Meet California’s organic farmer of the year

CAPAY, Calif. — Thaddeus Barsotti, who received the Organic Farmer of the Year award last December from the California Certified Organic Farmers and the Organic Produce Network, says all farmers should get an award.

“Some folks with influence in the organic community wanted to give me a shout out, which has been fun and very appreciated,” he said. “However, farming is hard, and in my opinion, any farmer that makes it another season is ‘Farmer of the Year.’”

Barsotti grew up on the family farm in Capay. It wasn’t until he was in college that he realized everyone didn’t grow up growing vegetables and hustling them at farmers’ markets.

For him, the decision to farm was gradual. He was always interested in the farm and went to school and studied agricultural engineering. He figured he would end up in the ag industry in some capacity.

“In 2000, when I was finishing my second year of college, my mother passed away,” he said. “My brothers and I chipped in to try to keep the farm going. After graduation from college, I briefly had a job as an engineer, and it was during that job that I decided to work on the farm full-time — figuring if it didn’t work out I could always fall back on an engineering job.”

That was almost 20 years ago.

“Our farm was certified organic in 1984,” he said. “Before that, my parents were farming in a manner that ended up developing the organic standard. I like to tell people that our farm was originally organic and that my brothers and I are likely the first, second-generation organic farmers.”

They farm 600 acres.

He is firm in the conviction that a farmer cannot eradicate pests.

“What we can do is create a healthy environment in which problem pests are minimized and crops are healthy enough to deal with them,” he said. “We do this by maintaining wild areas that foster beneficial insects and when we see problem pests begin to show up, we treat with organic pesticides to keep the pest population from taking over.”

The summer crops include melons, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, figs and apricots. The fall brings kales, chards, carrots, lettuces, bok choy, radishes and beets. Winter crops are Satsuma Mandarins, Meyer lemons and winter squash.


Farmer grows from part-time to full-time

ROSEBURG, Ore. — Jon Riggs was a high school teacher who decided being a small acreage farmer would be a good summer job.

He had worked as a summer road flagger for Douglas County, but then realized he could do just as well financially farming and could be his own boss.

In 1994, he began his new venture on a quarter-acre of ground behind his parents’ house in a secluded valley just west of Roseburg. He admitted his only previous farming experience was helping his grandfather, Charlie Wallace, in his backyard garden, and that mainly amounted to eating the raspberries, corn, cucumbers and “other good stuff.”

Twenty-five years later and Riggs is now 68, a retired teacher and the farmer on a total of 1.25 acres at four different sites. He sells his summer and fall vegetables and melons at the Umpqua Valley Farmers’ Market in Roseburg and at the Coos Bay Farmers’ Market in Coos Bay, Ore. He also sells to restaurants in Douglas and Coos counties.

“When you sign up for farming, you need to have some tenacity,” Riggs said. “You know you’re signing up for a bunch of fights with nature, you know you’re going to win some, you know you’re going to lose some. But it is extremely gratifying to start with a seed and to end up exchanging something you’ve grown for money with a customer who is smiling at you. Getting that seed into somebody’s mouth completes the process. It’s the ultimate moment that is hard to explain.”

Riggs said he’s had good success growing and selling salad mixes, red potatoes, squash, tomatoes and a variety of melons.

Amanda Pastoria, the market manager for the Umpqua Valley Farmers’ Market, said Riggs has earned a good reputation for the salad mixes and the melons he brings to the weekly market. She noted he usually includes edible flowers in his salad mixes, making them more attractive and flavorful.

“He’s a long-time member of this market and he always has a lot of amazing produce at his booth,” Pastoria said. “He puts a lot of pride into what he does and what he grows.

“From my observations at the market, he’s very engaging and enjoys educating people about the produce, the climate, the soil, the seeds,” she added.

Riggs said that is the teacher in him. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona and earned his master’s degree in education from Southern Oregon University in Ashland. He retired from teaching in 2011.

In his early years of farming, Riggs got help from his teenaged children, GG and AJ. His wife, Akiyo Riggs, has helped at the market booth through the years.

Although the couple’s children are grown and living out of the area, they were able to return last summer for a month or so to help their father, who had undergone surgery for bladder cancer and couldn’t do any heavy lifting.

