Oregon FFA hires career development coordinator

CORVALLIS, Ore. — As the 2019-20 school year gets underway, Oregon FFA has created a new position to promote and enhance career development events for students across the state.

The association hired Leila Graves as career development coordinator, working with both agriculture teachers and industry leaders to facilitate career development events and make sure they meet educational standards.

Oregon FFA offers 27 different career development events, or CDEs, including veterinary science, agronomy and mechanics. Students compete in front of judges at the district, state and national levels, honing critical thinking and technical skills.

About 2,400 students competed in CDEs at the district level last year in Oregon, and 1,200 at the state level.

Graves, 46, said her goal is to boost participation in events and help students explore possible career options.

“Most of these events are geared toward career readiness,” Graves said. “When (students) graduate, they have more of an idea which direction they want to go in.”

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Graves earned her bachelor’s degree in language studies and linguistics from the University of California-Santa Cruz in 2000. From there, she joined a nonprofit organization, Sports4Kids, working in schools that are in low-income neighborhoods to promote healthy eating and activities.

Graves spent three years at Brookfield Elementary School in Oakland, Calif. It was after they built a school garden that Graves said she noticed a change in the students — taking pride in the garden, becoming more interested in healthy eating and wanting to learn where their food comes from.

“That’s really where I got this great idea about using school gardens as a living laboratory for students,” she said.

Graves returned to school, earning her master’s degree in crop science from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, studying horticulture techniques to increase tree fruit yield.

At Cal Poly, Graves said she became involved in leading younger student tours of the university farm, reinforcing her passion for agriculture education.

“You could see the kids’ excitement, and how amazing the experience was for them,” she said. “Food is crucial. It’s the one thing that brings us all together.”

Graves earned her interdisciplinary doctorate in horticulture and education from Colorado State University in 2014, during which she developed and implemented a STEM model curriculum for the Poudre Valley School District in Fort Collins, Colo. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

Shawn Dooley, CEO of Oregon FFA, said Graves’ background combining agriculture and classroom studies made her a good fit for facilitating career development events.

“She’s got the educational background that we think is going to be a real asset to the organization and a real help to our teachers, especially our new teachers,” Dooley said.

Dooley said the idea of creating the position came up in May, when a staff member who previously coordinated CDEs left. Oregon FFA decided to upgrade the position, Dooley said, to make sure CDEs truly reflected current industry trends and technology.

”We don’t want to be preparing students for jobs that were,” Dooley said. “We want to be preparing students for jobs that are, and will be.”

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.

Once you go yak, you never go back

KINGS VALLEY, Ore. — Nick Hazelton knew he wanted to raise something different at his family’s farm in Western Oregon.

Emus were an intriguing option for eggs and meat. So were alpacas, with a fleece similar to sheep’s wool. Hazelton, 20, thought about bison but even that seemed too popular.

While researching exotic animals on the internet, Hazelton stumbled upon domesticated yaks — the shaggy cousin of cattle found throughout the Himalayan Mountains of Asia. Yaks not only provide meat, fiber and milk, but are hardy and efficient for small farmers.

“They look really cool, so immediately it caught my eye,” Hazelton said. “I was just looking for something I hadn’t heard of, I guess.”

A herd of 25 yaks now grazes on 40 acres of pasture at Hazelton Farms, located in rural Kings Valley, Ore. about 20 miles west of Corvallis. The farm also has dairy goats and hogs, though it was Hazelton’s idea to get into the yak business.

It is difficult to know exactly how many yaks are in the U.S. The USDA does not keep count in its Census of Agriculture, but does tally the number of farms with “specialty” animals — not including bison, elk, deer, alpacas, llamas, mink and rabbits.

That number was 3,611 operations in 2017, with 116 in Oregon, 88 in Washington, 37 in Idaho and 166 in California.

