‘Adequate’ spring rain, hotter summer ahead

Pacific Northwest farmers will see “adequate” rain this spring before temperatures go up for the summer.

“Adequate moisture, evenly spaced, that ought to keep you going,” Art Douglas, professor emeritus at Creighton University, told the Capital Press. “Not a great growing season but not a disaster.”

Douglas offered his annual weather forecast Feb. 5 at the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum. He has spoken at the event since 1989.

El Nino, the warm phase of temperature fluctuations in the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central equatorial Pacific Ocean, tends to mean dry weather in the Pacific Northwest, but Douglas doesn’t believe this one will turn out that way.

“I don’t see an indication of any kind of severe drought this spring,” he said. “You’re going to get some moisture in here to push along, and hopefully things will work out.”

Douglas expects a cold February followed by a warmer March through May.

“I think February will end up being your coldest month of the winter, and then probably by March it will be back to above normal,” Douglas said.

Moisture levels west of the Cascade Range, he said, will be below 80 percent of normal. East of the Cascades, Eastern Washington will be 80 to 90 percent of normal, he said.

In southeast Oregon, moisture levels may be closer to normal, as rain and snow from California creep into the area, he said.

Douglas said conditions could be cooler and wetter in May in the western U.S. But come July and August, conditions will definitely be warmer than normal, he said.

The weather will be “drier in the north, but maybe some of that monsoon moisture (will be) getting into extreme southeast Oregon and southern Idaho,” he said.

Asked about fire risk, Douglas replied, “My guess is, it’s not going to be good for you. Maybe not as bad as last year, but given the average above normal temperatures … I think this fire season will just get progressively worse.”

Douglas said 2019 is most likely to be comparable to years such as 1986, 1989, 1999, 2001, 2014 and 2017.

But he said it’s tricky to make predictions as sea surface temperature patterns are typical of El Nino, but upper levels of the atmosphere are poorly tied to the ocean, which is not typical of winter weather patterns.

“Normally the upper level heights are governed by what the sea surface temperatures are forcing on them, and that’s not happening,” Douglas said. “It’s probably an indication that we’re getting ready for a pretty major circulation change, not only in the atmosphere, but also in the ocean. These two are fighting each other. They’re duking it out, and I really don’t know which one is going to win.”

Forecasts for the next few months will be unstable as the ocean and atmosphere try to become better linked, he said.

Sea surface temperature patterns are not likely to change over the next six months, he said.

Elsewhere, a dry spring in the Corn Belt will need to be closely watched, he said. It will allow Midwest farmers to plant early, but dry conditions are likely to persist through the summer.

“I think we kind of have a fingernail-biting situation in the spring and summer,” he said. “Dryness is going to start being talked about more and more in the Midwest, and there’s going to be more and more concern for the crop.

“Is this thing going to get out of control and be a major drought? I personally don’t know what it’s going to do,” he said.

Weatherman predicts good winter for region’s growers

Pacific Northwest farmers are likely to see normal or above-normal precipitation this year, weatherman Art Douglas predicts.

Douglas, a professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., will offer his popular weather forecast at opening session of the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum, 9 a.m. Tuesday, Feb.

Douglas has been a fixture at the Expo since 1977.

“The first thing we’ve got to keep in mind is we have an El Nino, and it’s not been a normal El Nino development,” Douglas told the Capital Press in November.

An El Nino is the warm phase of temperature fluctuations in the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central equatorial Pacific, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It usually means dry conditions in the Pacific Northwest.

A La Nina is the cold phase of those fluctuations, and means wetter conditions in the Pacific Northwest.

A La Nina means “horrendous” winters for the Pacific Northwest, which is not expected at all, Douglas said. He said the main cold for the winter was in November and December, followed by above-normal temperatures from February into April.

Douglas also expected dry winter conditions in the Northern Rockies, and storms off the West Coast.

During the spring, Douglas expects good moisture through northern California, Nevada, the northern Rockies and the Northwest.

“Compared to a lot of El Ninos, not as big a threat for drought, and at the same time, the dry period’s going to be the winter, and it’s not going to extend into the spring, which often does a lot of damage as you’re trying to get the crop back,” he said.

Douglas predicts 90 percent of normal precipitation in the Spokane area.

The biggest question is whether the El Nino continues into the summer and the fall, he said.

