App connects local farms, customers

SPOKANE — Vince Peak and Eric Kobe are the innovators behind Share.Farm, a new smart phone application that helps local farmers find potential customers, and vice versa.

“We want people to know where their food’s from, what goes into producing that product and getting it to them — having a more close relationship with that local farm and seller,” Peak said.

In addition to allowing farmers to offer their crops for sale through the app, it also shows which restaurants purchase local items and serve them on their menu, Peak said.

The app also shows potential customers which local products are available nearby, or if they pass a participating farm or market, they will receive a notification of the products available.

The app launched in August. Peak said they have 1,000 customers in the Spokane area, the company’s primary territory.

The app provides farmers with another revenue source, Kobe said. Small-scale farmers who have produce to sell can use the app to reach customers.

With the app, farmers can sell product seven days a week instead of just two or three like they’re doing at farmers’ markets, Kobe said.

Kobe said the app allows vendors to share their stories directly with customers, and buyers to know where their food comes from. It’s one-stop marketing, he said.

Farmers use the app by downloading it free of charge from the Apple or Google stores, logging on, listing all items for sale and linking to a payment processor to conduct transactions through the phone. When they get an order they can then determine the means of distribution — delivery, on-farm pickup or a mutual meet-up point.

“All you need is to setup a vendor profile, list the items you want to sell and they must be grown by you or your business,” according to the website.

Farm.Share does not charge a vendor fee but has a service charge of 7-13 percent, depending on the size of the order, according to the website. The app uses the Stripe Connect Express for immediate payouts to sellers.

Some 130 farmers, primarily in Eastern Washington, are signed up.

Peak said the company is talking to farmers in Wenatchee and Yakima about selling directly there. He also plans to start targeting Seattle and Portland.

Adam Hegsted, chef for the Eat Good Group, uses the app to buy local products for all of his restaurants.

“We try to get as much local product as possible,” he said. “Getting product in the winter is not always easy. If there’s more people buying things on a regular basis, more things will be available.”

Peak and Kobe say they got involved because they care about what they eat and want to direct purchasing dollars to local farmers and businesses.

Smaller users, such as gardeners, could also make money selling their crops using the app, Peak said.

Using the app, livestock can also be pre-sold before it even goes to slaughter, Kobe said.

The creators are working with sellers to improve the app.

Kobe hopes to reach 5,000 customers in 2019.

“We’re surrounded by amazing farms all over the place,” he said. “This is one of the biggest growing places in the country, and no one’s buying as much local food as they could. Users will be able to see sellers who are in their own backyard.”

Voluntary plans in place to preserve farming in 27 Washington counties

Voluntary guidelines for protecting wetlands, wildlife habitat and other environmentally sensitive ground are now in place in the 27 Washington counties that opted into what’s billed as an incentive-based, farm-friendly option to the Growth Management Act.

The State Conservation Commission recently approved the last of the work plans submitted by counties. The plans are an alternative to county ordinances that could have imposed large, uniform vegetation buffers between farms and water.

Farmers can participate, or not, by conferring with conservation districts. Washington Farm Bureau CEO John Stuhlmiller said he hopes they will.

“This has the potential to provide a very long-lasting benefit to ag, while protecting the environment,” he said. “It could change the landscape forever.”

The Voluntary Stewardship Program has been about a dozen years in the making. It stems from the conflict that arose between agriculture and the 1990 GMA’s command that counties protect sensitive environmental areas.

Counties were required to adopt rules to comply with the law, and farmers in some counties faced losing the use of large chunks of their property to mandatory setbacks from water.

The Legislature in 2007 put a moratorium on new county restrictions and let farm groups, environmental organizations, counties and Native American tribes try to work out their differences. The talks led to lawmakers in 2011 giving counties the option of developing plans that seek to maintain or enhance agriculture, wetlands and habitat in their current condition. Twelve counties, despite urging from the Farm Bureau, opted to not participate.

The plans were years in the making. Instead of what farm groups deride as “big, dumb buffers,” the stewardship program relies on farmers working with conservation districts to protect watersheds.

The State Conservation Commission has presented a two-year, $9.9 million budget proposal to implement and monitor the plans.

“The real exciting part is these plans are truly non-regulatory,” Stuhlmiller said. “No farm can be forced to do anything.”

The voluntary program does not change other laws. If conditions degrade in a watershed, a county can ask state and federal agencies to crack down, according to state law.

The program, however, assures farmers that maintaining the environmental conditions that existed on July 22, 2011, are what’s expected of them.