Riggs has recovered from his cancer scare and is looking forward to another spring of prepping the ground, planting seeds and providing food to market visitors and restaurants.

“I go at it a year at a time,” he said. “I figure out what is the right size for me farming wise versus how old I am. So far so good. I’m limber enough and I have a pretty good tolerance for the aching stuff that comes with farming. I still like what I’m doing and it’s fun when people are smiling at you. I’ll do this for at least another few years.”


Value-added products bolster small farm

SAGINAW, Ore. — In the age of corporate farming, Scott Byler said Delight Valley Farms is one example of how a small family farm can still be profitable.

The farm has a total of 36.5 acres, and from U-pick berries and raising lambs to establishing a winery, Byler has his hands in almost everything.

“The trick of the whole thing, with the angle of making it as a small family farm, is retail,” he said. “I never thought of us that way, but we are. We take everything from the ground to retail, and we don’t have to give a cut to anyone else. (It) gives me the chance to have a smaller farm and make a living.”

When Byler first bought the land in 1991 he only wanted to sell wine grapes wholesale to wineries. But with only 23 acres dedicated to grapes, he found it wasn’t enough land to do just that. Instead he added retailing grapes to around 35 home winemakers and making his own wine.

Byler said that he always had a garden and would can foods, and from there it wasn’t a big stretch to fermenting. Before the commercial winery, Saginaw Vineyards, Byler’s first wines were made from figs and peach; he continues to experiment with fruits, creating blackberry, blueberry and Marionberry wine along with the traditional grape.

Although the fruits aren’t just used in wines. Delight Valley Farms sells U-pick/We-pick berries, as well as retails jam made from the fruit.

“That’s where you’re going to get your money,” Byler said. “If you’re going to sell carrots, you’re gong to have to sell a lot and have a big farm. That’s hard to do unless you’re born into it. If I can take those same carrots and turn them into soup, now I have a product that’s worth ten times more what it was.”

He said the important thing to keep in mind with pursuing value-added products is making sure the process doesn’t lose money.

Byler also sells lamb meat on the side. He has around 40 ewes, all descended from the sheep his children had when they were in 4-H. Until the past five years he only sold wholesale, but then started to add selling halves and whole lambs to customers.

Then, in the past three years, Byler began to sell USDA inspected cuts of lamb. He said at this rate, it won’t be long before he stops sellng wholesale entirely.

Delight Valley Farms’ whole operation works as a value-added experience.

Right off the Interstate 5 in Southern Lane County, Byler planned his position to help his marketing appeal. A sign advertising complimentary tastings is in his field next to the highway, and every Friday Saginaw Vineyard has its Friday Night Live, as well as events for wine club members.

“It’s been rewarding to see it succeed,” Byler said. “It’s kind of a weird answer, but after 30 years, it’s there and it works. The next generation can take it on, and the next generation will take it on. It’s cool to create something that is a working business.”

Outside of making a living, he said his focus is on the actual farming. He has less interest in the people and finds the wine making to be straightforward, but it’s: “being out there with the grapes and growing stuff.”


OSU to host pollinator summit

How pollinator-enhancement programs can be developed and enhanced is the subject of the PNW Pollinator Summit & Conference slated for Feb. 14-16 at the Oregon State University CH2M Hill Alumni Center in Corvallis.

A goal is to improve on-the-ground initiatives and reduce knowledge gaps by better coordinating natural resource professionals, land managers, pollinator enthusiasts, university extension agents and other educators, organizers said in a news release.

Scheduled keynote speakers are wildlife biologist Sam Droege of Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the U.S. Geological Survey; agricultural extension and research specialist Elina Nino of University of California-Davis Cooperative Extension; and assistant biology professor Rebecca Tonietto of the University of Michigan-Flint and The Porch Project. About 20 speakers and presenters are scheduled.

Organizers include OSU’s Extension Service and College of Forestry, state agriculture and forestry departments, Oregon Bee Project and Nectar Creek.

 


Record year makes Oregon top blueberry producer

For the first time in several years, Oregon reigns as the nation’s leading producer of blueberries, reclaiming a top spot the state lost to Washington several years back.

