New sheep dairy opens in SW Oregon

LANGLOIS, Ore. — Armed with years of sheep-raising experience, agriculture degrees from Oregon State University and a lot of support from fellow sheep growers, entrepreneurs Woody Babcock and Cora Wahl have opened a sheep dairy in Langlois, Ore.

The couple started Woodrow Farms LLC in 2018 with 73 East Friesian ewes and started milking them in 2019. Hoping to increase their flock to 220 by next year, they are now milking 100 ewes and selling all of the milk to Face Rock Creamery in nearby Bandon.

Woody, 29, and Cora, 27, have degrees in ag science and ag business. They met as students at OSU.

Woody, who was selected in 2014 as one of two young shepherds to represent the U.S. at the second World Ovinpiades challenge in the Auvergne region of France, gained his experience from working and shearing for other sheep growers.

Cora, who was born and raised in Langlois, grew up working on her family’s sheep ranch.

“It’s been a chaotic year and if we both hadn’t known a lot about sheep, we wouldn’t have made it,” Woody said. “The first five months we milked twice a day. With three hours per milking (considering clean up and everything) and feeding and working with all of the bummer lambs, it added up to very long days.”

In addition, he sheared on the side to help make ends meet, so at times Cora was left to do it all by herself.

“We recently cut to milking once a day so at least until it’s time to start up again we can take time to go to dinner,” he said.

“Still, he said, “the whole project came together through a community effort, and if it weren’t for the help of friends and family there wouldn’t be a dairy.”

Cora and Woody, who for the last four years were in charge of 1,000 bummer lambs on the Wahl family ranch, were unknowingly preparing themselves for the sheep dairy business.

“Raising bummer lambs is an important part of a sheep dairy and it is very intensive work,” Cora said. “We worked closely Woody Lane, a livestock nutritionist and forage specialist who developed an early weaning system that pulls the lambs off milk replacer in 21 days and puts them on grain.”

They keep replacement ewe lambs so they can get their numbers up and sell the rest, she said.

“We definitely have had a leg up in the game by knowing how to raise bummer lambs at a profit,” she said.

With advice from the USDA inspectors who contributed to the information on parlor construction and help from fellow sheep growers, the couple renovated an old dairy parlor and barn on property they rent from Brownsville friend and adviser Reed Anderson.

They were able to buy the milking parlor equipment from Mac Stewart of Salem.

Brad Sinko, co-owner and cheesemaker at Face Rock Creamery, is optimistic about what Woody and Cora are doing.

“Sheep milk is more nutritious and also more expensive but that didn’t scare people off when during the years I was making cheese for Beecher’s Hand Made Cheese in Seattle,” Sinko said. “It’s pretty neat having a local source of sheep milk only 10 miles away. We are starting with a half-and-half cow and sheep block cheddar and a natural rinded cloth-bound wheel, which will make a milder cheese.”

The new product should be on the shelf ready to buy in about six months, he said.


A dry farming trial produces some success

In mid-May, as soon as the sun came out and the soil warmed, Teresa Retzlaff dug into the earth at 46 North Farm. She filled holes with seeds and starts of zucchini, dry beans, summer squash and more. She covered the holes with soil and made sure the beds were free of weeds.

And then, she walked away.

About 10 miles down the road, the same thing happened at LaNa Conscious Farm. On a 2,000-square-foot plot of land, Larry and Nancy Nelson’s field was filled with the same plant varieties and, aside from light weeding, was left untouched.

Now, in late August, the starts have grown to produce-bearing plants. The zucchinis’ wide leaves shade dozens of vegetables, the full-sized tomatoes are ripening from green to red. One of Retzlaff’s winter squash is more than 2 feet long.

All of this happened without any irrigation.

“I didn’t really think it was going to work,” Retzlaff said. “I kind of thought they’d all be dead in a few weeks and they weren’t … It was phenomenal.”

The process is called dry farming. Farmers who practice it do not irrigate their plants throughout the dry summer season. Aside from occasional rainfall, plants rely only on moisture from below the surface to sustain growth.

It’s a historic agricultural practice, but until recently it has remained widely unheard of on the Oregon Coast.

In 2015, Amy Garrett, an assistant professor at Oregon State University, kick-started a dry farm trial that now stretches across the state. As of 2019, three farms on the coast participate in the trial, two of them just a short drive from downtown Astoria.

“It seems like the coast is a really good place for dry farming, mostly because of the climate,” said Matthew Davis, the project coordinator at Oregon State for dry farm site suitability. “It’s a lot cooler on the coast … It’s just a more forgiving place.”

Davis began working with the project in May under professor Alex Stone and alongside Garrett. Their research is ongoing.

