’s lost a majority of last fall’s planting of two of four varieties of garlic. He won’t know how much can be salvaged until July harvest. If the whole field is lost, it would be a third of his annual crop.

It’s a dryland operation, dependent on winter snow and rain.

“Most years we have our fingers crossed that we’ll have enough moisture,” he said.

They have no crop insurance and will try to buy seed from other growers if they can to keep supplying their customers.

Burnell was a carpenter before experimenting with garlic seven years ago. They were not sure it would survive harsh winters at 3,500 feet, but found out it does. Their production has expanded to 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of garlic seed on 1.5 acres on the mountain and at another field in the lowlands on the east shore of Lake Osoyoos east of Oroville.

“We make about $80,000 to $100,000 a year which is very good. We were looking for a crop we could grow as a family and pay the bills,” Burnell said.

It’s labor intensive and they do all the work themselves. Fall planting by hand, one mechanical weeding, a hand weeding and harvesting by hand.

Their crop is certified organic. Bulbs bigger than 2 inches in diameter they sell for seed under their Great Northern Garlic brand and bulbs smaller than that are sold as Okanogan Organic directly to local grocery stores and through a broker to Seattle grocery stores.

“The Okanogan Valley is the Napa Valley of garlic,” Burnell said, “because we have so many small, specialized growers and so many different varieties.”

There are probably 30 to 40 small growers and one of the nation’s largest garlic seed banks, Filaree Garlic Farm, in Omak, he said.

“Conditions here are hot, dry summers and very cold winters which is what garlic needs,” he said.

Gilroy, Calif., where Heather Burnell is from, is where most of the nation’s garlic is grown.

“We had some hail damage one year, but otherwise this is our first natural disaster,” Burnell said. “We’ve never had any winter loss because of the cold.”

Here’s how a small creamery focuses on quality

Keith Fagernes, a third-generation dairyman, and Selma Bjarnadottir have teamed up to run the Flying Cow Creamery in Rochester, Wash.

He cares for the herd, and she runs the creamery and makes the yogurt.

Fagernes says his herd is the only one to receive the Northwest Dairy Association’s award for maintaining the association’s quality standards for 15 consecutive years and its annual award for superior milk quality.

Fagernes maintains a low somantic cell count in the milk his herd produces, which indicates freedom from infection. A healthy cow has a count of 200,000 or less. In the 1930s, the standard was 50,000 or less, but it was raised because with industrialization, as fewer dairies could meet that level.

Most dairy co-ops allow a count of 350,000, and the state of Washington allows 450,000.

Fagernes’ herd has maintained levels between 39,000 and 50,000 for the past 15 years, proof that it can still be done.

Their herd of 50 milkers is closed — no new animals are brought in from outside and only artificial insemination is used — so the risk of outside diseases in the Flying Cow herd is low.

After a decade of selective breeding and culling, today all of Fagernes’ lactating cows are confirmed producers of A2A2 milk, which contains the A2 type of beta casein protein instead of the more prevalent A1 protein. Researchers have found that some people digest those proteins more easily.

Milk and yogurt are Flying Cow’s only products. The yogurt culture was chosen after two years of research and customer taste-testing.

The yogurt is incubated and sold in made-in-the-U.S. returnable glass containers.

“Sure, ones from China are cheaper,” Bjarnadottir agrees, “but we want American industry to thrive, and we don’t want our containers in the landfills.”

The yogurt is incubated in the containers they are sold in, and there are “too many unknowns” to do that in plastic containers.

The only ingredients are the milk and culture — no thickeners, stabilizers or sugar.

Be on the lookout for the Western Cherry Fruit Fly

The Pacific Northwest Pest Alert Network reports the Western Cherry Fruit Fly appeared in southwest Idaho and the Mid-Columbia River region in Oregon.

On May 22 the first report of a Western Cherry Fruit Fly captured in a Idaho State Department of Agriculture species-specific trap in Canyon County. Network officials said that historically, the fly appears in Gem County about a week after the first specimen is found in Canyon County.

The fly was also found May 20 at the Oregon State University Mid-Columbia Agricultural Research and Extension Center station in Hood River.

Growers should start treating for the flies immediately, the recent alert said. White maggots infest cherries, and the mature maggot makes a hole in the cherry as it exits.

Online phenology and growing degree-day models for the Western Cherry Fruit Fly predicted the first flight on May 21 in Ontario, Ore., and Parma, Idaho; and also in Idaho May 24 in Caldwell, May 25 in Emmett, May 29 in Boise and May 31 in Nampa, the network said.

