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.”


UI celebrates new Sandpoint organic agriculture center

SANDPOINT, Idaho — A new University of Idaho center devoted to organic agriculture is a new “gem” within the UI’s statewide network, the agricultural dean says.

The university held an open house Oct. 23 at the Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center. The center is the first in the UI system to focus on organic farming.

Michael Parrella, dean of UI’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, said the center will address organic agriculture, bring back “the wonder and variety” of heirloom apples and educate students and offer outreach to the community.

“Overnight, the Sandpoint organic agricultural center became a gem in our college’s statewide network when we took possession of this property on Aug. 1,” Parrella said.

The center has 640 apple, pear, cherry and plum trees and 1,000 feet of raspberry canes, said orchard operations manager Kyle Nagy. The property is 66 acres.

A dormitory will house 36 students.

Dennis Pence, who donated the Sandpoint Orchard land and buildings, said the center provides the university with a bigger presence in the Sandpoint area.

The orchard grows 68 varieties of apples, most of them heirloom varieties.

“I read that there was once in colonial times 2,000 varieties of apples grown in what is now the U.S.,” Pence said. “And a little over 100 years ago, there were 300 varieties of apples grown in the U.S. What happened?”

Pence began planting heirloom varieties to see what would happen.

“I’m starting to look around and all this organic agriculture, there’s a lot of things you could learn from this,” he said, recalling the germination of the idea.

Pence said Parrella welcomed his ideas for the space, and he credited it to Parrella’s Ph.D., in entomology. Pence and Parrella both cited recent concerns over a study that indicated a 75 percent decline in insects in parts of Germany.

“That is something Michael understood because he is a bug guy. If you’re an entomologist, you know what’s going on,” Pence said. “Something is going on that’s really not healthy.”

The center will research more sustainable approaches to farming, Pence said.

“You have a facility that will be full of energy, intelligence and caring about the kinds of foods we all need for our health, welfare and (to) sustain our society,” Pence said.

More than 40 classes for small farmers at Farm & Food Expo

Small-scale farmers around the Spokane area can learn about wide range of topics at the upcoming Farm & Food Expo planned for Nov. 2-3 at Spokane Community College.

The event provides resources for small-acreage farmers, garden enthusiasts and “foodies,” said Hilary Sepulveda, outreach specialist for the Spokane Conservation District.

“It’s pretty unique in terms of the topics and demographic that we go for,” she said.

Keynote speakers are Ben Hartman, author of “The Lean Farm,” about eliminating waste and improving efficiency; Chris Trump, who uses and advocates for Korean Natural Farming; and Brad Lancaster, author of “Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond.”

The event has more than 40 classes, Sepulveda said. Topics include backyard chickens, local grain malting, marketing products, rural property management and a vendor fair.

Sepulveda expects 300-400 people during the two-day event.

The Washington State Conservation Commission’s Office of Farmland Preservation is a title sponsor for the event.

Food security forum to focus on loss of farmland

John Larson, senior vice president of national programs for the American Farmland Trust, will speak about the loss of farmland to “buildings and asphalt” during a Oct. 26 food security forum in Walla Walla, Wash.

The U.S. has lost 31 million acres of valuable farmland over the last two decades, Larson says. He will deliver the keynote address during a food security forum that starts at 8 a.m. Oct. 26 at the Walla Walla Community College Water and Environmental Center.

John Larson is senior vice president for national programs for American Farmland Trust. The organization is accessing USDA data to determine where the “most productive, resilient and versatile” farmland is.

The farmland lost is usually developed “to the point that it is now buildings and asphalt,” he said.

About 13 million acres were lost to low-density residential development 1-acre lots.

“It’s happening not just in urban and suburban settings, but also in very rural settings,” Larson said. “That was eye-opening for us.”

“The farmland that produces food for America is in danger,” said Hannah Clark, Pacific Northwest regional director for AFT. “Nationally, we’re losing 3 acres of farmland per minute. That’s a staggering number that should make us all come to attention. If we don’t have farmland, the food supply isn’t there.”

Urban development hinges on the proximity to necessary natural resources, much like the historic settlement of major cities, Larson said.

“We’re developing our most productive (farmland) at a higher rate of development than other lands,” he said. “As those more productive acres are developed, the potential is to push us onto more marginal ground to try to grow the same level, if not (more).”