El Ninos typically have an average lifespan of 12 to 14 months but some can last longer — two to three years. One El Nino lasted from 2014 to the end of 2016, he said.

Forecasts indicate current weather patterns are similar to the early 1990s, when El Ninos tended to repeat, without La Nina cooling, Douglas said.

Conditions have tended to be drier than normal, Douglas said. The trend should turn wetter in the end of February through to April.

“Average temperatures above normal, far less threat for winterkill … and then we head towards the end of winter-spring, mild temperatures and then normal to above normal precipitation,” Douglas said. “So that’s pretty good.”

Workshop offers cattle basics for new ranchers

A University of Idaho Extension workshop will help new ranchers learn the basic of cattle ownership.

“The Basics and Beyond: Cattle Ownership and Management 201” begins at 7:30 a.m. Jan. 29 at the UI Extension Office at 2200 Michigan Ave. in Orofino.

Idaho is the second-fastest growing state in the nation, said Bill Warren, UI Extension educator in Clearwater County. Many people want to live on rural land and have a new lifestyle, he noted.

“Many of them do not have any experience living on rural land but do want to have cattle, grazing and other things,” he said. “A lot of my programming is geared to that audience, and this workshop is one of those.”

This year, he decided to add more time, going more in depth with some more intermediate topics.

Topics covered will include infrastructure needed to house, contain, and feed  and water cattle, the economics of owning cattle, trade-offs of owning yearlings vs. raising cattle year-round, basic equipment, basics of grazing management, winter feeding, cattle health issues, do’s and don’ts of buying and selling cattle, cattle breeds and other topics.

The workshop will also cover the benefits of owning and managing cattle, including pasture and rangeland management, improved grassland health, weed control and reduced wildfire risk.

Cattle ownership can generate additional income from a rural property, with grazing qualifying ranchers for property tax categories that lower valuation and reduce property tax bills, according to UI Extension.

Warren aims to help participants make better decisions and avoid costly mistakes.

Cost is $10. Pre-registration is recommended. Call 208-476-4434 or e-mail clearwater@uidaho.edu

This program builds on last year’s Introduction to Cattle Ownership and Management by reviewing the basics for new cattle owners as well as adding more depth and intermediate topics for those with some cattle experience.


Sixth season of ‘Washington Grown’ begins airing

A new season of “Washington Grown,” the television show spotlighting the state’s agriculture, premiered Jan. 3.

Aimed at educating the public about Washington-grown food and agriculture, the TV show airs in the Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Yakima, Tri-Cities and Pullman markets.

Now in its sixth season, the show is funded by eight agricultural groups and organizations, and a USDA specialty crop block grant.

The first episode focuses on potato exports, including international chefs holding a cooking contest in the state, said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington Potato Commission, one of the primary supporters of the show.

Last season, the show added interviews with food truck owners using a particular crop in their recipes, in addition to interviews with restaurants.

The show has added 30-second to one-minute videos of recipes submitted by viewers. Several guest chefs taste-test the recipes, said David Tanner, co-executive producer of the show.

Another new segment focuses on purchasing produce at grocery stores, and how to buy and store it.

Tanner cites several upcoming episodes about cherries, edible flowers and Seattle restaurant owner Eduardo Jordan, recipient of the James Beard Foundation Best Chef of the Northwest. Jordan’s restaurant JuneBaby, also in Seattle, received the foundation’s Best New Restaurant.

Last year, the show went national on RFD-TV, which focuses on rural audiences and agriculture news. Voigt said 80 million households have access to the channel. Executive producer Kara Rowe said the show had 130,000 views when it premiered in July 2018.

The show is now beginning fundraising efforts for the seventh season.

It costs roughly $350,000 to produce a 13-episode season.

The show will remain a Washington-based program for the sixth and seventh seasons, Voigt said. But after that, it might make sense to go broader and bring in other funding partners in the Pacific Northwest, he said.

Industry members from Oregon and Idaho expressed interest in participating during a National Potato Council meeting July 2018 in Leavenworth, Wash., he said.

Because the show is produced using USDA specialty crop grants, the emphasis must be on specialty crops and produce.

For the seventh season, Voigt would welcome partners from the livestock sector.

