Registration still open for Small Farms Conference

Registration for Oregon State University’s popular Small Farms Conference is still open.

The day-long event will be held Feb. 22, 2020, at OSU’s Corvallis campus at the LaSells Stewart Center and CH2M Hill Alumni Center.

“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. Speakers include farmers, OSU Extension faculty, agribusiness, and more.”

Registration through Feb. 7 is $85. Registration is not available at the door.

In addition to three seminar sessions, the conference includes a networking session, “Think With a Drink,” which will allow attendees to confer with other small farmers over beer, wine or cider.

For more information, go to the conference website.

The conference is sponsored by Northwest Farm Credit Services.


Training Latino farmers in sustainable ag

FOREST GROVE, Ore. — Growing up on his family’s 2-acre farm in Guatemala, Alejandro Tecum came to despise the arduous chore of hand-tilling fields to plant crops such as corn, beans and squash.

Though he didn’t know it at the time, Tecum said he was also hurting the soil by robbing it of nutrients and organic matter needed to grow healthy food.

“We have destroyed the soil to an extreme that what we eat, it doesn’t contain nutrition anymore,” Tecum said during a recent interview from his office in Forest Grove, Ore., west of Portland. “We have killed all the life in the soil that provides the nutrients to the vegetable, for example.”

Tecum, 59, now teaches regenerative farming practices for Adelante Mujeres, a nonprofit organization that supports Latina women and their families through adult education and youth outreach programs.

Last year, Adelante Mujeres received a $400,000 grant to expand its sustainable agriculture program, working with five other groups in Western Oregon to help minority farmers start their own businesses, while learning to care for the land.

The project includes Rogue Farm Corps based in Ashland; Huerto de la Familia in Eugene; The Next Door in Hood River; Our Table Cooperative in Sherwood; and Zenger Farms in Portland.

A teacher by profession, Tecum was hired as the sustainable agriculture education manager for Adelante Mujeres in 2005. He has embraced regenerative farming, which he says goes beyond organic, and sworn off the conventional growing practices and chemicals he once used nonchalantly.

“It is the care we give to the soil,” Tecum said. “We feed the soil with every single organic matter that we can find.”

The 12-week course, taught entirely in Spanish, covers soil biology, pest management, disease management, composting and irrigation. That includes several hands-on workshops at the local Forest Grove Community Gardens.

“I have seen many changes in the participants,” Tecum said. “The best reward for me is when I go to their garden, their farms, and I see they are putting into practice the techniques that we are teaching them. When I see the soil becoming richer every year, or when they say, ‘Oh, I cannot eat vegetables from the store now, because of the flavor,’ that’s the kind of compliments I get.”

The real challenge, Tecum said, is convincing people to join the program. Most of the Latinos that come to Adelante Mujeres are trying to get away from farming — either they have already spent years working as a farm laborer, or because farming it is seen as a second-class job.

“I tell them that agriculture or farming is a science, and an art,” Tecum said. “I tell them that, if you come to the class, you may change your mind. And they do.”

The USDA grant will help them to reach even more Latino and Hispanic farmers by partnering with other nonprofits, forming the Western Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Collaborative, Tecum said.

According to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture, Latino or Hispanic producers owned land on 1,666 Oregon farms and rented or leased land on 345 farms in 2017, accounting for about 5% of all farms statewide. That is roughly double the number from five years earlier, when Latino or Hispanic producers owned land on 803 farms and leased land on 186 farms.

Washington County has the highest percentage of Latinos in Oregon, rising from 50,000 in 2000 to almost 90,000 in 2014. Adelante Mujeres originally began as a program under Centro Cultural de Washington County, Oregon’s oldest Latino nonprofit, before spinning off as its own group in 2002.

The sustainable agriculture program started in 2005, in conjunction with Adelante Mujeres relaunching the Forest Grove Farmers Market.

From providing jobs to introducing healthier eating habits, Tecum said the program has proven invaluable to the community.