The impact of trying to grow more food on less-productive ground would have environmental and economic ramifications, Larson said.

“It’s a matter of protecting the right acres that we need for the good we grow,” he said. “It’s also a matter of giving the information to municipalities, townships and counties to make better planning decisions. There are certain places where we should develop, but there are also places where we shouldn’t.”

The forum also includes panels on tools for agricultural land protection, food defense and safety and steps to build resilience.

Availability of land and products is the biggest need in food security today, said Lindsey Williams, director of the Agriculture Center of Excellence. The centers are flagship institutions funded by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges to connect education and industry.

“Agriculture touches so many, if not all, parts of the U.S. economy, and we have a responsibility to protect those who produce our food, their products and their land,” Williams said.

Idaho farmer experiments with ancient, landrace grains

ATHOL, Idaho — A few years ago, Luke Black’s mother found an old tin in his grandfather’s barn. It was filled with wheat.

She kept the tin, and then told her son about it two years ago, asking if he wanted it.

“We call it Grandpa’s wheat, we don’t really know what it is,” Black said.

For Black, it’s a connection to his grandfather. They were “super close,” he said.

Black hopes to eventually get enough of the seed growing anew, to cultivate it on 8 acres of the land his grandfather originally farmed in Rathdrum.

He got it to sprout, but thinks he needs to be more “delicate” with it, raising it indoors to get a good stand.

It’s likely a heritage grain, Black said, but it’s even more significant because his grandfather raised it.

That’s Black’s approach to raising grain on his Lone Mountain Farms near Athol. He has 23 grains planted in a variety trial. His ultimate goal is to raise his own landrace version of wheat, he says.

Landrace grains are ancient races of grains.

Black began planted his experimental grains last year. He expects it to be several years before getting enough to plant several acres.

Black says he searches for rare and unique ancient, heritage or landrace grains online. He’ll try anything once, he says.

“Most of the time online you can only buy these things in either less than 1,000 grams, or an ounce is about the max you can get,” he said. “Some of them are crazy expensive. … Honestly, I can’t even pronounce half of them.”

If one performs well, Black cuts the heads off, threshes it and then plants it in the fall in an effort to build his seed stock.

He’s particularly excited about raising black emmer, which is an “extremely rare” grain sought by breadmakers.

Black says he already has customers lined up for his future grains.

“It’s coming back — the small scale farmers like me growing grains for small bakers that do craft bread,” he said.

Black works with Don Scheuerman, co-founder of Palouse Heritage Grain and the Grain Shed cooperative in Spokane, to find and raise grains.

Scheuerman said he was drawn to Black’s “aggressive” approach to grow out grains to see how they grow in northern Idaho.

Their shared interests sparked a friendship.

“Everybody dealing with landrace grains, their learning curve is very high,” Scheuerman said. “It’s very important to have a good collection of comrades-in-arms that you’re part of … you need good, strong, strategic alliances.”

Scheuerman said Black has “a great deal of vision” in applying cutting-edge technology to farming, which he said will be key in developing the landrace grains.

Black and wife Emily also raise market garden vegetables, chickens, barley, oats and wheat on 10 acres. He’d ultimately like to expand to 50 acres.

“We could grow everything else except grain on about 2 acres,” he said.

His biggest need would be affordable small-scale grain equipment, he says.

A full-time computer programmer, Black plans to turn his operation into a high-tech farm. He’s currently building a solar-powered wash station for vegetables.

“We started farming because we wanted to get outside, but it’s grown into a passion,” he said. “It’s really nice to grow out things that are rare and unique, and to tell the story behind it. Bringing back these heritage or ancient grains, it’s fun to tell that story.”

WSU crop tours offer sneak peek at varieties

Farmers will have a chance to check out the latest grain varieties during Washington State University’s upcoming crop tour season, which kicks off June 6 in the Horse Heaven Hills.

University and private breeders and researchers will be present at the various tour stops to provide specific background on the wheat and barley varieties.

“There’s some newer stuff out there that I think is going to catch people by surprise,” said Aaron Esser, WSU Extension Adams County director and interim director of WSU’s variety testing program.

He said many growers are curious about Norwest Duet from Limagrain Cereal Seeds and Oregon State University.