“This whole show is about trying to educate the public,” he said. “So to give an idea of what exactly a rancher has to do in the way of grazing or protecting their herd, I’d love to tell that story.”

Rowe said the show is open to suggestions as it prepares to film the seventh season.

“We will never run out of stories,” she said. “All those cool little nuggets that are out there, so any time people have ideas, we’d love to hear about them. We’d love to hear about the guy down the street doing something cool or the little farm that nobody knows about.”

App connects local farms, customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The creators are working with sellers to improve the app.

Kobe hopes to reach 5,000 customers in 2019.

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

Author seeks harvest tradition stories

ENDICOTT, Wash. — Author Richard Scheuerman is seeking stories about harvest traditions in the Pacific Northwest.

Richard Scheuerman, who is also co-founder of Palouse Heritage Grains, spoke this week at events in Colfax and Pullman, Wash., to coincide with the release of his book, “Hardship to Homeland,” published by Washington State University Press and available throughout the region.

“I’d love if (farmers) would share memories they might have,” Scheuerman said. “Old World harvest traditions, but hey, I’m also interested in the fact that when we were kids, our fathers threw their hats in the combine on the last minute of harvest.”

“Hardship” is the story of the Volga Germans moving from Germany to Russia to the Pacific Northwest in the 1880s.

The book was originally published as “The Volga Germans” in 1985; the new release has a new introduction and a collection of folk stories based on true events.

“It’s a bit peculiar, because there are really strange things that were in our elders’ memories about early life here, encounters with strange people,” Scheuerman told the Capital Press. “Those stories are all retold as they were told to us.”

Scheuerman said he had a special interest in telling the folktales passed down through the generations, such as seeing the northern lights for the first time and thinking the world was ending, or students being roped together to avoid walking over a cliff in the middle of a blizzard.

“These people were farmers, and their agrarian traditions inhabit all aspects of the story,” Scheuerman said. “Their farming traditions, culinary lifeways — all those things figure into the text. They’re wrapped around the life of peasant farm people. They had many folk beliefs about the seasons of the year, how that affects life and how that affects the crop.”

Scheuerman is also working on a three-volume series on agricultural traditions and themes in great art and literature, tentatively titled “Hallowed Harvest,” including connections to the Pacific Northwest.

“Why did Monet paint his grain stack series? Why were the last 20-some paintings by Van Gogh all of wheat fields? Why did Willa Cather write about growing up on the farmlands of the Great Plains?” Scheuerman asked.

Scheuerman’s interests go all the way back to farming and biblical connections. He believes stories in the Old and New Testaments have great lessons for any time, but especially now.

“We’re starting to lose our connections with the earth, and in an increasingly industrialized world, we’re finding out how precious those connections are, how vital they are to sustaining a quality of life that’s being threatened in our day and age,” he said.

To share harvest tradition stories, contact Scheuerman through Palouse Heritage Grains.

Tilth keynote speaker emphasizes diversity for farming future

SPOKANE — Farmers of different backgrounds must work together to bolster support for future generations, a California grain farmer says.

Mai Nguyen gave the keynote speech, titled “Regenerating Diversity,” during the Tilth Alliance’s conference Nov. 10 in Spokane.

Nguyen, a Sonoma County heirloom and ethnic grain farmer, is the California organizer of the National Young Farmers Coalition and co-owner/operator of the Sonoma Grain Collaborative.

Nguyen said she works to find cooperative ways for growers to increase seed, access markets or obtain financial credit.

“These are important times to remember farmers have been doing a great deal of work and that it’s often been overlooked,” she said.

She’d like to see farmers move from viewing one another as competitors to being colleagues, working to identify common problems and find solutions together.

“We get to see how each other work, we’ve built a lot of trust,” she said, pointing to a friend who is a ”multi-generational Republican” from a completely different background.

Such relationships are important when rural populations are becoming more isolated, and 1 percent of Americans are farmers, Nguyen said. Six percent of that 1 percent are younger than the age of 35.

“We really need to stick together to be America’s farming future,” she said.

Nguyen said the coalition engages politicians to take agriculture more seriously and show that the American food system has been built by a diversity of people across a diversity of landscapes.

Nguyen spoke of her experience working with others to ensure that California farmers have better access to land and resources. The Farmer Equity Act, passed in 2017, is designed to create a state definition for and provide assistance to socially disadvantaged farmers.