Recommended strategies for growers include spraying one of about seven selected chemicals through harvest, at seven- to 10-day intervals, and growing early-maturing varieties.

Employment in Saudi Arabia led to ownership of small California farm

FOREST RANCH, Calif. — John Carlon grew up in Northern California and always had an interest in agriculture.

But to realize the dream of having his own farm he would first have to go to Saudi Arabia.

“I managed the college farm when I attended Chicago State, graduated from Chico State with a degree in agronomy and horticulture,” he said. He also has a master’s degree in international agriculture development.

“But I always wanted a farm of my own,” he said.

He heard of a well-paying opportunity in Saudi Arabia and decided to go for it.

He farmed 8,000 acres of wheat in the Middle East for five years.

“By this time, I had saved enough to come back to the states,” he said.

In 1989 most of the blueberries on the West Coast were grown in Oregon.

“We settled in the foothills and today we have nine acres in blueberries,” Carlon said of their location in Butte County.

Carlon and his wife, Armen, believe their operation is one of only a few organic blueberry farms in the state. It was certified organic in 1993.

“Blueberries are hard to plant but easy to grow,” he said. “The soil has to be exactly right because of the acidity. We just gambled and picked some good plants.” They grow eight varieties from Michigan and New Jersey.

The farm is nearly self-sufficient.

“With the exceptions of electricity to pump water, fuel to power our tractor and trucks and containers to package the fruit, our farm has become self-sustaining,” he said on the farm’s website. “We have replaced off-farm inputs with ecosystem services.”

For example, birds are a pest on the farm, but Cooper’s Hawks make short work of them. The hawks eat the other birds as their main food source and have saved the farm hundreds of dollars.

Blueberries are harvested from June 1 through the first week in July. The farm sells 80 percent of its blueberries to retail chains and 20 percent at farmers’ markets.

“We are grateful to have Sierra Cascade Blueberry Farm in the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market community and eagerly await their return every spring,” said Brie Mazurek, communications director of CUESA — the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture — which runs the farmers’ market. “The Carlons truly embody ecologically holistic farming, caring for wildlife, waterways and the land, while providing delicious organic berries for us to eat.”

Carlon also serves on CUESA’s board of directors.

He said the demand for blueberries has increased since information came out about their health benefits. Studies have found that they help maintain healthy bones, promote skin health, reduce blood pressure, help manage diabetes and promote heart health, among other benefits.

Carlon is also the co-founder of River Partners, an environmental nonprofit that has planted over a million native trees and restored thousands of acres of natural habitat.

He is justifiably proud of the family farm.

“With a combination of good soil, water, organic and sustainable growing practices, and careful selection of varieties that would grow in the local climate, the blueberries harvested from Sierra Cascade Farm have been consistently outstanding in quality and flavor,” he said.

WSU crop tours offer sneak peek at varieties

Farmers will have a chance to check out the latest grain varieties during Washington State University’s upcoming crop tour season, which kicks off June 6 in the Horse Heaven Hills.

University and private breeders and researchers will be present at the various tour stops to provide specific background on the wheat and barley varieties.

“There’s some newer stuff out there that I think is going to catch people by surprise,” said Aaron Esser, WSU Extension Adams County director and interim director of WSU’s variety testing program.

He said many growers are curious about Norwest Duet from Limagrain Cereal Seeds and Oregon State University.

“The farmers win by having a choice,” he added. “The advantage is, they have more options out there. The difficult thing is, they have more options out there. It takes time and energy to figure out what option’s best for their situation.”

“It’s pretty rigorous,” said of the slate of tours. Esser canceled an Almira tour and added a Creston tour, after it was not included on the schedule last year. Esser didn’t want to leave Creston out two years in a row.

Almira was originally scheduled, too, but was booked at the same time as a tour in Moses Lake.

It’s important for farmers to have access to the trials, Esser said.

Esser expects discussions on falling numbers, the test that measures starch damage; seeding rates and new technologies.

Stripe rust activity has been relatively low this year, he said.

“There’s always something that pops up,” he said.