“The farmers win by having a choice,” he added. “The advantage is, they have more options out there. The difficult thing is, they have more options out there. It takes time and energy to figure out what option’s best for their situation.”

“It’s pretty rigorous,” said of the slate of tours. Esser canceled an Almira tour and added a Creston tour, after it was not included on the schedule last year. Esser didn’t want to leave Creston out two years in a row.

Almira was originally scheduled, too, but was booked at the same time as a tour in Moses Lake.

It’s important for farmers to have access to the trials, Esser said.

Esser expects discussions on falling numbers, the test that measures starch damage; seeding rates and new technologies.

Stripe rust activity has been relatively low this year, he said.

“There’s always something that pops up,” he said.

WSU crop schedule:

• Horse Heaven: 8 a.m., June 6, contact Aaron Esser at 509-659-3210 • Ritzville: 1 p.m., June 6, contact Aaron Esser at 509-659-3210 • Western Whitman County (LaCrosse): 9:30 a.m., June 7, contact Steve Van Vleet at 509-397-6290 • Connell: 5 p.m., June 7, contact Aaron Esser at 509-659-3210 • Pendleton Field Day, Oregon: 7:30 a.m. June 12, contact Stewart Wuest at 541-278-4381 • Moro Field Day, Oregon: 7:30 a.m. June 13, contact Stewart Wuest at 541-278-4381

• WSU weed science, Pullman: 12:30 p.m. June 13, contact Drew Lyon at 509-335-2961

• Lind Field Day: 8:30 a.m,, June 14, contact Bill Schillinger at 509-235-1933

• Harrington: 4 p.m., June 14, contact Diana Roberts at 509-477-2167

• St. Andrews: 5 p.m., June 15, contact Dale Whaley at 509-745-8531

• Eureka (cooperative with Oregon State University and Northwest Grain Growers): 3 p.m., June 18, contact Aaron Esser at 509-659-3210

• University of Idaho and Limagrain (Lewiston, Idaho): 8:30 a.m., June 19, contact Doug Finkelnburg at 208-799-3096 • Walla Walla (cereals; cooperative with Oregon State University and Northwest Grain Growers): 1 p.m., June 20, contact Aaron Esser at 509-659-3210

• Dayton (cereals and legumes; cooperative with Oregon State University and Northwest Grain Growers): 8 a.m. June 22, contact Paul Carter at 509-382-4741

• Moses Lake (irrigated): 8 a.m., June 25, contact Andy McGuire at 509-754-2011, ext. 4313 • Creston: 3 p.m. June 25, contact Diana Roberts at 509-477-2167

• Wilke Farm Field Day, Davenport: 8 a.m. June 26; contact Aaron Esser at 509-659-3210 • Reardan: 2 p.m., June 26, contact Diana Roberts at 509-477-2167

• Mayview: 9 a.m., June 27, contact Mark Heitstuman at 509-243-2009

• Anatone: 3:30 p.m., June 27, contact Mark Heitstuman at 509-243-2009

• Fairfield: 7 a.m., June 28, contact Diana Roberts at 509-477-2167

• St. John: 10 a.m., June 28, contact Steve Van Vleet at 509-397-6290

• Lamont: 1:30 p.m,, June 28, contact Steve Van Vleet at 509-397-6290

• Bickleton: 11 a.m., June 29, contact Hannah Brause at 509-773-5817

• Farmington: 8 a.m, July 6, contact Steve Van Vleet at 509-397-6290

• Palouse: 3:30 p.m,, July 6, contact Steve Van Vleet at 509-397-6290

Students of all ages find this school a shear delight

MOSES LAKE, Wash. — Be patient. That is the key to shearing a sheep, Sara Ulibarri said.

“If you calm down and you’re patient, the sheep will respond, and if you’re really uptight and nervous, the sheep is also going to be nervous,” the high school junior from Pullman, Wash, said. She plans to shear her flock and other sheep during the summer.

“Each sheep, I try to apply one new thing I’ve learned from either watching other people or being taught, so I feel like I’m gradually improving,” Ulibarri said.

Each volunteer shearer provided tips, she said.

“It definitely depends on the sheep,” said Elsa Willsrud of Fairbanks, Alaska, also a high school junior. “Each sheep is totally different. Some, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I get it,’ and the next one is all over the place.”