“That is a big deal — to give ag that certainty,” Stuhlmiller said. “We’re going to show, ‘Hey, ag really does do good things.’ “

The counties that opted into the Voluntary Stewardship Program are: Adams, Asotin, Benton, Chelan, Columbia, Cowlitz, Douglas, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Grays Harbor, Kittitas, Lewis, Lincoln, Mason, Okanogan, Pacific, Pend Oreille, San Juan, Skagit, Spokane, Stevens, Thurston, Walla Walla, Whitman and Yakima.

NRCS Idaho announces application deadline for EQIP funding

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service operations in Idaho will accept project applications under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program’s current funding cycle through Jan. 18. The deadline applies to currently funded special projects, national initiatives and Regional Conservation Partnership projects.

NRCS Idaho said in a news release that it accepts EQIP applications continuously, but only those received by Jan. 18 will be considered for funding during the current cycle. Applications received after the deadline will be reviewed in subsequent cycles.

EQIP helps agricultural producers complete resource conservation projects and make conservation-related management changes on their farms or ranches. Conservation program participation is voluntary, and helps private landowners and operators defray installation and other costs.

Bioengineered food label rules draw criticism

While farm groups are pleased with USDA’s new disclosure standard for bioengineered foods, others are not.

Some public interest and environmental advocacy groups contend the standard is deceptive and doesn’t go far enough to identify genetically modified foods and inform consumers.

They take issue with the term “bioengineered,” the permitted methods of disclosure and the omission of foods they say should be labeled as genetically modified.

“This deceptive rule will keep people in the dark about what they’re eating and feeding their families,” Wenonah Hauter, director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement.

“It is meant to confuse consumers, not inform them. This deception is a tool being utilized to maximize corporate profits, plain and simple, she said.

The use of “bioengineered,” rather than GMOs, is a deceptive strategy because consumers don’t know what that means. In addition, the use of digital codes and other technology makes GMO disclosure more difficult for consumers, and the definitions of what triggers labeling are far too limited, she said.

Options for disclosure include text, symbol, electronic or digital link, text message and a phone number or web address where consumers can access information.

The standard does not apply to foods such as meat, milk and eggs derived from animals fed forage or grain developed through biotechnology. It also does not apply to highly refined products such as sugar or oil derived from biotech crops.

The Environmental Working Group said the disclosure rule fails to meet the intent of Congress to create a mandatory disclosure standard that includes all genetically engineered foods and to use terms consumers understand.

It also fails to address the needs of consumers who don’t have expensive phones or who live in rural places with poor cell service, EWG said.

Whole farm management hybrid course offered

Oregon State University is offering a multi-part, hybrid online/in-person course for people who want to learn the basics of farm management.

The course includes a series of online modules combined with a field trip, three in-person class times and the Small Farms Conference.

“Growing Farms: Successful Whole Farm Management provides farmers with the tools and knowledge needed to develop and manage a successful farm business,” according to the course website. “This course is intended for people who are considering starting a farm business, those within their first five years of farming and others who may be considering major changes to their farm business.”

For more information, including a schedule, go to the event’s website. The cost is $150.

“The course was developed by OSU Small Farms Program faculty and other farm management experts, and is presented in an interactive and graphically rich format.”

NRCS invites farmers to ‘soil your undies’

Talk about a strange harvest.

Earlier this year, six Eastern Oregon farmers and ranchers agreed to bury pairs of cotton underwear in their fields and dig them back up later in the season as part of the “Soil Your Undies” challenge, organized by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Not much remained of the tattered, torn and threadbare britches — and that’s precisely the point. The “Soil Your Undies” challenge was devised to illustrate the presence of tiny microorganisms like mites, bacteria, fungi and protozoa that make up healthy soil, and which devour the organic cotton fibers in underpants.

NRCS Oregon is now ready to roll out the challenge statewide, inviting any and all growers to participate in 2019.

“This challenge is no substitute for lab testing,” said Cory Owens, NRCS Oregon state soil scientist. “But it’s a fun way to start thinking about what’s going on in the soil.”

According to the NRCS, one teaspoon of healthy soil contains more microbes than the entire human population on Earth. Working in concert, the bitty organisms are a critically important feature in soil, cycling nutrients for plants, storing moisture and helping to resist erosion.

Robert Hathorne, a spokesman for NRCS Oregon, said the more microbes break down undies, the stronger the indication of healthy soil.

“It’s a way to start thinking about what’s happening that causes soil health,” Hathorne said.

Six Oregon producers took the challenge in 2018, including Joe McElligott and Corey Miller, of Morrow County, and Woody Wolfe, Joe Dawson, Alan Klages and Mark Butterfield, of Wallowa County.