Stephanie David, president of the International Yak Association, or IYAK, did not immediately return a call for comment, but in January she told the Denver Post there were an estimated 5,000 yaks in North America. Many of the animals, however, are not registered, she said.

Hazelton was 15 when he and his father bought their first yaks at an auction hosted by Pine Mountain Buffalo Ranch in Bend. Growing up on the farm, Hazelton thought he wanted to be a lawyer or hotelier, but realized how much he enjoyed working with animals in 4-H.

Using the money he earned from selling one of his 4-H steers, Hazelton was able to buy two pregnant yak cows and two yearling bulls to start his herd. One year later, he butchered his first animal and sold the meat at the Corvallis Farmers’ Market.

It was such a success that he convinced his parents to let him drop out of high school after his sophomore year to begin raising yaks full-time.

“While I was in school, I was just kind of getting frustrated with being kept inside and not being able to do the things I wanted to do,” Hazelton said. “I decided animal husbandry is what I wanted to get into.”

Hazelton still sells yak meat at the farmers’ market. He describes it as as leaner and darker than beef, closer in comparison to elk with a sweeter flavor.

“You can definitely taste the difference,” Hazelton said.

He charges $12 a pound or roughly double the price of grass-fed beef. He has sold out every year.

Yaks shed their woolly undercoats in spring, which Hazelton also sells to a local company. The material is soft and silky, and can be used to make clothing and fabric. Last year, Hazelton said he sold about 7 pounds of yak fiber, fetching between $3 and $4 per ounce.

Hazelton said he would eventually like to begin selling yak’s milk, which at 7-11% butterfat is ideal for making yogurt and cheese.

Without a formal agriculture education, Hazelton said he is learning best farming practices — such as rotating pastures and balancing nutrition — through trial and error. Because yaks are such a niche industry, he said he has also been able to chat with other mentors along the way.

One of those is Patricia Young, who has about 21 head of yaks at her farm, Yaks in the Cradle Farm, in Quilcene, Wash., on the Olympic Peninsula. Young is also a board member for IYAK. She began raising her first yak as a pet in 2013 before getting into the business commercially.

“There’s not even enough meat to keep up with demand out here,” Young said. “In the past year, there’s been a good bit of growth on the farms that I know of.”

Yaks are smaller than regular cattle, with bulls reaching 1,500 pounds and cows ranging from 600 to 800 pound. Young said that makes them a good choice for smaller acreages. They also eat and process their food more efficiently.

As the saying goes, according to Young: “Once you go yak, you never go back.”

“They’re just so much fun to have,” she said. “In one animal, there are just so many things you can do.”

Oregon lawmakers expand Farm-to-School Program

SALEM — Oregon’s Farm-to-School and School Garden Network is poised to expand after state lawmakers approved a bill tripling the program’s budget.

House Bill 2579 passed June 29 as Senate Republicans returned to work from a nine-day walkout in opposition to a controversial carbon pricing scheme known as cap and trade. The senators rushed to vote on numerous bills over two days in order for the Legislature to adjourn by June 30.

That included HB 2579, which cleared both the House and Senate unanimously.

The Farm-to-School Program awards non-competitive grants to school districts across Oregon, reimbursing them for buying locally grown and processed food. Any district can opt in, and funding is determined based on the number of meals served under the National School Lunch Program — with a minimum award of $500 for smaller districts.

Districts can also apply for separate competitive grants to fund school gardens and educational activities, teaching kids about agriculture.

Rick Sherman, Farm-to-School and School Garden coordinator for the Oregon Department of Education, said the program started in 2012 with just $200,000. The current budget is $4.5 million, and now HB 2579 will provide an additional $10.35 million from the state general fund through 2021, bringing the total to nearly $15 million.

“We’ve been doing this for almost eight years now,” Sherman said. “It’s been a great program. It continues to grow.”

Sherman said the program served 131 school districts in 2018, accounting for 90% of all school lunches in the state.