Willsrud and her family keep a small flock of Shetland sheep.

Her father, Tom Zimmer, shears sheep. He first attended the school 10 years ago, and accompanied his daughter to “try to clean up some of my bad habits,” during the school’s advanced tune-up session, he said.

One of the instructors at the school can shear a sheep in 49 “blows,” Zimmer said, while it takes him 60.

“I shear mostly Shetlands, Icelandics — smaller, wiggly little bastards,” Zimmer said. “You can always learn more, and that’s what I want to keep doing.”

At 80, Bill Moomau was the oldest student. The Rochester, Wash., farmer handles sheep for Muslim customers who butcher the animals for their holidays. He wanted to learn how to shear the sheep to make them more presentable, he said.

He has never sheared before.

“When you get old, you should learn new things,” he said. “I’m here to learn a new skill to keep my mind working.”

The school is offered by Washington State University Extension and the Washington State Sheep Producers, with assistance from Columbia Basin Sheep Producers, Washington Wool Growers Auxiliary and American Sheep Industry.

Jerry Richardson has volunteered for the course since it began in 1977.

“When I first started shearing sheep, I didn’t know what I was doing — I thought I did,” he said. “Every year, I learn something more, and I’m not a youngster.”

One of the reasons Richardson keeps coming back is watching the students learn during the five days.

“Until they shear 3,000 or 4,000 sheep, they don’t really get this down pat,” he said. “It’s a learning process. Every time, you learn.”

Students were slated to shear roughly 500 sheep during the week.

WSU Extension educator Sarah Smith provided exercises leading up to the class. She cautioned students that the course was physically demanding.

“(She warned that) some people have dropped out, so I was concerned,” said Moomau, the 80-year-old. “I’m not concerned now. I don’t think it has been that difficult. I think almost anyone could learn to shear.”

“Yeah, I’m a little sore — not as sore as I expected to be,” Ulibarri said.

Has the course changed her mind about shearing?

“No,” she said. “It’s made me want to do it more, I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Dates set for this year’s ‘Cowgirl Camps’

After the first “Cowgirl Camp” last year, a participant got home. The next night she called instructor Sandy Matheson with a problem.

One of her cows had wandered a mile from her small ranch and was now calving.

With coaching, she and her husband were able to lead the animal home and determine that the calf needed help, which was provided by a local veterinarian.

“The calf would have died and the cow would have had problems if they had not recognized (the situation) right away,” Matheson said. “So she got a chance to use what she learned.”

Matheson and co-facilitators Beth Robinette and Doug Warnock are offering three intensive five-day camps this year, two “Cowgirl Camps” for women and one New Rancher Camp for men and women.

The “Cowgirl Camps” taught by Matheson and Robinette are May 28-June 1 and Aug. 27-31 at Robinette’s Lazy R Ranch in Cheney, Wash. The New Rancher Camp, taught by Matheson and Warnock, is July 9-13 at Matheson’s farm in Bellingham, Wash.

Matheson is president of Roots of Resilience, a nonprofit organization dedicated to regenerating grazing lands, increasing ranch profits and enhancing the quality of life for ranch families.

The response to the first “Cowgirl Camp” was great, Robinette said.

“People were so excited,” she said. “Lots of people wanted to know when the next camp was going to be, and lots of interest from guys, too.”

Several of last year’s camp participants told Matheson and Robinette they considered it a safe and “empowering” environment, Matheson said.

“Not only did we challenge them, but we also had a lot of fun as well,” Matheson said.

Robinette said the camps will stay at 10 to 15 participants.

Matheson said the camps provide an opportunity for participants to become immersed in the topic of running a ranch and practice the skills they learn.

The coordinators learned to keep the schedule flexible to meet the needs of participants and appeal to different learning styles, Matheson said.

“We packed a lot in for the amount of time we had,” she said. “I think we actually did pretty well considering it was our first time — both sitting and listening and watching and doing, being inside and outside.”

Robinette said the camps are designed to inspire confidence in participants’ ability to get started in agriculture.

“We really wanted to create a place that feels welcoming, safe and celebratory,” she said. “Especially women, who don’t have as many role models, can see it is totally possible for a woman to operate her own farm or ranch.”

Early bird price for each five-day camp is $997.