Davis visited both North Coast farms in May, where he installed plants and soil moisture monitors. The monitors are inserted and left in the ground, where the small white rods and green cords help scientists and farmers know how much moisture is being held in the soil below.

“Dry farming doesn’t mean that no water is used by the plant,” Davis said. “Water is stored in the soil, it’s held there.”

The farm’s soil type controls how much water is held. On the coast, moist soil and a high water table, coupled with the cool, damp climate is the reason both farms have seen success.

“The plants are less stressed, I think, in the coastal environment,” Garrett said. “Teresa was kind of our pioneer there.”

Quality, not quantity

Retzlaff got involved with the project in 2016, and has dry farmed a portion of her plants ever since. This year, she is dry farming eight rows of produce for the trial’s research and 10 additional rows on her own.

Dry farming is not a yield-maximization strategy. In order for dry farming to work, plants are plotted more sparsely to decrease competition and help ensure each plant’s roots has access to enough water.

“You can’t plant as densely as you would if you are irrigating,” Retzlaff said. “Because all the moisture they have is just what’s in the soil.”

But for Retzlaff, her main goal isn’t the quantity of produce, it’s the quality.

Dry-farmed produce typically has a stronger flavor and a firmer texture. Retzlaff strongly prefers the taste of her dry-farmed crops.

Oregon State’s small farms collaborative conducted blind taste tests, where consumers and farmers preferred the dry-farmed produce over the same variety that was irrigated.

“They have a very intense flavor because they’re not watery,” Retzlaff said. “Because you’re not watering them.”

Last year, 46 North Farm sold their dry-farmed produce to local restaurants. The Astoria Golf and Country Club’s kitchen bought more than 80 pounds of dry-farmed zucchini and squash.

“They had a really nice, concentrated flavor,” said chef Gehrett Billinger, who used the produce on specialty dishes, to create kimchi and to flavor beverages and meat marinades. “It’s a really really delightful flavor.”

“And,” he said, “I like that it uses less resources.”

Resource conservation is one of the aspects that initially sparked the dry-farmed trial, and it’s a theme that keeps farmers and researchers coming back year after year. As the climate changes, summer water availability has become a pressing issue.

“It’s of more interest now because of drought and decreased summer water availability,” Garrett said. “A lot of people are looking at alternatives to irrigated crop production in our dry season.”

The farmers that participate in the trial meet annually to discuss how specific crops weathered the dry season and exchange ideas to improve the next year’s yield.

“I think that this collaborative approach of adapting to a changing climate is super important given the predictions for summer water availability into the future,” she said. “We’re going to see a lot less of it.”

Coastal farmers, whose summer season is cooler and wetter than farmers in the Willamette Valley, are still paying attention to summer water access.

“Water is one of those resources, I feel like especially out here on the coast, we really take for granted because it feels like it’s so abundant,” Retzlaff said. “Just because you have a lot of it doesn’t mean you have to use all of it.

“If you’re a farmer and you’re irrigating with that water or you’re pulling that water out of a creek or a stream in August, that’s water that’s not being left in a waterway to help fish habitat and wildlife habitat. I think the more we can share with wildlife habitat, the better.”

Inherent risk

Retzlaff recognizes that not all farmers can practice dry farming. There is inherent risk with the technique. It requires fertile, moist soil and more land to produce the same yield. For some crops, dry farming is not a profitable practice.

“Part of the learning curve is finding out which crops you can break even on,” she said. “The zucchini has more than paid for itself already,” as have some of the squash varieties.

Other products, such as the dry beans, won’t make it to the public market, but will feed the 46 North Farm team throughout the upcoming season. Retzlaff will likely harvest just one or two melons per plant this year.

But even without the high yield, she saved time and money by not paying for water or labor to irrigate the plants for months.

“I feel like that’s profitable,” Retzlaff said. “There’s also the knowledge. To me, that’s a huge return on investment.”

There is also an economic incentive. On the Nelson’s farm, their winter water bill is typically around $35 a month. In the summer, that bill can be up to $250.

“I am fascinated in growing things without water because water is a big expense,” Nelson said. “The dry farming for me is just another aspect of the farming itself. It’s another tool in the tool shed that we can utilize to grow some things less expensive.”

Both farms still irrigate the majority of their crops, but they are hopeful to continue transitioning and evolving their dry farming for many seasons to come.

“The more that I can do dry-farmed, the more that I will do,” Retzlaff said. “It’s less of a resource that we’re pulling on, and I honestly feel like the plants are better for it.”