With increased funding, HB 2579 will expand the Farm-to-School Program to federally funded early childcare and summer food service centers, such as Head Start. Most of the money, $11 million, will go toward grants for schools to purchase Oregon-grown food.

Some $2.5 million is set aside for farm and garden-based education grants. Oregon has 758 school gardens across the state, Sherman said.

HB 2579 allocates $500,000 to the Oregon Department of Agriculture to help farmers and ranchers with Farm-to-School market access. The rest of the money is for program evaluation, technical assistance and administrative costs.

Megan Kemple, director of the Oregon Farm-to-School and School Garden Network, said Oregon’s Farm-to-School Program is a “win-win-win,” not only supporting kids and communities, but connecting farmers with new markets for their products.

“There are a lot of producers that really appreciate the schools as a market because they are reliable,” Kemple said. “It has allowed them to basically stabilize their businesses.”

For example, Pollock & Sons, a watermelon farm in Hermiston, Ore., sold $3,842 worth of late-season fruit to schools during a time when grocery sales typically fall off at the end of summer. Port Orford Sustainable Seafood was also able to sell surplus fish to Rogue Valley Farm-to-School.

Kemple said Oregon’s Farm-to-School Program is a model for the country.

“At a time when the state is politically divided, bipartisan efforts like this bring Republicans and Democrats together and bridge the urban-rural divide,” Kemple said.

State Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, was a chief sponsor of the bill. He said he is excited to see the Farm-to-School Program expand.

“We should always be using tax dollars to buy local,” Clem said in a statement. “It never made sense to me to buy apples from anywhere else than right here in Oregon. This program connects our schools and children to our most important industry: agriculture. It’s Oregon farmers feeding Oregon’s children.”

Researchers use tiny wasp to control stinkbugs

CORVALLIS, Ore. — The samurai wasp may be small, but it is a mighty assassin of one of Oregon agriculture’s most detested pests — the brown marmorated stinkbug.

No bigger than a pinhead, the tiny wasp lays its eggs inside the eggs of stinkbugs, killing the host when they hatch. Stinkbugs first arrived in Oregon in 2004 and are a scourge to farmers, damaging high-value crops including wine grapes, blueberries, cherries and hazelnuts.

Researchers know the samurai wasp can be an effective biological control for stinkbugs. A new study from Oregon State University goes a step farther, describing how farmers can integrate the wasp as part of an overall management strategy.

David Lowenstein, an entomologist and postdoctoral research associate at OSU, led the study, which focuses on the impacts of different insecticides on wasp survival. His results found that some chemicals were highly lethal to the wasp, while others were more suitable.

The study was published recently in the Journal of Economic Entomology. Funding came from the Oregon Hazelnut Commission, Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission and the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which is assisting more than 50 researchers across the U.S. studying ways to defeat the stinkbug.

Like the stinkbug, the samurai wasp is native to east Asia. It was discovered in 2016 in the Willamette Valley, and since then OSU has bred colonies of the wasp in Corvallis and at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, Ore., to distribute to commercial orchards.

“They are not available commercially,” Lowenstein said. “We’re the sole group that is rearing the parasitoid and trying to get it established in different parts of the state.”

However, Lowenstein said it does no good to distribute the wasps while farmers are spraying certain types of insecticides to control other pests.

For the study, Lowenstein tested the effects of nine insecticides on samurai wasps in lab and field trials. He said neonicotinoids and pyrethroids were “fairly toxic” to the wasps, while diamide insecticides were less toxic.

One reason for this is because diamide insecticides specifically target sucking and chewing insects such as filbertworm larvae in hazelnut trees, while neonicotinoids and pyrethroids are “broad-spectrum” insecticides, Lowenstein said.

“The application of this work is that, for someone who wants to benefit from biological control from the samurai wasp, first they’re going to have to time it around when they apply insecticides,” he said. “We don’t expect chemical insecticide use is going to go away. It’s just how can you integrate them together.”