“I was surprised,” said Jeff Malensky, chair of the Oregon Blueberry Commission, regarding Oregon’s resurgence to the top spot. “Our belief was Oregon and Washington had similar seasons, and so with the previous year being what it was, where Washington was ahead of Oregon, 2018 numbers should have followed accordingly.”

According to recently released preliminary crop reports, Oregon production hit 131 million pounds in 2018, far and away a record yield for the state, whereas Washington’s production came in at 127 million pounds.In 2017, Oregon produced 107 million pounds of blueberries, compared to Washington’s 116 million pounds, which topped the nation that year.

In 2016, Oregon produced 116 million pounds of blueberries, the previous record. That year, Washington came in at 120 million pounds.

More significant than who is on top in any one year, according to Malensky, is the sheer increase in volume produced by the Pacific Northwest and what that means to an industry trying to cope with unprecedented volumes.

In the Northwest alone, which includes British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, volume increased to 412 million pounds in 2018, up from 358 million in 2017, continuing what has been a steady increase in production for the past 20 years.

“It doesn’t matter if we are ahead of Washington by a couple of million pounds, or if they are ahead of us. Between us and British Columbia, we are what is going to drive the processed and the fresh industry, as well,” Malensky said. “And with that comes the responsibility of developing markets.

“We need to move that needle up. We need to continue accessing markets and looking for new ways to use blueberries, including frozen, fresh, dried and other applications,” Malensky said. “There is a lot of fruit out there, and it is only going to increase.”

On the plus side, Bryan Ostlund, administrator of the Oregon Blueberry Commission, said that movement has been strong.

“The positive point about 2018 is that Oregon’s fresh sales stayed not just strong, but actually grew a bit,” Ostlund said. “It is not like we are producing all of this fruit and it is going right into the freezer. Fresh markets stayed strong. It is consumed, and it is off the market, and it didn’t overly burden the freezer component, which is awesome.”

About 45 percent of Oregon’s 2018 blueberry production, or 59.6 million pounds, went into the fresh market, with the remainder entering the processed market.

Other top producing states in 2018, according to preliminary numbers from the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, include Michigan, which produced 66 million pounds of blueberries; California, which produced 58 million pounds; and Georgia, which produced 50 million.

Overall, U.S. blueberry production, counting highbush and lowbush varieties, which are produced primarily in Maine, came in at around 650 million pounds in 2018, up from 480 million in 2017.

Malensky said he expects volumes to increase in coming years, particularly given that several states had down years in 2018 because of weather.

“Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey all were down,” he said. “All of those areas could have done 10, 20, 30 percent more than what they did.”

Excessive heat last summer in Eastern Washington, where most of Washington’s blueberry production is concentrated, probably played a significant factor in Oregon’s resurgence to the top spot, said Doug Krahmer of Berries Northwest in St. Paul, Ore.

“We had some of those issues, but they had more up there,” Krahmer said. “Where the (Willamette) Valley was hot and dry, they were hotter and dry.”


Learn business and bookkeeping basics

SnoValley Tilth is sponsoring a three-hour workshop covering farm business and bookkeeping basics.

The workshop will be conducted Jan. 24 from 9 a.m. to noon at the SnoValley Tilth office, 4621 Tolt Ave., Carnation. Wash.

The workshop will be led by Jocelyn Campbell, who has 30 years of bookkeeping experience. The cost is $25 for SnoValley Tilth members and $35 for non-members. A limited number of private consultations may be available for an additional fee.

To register, or for more information, go to the event registration website.


NRCS Idaho announces application deadline for EQIP funding

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service operations in Idaho will accept project applications under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program’s current funding cycle through Jan. 18. The deadline applies to currently funded special projects, national initiatives and Regional Conservation Partnership projects.

NRCS Idaho said in a news release that it accepts EQIP applications continuously, but only those received by Jan. 18 will be considered for funding during the current cycle. Applications received after the deadline will be reviewed in subsequent cycles.

EQIP helps agricultural producers complete resource conservation projects and make conservation-related management changes on their farms or ranches. Conservation program participation is voluntary, and helps private landowners and operators defray installation and other costs.


Whole farm management hybrid course offered

Oregon State University is offering a multi-part, hybrid online/in-person course for people who want to learn the basics of farm management.