WSU crop schedule:

• Horse Heaven: 8 a.m., June 6, contact Aaron Esser at 509-659-3210 • Ritzville: 1 p.m., June 6, contact Aaron Esser at 509-659-3210 • Western Whitman County (LaCrosse): 9:30 a.m., June 7, contact Steve Van Vleet at 509-397-6290 • Connell: 5 p.m., June 7, contact Aaron Esser at 509-659-3210 • Pendleton Field Day, Oregon: 7:30 a.m. June 12, contact Stewart Wuest at 541-278-4381 • Moro Field Day, Oregon: 7:30 a.m. June 13, contact Stewart Wuest at 541-278-4381

• WSU weed science, Pullman: 12:30 p.m. June 13, contact Drew Lyon at 509-335-2961

• Lind Field Day: 8:30 a.m,, June 14, contact Bill Schillinger at 509-235-1933

• Harrington: 4 p.m., June 14, contact Diana Roberts at 509-477-2167

• St. Andrews: 5 p.m., June 15, contact Dale Whaley at 509-745-8531

• Eureka (cooperative with Oregon State University and Northwest Grain Growers): 3 p.m., June 18, contact Aaron Esser at 509-659-3210

• University of Idaho and Limagrain (Lewiston, Idaho): 8:30 a.m., June 19, contact Doug Finkelnburg at 208-799-3096 • Walla Walla (cereals; cooperative with Oregon State University and Northwest Grain Growers): 1 p.m., June 20, contact Aaron Esser at 509-659-3210

• Dayton (cereals and legumes; cooperative with Oregon State University and Northwest Grain Growers): 8 a.m. June 22, contact Paul Carter at 509-382-4741

• Moses Lake (irrigated): 8 a.m., June 25, contact Andy McGuire at 509-754-2011, ext. 4313 • Creston: 3 p.m. June 25, contact Diana Roberts at 509-477-2167

• Wilke Farm Field Day, Davenport: 8 a.m. June 26; contact Aaron Esser at 509-659-3210 • Reardan: 2 p.m., June 26, contact Diana Roberts at 509-477-2167

• Mayview: 9 a.m., June 27, contact Mark Heitstuman at 509-243-2009

• Anatone: 3:30 p.m., June 27, contact Mark Heitstuman at 509-243-2009

• Fairfield: 7 a.m., June 28, contact Diana Roberts at 509-477-2167

• St. John: 10 a.m., June 28, contact Steve Van Vleet at 509-397-6290

• Lamont: 1:30 p.m,, June 28, contact Steve Van Vleet at 509-397-6290

• Bickleton: 11 a.m., June 29, contact Hannah Brause at 509-773-5817

• Farmington: 8 a.m, July 6, contact Steve Van Vleet at 509-397-6290

• Palouse: 3:30 p.m,, July 6, contact Steve Van Vleet at 509-397-6290

Radio work, other ventures keep small-scale operator on farm

It took a half-dozen years and about as many side jobs, but Matt Brechwald is now able to stay on his small farm most of the time.

“The whole reason I do all the things I do is so I can farm, and so I can manage the farm as efficiently as possible,” he said.

Brechwald proves it can be tough making a living on a small farm or ranch, but that there are also solutions.

He made the switch from part-time farmer with full-time job elsewhere — his was as a Boise police officer — to full-time farmer with a collection of side jobs. Ag radio broadcaster, adjunct professor, livestock courier, gopher exterminator and rental property owner are among his recent jobs off the farm.

“The farm is not capable of providing all necessary household income, so to be able to stay here, I found ways to work from home and have a more flexible schedule,” Brechwald said.

“Off-farm income” is how he labels revenue a farmer can generate outside the agricultural operation, such as a venture tapping a farmer’s unique skills and collection of in-demand equipment.

“Entrepreneurship is a very, very good way to generate off-farm income,” Brechwald said.

Farmers, in addition to possessing skills ranging from mechanical and construction work to handling heavy equipment and chemicals, “have a very strong work ethic, which makes them very good at providing agricultural services for other people,” he said.

But since mistakes and missed opportunities can be magnified on small farms or ranches due to limitations on spreading risk, the off-farm venture must offer substantial flexibility in addition to good financial prospects.

“It’s all about farming,” said Brechwald, 44.

He owned and operated Idaho Gopher Control for five years before selling the business in 2017 and plowing the proceeds back into the Kuna, Idaho, farm he runs with his wife, Autumn, and their daughter. They raise cattle, pigs, goats and hay on 25 acres they own in an area experiencing suburban growth.

Brechwald lately is busy doing podcast and broadcast work — including for the national FFA organization and a regional retail chain, both stemming from independent podcasting he did starting five years ago. He said the rurally focused RFD-TV noticed his early work.

He coaches and consults — clients include businesses interested in doing their own ag podcasts — teaches courses, gives public presentations, and develops content for instructional or marketing purposes.

Ag-driven entrepreneurship is a key theme for Brechwald, a Montana State University animal and range sciences graduate who also holds a master’s degree in criminal justice from Boise State University.