Lowenstein also suggested that orchards maintain natural areas around the property where samurai wasps can retreat during crop spraying.

Stinkbugs are found in 24 of Oregon’s 36 counties. OSU has already distributed samurai wasps at 63 locations across the state for bio-control.

The wasps are not harmful to humans and do not sting people, Lowenstein said.

“There’s no way you are going to confuse this with a yellowjacket,” he said. “If you have a samurai wasp on your property you won’t even know it’s there unless you are seeing its effect, which is less stinkbugs.”

Drought loosens its hold on Oregon this year

While parts of western Washington are already grappling with severe drought heading into the summer, Oregon appears to be in better shape than last year.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 17% of the state is in some stage of drought, compared to more than 90% at this time a year ago.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service also released its final water basin outlook report for June, showing that overall precipitation in Oregon is 95% of normal dating back to October 2018. Basins in Central and Eastern Oregon are mostly above average, thanks to record-breaking February snowfall and heavy rains in April.

The driest areas statewide include the Willamette Basin, at 89% of average precipitation as of June 10, and the Hood, Sandy and Lower Deschutes basins at 80%.

It is a stark contrast to last year, when by June Oregon Gov. Kate Brown had already declared drought emergencies in Klamath, Lake, Grant, Harney and Wheeler counties. The governor would declare additional droughts through the summer in Baker, Douglas, Gilliam, Lincoln, Malheur and Morrow counties.

Drought in 2018 was fueled by below-average snowpack combined with unseasonably warm weather that melted snow up to 2 1/2 times faster than usual at higher elevations. That left farmers and ranchers to grapple with water shortages, while leaving forests and rangeland especially prone to wildfire.

Conditions are much more favorable this year. The NRCS reports that 70% of long-term snow monitoring sites melted out within a week of their normal time frame. As of June 1, 13 sites still had some snow, which is also normal for the time of year.

Farmers and ranchers are looking at mixed stream flows from east to west through the end of the irrigation season in September. Streams and rivers varied widely in average flows during May, from 30% to 80% of normal across most of Western Oregon, and 100% to 190% in Eastern Oregon.

Reservoir storage continues to be a bright spot overall, with most reservoirs holding average to well above average amounts of water, according to the state Water Resources Department.

As summer heats up, Oregon and the entire Pacific Northwest are again gearing up for another busy wildfire season, with the National Interagency Fire Center calling for a normal to above-normal potential for large fires.

Officials declared the start of fire season on June 10 in the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Central Oregon District, which includes 2.3 million acres of public and private forestland. District Forester Rob Pentzer said late May rain helped reduce fire risk, “but the recent warming trend is quickly drying fuels again and with limited moisture in the forecast it is unlikely that the risk will drop again.”

So far, one fires has been recorded in Oregon. The Taylor Butte fire was started by lightning on June 1 about 20 miles northeast of Chiloquin, Ore., and burned 293 acres before it was contained.

Chemeketa Community College breaks ground on agriculture complex

SALEM — Chemekta Community College broke ground June 11 for its new $12 million agriculture complex.

The college serves Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties, home to diverse specialty crops such as grass seed, nursery plants, wine grapes and hazelnuts. The total value of farm products sold across all three counties was more than $1.15 billion in 2017, according to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture.

The Oregon Legislature approved matching funds the same year to build a new center for agriculture programs at Chemeketa. That includes horticulture and agribusiness management, but not wine studies, which has its own campus and vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills wine growing area west of Salem.

Jessica Sandrock, director of agricultural sciences and wine studies at Chemeketa, said the project is a priority for the college to support current programs and plan for growth.

“Agriculture has always been a priority,” Sandrock said. “In terms of facilities, it was really time for our programs to get improved.”

Design work on the agriculture complex is nearly complete, though details are still being fine-tuned to bring the work under budget. At a community forum just before the groundbreaking, engineers with FFA Architecture and Interiors provided an update of the latest costs and layout.