Nguyen said President Trump’s budget proposes eliminating federal grants designed to offer such assistance.

Nguyen said the equity act is “the very first California civil rights agricultural bill to ever exist.”

The act creates a new executive position in the California Department of Agriculture to support the effort. Nguyen said she was disappointed when the person selected for the position, slated to represent farmers of color across the state, was a white woman.

“While we are acknowledging that there’s progress we’re making in terms of saving more seed, cultivating more knowledge, creating cooperatives, there will be those moments where we have to question what progress and change over time looks like, and how quickly that will take place,” she said. “Even though there are those moments, it’s also really important to celebrate what we’ve gained.”

During a recent party to celebrate the passage of the act, Nguyen spoke with a young boy, who told her “I was always ashamed of what my parents did, but now I think I want to be a farmer.”

“If we’re going to raise that 6 percent to maybe even 7 percent, we need to do that work of sharing that seed, creating cooperatives, cooperating, localizing and celebrating,” she said. “That’s really how we’re going to be able to generate diversity in our landscapes, as we do this common ground work of sustaining our future.”

Consider what’s important for your farm before signing lease

SPOKANE — When it comes to leasing farmland, experienced farmers say it’s important that the ground meet as many of their needs as possible.

Several farmers spoke during a panel about helping farmers and landowners connect at the Tilth Alliance conference Nov. 10 in Spokane.

Some of the top items they consider are access to water, housing availability/proximity, soil, cropping history and market access.

“Water access is a tough one,” said Julie Kintzi, Enumclaw, Wash. farmer. “Land may not have water rights any more, may not have a well, it may just be city water, (but) the question still needs to be asked.”

“Soil is working on a long game, and we’re only here for a short time,” said College Place, Wash., farmer Chandler Briggs. “My approach has been, don’t mess with soil that isn’t good.”

“Find out what your non-negotiables are first,” said Amy Moreno-Sills, Puyallup, Wash., farmer and PCC Farmland Trust farm to farmer coordinator. She needed water rights and a Pierce County location.

Moreno-Sills is in the process of improving soil fertility on the leased ground.

“We couldn’t get a radish to bulb at all — it’s like the easiest thing, ever — so we went into quite a bit of personal debt that first year because once you get all the crops in the ground and realize nothing’s going to grow, you’re already in it,” she said. “In the off-season, we’ve been applying as much compost and dairy manure that our pocketbooks will allow us to buy.”

Moreno-Sills uses a custom-blend organic fertilizer, which she calls “vegetable crack,” because it’s the only thing that lets her crops grow, she said.

Things are slowly improving after two to three years, Moreno-Sills said. She expects at least seven years before the land is recovered to the point the custom fertilizer isn’t necessary.

Briggs works on leased ground. His leases are up every two years.

“I have been a farmer seeking land, and I still am a farmer seeking land to own,” he said.

Briggs said he keeps his equipment as mobile as possible, the better to move on to a new location.

Jim Baird of Ephrata, Wash., renews a three-year lease each year. If the landowner or farmer decides to end the lease, they still have two more years before the agreement ends, he said.

Good communication between landowner and farmer is critical, the panelists say. They recommend determining early which payments, improvements or repairs belong to the landowner and to the farmer.

“You’ve got to move into the uncomfortable now, so it’s not way more uncomfortable later,” Briggs said.

Kintzi recommends a formal agreement for both the farmers and landowner’s protection.

Kintzi is also the coordinator for FarmLink, which is in the process of launching an improved, simplified website in the next month to connect farmers seeking land with landowners.

Kintzi estimates the search ratio is eight farmers for one piece of land.

“There are just a lot more farmers looking for land,” she said. “It takes more effort, hand holding and education to bring farmland owners onto this site to get them to post an ad.”

Small chicken farmer shares basics of egg economics

SPOKANE — Paul and Susan Puhek’s eggs go quickly at local farmers’ markets.

When they bring 20 dozen, they’re sold out in 30 minutes to an hour.

“I think people just really want the fresh eggs,” Paul Puhek said, while teaching a class on the economics of egg production during the Spokane Conservation District’s Farm & Food Expo Nov. 3 in Spokane.

“A lot of people like it because they want to support local agriculture in their area,” Puhek said. “There’s definitely a difference in taste. Store-bought eggs for us now are like ‘Ew.’”