“I think it is necessary, if we want to live a good life, to eat healthy food,” Tecum said. “The only way to eat healthy food is to take care of the soil.”


University extension offers succession planning

The University of Idaho Extension Service will offer a four-class course on succession planning at the Gooding County extension office.

The classes will help farmers and ranchers identify a successor, evaluate financial viability to transition, develop transfer strategies and determine the next step in the process.

The classes are set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Feb. 26 and March 4, 11 and 18.

Cost is $100 per farm or ranch for the four-day course. Lunch and materials are included.

The registration deadline is Feb. 21. To register or for more information, call (208) 934-4417.


Blue gold: Put water rights to good use

SALEM — The most important asset farmers own is not the land, said Peter Mohr, a natural resources attorney. “It’s the water right.”

Because water is considered blue gold, it provokes disputes across the U.S.

“Water rights are a serious business,” said Mohr. “I came from the intermountain West in Colorado, where people bludgeon, kill and maim over this stuff.”

Mohr was speaking to a crowd of farmers at the Northwest Ag Show Jan. 16 in Salem, Ore.

Know your rights
Mohr said he gets numerous calls from landowners who don’t understand their water rights.

Farmers who inherit land, said Mohr, don’t always know the historic water use for their property. Those who buy land, he said, often don’t understand the water rights connected to the property.

“Realtors don’t know jack about water rights,” said Mohr. “I’ve seen people buy properties and set up operations just to see that the water right is nowhere near what they thought it was. Farmers need to know the rights.”

‘Use it or lose it’
Because water is a precious resource, legally, a farmer has to put the water to beneficial use or lose the right to it. Irrigation, for example, can be approved by the Oregon Department of Water Resources as an official “beneficial use.”

According to ORS 540.610, one of Oregon’s statutes regarding water rights, if a farm fails to use all or part of its water right for five successive years, the farm can forfeit its right.

“What about me?” asked an Oregon sheep farmer who did not wish to be identified to protect his water rights. “I have an 85-acre sheep farm. When I had 180 head of sheep, I used the water all the time. But I’m getting older, so now I’m down to 30 head with just 35 acres of irrigation. If I irrigated the whole 85 acres, I’d have to make hay, sell it, buy fertilizer. It’s stupid for me to irrigate. So how can I keep my water rights?”

To keep the rights, answered Mohr, farmers like this one have to get creative.

Turning water into money

If you decide to sell or lease out your water right, Mohr advised, get a true appraisal first. He said too many farmers accept an undervaluation of their water rights.

But more often, farmers have had the water rights to their property held in the family or business for generations, and are unwilling to give up the rights. This is when farms need to strategize how to monetize their unused water.

One option, said Mohr, is for a farm to temporarily transfer its rights to another user. This cannot just be done by casually inviting a neighbor to use the excess water. To keep the right, the farmer who holds the deed to the water must apply to get the transfer approved by the state.

A farm can even temporarily transfer water rights to the state in exchange for payment.

Another option is for a farmer, working through an attorney, to set up an agreement with a water conservation agency that benefits the agency, the farm and fish.

One of Mohr’s clients in John Day, Ore., did exactly this. The water supply was insufficient to sustain the local fish population during dry seasons. The farm did not always max out its water rights. So Mohr negotiated an agreement in which Oregon Water Trust, a conservation organization, would pay the farm to release a portion of its water to the fish when the flow reached a specific low point. The payment, said Mohr, was enough not only to compensate the farm for any lost crop profits, but to outfit the farm with “a real slug of money” every year.

Mohr said he hopes other organizations, such as Bonneville Power Administration, set up agreements like this — using monetary incentives to help both farmers and the environment.

“Ag has all the marbles,” said Mohr, addressing the farmers. “You guys own the most important asset in the West. Know it and use it well.”


Attorney explains pitfalls of farm succession planning

SALEM — As Oregon farmers and ranchers get older, the need for estate planning is growing more urgent to ensure working lands remain in operation.

Maria Schmidlkofer, an Oregon attorney with 13 years of experience with farm succession plans, knows the pitfalls all too well.