Edward Running, project manager with the Portland-based agency, said construction costs have essentially doubled since planning began. Even after cutbacks, the complex remains about 15% over budget.

“That’s sort of the head-scratcher right now,” Running said.

In addition to a 15,000-square-foot classroom and office building, the facility’s design calls for a new commercial greenhouse, hoop houses, outdoor pavilion and amphitheater, demonstration gardens, head house and fields to grow organic crops and woody ornamental plants.

Running mentioned the possibility of partnering with local farm businesses and industry groups to sponsor elements of the complex. Sandrock said the school has met with leaders from the Oregon Association of Nurseries, and plans to follow up with the organization.

Val Tancredi, who works for Clearwater Irrigation Supply in Woodburn, Ore., is a member of the Chemeketa Horticulture Program’s advisory council. He agreed the school needs to market the agriculture complex to industry as an investment in their workforce.

“We need better outreach,” Tancredi said. “These people are educators. But you have to go out and sell.”

Both faculty and business leaders expressed optimism about what the new complex will ultimately offer.

Joleen Schilling, horticulture instructor and program chairwoman at Chemeketa, said the new space and facilities will give students a better learning experience and prepare them for all types of jobs.

“It will have a great impact on our students,” Schilling said. “The quality of student going into the workforce is going to be just that much greater.”

Since 2002, the horticulture program has served more than 12,000 students. The program offers both an associate degree, and beginning next fall students will also be able to earn an associate transfer degree to Oregon State University.

Phil La Vine, an instructor in the agribusiness management program, said the complex is “truly appreciated and should help us in our delivery of business professional development, workforce training, succession planning, and farm management training.” Over the past 50 years, the program has worked with more than 1,200 farm businesses in the valley.

Andrew Burleigh, general manager of West Coast Companies in Salem, said he is “definitely open to support” of the agriculture complex. West Coast Companies specializes in producing automated robotic systems for agricultural industries such as grass seed and hazelnut processing facilities.

“As technological innovations come about, you have better (employee) retention,” Burleigh said. “Here, we may be able to see more innovation that helps small businesses.”

Small farms, large aspirations

It started with a dream for Miranda Rommel.

The 37-year-old artist has always enjoyed growing her own food. When she and her husband, Andy, bought a 17-acre farm south of Monmouth, Ore., in 2011, they were ready to embrace the lifestyle, raising ducks, chickens and rabbits.

Rommel transformed her hobby into a business, which she named Birdsong Farm — becoming one of an increasing number of small farms and ranches across the Pacific Northwest, according to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture.

A flock of Muscovy ducks now grazes on lush green pasture at Birdsong Farm next to garden beds of garlic, beans, potatoes and cabbage. Rommel sells the meat, eggs and produce directly to consumers through on-farm pickup, or at several local farmers’ markets she attends.

“I went into this saying I’m going to grow all my own food now,” Rommel said. “It’s exhausting, but it’s pretty amazing to sit down to a meal where I grew everything on the plate.”

In addition to their chores, Rommel and her husband work separate jobs off the farm. He is an elementary school librarian in nearby Falls City, and she is a self-employed artist with a business making custom pet portraits out of felt.

But there is something special about farming, Rommel said — digging in the dirt and feeling connected to nature. She also said it is a big responsibility to provide the community with clean, healthful food.

“There is a lot more community connection with small farms,” Rommel said. “It’s a community investment, and a community service.”

Counting farms
New figures in the 2017 Census of Agriculture show small farms — already the vast majority of the region’s agricultural operations — are on the rise around the Northwest.

The USDA defines “small farms” not by acreage, but rather by sales. Any farm that makes less than $250,000 a year qualifies as “small.”

By that definition, small farms easily make up the bulk of operations. Oregon had 34,807 small farms in 2017, or about 92% of all farms statewide. In Washington, the total is 32,016 small farms, or 88%, and in Idaho it is 22,044 small farms, also 88%.