“They thought it was all pretty funny,” Hathorne said. “All of them had really strong results from what we found.”

The only exception was Butterfield, who was unable to find his underwear after sneaky cows stole the marker flag he had used to mark the spot.

Even McElligott and Miller, who farm dryland wheat in an area that receives just 9-12 inches of rain every year, found their undies were eaten down to just the elastic. Both growers use a no-till or reduced tillage system, leaving crop residue in the field to replenish soil organic matter.

Hathorne said the NRCS is hoping the results lead to more interest in the “Soil Your Undies” challenge in 2019. To participate, farmers should “plant” a pair of 100 percent cotton underwear at the beginning of the normal growing season, and leave them for at least 60 days. Send “before” and “after” photos, along with information about the farm and growing practices, to, or to any local NRCS office.

Research co-op lands third grant to develop organic veggies

CORVALLIS, Ore. — For the third time in nine years, the USDA will fund a multi-state research program dedicated to breeding new cultivars of vegetables specially adapted for organic farms.

The Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Cooperative, or NOVIC, started in 2009 with a $2 million grant from the Organic Research and Extension Initiative, part of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. It received a second $2 million grant in 2014, and was once again awarded $2 million earlier this year.

Jim Myers, a plant breeder and professor of horticulture at Oregon State University, serves as project director for NOVIC, a collaboration of breeders and farmers who work together on developing new organic varieties. Other research partners include the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cornell University, the Organic Seed Alliance in Port Townsend, Wash., and USDA Agricultural Research Service Plant Genetic Resources Unit in Geneva, N.Y.

Myers said it is extremely rare for a project to be funded three times by the USDA, which goes to show the quality and impact of their work.

“It’s nice to have the continuity, to have a long run like this,” Myers said. “We have a lot of things in the pipeline and they’re looking at us to finish them.”

Myers’ research focuses on tomatoes — specifically, finding varieties that are resistant to late blight and other diseases. The co-op is also performing variety trials on sweet corn, winter squash, peppers and cabbage, targeting resilience to insects and weeds.

Organic crops cannot be raised with conventional fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Myers said organic growers need robust and stable varieties, able to tolerate conditions and fend off pests or diseases that would normally be controlled with spraying.

“You’re trying to use natural inputs, and have a fairly closed system so there’s not a lot coming from the outside,” he said.

NOVIC trials have already resulted in a number of new releases alongside grower partners, such as the “Iron Lady” and “Brandywine” tomatoes, “Honeynut” squash and “Solstice” broccoli.

“Then there are about a dozen things that are coming along in the way of peas, sweet corn, tomatoes and winter squash,” Myers added.

Myers pointed to one example of a sweet Italian pepper, named “Stocky Red Roaster,” that was developed in partnership with Frank Morton, of Wild Garden Seed in Philomath, Ore. He said the pepper helped to put Morton and his company on the map, earning a reputation with chefs in Portland and contributing to the city’s “foodie” reputation.

“In general terms, what I think we’re looking for are varieties that do well for growers and make them more profitable, and then provide more nutritious food to consumers and end users,” Myers said.

This latest round of funding should sustain the program for another four years, Myers said. In that time, the co-op aims to start posting trial results to an online database called “eOrganic,” while continuing outreach through field days, work shops and publications.

Small Farms Conference registration opens Dec. 17

Registration for Oregon State University’s popular Small Farms Conference opens Dec. 17.

The conference will be conducted Feb. 23 at the LaSells Steward Center and CH2M Hill Alumni Center at Oregon State University’s Corvallis campus.

“The Oregon Small Farms Conference is a daylong event geared toward farmers, agricultural professionals, food policy advocates, students and managers of farmers markets,” according to the event’s website.  “Twenty-seven educational sessions are offered on a variety of topics relevant to the Oregon small farmers and include a track in Spanish. Speakers include farmers, OSU Extension faculty, agribusiness, and more.”

Early Bird registration will be available Dec. 17 through Jan. 20 for $60 per person. Thereafter through Feb. 13 registration will be $85 per person. Conference organizers warn that registration is limited and could close before Feb. 13.

For more information, go to the conference website.


Researcher identifies new weapons against slugs

Essential oils from thyme and spearmint are proving lethal to crop-damaging slugs without the toxicity to humans, animals or the environment that chemical solutions can present.

An added advantage of these oils is the rapid mortality they cause in slugs, whereas the most common chemical molluscicide used by Oregon farmers, metaldehyde, simply causes them to stop feeding, said Rory McDonnell, Oregon State University’s slug specialist.