Family dynamics, disability or lack of foresight can all complicate the passing of farmland from one generation to the next, Schmidlkofer said during her educational seminar Wednesday at the 50th annual Northwest Ag Show in Salem.

According to a 2016 study by Oregon State University, Portland State University and Rogue Farm Corps, farm operators over the age of 55 now control 64% of the state’s agricultural lands. That means roughly 10 million acres are likely to change ownership over the next two decades.

It is up to lawyers like Schmidlkofer, with the firm Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt in Salem, to help that transition happen smoothly with well thought out succession plans.

“If you have a farm in this room, chances are you need a living trust,” Schmidlkofer said. “It’s just so much easier for tax planning, for transitioning (farms) to the next generation. I think it’s just a far superior way of doing that.”

As part of her presentation, Schmidlkofer explained the difference between wills and trusts, and outlined the process of establishing a limited liability corporation — or LLC — to incorporate multiple generations in the farm who may one day take over the business.

Most estate plans also address things like mental or physical disabilities, Schmidlkofer said, to ensure succession does not get muddled in those cases.

While these are sometimes depressing subjects to consider, Schmidlkofer said it is worth it to avoid heartache and family rifts later.

“If there is anything a bad farm plan does, it is tear apart a family,” she said. “You do not recover from that.”

To highlight common errors, Schmidlkofer used several examples from real-life celebrity cases.

Actor James Dean, who died in 1955 at age 24, never wrote a will, meaning his entire estate was passed to his father — even though his father had abandoned him as a child.

“The first lesson here is to make sure you at least get something in place,” Schmidlkofer said.

Actress, singer and model Marilyn Monroe left 75% of her estate to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg, with “wishes” to donate the rest to charity. Strasberg later married, however, and when he died in 1982, the estate plus all licensing and royalty fees went to his widow.

“The lesson here is that you want to make sure whatever plan you have is going to stand,” Schmidlkofer said. “Litigation is rampant with farms and ranches. … Someone dies, and then they change the plan. It just causes so much heartache in families when something like that happens.”

Schmidlkofer recommended farmers meet with an estate attorney to help review their personal assets, think about how they should be distributed and whether that matches their business plan.

She said an effective succession plan allows producers to “give what I have to whom I want, the way I want, when I want.”

“The family succession plan needs to be well thought out,” she said.


Women in Agriculture conference set for 34 location

Washington State University Extension will again bring women in agriculture together to network and hear guest speakers offering practical advice and new skills.

This year’s conference, “Healthy Farms,” will be Jan. 25 and will focus on cultivating personal resiliency to handle all the “ups and downs” as a women farmer.

Women in 33 locations in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Alaska and Hawaii will use the internet to link to the main event at the Walla Walla, Wash., Legislative Building.

It is no secret that farming can be tough, whether it is caused by factors that can be controlled or that farmers try to control when they can’t, said Margaret Viebrock, WSU Douglas and Chelan County Extension director and chairman of the conference.

The stress of farming has always existed, but it soars during times of high costs and low returns, she said.

The interactive conference is designed to motivate women in agriculture to develop a self-care plan and realize the connection between a healthy person and a healthy farm. It will offer headline speakers at all locations, tailoring the conference content for each region, she said.

Last year, nearly 500 women attended.

“Many attendees reported it is the best conference for women producers because it presents practical information they can use right away,” she said.

This year’s lineup includes Brenda Mack, a third-generation farmer in Minnesota who is also a behavior and wellness professor at Bemidji State University. She will be joined by Shauna Reitmeier, a third-generation farmer who specializes in behavioral health with the Northwest Mental Health Center in Minnesota.

Together they will focus on helping women farmers strengthen their personal health care to reduce the effects of stress, worry and exhaustion.

In addition, Sue Schneider of Colorado State University Extension will teach women how to make mindful farming and personal decisions without reacting to negative thoughts, emotions and judgments.