The number of small farms as measured by acreage also increased between the 2012 and 2017, census figures show. The biggest gains were farms between 1 and 10 acres, which in Oregon jumped from 9,119 to 12,536, in Washington from 10,559 to 11,523 and in Idaho from 4,861 to 6,673.

Chris Mertz, director of the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service field office in Olympia, Wash., said counting small farms can be a huge challenge. Farmers may think they are too small to really matter, though Mertz said he feels the agency is getting better at reaching out to those producers and making sure they are included.

“That’s a big part of agriculture here in the Northwest,” Mertz said. “I think we need to acknowledge that and show how many people are involved.”

While the number of small farms continues to grow, Mertz said consolidation of larger farms is another trend dominating the industry. The census measures what it calls “farm concentration of market value,” which reflects how many farms make most of the state’s income.

In Oregon, 682 farms account for 75% of sales. The figure is 942 farms in Washington, and 1,248 farms in Idaho. As more production becomes concentrated in fewer farms, Mertz said it speaks to fewer small farms growing and succeeding as mid-size farms.

“Farming is a challenging occupation,” Mertz said. “You need to get to the point of having the resources available to pay all your bills, raise your family and to have a balanced life. Sometimes in the middle category, there might just not be enough revenue.”

While many small farmers ultimately make a go of it financially, most others such as retirees and “hobby farmers” are happy with the lifestyle, if not the income. About two-thirds of Northwest farms brought in less than $10,000 in 2017, according to USDA.

Resources available
The small farm trend has not escaped state and university officials, who are working to put together programs to help more small farms to flourish and prosper.

Laura Lewis, director of the Food Systems Program at Washington State University, said she is troubled by the erosion of mid-size farms. The good news, however, is that more small farmers seem eager to become involved, which she attributes to the popularity of the farm-to-table movement.

“It’s wonderful to see that we’re adding new farms,” Lewis said. “Some of these smaller-scale farms are really starting to get a better foothold economically.”

Part of that has to do with resources provided by the Food Systems Program, run by a team of 100 WSU staff and community organizations. One program, called “Cultivating Success,” works specifically with new and beginning farmers and was developed in collaboration with the University of Idaho.

Land-grant universities and extension services in other states also have small-farm programs. They work with nonprofits to offer classes and teaching farms where new farmers can learn the trade, and some organizations offer internships for new farmers.

A big part of the focus is helping to grow regional markets for small farms. The Cascadia Grains Conference is one such initiative, providing a platform for small grain growers to build relationships with buyers and sell their crops.

Lewis said the university also works closely with the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s Regional Markets Program. Laura Raymond, who leads the state program, said she has been impressed with how small farms are becoming more creative — making unique, value-added products and finding ways to sell beyond the traditional farmers’ market or community-supported agriculture model.

WSDA has resources to help small farms navigate regulations, and decide how best to invest their resources, she said.

“We look at all of these issues and try to understand how they translate to small and direct-marketing farms, specifically,” Raymond said. “Oftentimes, people get into farming because they love to grow things, but it’s always wise to think about who might buy the things you’re growing before you get too far down the track.”

In Oregon, several bills are also moving up in the Legislature this session to assist small farmers and ranchers, such as House Bill 3090 which would create a beginning farmer and rancher incentive program under the state Department of Agriculture, focused on student loan and tuition assistance.

HB 3090 passed out of its committee of first referral and is currently in the Ways and Means committee.

House Bill 2729 is also in Ways and Means. It would set aside $10 million over the next two years for the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program, designed to preserve farmland and spur succession planning for future generations of farmers.

Connecting to food
Lewis is reluctant to label the type of people who are starting small farms. She said they come from many backgrounds and experiences.

One thing that’s for certain, however, is that consumers are driving the demand for local food production, much of which takes place on small farms.

“We’ve seen over the last 10 to 15 years (people) just wanting to know who your farmer is and where your food comes from,” she said.