He said he aims to grow his own off-farm ventures and “coach more people on doing what I want to do, which is to stay out in the country — although the city is coming to me.”

Oregon wetland inventory raises regulatory concerns

An inventory of Oregon’s wetlands is intended as an “early warning system” to prevent regulatory conflicts but some lawmakers worry it effectively expands government jurisdiction over farmland.

The Oregon Department of State Lands is developing a statewide wetlands inventory map using multiple sources of information to show where wetlands are located.

The question is significant for farmers, who must obtain fill-removal permits from DSL before starting major ground-disturbing projects within wetlands.

However, current inventories maintained by the federal government and local governments are incomplete, raising the possibility that landowners may not know they’re filling or removing material from a wetland.

A statewide wetland inventory would reduce the likelihood of such “false negatives,” said Bill Ryan, deputy director of operations for DSL.

In 2016, for example, a Willamette Valley farmer began replacing hay barns destroyed in a fire with local government permission, only to have DSL claim he was building in a wetland.

One of the criteria to determine the existence of a wetland is whether the property contains hydric soils, which form when ground is regularly inundated with water for lengthy periods, Ryan said during a May 21 hearing before the House Agriculture Committee.

“The Willamette Valley in particular has a lot of these hydric soils,” he said.

Hydric soils will serve as a “wide net” for analyzing lands, but the agency will rely on the area’s current hydrology and other technical factors to decide whether it’s currently a wetland, Ryan said.

Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, said he was concerned about DSL going beyond what’s currently considered a wetland by the federal government, particularly since development on farmland is already restricted under Oregon’s land use system.

The agency should be careful not to exceed the boundary of its statutory authority in developing the statewide wetland inventory, Clem, the committee’s chair, said. “I would put this whole program under review.”

Other committee members also expressed worries about the inventory.

While obtaining a fill removal permit in a designated wetland is possible through the purchase of mitigation credits, that’s not always financially feasible, said Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio.

“Being able to afford it is something totally different,” she said.

Rep. Brock-Smith, R-Port Orford, said landowners may lack the personnel to deal with the permitting process, while Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, requested an economic impact study of the statewide inventory and its effects.

While certain wetlands may be missing from the national inventory map maintained by the federal government, that doesn’t mean that federal agencies don’t have authority over them, said Ryan of DSL.

Areas not on the federal map can still be regulated under the Clean Water Act and state officials would use the same parameters to decide whether property contains a wetland, he said.

The goal of the statewide inventory is to show people where the agency has wetland authority so they don’t unintentionally break the law, Ryan said.

“That is really what this inventory is for,” he said. “We’re not increasing our jurisdiction at all.”

The Oregon Farm Bureau wouldn’t necessarily oppose DSL’s mapping project but it’s concerned about how broadly the agency is defining wetlands, said Mary Anne Cooper, the group’s public policy counsel.

The statewide inventory would presume many properties are wetlands until the landowner proves they’re not, she said.

“We think they’ve taken a very expansive view of their jurisdiction and have not honored some of the carve-outs that legislators have made to reduce their jurisdiction,” Cooper said.

Register now for OSU Extension Small Farm School

By Heidi Noordijk/OSU Extension

AURORA, Ore. — Small Farm School, an educational program for beginning small-acreage farmers, is accepting registrations for its July 12 event at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City.

Small Farm School is aimed at beginning small-scale commercial farmers in the Willamette Valley. Workshop topics include poultry and fowl, fruit and vegetables, marketing, leasing farm land, pasture, fencing and small farm tools and equipment. Featured presenters include Woody Lane of Lane Livestock Services, Josh Volk of Slow Hand Farm and Dave Holderread of the Holderread Waterfowl Farm and Preservation Center.

Small Farm School is a collaboration between OSU Extension, Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District, Clackamas Community College, Rogue Farm Corps and Friends of Family Farmers.

Early bird registration is open through June 27. There is a $75 registration fee for adults and $50 for youth 13-18 with an adult. Registration covers class materials, morning refreshments and lunch. Pre-registration is required. Class offerings and online registrations will be available through July 5 at:http://smallfarms.oregonstate. edu/small-farm-school.

Please call Heidi Noordijk at 971-801-0392 .

Organic food sales up 6.4 percent in 2017

Organic food sales in the U.S. have come a long way in 20 years, growing from $3.4 billion in 1997 to $45.2 billion in 2017. Last year’s sales were up 6.4 percent year over year, well above the 1.1 percent growth in the overall food market and claiming 5.5 percent of the nearly $822.2 billion in total sales.