Each location will have a local panel of women farmers who will speak on how they have developed their own self-care plan to deal with day-to-day events and make mindful decisions that helped them be successful in farming.

Gabrielle McNally, who represents the Women for the Land: American Farmland Trust’s Initiative, will explain how the initiative engages women farmers on topics of conservation, farmland preservation and land access. A partnership with the initiative can implement local peer-to-peer learning circles.

The conference is designed for women who are farming, as well as new and aspiring farmers. Supporting spouses, students, interns or people who own an agriculture-related business are also welcome.

The conference registration fee is $30 before Jan. 17 and $35 after that date. The fee includes the workshop, light breakfast, lunch and conference materials.

For details about the conference, locations and registration, visit www.womeninag.wsu.edu .


Asian giant hornet, a nemesis of honeybees, appears in Washington

BLAINE, Wash. — As if life wasn’t hard enough for the honeybee, things just got worse with the appearance of a new hornet that can decimate hives.

While honeybees in North America face many foes such as lethal varroa mites, a new nemesis buzzed onto the scene in Washington state — an invasive species capable of killing honeybee populations, reducing crop pollination and stinging humans.

The pest is the Asian giant hornet. According to entomologists, it is indigenous to Asia, where it has many names: commander wasp, yak-killer hornet and tiger head bee.

The hornets are distinguishable by their yellow heads, long bodies and three-inch wingspans.

The hornets prey on other insects, feeding pulped bugs to their larvae.

Where similar species of hornets are established in Europe, they have wiped out 30% of beehives, reduced honey production by two-thirds and dramatically slashed crop production due to lack of pollination, according to Washington State Department of Agriculture public engagement specialist Karla Salp.

A typical Asian giant hornet is five times the size of a honeybee and can kill up to 40 bees per minute, according to Tim Hiatt, a commercial beekeeper and member of the Washington State Beekeepers Association.

“No one knows what triggers it, but sometimes they literally go into slaughter phase, decapitating bee after bee and eating their bodies,” said Salp. “It takes 20 hornets to kill an entire hive in one to six hours.”

Probable sightings
The first Asian giant hornet sightings recorded in the U.S. were Dec. 8 by a resident of Blaine, Wash., just south of the state’s border with Canada. They had previously been confirmed at three sites in British Columbia.

Since then, WSDA has received 80 new sighting reports, three of which they deem probable. One was from a Bellingham beekeeper.

“Since these hornets are normally dormant in the winter, it’s unusual to find them active this time of year,” said Salp. “It’s probably because the winters are milder here, so they’re surviving better. It seems the Pacific Northwest is their ideal environment.”

Hitchhiking hornets
All it takes to establish a new colony is one mated female, said Salp. And to invade a new location, a queen hornet just needs to do a little hitchhiking.

“Honeybees are mobile,” said beekeeper Hiatt. Bees are shipped across the U.S. to pollinate crops. Three-quarters of all managed beehives are shipped to California in February to pollinate almonds.

At the border, California Border Protection Stations, or as Hiatt calls them, “bug stations,” inspect for pests. In summer, finding stowaway hornets would be easy, said Hiatt. But in winter, when hornets are dormant, finding one tucked inside a pallet is nearly impossible.

Experts say it will take everyone working together to stop the spread.

“This is a good citizen-scientist moment,” said Laura Lavine, chair of Washington State University’s entomology department. “Everyone can pitch in.”

If you’re a beekeeper
According to entomologists, Asian honeybees have developed natural defense instincts. When a hornet invades, honeybees clump together around the invader in tens or hundreds, creating a giant ball and suffocating their attacker.

North American honeybees, said Salp, appear not to have this instinct.

“I think there’s a need for panic,” said Lavine. “I’ve heard anecdotes of beekeepers in Asia standing around with badminton rackets, smacking the hornets to the ground and stomping them. I know that sounds totally insane, but that’s what it can come to.”

Hobby beekeepers, said Hiatt, should consider putting a so-called robbing screen, which hornets can’t enter but bees learn to navigate through, in front of beehives.