According to the national nonprofit Farmers Market Coalition, the number of farmers markets in the U.S. has grown rapidly over the last 25 years, from less than 2,000 in 1994 to 8,767 currently listed by the USDA in the National Farmers Market Directory.

Farmers also say they were drawn to the job by wanting to know more about their food.

Hillary Gallino, of Powder Creek Ranch in Beaver, Ore., began raising heritage Tamworth pigs on her grandmother’s 362-acre former dairy farm about four years ago. She farrows her own piglets, and starting this year will begin selling bacon and other cuts of meat at the Pacific City farmers’ market to help build her customer base.

“I’m hoping that I can reach more people. It’s very rural where I am,” Gallino said.

Gallino works as a housekeeper in Pacific City, but hopes to grow her business and farm full-time. She is passionate about the Tamworth breed, which she hopes will not be lost or forgotten amid mass production.

“I just found that I really enjoy raising the pigs,” she said. “I want to know where my food is coming from, and provide local food for other people and meat that has been humanely raised.”

Rod Wenger, of Down to Earth Farms in West Salem, started the business with his brother, Jordan, about two years ago. They grow a variety of produce and microgreens — vegetables harvested after their first leaves appear — on less than an acre, and sell at numerous farmers’ markets across the Willamette Valley.

“I think people have it in their head that you need a massive amount of space to grow food. That’s just not the case,” he said.

Wenger said he is not certain whether the business will expand in the future, but he is encouraged that his business can show people food can be grown on a local, small scale, even close to urban areas.

“I think it’s phenomenal,” Wenger said. “Anytime people can get closer to their food, it’s wonderful for our health and our culture.”


Forecast: Water supplies across Oregon mixed

PORTLAND — Oregon farmers and ranchers can expect mixed irrigation supplies heading into summer after months of fast-changing weather.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service released its statewide water outlook report for May, predicting near- to above-average stream flows in eastern and southern Oregon, and near- to below-average stream flows in central and western Oregon.

Scott Oviatt, snow survey supervisor for the NRCS in Portland, said reservoir levels are faring well across the state, averaging from 93% to 140% of normal storage.

“Water users that have access to reservoir storage will likely have adequate water supplies this summer, while those dependent upon in-stream flows will need to continually monitor conditions due to rapidly changing weather patterns,” Oviatt said.

Conditions have been feast or famine through most of the water year dating back to October, Oviatt said. The year got off to a slow start until record-breaking snowfall in February, which dramatically changed the agency’s forecast.

Then came early April, bringing heavy rains that mixed with rapid snowmelt to cause widespread flooding and record-high stream flows. More than half of river gauging stations around the state measured record-high stream flows, including 300% to 500% of normal in the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Willow Creek basins of northeast Oregon.

Flooding also occurred in the Willamette Basin, which received 186% of its normal April precipitation. Now, as temperatures rise into the upper 80s and much of the in-stream flow has already passed, Oviatt said the concern will begin shifting toward parched rangeland and the possibility of wildfires.

Overall, basins in eastern and southern Oregon have received 100% to 120% of normal precipitation dating back to October, while those in western and central Oregon have received 85% to 100%.

Snowpack continues to linger at higher elevations in Eastern Oregon, while dwindling to about half of normal in the Klamath, Willamette and Upper Deschutes basins, and as low as 40% in the Hood, Sandy and Lower Deschutes basins.

Thanks to a wet February and April, the U.S. Drought Monitor lists just 17% of Oregon as “abnormally dry,” as opposed to 81% of the state a year ago.

That said, the National Climate Prediction Center is calling for increased chances of higher temperatures and a roughly equal chance of above- or below normal precipitation over the next three months.

“In an optimum world, we would cool down here and still get some spring precipitation carrying through the early part of June,” Oviatt said.  “As we know, by that point in time, we just don’t receive that much precipitation after that.”