“The oils were essentially just as effective as metaldehyde in killing grey field slugs,” the worst culprits in Oregon grass seed fields, McDonnell said during the Oregon Seed League’s annual meeting, held in Salem, Ore., on Dec. 10-11.

Thyme and spearmint oils achieved 100 percent mortality at a concentration of just 0.25 percent, most likely through direct contact with slugs — though it’s possible their volatile emissions could also serve as repellents for the pest, McDonnell said.

Because they’re natural compounds, these oils would be exempt from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s registration and residue tolerance regulations for conventional pesticides, he said.

Before they could be commercialized as biological pesticides, data would need to be submitted to the Oregon Department of Agriculture proving they’re not toxic to humans or non-target organisms, though this should be a big obstacle, McDonnell said.

“I’ll eat my hat if it’s toxic,” he said.

McDonnell was hired by OSU in 2016 after Oregon farmers told the university’s leaders that more research was needed to fight slugs, which have become increasingly destructive in recent years.

Another positive development from McDonnell’s research is the discovery of a nematode that’s naturally parasitic to grey field slugs — phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita — on OSU’s campus in Corvallis, Ore.

The location if the discovery was ironic given that McDonnell had traveled thousands of miles around the state searching for the species, which is native to Europe and used in slug control there.

“The darn thing was a stone’s throw from my office,” he said.

Since then, McDonnell has discovered two other nematode species in Oregon that show promise as biological control agents.

In the United Kingdom, the phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita nematode is sold as a commercial biopesticide that’s been shown to reduce slug damage in winter wheat by 85 percent, he said.

The nematode finds a hole in the back of a slug’s head, then vomits up a bacterial soup that’s toxic to the gastropod. As the slug’s body decomposes, the nematode’s offspring feed on its corpse.

The BASF chemical company also markets the nematode in Europe, producing it in enormous vats through a secret process, McDonnell said.

Before the nematode can be commercialized in the U.S., BASF or another pesticide manufacturer would need to demonstrate to USDA that it’s not harmful to other species, such as the native banana slug.

“I think that would be a major stumbling block,” he said.

Innovation makes work easier for rancher

JUNCTION CITY, Ore. — Pam Detering wants to make her life as easy as possible. Having worked as a one-person cattle operation, she relies on her dog and technology to keep Rock’n D Ranch going.

The family-operated ranch has been selling Black Angus beef for over 50 years. When Detering joined her husband’s operation, he focused on the farm and she focused on the cattle. Recently she’s partnered with Heather and Donald Fleckenstein of Dynamite Farms, who market their bulls with her.“If you’re going to be a one person farm, you need to make it easy on yourself,” she said.

The mission of Rock’n D Ranch is to provide genetics for people to raise Certified Angus Beef, known as CAB. She said when someone goes to a grocery store and buys CAB meat, it’s guaranteed to be good because of how difficult it is to be registered as certified. She sends her steers to Beef Northwest, which finishes them and sells them to Tyson, where they enter the CAB pipeline.

“If we’re going to raise meat, let’s make it the best we can,” she said. “I always encourage (the CAB route), but there is a risk involved.”

Detering grew up in the cattle world. Even though ranching is second nature to her, there have been shifts she’s made to make the farm more efficient through irrigation methods, haylage and rotational grazing.

“It changed everything,” she said. “It all fits together.”

She feeds haylage during the winter and uses the straw from grass seed for bedding that can later be used for compost. She also intensely rotationally grazes to keep the grass fresh every day; she grazes 100 pair on 125 acres. Her pasture has been in production for 40 years, and the gains on her bulls are 3.5 pounds a day.

Her biggest challenge is timing. She weans her cows in fall, calving begins the first of January and breeding starts at the end of March. She said the strategy doesn’t work for everyone, but her bulls are bigger and over a year old when she sells them.

Rock’n D Ranch hosts its own sale. Detering doesn’t call it an auction because it’s not as high pressure. She said her bulls average $3,400.

Another accomplishment that has made Detering’s life easier is the corral that Danny Menenes, a dairy farmer in California, built for her. With 57 gates and an octagonal pen, she said that with the help of her dog she can sort 100 head of cattle in less than five minutes.

“No one else has one like it; it’s unique,” she said. “This makes my life really cool and my job a joy to do.”

It’s important for Detering to stay involved. She said she learns new things every day, especially with technological advancements moving quickly. She is also part of local grazing groups, which have helped her solve problems.

“I think about it all night long, what I am going to do the next day,” she said. “This is my passion. This is what I do, what I’ve always done.”