Robbing screens, however, aren’t feasible for commercial-size operations. Hiatt suggests all beekeepers restrict the entrance size of hives, making it harder for hornets to enter.

If you’re a farmer
Farmers, Hiatt said, should watch for the hornets, which nest in the ground.

However, he warned against flushing out any ground nest indiscriminately. He said some native bees nest in the ground — many of which pollinate crops, especially alfalfa.

Be alert
Experts say everyone should be alert — especially in port cities, where there is ongoing trade with Asia.

If you think you’ve found an Asian giant hornet, report it immediately to WSDA’s pest program via email at pestprogram@agr.wa.gov. Send a photo if possible.

Put safety first. In Asia, according to Salp, dozens of people die annually from stumbling into hornet nests. If you get stung and have an allergic reaction, call 911 and get medical help.


Oregon snowpack well below normal heading into 2020

Early season snowfall is lagging again across Oregon, potentially foreshadowing another dry and difficult summer ahead for farmers and ranchers.

But as 2019 proved, things can turn around quickly, giving plenty of reason for hope.

According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Oregon’s snow-water equivalent — the amount of water contained within snow — is just 45% of normal statewide. Every water basin is measuring below average for snow, with the exception of the Owyhee Basin in southeast Oregon, which is holding up at 117% of normal.

The lowest totals are in the Hood, Sandy and Lower Deschutes basins at 25% of normal, and the Willamette Basin at 26%.

Mountain snowpack is crucial for replenishing streams and reservoirs for farms and fish, especially in Eastern Oregon. As snow melts, it trickles down into creeks and rivers, sustaining healthy stream flows while providing irrigation water for crops and livestock.

Scott Oviatt, snow survey supervisor for NRCS Oregon, said the agency will release its first water supply outlook report by Jan. 10. Based on the current lack of snow, Oviatt said he anticipates lower water availability earlier in the spring, though there is still time to rebound.

“We’re not in panic mode yet,” Oviatt said. “It is early in the (water) year … We can see some improvement, depending on conditions.”

The water year, as defined by hydrologists, begins on Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30 of the following calendar year. November and December are typically much cooler and wetter months for Oregon, Oviatt said, however most of the state’s 90 snow monitoring sites are measuring less than 8 inches of snow-water equivalent.

Perhaps more concerning, overall precipitation including rain is averaging just 50% of normal statewide. The Oregon Water Resources Department reports that November in particular was one of the top five driest months on record for northwest Oregon.

Racquel Rancier, spokeswoman for OWRD, said that average stream flows were just 40% of normal statewide as of Dec. 30.

“We certainly would like to see better and more consistent stream flows and a greater snowpack at this point,” Rancier said. “Conditions need to greatly improve in the coming months in order to have a more normal water year.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly 98% of Oregon listed in some stage of drought, ranging from “abnormally dry” to “moderate.”

Conditions were much the same at this time last year, too, when snowpack was just 42% of normal levels in early January. Then came February, which brought drought-busting winter storms that dumped several feet of snow at higher elevations and boosted snow-water equivalent by 20-30%.

With two-thirds of winter still to go, Oviatt said he is optimistic for improvement.

“At this point, our message will be to watch the conditions,” he said. “Let’s just hope for improvement at this point.”

Snow-water equivalent is measured using what is known as a “snow pillow,” made out of a synthetic rubber and filled with an organic antifreeze solution. As snow falls, it compresses the pillow and a sensor measures the pressure in real time, which is used to calculate the amount of water in the snow.

The data is then compared to a 30-year average between 1981-2010 to come up with a percent of normal.

Between the “snowmageddon” of February and drier-than-usual November, Oviatt said increasingly large and unpredictable swings in weather variability are making it harder for the NRCS to accurately predict water supplies until later in the season.

That could lead to changes in modeling, Oviatt said, though he did not elaborate.

“It’s a changing world,” he said. “We’re trying to keep up with technology as our partner agencies are doing. It’s an ongoing process at this point.”