“Consumers love organic, and now we’re able to choose organic in practically every aisle of the store,” Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of the Organic Trade Association, said in a press release accompanying the latest data on organic sales.

The 2018 Organic Industry Survey was conducted in January by Nutrition Business Journal on behalf of OTA, with 250 companies participating.

The growth rate was below the 9 percent increase seen in 2016 and the double-digit increases from 2012 to 2015, but some slowdown was expected as the organic market matures. New channel and product expansions are becoming more incremental rather than revolutionary, according to OTA.

“The organic market will see a steadier pace of growth as it matures, but it will continue to surpass the growth rate of the broader food market,” Batcha said.

Produce remained the top organic category in 2017 with $16.5 billion in sales on 5.3 percent growth. Fresh produce accounted for 90 percent of those sales, but organic dried beans, dried fruits and dried vegetables increased 9 percent.

Organic beverages rose 10.9 percent to $5.9 billion, making it the third-largest organic category. The driver was fresh juices with $1.2 billion in sales, an increase of 25 percent. Non-dairy organic beverage alternatives such as almond, soy, coconut and rice drinks also gained popularity.

But it was a challenging year in the dairy and egg category. While still the second-largest selling organic category, sales grew just 0.9 percent to $6.5 billion.

Many producers have entered the organic dairy market over the last several years, creating a new wave of supply. But that supply hit the market as demand for organic milk began to shift to more plant-based beverages — creating a situation of too much of a good thing, OTA said.

Despite the slump in milk sales, sales of organic ice cream were up more than 9 percent in 2017, and organic cheese sales grew by almost 8 percent.

In the egg market, pasture-raised eggs presented stiff competition for organic eggs in 2017.

OTA blames the fallout in poultry and dairy on USDA, saying the requirements regarding outdoor access for organic poultry and livestock are unclear and inconsistently applied.

OTA worked to advance organic livestock and poultry rules to clarify required practices, but USDA withdrew the proposal in 2017.

“USDA’s squelching of this regulation widely supported by the organic sector caused millions of consumers to question the meaning and relevance of the USDA organic seal as it relates to dairy and egg products. This confusion and uncertainty dampened consumer demand for both organic eggs and organic dairy,” OTA said.

Non-food organic sales saw a 7.4 percent increase to $4.2 billion, with sales of organic fiber leading the pack at $1.6 billion.

Deck Family Farm to sell pork through craft meat distributor

Deck Family Farm, a small, organic livestock producer in the Mid-Willamette Valley, has started selling pasture-raised pork to a craft meat distributor based in Seattle that specializes in doorstep deliveries.

Crowd Cow, launched in 2015 by startup entrepreneurs Ethan Lowry and Joe Heitzeberg, announced in April the company would add pork to its line of meat products, including bacon, sausage, chorizo, ribs and pork chops.

Customers on the West Coast will get their orders from Deck Family Farm, of Junction City, Ore. The farm, run by John and Christine Deck, raises Wattle-Berkshire crossbreed pigs on more than 300 acres of certified organic pastures, along with beef cows, chickens and lambs.

In addition to raising livestock, Christine Deck said the operation focuses heavily on environmental stewardship. Over the last 15 years, Deck Family Farm has planted 60,000 trees and restored more than a mile of riparian corridors in the Long Tom River watershed.

“We’re pretty serious about doing things right,” Deck said.

Deck Family Farm typically sells direct to consumers at farmers markets, or through the farm’s own community-supported agriculture model. While their products are more expensive than buying meat at the grocery store, Deck said their customers are “voting with their dollar to make a difference in the environment, and their ecosystem.”

“We don’t sell to consumers. We sell to citizen eaters,” she said. “Our buyers and us work together to do the right thing.”

The deal with Crowd Cow allows them to focus more time on farming and less on marketing, Deck said.

The farm began talking with Crowd Cow about four years ago, though purchases only started within the last six months.

Crowd Cow, as its name suggests, got its start in beef, buying cows from small, independent farms. Animals are bought one at a time, individually crowd-funded by buyers, with cuts of meat shipped to their homes.

The company announced in April it would add pork to its line of products — expanding into “Crowd Sow.” In a prepared statement, Heitzeberg, CEO and co-founder of Crowd Cow, said they are looking forward to partnering with small-scale producers who are preserving heritage breeds and brining their flavors to American eaters.

“We’re excited to be part of the transformation away from traditionally raised American meat and into ethically minded consumerism,” Heitzeberg said.

West Coast buyers will receive pork from Deck Family Farm, while those from east of the Rocky Mountains will receive purebred Berkshire pork from Autumn’s Harvest Farm in Upstate New York.