Network of small farmers voices support for cap and trade in Oregon

SALEM — As Oregon lawmakers clash over a controversial bill to curb the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, Mimi Casteel says climate change is already posing a major identity crisis for winegrowers.

Casteel grew up on her family’s vineyard in the Willamette Valley, home of internationally recognized Pinot noir. She remembers harvest usually happened around October, with the area’s relatively mild weather allowing more time for grapes to ripen and add layers of distinctive berry-like flavors.

Over the years, Casteel said that climatic window has begun to shift. Summers are becoming hotter and drier, forcing growers to pick grapes earlier in the season when sugars — and thus alcohol content — are higher but flavors have not yet come into balance.

In short, Oregon Pinot noir might no longer taste like Oregon Pinot noir.

“We just established ourselves a world-class wine region,” Casteel said. “We’re looking at a hard reality where that is not what we have anymore.”

In 2008, Casteel started her own vineyard, Hope Well Wine, in the Eola-Amity Hills west of Salem. She is one of more than 270 small farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who signed on in support of Senate Bill 1530 — Oregon’s cap and trade proposal — through the Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network, or OrCAN.

The bill is now stalled in the Legislature as both House and Senate Republicans staged boycotts of the short session this week, demanding that cap and trade go to the voters.

OrCAN Director Megan Kemple rejected that notion, saying the bill is comprehensive with extensive input from all sides.

“No bill has had this much work and this much public process,” Kemple said. “The Legislature is where policy like this should be made.”

Opponents of the bill, including the Oregon Farm Bureau and Timber Unity, a grassroots group of farmers and loggers whose members have staged large rallies outside the Capitol, argue that SB 1530 will raise fuel and energy prices, crippling agricultural producers who cannot pass the increased costs along to consumers.

A statewide cap-and-trade system would also have a negligible impact on climate change, critics add. Oregon generated just 0.13% of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2019, according to the International Energy Agency.

But Casteel said the bill contains a number of compromises intended to protect rural communities and trade-exposed businesses, and is a necessary step toward protecting natural resources.

“This would facilitate the transition toward climate-smart farming,” she said. “The smartest, most responsible thing we can do right now is throw our full and honest support behind farmers who can protect this region.”

Under cap and trade, the state sets a hard cap on greenhouse gas emissions and charges companies for allowances to exceed the limit. The cap gradually lowers over time, which is meant to encourage the companies to adopt more climate-friendly practices and technology.

Money collected would go into a state Climate Investment Fund with specific allocation levels for adaptation projects, including 25% for wildfire mitigation and 25% for natural and working lands to adopt measures such as tree planting, cover crops, no-till farming, riparian buffers and capturing dairy gas to create renewable energy.

Casteel, who built Hope Well Wine on 80 acres of reclaimed property, said these practices will ultimately determine whether Oregon is able to maintain its ecological resilience.

“It’s really farming where we make our greatest impact,” Casteel said. “We are on the front lines (of climate change).”

Other farmers who support cap and trade say the costs of doing nothing now are much higher than the cost of waiting until climate change creates irreparable harm.

In the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon, Taylor Starr, executive director and farm manager at the nonprofit White Oak Farm and Education Center, said the last 10 years have seen increasing wildfires and lower snowpack in the Siskiyou Mountains, creating a lack of water flows later in the season.

Two years ago, Starr said the farm had its irrigation water shut off in early July, about a month earlier than usual. White Oak Farm grows and sells a variety of produce and contracts with several seed companies. The center also receives grants and contributions to support its programs.

“We’ve really had to adjust our scheduling,” Starr said. “When things are so uncertain, it makes that planning really challenging.”

Starr estimates the farm has invested about $10,000 to upgrade its irrigation systems, installing more efficient drip lines and resurrecting an old 1940s-era water storage pond. He said the farm is also shifted toward planting more deep-rooted perennial plants that can better withstand drought, versus shallow-rooted annuals.

Wildfire smoke is another serious issue, Starr said, choking skies and impacting customer turnout at local farmers’ markets. He said the farm has experienced a 10% drop in market revenue during smoky summers, which adds up to thousands of dollars of lost revenue.

“It is stressful,” he said. “It just feels like we’re in this ecosystem here that’s a little bit on edge.”

Sarah Deumling, forest manager for Zena Forest Products in Salem, said the company owns one of the largest intact remaining forests in the Willamette Valley, though climate change is beginning to change the makeup of species in the woods.

Deumling said drought has led to a 10-20% loss of Douglas fir trees that had to be removed and replanted with white oak and cedar.

“I’m not the only one who has firs dying,” Duemling said. “Some people have cedars dying that wouldn’t normally be dying. … If you put that out on a trajectory, the costs can be huge.”

Deumling admits she is is not certain whether cap and trade is the best solution for managing Oregon’s greenhouse gases, but she said producers can no longer afford to wait years for someone to do something about it.