The Puheks usually keep 50 hens in Otis Orchards, Wash., but are down to about 25. Puhek said they’ve been profitable since they started in 1995.

The Puheks want to cycle new birds in and old birds out, but Puhek said they’ve had difficulty finding a place to process their older hens. He called that the biggest need.

The Puheks primarily sell produce, with eggs as a secondary market. Paul farms part-time and keeps a full-time job. Susan manages the farm, including delivery.

Possible markets include grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries, co-ops, farmers’ markets and CSAs.

Puhek told farmers to start by considering market demand for their eggs to determine how many dozen per week they should produce.

Chickens can have a lay rate of 50 percent to 80 percent, so 100 chickens will lay about 80 eggs per day during peak lay in spring, and much less in winter time, he said.

Producers should also be aware if the market they want to sell at is seasonal.

“If you have a whole lot of chickens producing a lot of eggs and all of a sudden the market closes, it’s like, ‘OK, now what?’” Puhek said. “Chickens don’t stop, you can’t mothball the factory.”

Farmers should think about how far and how frequently they wish to deliver, and how they would receive payment. Most wholesale customers need an invoice with each delivery, and usually pay by check within 30 to 60 days.

Poultry or egg producers may sell eggs from their own flocks directly to end consumers from their farms without the purchase of an egg handler license or egg seals from the Washington State Department of Agriculture if they’re selling on farm or in CSAs.

Farmers selling eggs at farmers’ markets and through direct to retail sales, such as restaurants and grocery stores, must be licensed through the state Department of Revenue as an egg handler or dealer.

Local health districts have jurisdiction over farmers’ markets and may conduct market inspections to assure compliance with local rules and regulations.

Puhek also told farmers to calculate their production costs.

For example, Spokane County requires a temporary food establishment permit to sell eggs at a farmers’ market. If eggs are sold for $5 a dozen, it would take 32 dozen to pay for the $160 permit, Puhek said.

He doesn’t recommend selling for less than $5 per dozen at farmers’ markets.

Tilth conference looks to boost different voices in ag

The Tilth Alliance wants to help more voices be heard in agriculture.

The Tilth Conference is Nov. 9-11 at the Davenport Grand Hotel in Spokane.

California grain farmer Mai Nguyen will deliver the keynote address.

The conference committee wanted to bring out the farmer perspective, but make space for new voices to share their experiences, said Erin Murphy, education coordinator for the Alliance.

“People wanted a farmer,” Murphy said. “Folks are really interested in having a keynote speaker that tells a different story. Mai is an activist for racial equity, a female and a person of color.”

Audra Mulkern, executive producer and host of the in-development documentary, “Women’s Work: the untold story of America’s female farmers” and founder of the documentary project, “The Female Farmer Project,” will deliver the capnote address.

“She’s local, she’s from Washington state,” Murphy said. “It’s a really cool way to have someone that’s super-involved in agriculture and very well-known nationally. Just the work she’s doing is really awesome.”

The conference includes sessions for various aspects of farming: production, marketing, finances, regulations and certifications and increasing diversity in farming.

“We’re really trying to make space to have that storytelling and have folks say, ‘Hey, we’re all farmers,’ but no two farmers’ experience is exactly the same,” Murphy said. “So really having those opportunities to converse and for people to network and learn from one another.”

Many farmers are considering seeds as a way to diversify their farms and markets, she said. The conference offers several topics about seed production.

A session on farming and mental health has also generated some excitement, Murphy said.

“Mental health is so important … when you’re farming and so focused on getting things done, your overwhelming to-do list, it’s just really important to remember to practice self-care both physically and mentally,” she said.

The alliance’s new executive director, Melissa Spear, will be at the conference. She officially begins in her new position at the end of November.

Murphy expects 350 people to attend.

The conference includes a tour Friday of the LINC Foods cooperative in Spokane, including several member farms.

Murphy hopes farmers leave the conference with a sense of “togetherness,” pointing to the vast diversity of crops Washington offers.

“Not to be super-kumbaya-y, but a little bit of (recognition) that there are people across Washington state that they can relate to,” she said. “Farming can be isolating at times, especially if you have your head down and are focused on your farm. One of the strengths of Tilth Conference is it really does bring together a statewide audience.”