The course includes a series of online modules combined with a field trip, three in-person class times and the Small Farms Conference.

“Growing Farms: Successful Whole Farm Management provides farmers with the tools and knowledge needed to develop and manage a successful farm business,” according to the course website. “This course is intended for people who are considering starting a farm business, those within their first five years of farming and others who may be considering major changes to their farm business.”

For more information, including a schedule, go to the event’s website. The cost is $150.

“The course was developed by OSU Small Farms Program faculty and other farm management experts, and is presented in an interactive and graphically rich format.”


Innovation makes work easier for rancher

JUNCTION CITY, Ore. — Pam Detering wants to make her life as easy as possible. Having worked as a one-person cattle operation, she relies on her dog and technology to keep Rock’n D Ranch going.

The family-operated ranch has been selling Black Angus beef for over 50 years. When Detering joined her husband’s operation, he focused on the farm and she focused on the cattle. Recently she’s partnered with Heather and Donald Fleckenstein of Dynamite Farms, who market their bulls with her.“If you’re going to be a one person farm, you need to make it easy on yourself,” she said.

The mission of Rock’n D Ranch is to provide genetics for people to raise Certified Angus Beef, known as CAB. She said when someone goes to a grocery store and buys CAB meat, it’s guaranteed to be good because of how difficult it is to be registered as certified. She sends her steers to Beef Northwest, which finishes them and sells them to Tyson, where they enter the CAB pipeline.

“If we’re going to raise meat, let’s make it the best we can,” she said. “I always encourage (the CAB route), but there is a risk involved.”

Detering grew up in the cattle world. Even though ranching is second nature to her, there have been shifts she’s made to make the farm more efficient through irrigation methods, haylage and rotational grazing.

“It changed everything,” she said. “It all fits together.”

She feeds haylage during the winter and uses the straw from grass seed for bedding that can later be used for compost. She also intensely rotationally grazes to keep the grass fresh every day; she grazes 100 pair on 125 acres. Her pasture has been in production for 40 years, and the gains on her bulls are 3.5 pounds a day.

Her biggest challenge is timing. She weans her cows in fall, calving begins the first of January and breeding starts at the end of March. She said the strategy doesn’t work for everyone, but her bulls are bigger and over a year old when she sells them.

Rock’n D Ranch hosts its own sale. Detering doesn’t call it an auction because it’s not as high pressure. She said her bulls average $3,400.

Another accomplishment that has made Detering’s life easier is the corral that Danny Menenes, a dairy farmer in California, built for her. With 57 gates and an octagonal pen, she said that with the help of her dog she can sort 100 head of cattle in less than five minutes.

“No one else has one like it; it’s unique,” she said. “This makes my life really cool and my job a joy to do.”

It’s important for Detering to stay involved. She said she learns new things every day, especially with technological advancements moving quickly. She is also part of local grazing groups, which have helped her solve problems.

“I think about it all night long, what I am going to do the next day,” she said. “This is my passion. This is what I do, what I’ve always done.”


OSU class explores ins and outs of small farming

If you are thinking about starting a farm business, Oregon State University has a three-part course designed to help you.

“Exploring the Small Farm Dream 2019” will be presented at Linn County Extension Office, 33630 McFarland Rd, Tangent.

“Whether you are dreaming of raising sheep, growing berries, or selling heirloom vegetables, this class series will give you the tools to start making choices to determine if farming is right for you,” the course website says.  “In this course you will learn about current opportunities in small-scale agriculture, explore objectives, assess personal and financial resources, conduct preliminary market research, and learn about farm business finances which will all feed into an action plan and guide your next steps. ”

The class will be conducted on the following dates: Tuesday Jan. 29, 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.; Thursday Feb. 7, 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.; and Tuesday, Feb. 12, 5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.

“If you are exploring the idea of starting a farm business, this course is designed for you. This includes people thinking about full-time farming, farming part-time while continuing other employment, changing careers to start a farm, and/or developing an existing but informal farming pastime into a more serious business activity. ”

The cost of the class is $60 per person, or $75 for two farm partners.  Scholarships may be available, please contact Teagan Moran at Teagan.moran@oregonstate.edu or 541-766-3553.