Dairy owner to share lessons learned in starting creamery

OLYMPIA — Rachael Taylor-Tuller and Matthew Tuller of Lost Peacock Creamery will share lessons they learned in starting their goat dairy during a crop walk Sept. 9.

“Join farmers Rachael Taylor-Tuller and Matthew Tuller of Lost Peacock Creamery as they share their story of how they came to be farmers, why they landed on a goat dairy, and how they are working to create a sustainable business model while sharing some of the harsh and humorous lessons they’ve learned along the way,” according to the event website. “As a veteran farmer, Rachael will talk about farming as a method of healing and guest experts will be on hand to share resources and opportunities that exist for veteran farmers.”

Participants will tour the farm and watch the afternoon milking.

The farm is located at Lost Peacock Creamery 5504 Cross Creek Lane NE, Olympia, Wash. The event begins at noon.

The cost of the event is $15 for students and Tilth Alliance members, and $25 for all others. Go to the event website to register.

 

 


Mechanical cultivation field day agenda set

Oregon State University is bringing back its mechanical cultivation field day for a second year, providing small-scale and mid-size farmers with the latest strategies for non-chemical weed control.

About 100 people attended last year’s field day at the OSU vegetable research farm in Corvallis. This year, OSU Extension Service is partnering with Washington State University Extension to offer two events — the first on Aug. 27 at WSU’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center, and the second on Aug. 29 at OSU’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, Ore.

Clare Sullivan, extension agronomist for OSU in Redmond, said the field days are funded by a small two-year grant through the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.

“The pull is really for more efficient ways to control weeds on the farm,” Sullivan said.

Part of the events will include live demonstrations of tractor-size and walk-behind equipment, as well as organic weed management tools like the Steam Weeder, which uses superheated water up to 250 degrees to kill weeds.

Both field days will begin at 10 a.m., and feature panel talks with local farmers discussing their cultivation experiences.

Registration is $25, and includes lunch. To register online for the OSU event, visit https://tinyurl.com/y6tj7qp9. To register for the WSU event, visit https://wsucultivatingfieldday.bpt.me/.

Oregon Program Agenda

9:30     On-site registration, coffee and snacks

9:45     Welcome, introductions and break into four groups

10:00   Walk-behind implement demonstrations (four stations, 20 minutes each)

11:25   Organic herbicides and steamer demonstrations

11:45   Lunch and visit vendor displays

1:00     Farmer panel

2:00     Break into three groups

2:10     Tractor-mounted implement demonstrations (three stations, 25 minutes each)

3:25     Turn in evaluations. Cold drinks and snacks.

3:30     Adjourn

 

Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019 WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center 2606 W Pioneer Ave, Puyallup, WA


Dry Farm Field Day at OSU Oak Creek Center

The OSU Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture will host its Dry Farm Field Day from 4 to 6 p.m. on Aug. 28.

The drop-in style event  includes a 30-minute guided field tour at 5 p.m. Participants will see see dry farmed potatoes, tomatoes, dry beans, melons, and winter squash. The crops were only irrigated once, in May, since their planting.

The OSU Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture is located at 844 SW 35th St., Corvallis.

The event is free, but registration is required.

“There will also be an opportunity to do side-by-side tastings of irrigated and dry farmed tomatoes and melons, visit with dry farmers and researchers, and learn about the various research projects engaging with the Dry Farming Collaborative,” according to the event website.


Youth livestock auction a bittersweet day for fair kids

HERMISTON — As Annikah Perez waited to sell her 147-pound lamb at the Umatilla County Fair’s youth livestock auction on Saturday, her voice wavered as she described the good times she had with Tulip.

“I’m very sad,” the 13-year-old Hermiston 4-H student said, sniffing. “I love Tulip very much.”

The sheep is stubborn, she said, “but that’s my favorite part about her.”

It was Annikah’s sixth year showing an animal at the fair, so she knew how hard it would be to say goodbye to the lamb she raised since birth. But she said she comes back year after year because she loves how much confidence she gains from the process.

Over the course of the hourslong auction in the largest barn at the fairgrounds, hundreds of thousands of dollars flowed from local businesses and individuals to area youths. Many of them plan to use the money for college, or to reinvest it into more animals next year.

The check comes at a price, however. Some of the animals sold at auction will be used for milk, for breeding or as a pet. But every kid who raises an animal for the fair also knows there is a good chance that the companion they fed and watered and walked for months is destined for someone’s dinner table.

Wyatt Harris, 11, from Echo, said the money he got from selling his sheep Smoke would go into his savings fund for college and a truck.

When asked whether he was worried about parting with Smoke, he shrugged.

“Not really,” he said. “I live on a farm so I kind of know what will happen.”