Ag Census shows declining farmland in Oregon

PORTLAND — From his 56-acre family farm in rural West Linn, Ore., about 15 miles south of Portland, Richard Fiala has observed a worrisome trend.

Land that Fiala, 62, remembers haying 30 years ago is now crowded with houses, or awaiting development at the hands of investors as the region’s cities plan for urban growth.

Figures from the newly released 2017 Census of Agriculture reveal that Oregon, like the U.S. in general, is steadily losing farmland. That has raised concerns not only about food production and security, but also fish and wildlife habitat provided by working farms and ranches.

The USDA conducts the Census of Agriculture every five years. It provides a full count of farms across the country, broken down by income, crops and production practices.

What the numbers show is a decline in the amount of farmland for every census taken over the last 20 years. Between 1997 and 2017, total land in farm production fell roughly 6% nationwide, from approximately 954.7 million acres to a little more than 900 million acres.

The downturn is even steeper in Oregon, from 17.6 million acres in 1997 to 15.9 million acres in 2017, or nearly 10%. That’s an average of 85,000 acres, or 132.8 square miles, of farms each year.

Jim Johnson, land use and water planning coordinator for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said the state is clearly losing farmland. Less obvious are the reasons why.

“(The census) doesn’t tell us what the land that was in farms was changed to,” Johnson said.

Drawing conclusions practically requires a county-by-county examination. For example, Klamath County in Southern Oregon lost the highest percentage of farms and ranches from 2012 to 2017 — 165,417 acres, or 25.7%. But Johnson said much of that land may only be temporarily out of production, due to lingering water shortages and uncertainty in the Klamath Basin.

On the other hand, Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties — which make up the Portland metro area — lost 40,807 combined acres, likely to urbanization, Johnson said.

“I can’t think of a lot of land, especially cropland, that wouldn’t be kept in production in the Willamette Valley unless it was being converted to something else,” he said.

Fiala’s grandparents bought the property that would become Fiala Farms, north of the Tualatin River, in 1906. The family had a small dairy and grew cabbage and other row crops to sell at a fresh market in East Portland.

Today, Richard Fiala runs the farm with his siblings, Anne, Doug and Wes. They grow a variety of fruits and vegetables for sale at their farmstand, and host all types of events from about mid-July through Halloween.

Farming around the nearby suburbs of West Linn and Lake Oswego, Fiala said the area is well within arm’s reach of urban development — especially if farms do not have a succession plan or conservation easement to keep the land in agricultural production.

“What we’ve seen in the last 30 years is speculators and developers come in when a farm hasn’t stayed in the family,” Fiala said.

Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that would provide $10 million over the next biennium to fund the state Agricultural Heritage Program, created in 2017 as a voluntary grant program to help farmers and ranchers with succession planning, easements and other conservation strategies.

The funding measure, House Bill 2729, is up for consideration in the Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Committee.

Nellie McAdams, a consultant formerly with the Rogue Farm Corps, has advocated strongly for HB 2729. With two-thirds of Oregon’s farmland set to change hands over the next 20 years, McAdams said it is imperative to stem further losses.

“Those agricultural lands are not permanently protected,” McAdams said. “Once agricultural land is developed, it permanently falls out of production. You can’t un-build a Walmart.”

Johnson, with the ODA, said land use planning goals adopted by the state in 1973 have slowed the rate of decline for farmland, but acknowledged that issues still remain. Goal 3, specifically, requires counties to identify farmland and establishes an “exclusive farm use” zone that limits development.

“We’ve still got issues with conversion of farmland,” Johnson said. “We still have to get into policy discussions about urban growth, and where it’s going to occur.”

Otherwise, McAdams said she wonders when the losses will add up to a breaking point.

“For an urban city-dweller, that means you don’t have access to local food, you don’t have food security, and you would also lose open space habitat that almost every farm offers,” McAdams said. “We need to act now to reverse the loss of farmland from agricultural production.”