“We’re trying to make a living. It’s not easy,” she said. “We better do all we can to prepare for and get a handle on climate change.”


OSU conference draws participants from around the Northwest

CORVALLIS, Ore. — For Jake Carpenter, the strategy was to divide and conquer at the annual Oregon State University Small Farms Conference on Feb. 22.

Carpenter and his wife, Freya, are preparing to take over their family’s 4-acre urban farm in Oregon City, south of Portland. The farm grows a smorgasbord of seasonal produce, including tomatoes, sweet corn, apples, pears and leafy greens, which it sells at the Oregon City Farmers’ Market.

OSU began hosting the Small Farms Conference 20 years ago to give farmers like the Carpenters information and resources to bolster their bottom line. Over 92% of Oregon farms are considered “small” under the USDA definition, meaning they make less than $350,000 in annual gross income.

With so many seminars to choose from, Carpenter said he and Freya decided to split up and canvas as much of the conference as possible. He sat in on sessions covering hoop houses, dry farming and hemp production, while she went to talks on farm stands, winter vegetables and basics for beginning farmers.

“It’s been great,” Carpenter said. “The content is what we were expecting. The tips and tricks are super helpful.”

Carpenter said they expect to buy the farm from Freya’s parents sometime later this year. His mother-in-law, Jackie Hammond-Williams, is one of the founders and a longtime manager of the Oregon City Farmers’ Market, though she plans to retire in May.

Their goal, Carpenter said, is to provide healthy, nutritious food to their family and community. The biggest challenge is getting the most out of the farm, without sacrificing sustainability.

“That takes a lot of effort and a lot of learning to do that the right way,” he said.

A state of mind
At its core, the OSU Small Farms Conference aims to make small-scale farming a viable business by sharing university-led research and highlighting new market opportunities.

Garry Stephenson, director of the Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems at OSU, said the event focused specifically on expanding farmers’ markets when it began in 2000. About 125 people attended that first year. Since then, it has grown to about 900 attendees who pack the LaSells Stewart Center and CH2M Hill Alumni Center on the Oregon State campus in Corvallis.

“We get all of those people for one day in the same room to interact,” Stephenson said. “It’s not just farmers. It’s the people who support them.”

According to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture, Oregon had 37,616 total farms in 2017, of which 34,714 were labeled small farms based on income. Yet just 682 farms accounted for a whopping 75% of the state’s $5 billion in agricultural sales — a troubling sign of increasing consolidation, Stephenson said.

“We’re losing that classic medium-size farm that we identify as the family farm,” he said.

There is no way small farms can compete at that large scale growing commodity crops, Stephenson said. That’s why, for the last 20 years, the Small Farms Conference has focused more on cultivating specialty crops and developing local or regional marketing channels.

“(Small farms) have more of an entrepreneurial approach to farming, because they really need to be nimble,” Stephenson said.

Economics aside, Stephenson said he thinks of small farms as a state of mind. In recent years, the conference has pivoted to include an emphasis on social and food justice issues such as climate change adaptation and diversity in farming.

Danny Percich, of Full Plate Farm in Ridgefield, Wash., said the event is a chance for him to network and pick up new ideas that he can take back to the farm.

“It’s always invigorating, too,” Percich said. “It kind of gets you excited for the growing season.”

Beginning farmers
Teagan Moran, a small farms education program assistant for the OSU Extension Service, led a session in the morning tailored to new and beginning farmers. A beginning farmer, she said, is anyone who has been farming for less than 10 years.

While farming is deeply personal, Moran said deciding what to grow boils down to three main questions: What do you want to do? What can you do? and What can you sell?

“This is not something that comes overnight,” Moran said. “It is a journey. All of you are at different points on this farming path.”

Before planting, Moran said, it is critical to evaluate several key resources on the farm, with soil quality serving as the foundation for everything. If a farm has Class I soil, it is considered prime farmland, she explained, and the better the soil, the more options are available for high-value crops.

“Some soils can be improved, but will never be as versatile as Class I soil,” Moran said.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has an online soil survey where farmers can look up which classifications of soil they have on their property. Moran also recommended farmers buy a soil test kit to see if they need to add any organic matter, nitrogen or other nutrients in the ground.

“You can build soil,” she said. “There is hope, even if you’re working with a challenging place.”

In addition to soil, Moran said, location, climate, water rights and other farm infrastructure will directly impact what farmers can grow. Even without irrigation, she said some crops, such as Christmas trees, hay and grains, can still thrive locally depending on climate and rainfall.

Angel Hammon, a 21-year-old senior at OSU majoring in agricultural sciences, said she is interested in running her own farm and starting a farm-to-table restaurant. She participates in the college’s Organic Growers Club, which is how she heard about the Small Farms Conference.