Macy Rosselle, 17, from Pendleton, was also pragmatic about what would happen to her grand champion goat Maverick, who sold for $12 a pound to United Grain Corporation.

“His purpose is for meat, and he will be fulfilling his purpose,” she said.

Still, it tugged at her heartstrings. Although Macy has 25 head of goats, Maverick was her award-winner she has traveled with to multiple fairs.

“He’s definitely my favorite goat by far,” she said. “I’m sad to see him go.”

Ayrin Davis 11, of Hermiston 4-H, had a harder time. She cried in the pens behind the auction arena after selling PJ, her backup lamb. She had already unexpectedly lost her primary lamb a week earlier when it got spooked by something and ran into a fence, breaking its neck.

Rapidash, she said, weighed much more than PJ and might have won grand champion.

“I cried for two and a half days,” she said.

The experience was part of the “circle of life” lessons that raising animals teaches youth who participate in 4-H and FFA.

Daytona Tracy, 16, said for some, that lesson is harder than others.

“You have to understand the process and know next year you’re going to get attached to another animal,” she said. “I know some kids are in it for the money, and then there are ones like me who get really attached.”

She said she tells herself each year that her animals are just going to a new home and “the worst is not going to happen.”

Her goat Rowdy went for $10.25 a pound to Nutrien Ag Solutions on Saturday. She put on a brave smile as she entered the ring with the 76-pound brown and white goat Saturday, but earlier in the week she got teary-eyed as she talked about their impending separation.

“He’s like my baby,” the Hermiston FFA student said. “When I first got him he wasn’t really tame at all so I had to hang out with him as much as possible. I would eat dinner with him.”

Sales results
This year’s auction “smashed” the previous sales record for the fair, according to coordinator Marie Linnell. She said the sales gross was $610,000 compared with the 2015 record of $494,000.

The sale included 53 steers at an average of $3.89 a pound, 120 hogs averaging $7.88 a pound, 60 lambs averaging $8.79 a pound, 17 goats at $12.62 a pound, 13 turkeys at $475 each, 1 pen of rabbits at $525 and one pen of chickens at $400.

In addition to bidding on animals, buyers can also choose to “bump” the check youths receive if their animal drew a price on the lower side. About 30 businesses participating in the UCF Bump program added an extra $28,000 to sales for more than 130 FFA and 4-H exhibitors.


On-farm FDA inspections prove time-consuming in Oregon

Federal regulators appear to be taking longer to complete on-farm inspections in Oregon under the Food Safety Modernization Act than state inspectors elsewhere in the U.S.

Inspections conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Oregon require up to two days per fresh produce grower, while the time is typically shorter where that duty is delegated to state inspectors, said Susanna Pearlstein, produce safety program manager for the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

The time needed for inspections could be a significant impact for growers who must devote staff to the process who would otherwise be driving tractors or performing other duties, she said.

While Congress overhauled the nation’s food safety system with the passage of FSMA in 2011, routine inspections of farms didn’t begin until this year. Federal authorities spent several years enacting rules for the program.

The task of conducting on-farm inspections was delegated to state regulators in many cases, but the Oregon Department of Agriculture is focusing on outreach and education while leaving FSMA inspections to FDA employees.

“It’s big and it’s complicated and it’s new,” said Pearlstein. “We’re here if people have questions.”

An FDA inspector in Oregon referred questions to a representative at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., who did not respond to calls for comment.

During this first year of routine inspections, the FDA is targeting growers with more than $500,000 in annual sales of fresh produce, but next year the agency plans to inspect operations with revenues of $250,000 to $500,000.

From the observations of ODA staff, there seems to be an opportunity to provide growers with more information on such subjects as cross-contamination of equipment, Pearlstein said. “We’re seeing a lot of emphasis on educational materials that are essentially needed for operations.”

The ODA has a program to help farmers prepare for FDA inspections with on-farm readiness reviews. The agency has conducted about 50 this year, she said.

The agency plans to update its materials based on its observations of the FDA process, Pearlstein said. “We’re all learning together.”

The FDA’s inspection was “intensive,” “time consuming” and “disruptive,” though the agency does seem open to making practical adjustments, said a farmer whose operation was inspected this year and didn’t want to be named.

“The tone is, ‘Let’s try to work things out,’ rather than the ‘put the screws to you’ tone,” the farmer said.

Some of the inspector’s expectations — such as bundles of produce immediately being placed in boxes instead of first laying in windrows — are unrealistic, the farmer said.

With Oregon produce farmers competing with those in Mexico who pay much lower wages, they must take labor-saving steps, the farmer said. “We have to be very efficient in how we do things.”