“It has been fun to just fit in immediately, knowing that other people here have the same energy and passion for agriculture that I have,” Hammon said.

Stephenson, with the OSU Center for Small Farms, said if farmers can take home one inspiring lesson from the conference, then it is a success.

“That economy of scale is what those farmers are trying to do,” Stephenson said. “It’s a small business way of thinking.”


Finding a niche is important

Renard Turner, of Vanguard Ranch in Gordonsville, Va., said the primary challenge for small farms is to become profitable and sustainable in today’s marketplace.

It may be difficult, but it can be done, said Turner. His solution is to combine value-added products with direct-to-consumer marketing to increase revenue while cutting out the middleman.

Turner and his wife, Chinette, raise meat goats on organically managed pastureland, which they process into ready-to-eat meals such as burgers, curries and kabobs. The couple purchased a mobile food cart to sell directly at major events including the State Fair of Virginia.

That vertically integrated business model, Turner said, also allows them to avoid selling at slaughterhouse prices and guarantee the quality of their product from field to plate.

“Don’t give away the power that you have to the middleman. He’s not your friend,” Turner said.

For example, Turner said, the highest prices farmers can usually hope to get from the slaughterhouse is about $3 per pound. Those slaughterhouses will then turn around and sell the same meat to customers for $9-$10 per pound.

“That’s upside-down math,” he said. “I’ve learned to change the paradigm.”

Small farmers have to be creative and committed to earn extra money through niche markets and direct-to-consumer sales, but Turner said there are options out there.

“It takes more initiative on your part, but I think it’s exponentially more rewarding for me as a producer to do that,” he said.


Small farmer crowned National Jersey Queen

ALBANY, Ore. — As far back as she can remember, Gracie Krahn has been living and working with dairy cattle.

Her father, who managed the Oregon State University Dairy Research Center for 13 years, once performed a caesarean section on a pregnant cow with Gracie, then a baby, strapped to his back. She competed in her first open junior livestock show at the age of 4, showing a Jersey heifer named Annie Bluebell.

Krahn, now an 18-year-old senior at Santiam Christian High School in Adair Village, Ore., was recently crowned the 62nd National Jersey Queen by the American Jersey Cattle Association, promoting the breed and U.S. dairy industry at events across the country.

“I really want to tell the story of what truly happens on the farm,” Krahn said. “This is a position to give back.”

Krahn and her family — father Ben, mother Amy and sister Clancey — operate Royal Riverside Farm in nearby Albany, Ore., which opened in 2018 as the only farmstead creamery in the Mid-Willamette Valley. The farm milks 15 cows, mostly Jerseys, and bottles milk for sale at over 25 local stores from Hood River to Eugene.

“My sister and I are sixth-generation dairy farmers,” Krahn said. “It is really in our blood.”

Growing up, Krahn spent many months and holidays helping her father milk and feed cows at the OSU Dairy Farm. She came to love being around the animals, especially Jerseys, for their “sweet but spicy” personalities and rich milk high in butterfat and protein.

“There’s not a better way to grow up than around agriculture and around livestock,” Krahn said.

Both Krahn and her sister have competed in countless livestock shows, exhibiting cattle and hogs. In 2013, Krahn, then an eighth-grader, participated for the first time at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., which she described as an incredible experience.

Two years later, Krahn won intermediate showmanship at the All-American Dairy Show in Louisville, Ky., while sister Clancey won junior showmanship, becoming the first siblings in show history to accomplish that feat.

Yet as much as she likes working with the animals directly, Krahn said her passion is sharing her expertise with others and mentoring younger members of 4-H and FFA. She plans to run for Oregon FFA state president at this year’s convention, and has already been accepted to Oklahoma State University, where she plans to study agricultural communications and animal science.

Serving as National Jersey Queen is another platform to tell agriculture’s story, Krahn said. She was selected from a group of nine women on Nov. 9 at the Jersey Junior Banquet in Louisville.

“I knew that my passion and love for the Jersey breed ran as deep as anybody’s,” Krahn said. “I’m super blessed that I’m here now.”

In addition to traveling to and meeting consumers at several national events — including the American Jersey Cattle Association and National All-Jersey annual meeting June 24-27 in Portland, her own backyard — Krahn is also responsible for managing the National Jersey Queen Facebook page, posting photos and factoids about her yearlong journey.

“Every time I get a chance to advocate for milk or promote the dairy industry, I hop on it,” she said. “That’s really where my heart lies.”


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.”


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.


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.”


Early season snowfall, precipitation lagging across Oregon

SALEM — A dry start to the fall season is raising some concerns among state water managers about the possibility of drought returning to Oregon, especially in the Rogue and Umpqua river basins.

Overall precipitation is measuring well below normal for the water year that began Sept. 30, according to the latest water conditions report from the Oregon Water Resources Department. The deficit ranges from nearly an inch below normal east of the Cascades, to more than 5 inches below normal in parts of southwest Oregon.

While no part of the state is currently in drought, the agency’s report states that could change in the coming weeks unless there is a marked change in weather patterns.

Statewide, average precipitation at sites measured by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is just 45% of normal across the state.

The highest totals as of Nov. 18 were in northeast Oregon, including 71% in the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Willow basins and 67% in the Grande Ronde, Powder, Burnt and Imnaha basins.

The lowest totals are in southwest and south-central Oregon, at 26% of normal in the Rogue and Umpqua basins; 24% in the Klamath Basin; and 21% in the Goose Lake and Lake County area.

The Willamette Basin — home of the state’s leading agricultural counties by value of products — is trending right in the middle at 45% of normal.

Stream flows are still averaging slightly above normal across Oregon, thanks to drought-busting record snowfall in February and heavy rains in April that bolstered supplies over the summer. However, the report cautions that more is needed to maintain that positive momentum.

“In response to recent dry weather, flows in many streams in Western Oregon have declined significantly over the past two weeks,” the report states. “In some areas of southwestern Oregon, stream flows are less than 10% of normal.”

The highest stream flows were in the Sandy, North Coast, Mid Coast and Umatilla basins at more than 130% of normal for the month of October, dropping down to about 53% of normal on the South Coast.

As irrigators start eyeing relief, short- and long-term weather forecasts offer a mixed bag.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center predicts below-average precipitation over the next two weeks, and an equal chance for above- or below-normal precipitation across most of the state over the next three months.

The lone exception, once again, is southwest Oregon, which is looking at a greater chance of continued dry conditions.

At this time last year, the entire state of Oregon was listed in some stage of drought — including extreme drought across portions of southern and central Oregon. Then came the February snow and April rain, proving just how quickly conditions can change.

“We always prefer to see a good start to the water year,” said Racquel Rancier, spokeswoman for the OWRD. “This year has been a slow start with below-normal precipitation, but it really is too early to be able to determine how water conditions will look in a few months and whether drought conditions will occur.”


Nursery again tops list of Oregon commodities

PORTLAND — Greenhouse and nursery products continue to reign as Oregon’s most valuable agricultural commodity, with goods nearly topping $1 billion in 2018, according to data compiled by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The agencies released their annual brochure of facts and figures about Oregon agriculture on Oct. 31, including crop production, acreage and livestock inventory over the previous year.

Dave Losh, Oregon state statistician for NASS, said most of the information comes from surveys collected directly from farmers and ranchers across the state.

“We have a cooperative agreement with (the state), and it goes back to our mission of providing timely and accurate statistics on agriculture,” Losh said. “We’re able to focus on Oregon agriculture, which has a lot of diversity.”

Oregon famously grows more than 200 different agricultural commodities, from wheat and cattle in the east to grass seed, hazelnuts and Christmas trees in the lush Willamette Valley.

The USDA ranks the top 20 most valuable agricultural commodities in Oregon, and while Losh said the list does fluctuate each year depending on crop prices, the greenhouse and nursery industry has routinely led the pack since 2009.

Ten years ago, greenhouse and nursery products were valued at $732.5 million. In 2018, the total was $995.9 million — a 35% increase.

Losh said there were few other major surprises in the top 20, compared to 2017. Cattle and calves remained number two, at $652 million, and hay number three at $590.4 million. Grass seed and milk flipped spots at fourth and fifth, respectively, likely due to lower dairy prices.

Winegrapes rose two spots to seventh, breaking $200 million for the first time. Hazelnuts remained 13th, though the value climbed from $73.6 million to $91.8 million as more acres reach nut-bearing age.

One notable absence from the top 20 is industrial hemp. Losh said the USDA did not collect data on hemp last year, since it was only legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill last December.

“USDA is still working through the process of how to put in regulations and put in a statistics program for hemp,” Losh said.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture issued permits in 2019 for more than 63,000 acres of hemp, which is more acreage than potatoes and onions combined. It remains unclear how many acres of hemp will actually be harvested.

Medical and recreational marijuana, meanwhile, is not regulated by ODA, but rather the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

The 2018 facts and figures brochure also contains general information about Oregon farms and ranches, which were previously reported by NASS in the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture.

Oregon has 37,200 total farms over 16 million acres. Local farmers lead the country in production of several crops, including hazelnuts, grass seed, Christmas trees, rhubarb and blueberries, while ranking second in crops like pears and mint and third in hops and onions.

Losh said the figures are intended not only for producers, but state lawmakers and local governments to provide a full picture of Oregon’s agricultural production and value.

“We hope it’s valuable for lawmakers, particularly the Oregon legislature and local government as well, when they’re making decisions regarding agriculture,” he said. “We’ve seen some loss in farmland due to urban expansion and other uses, and we are fully supportive of trying to make sure that good farmland stays in production.”


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.”