OSU brings back mechanical cultivation field day

Oregon State University is bringing back its mechanical cultivation field day for a second year, providing small-scale and mid-size farmers with the latest strategies for non-chemical weed control.

About 100 people attended last year’s field day at the OSU vegetable research farm in Corvallis. This year, OSU Extension Service is partnering with Washington State University Extension to offer two events — the first on Aug. 27 at WSU’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center, and the second on Aug. 29 at OSU’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, Ore.

Clare Sullivan, extension agronomist for OSU in Redmond, said the field days are funded by a small two-year grant through the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.

“The pull is really for more efficient ways to control weeds on the farm,” Sullivan said.

Part of the events will include live demonstrations of tractor-size and walk-behind equipment, as well as organic weed management tools like the Steam Weeder, which uses superheated water up to 250 degrees to kill weeds.

Both field days will begin at 10 a.m., and feature panel talks with local farmers discussing their cultivation experiences.

Registration is $25, and includes lunch. To register online, visit https://tinyurl.com/y6tj7qp9.


Commentary: Farmland loss is a national crisis, and felt mightily in West

By Hannah Clark

American Farmland Trust

Anyone who has taken a recent drive in America’s western states can see first-hand what we at American Farmland Trust have been saying for years: our farmland is disappearing at an alarming rate.

Between 1992 and 2012, 31 million acres of farmland and ranchland disappeared according to research from our recently released “Farms Under Threat” analysis — the most comprehensive study ever on agricultural land loss in the U.S.

While 31 million acres may not sound like a lot, at AFT, it set off alarm bells. It represents as much agricultural land as is in the state of Iowa. And, perhaps more importantly, 11 million of those acres were our best and most productive agricultural land — land most suitable for intensive food production with the fewest environmental impacts.

In a region so important to the nation’s food supply, AFT’s mantra and famous bumper sticker, “No Farms No Food,” is more poignant than ever. This region grows over 300 commodity crops, from apples and cherries, to potatoes, to sweet corn seed, to hops. It also has one of the fastest growing populations in the nation, and with that comes the demand for housing, shopping malls, schools, and highways — all resources that eat up farmland.

If we want to continue to enjoy the benefits of local farmland and ranchland — not just for delicious food and as a pillar of our economy, but also for the many important environmental benefits it provides — we must come together as Westerners to take action now.

This was made abundantly clear in the recent article, “Western farmland continues to disappear,” by Brad Carlson in the Capital Press.

Let me reiterate and even illuminate important points made in Mr. Carlson’s article.

The numbers coming out of Idaho, as noted in the article, and the numbers coming out of the West in terms of farmland loss are downright scary. We need local and state officials to pay attention to this and to invest in funding and tools for farmland protection.

It is also important to consider how one allows development to happen. Planning is important. Urban sprawl and low-density development are both very damaging to farmland. It is easy to recognize urban sprawl and perhaps simplest to address, compact growth strategies have worked well in communities. Low density development poses an equal threat to farmland, but is insidious, often not recognized before it is too late. This is development that pops up in rural areas creating pockets of houses surrounded by farmland.

Not only does this kind of development chew up prime land, it makes it more difficult for farmers to farm and often leads to the disappearance of key farming services and infrastructure like equipment and seed dealers.

Investing in tools like agricultural conservation easements is also critical. Agricultural conservation easements are a way to keep working farmland and ranchland working, forever — by extinguishing the development rights on a property and compensating the landowner for the value of those development rights. The land stays in production and in private ownership and can be sold or handed down to heirs — but with the promise that it will not be taken out of agriculture.

These issues get more and more critical with a massive generational transfer of land on the horizon. In Oregon alone, two-thirds of the agricultural land will change hands in the next decade or so — and the majority of those landowners don’t have an identified heir or succession plan. Across the West, including in Idaho, AFT is advancing programming to help a new generation of new and beginning farmers access land.

We need to double down on protecting agricultural land in the West.

In Washington state, we’re calling on the legislature to continue investing in the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, the only state source of funding for farmland protection.

In Oregon, the legislature has an opportunity to fund the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program, which would be the first state funding source for agricultural land protection and supporting a new generation of farmers.

And in Idaho, we are calling on elected leaders, especially in the Treasure Valley, to ensure good planning to protect our land base — and invest in supporting farmers and ranchers.

Perhaps it’s even time to consider a funding source for agricultural conservation easements in Idaho. After all — No Farms No Food and perhaps even, No Future!

Hannah Clark is AFT’s Pacific Northwest region director. She previously served as the executive director of the Washington Association of Land Trusts, a statewide coalition of 28 land conservation organizations dedicated to private voluntary land protection. Get in touch with Hannah at hclark@farmland.org.