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The Agriculture Quarterly
Summer 2012
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The wonders of the weedmapper
Example map

By Bruce Pokarney

In the early 1990s, when Tim Butler reported to work as a project coordinator for the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Noxious Weed Control Program, he relied on a thick black notebook filled with charts, maps, and wordy descriptions. The “black book” contained data on what noxious weeds were present in Oregon and, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, where those weeds were located. It was also bulky, static, and fairly incomplete. But the black book was the best ODA had at the time.

Fast forward 20 years. Today the black book is an artifact of a bygone era in weed control. A new, dynamic tool called “weedmapper” has taken its rightful place as an effective way to electronically track invasive weeds in Oregon on a local or statewide basis. Weedmapper helps land managers gain valuable intelligence in the war against high priority weeds. Now, with an upgrade this year, weedmapper can provide multiple levels of information to the general public as well.

“Weedmapper has taken a big step by offering an array of sophisticated capabilities,” says Butler, who now manages ODA's program. “We have gone from hard copy books to a web-based system, which displays weed data on electronic maps that anyone can look at. We want people to know about it and use it.”

It was the last week of June when the discovery of giant hogweed at a Gresham elementary school captured the attention of Portland media. ODA and local partners responded quickly to eradicate the invasive plant, which can cause severe skin burns or blindness when people come in direct contact with it. News stories generated interest in the community, which increased online traffic on both the weedmapper website and ODA’s own Noxious Weed Control Program page.

“Normally, the weedmapper site receives an average of 100 viewers a day, but we saw that number spike to more than 600 viewers a day during the time the giant hogweed story broke,” says ODA’s Shannon Brubaker. “It’s obvious that people wanted to learn more about the weed and whether it was in their neighborhood.”

Thanks to the capabilities of weedmapper, concerned citizens were able to select a map showing distribution of giant hogweed in relation to their own location. A profile of the serious invasive plant provides the public with a picture and description so that they can keep a lookout for it.

“It’s great to have a resource for people when they want to learn more about the serious noxious weeds that threaten our natural resources and our communities,” says Brubaker.
 

Plodding along in the pre-internet period

One picture is worth at least a thousand words, especially when that picture is a map. Weedmapper uses the techniques of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to help the Oregon Department of Agriculture and others better analyze data and plot the future for battling invasive weeds in Oregon.

“GIS puts the words of a scientific document into something people can see and understand,” says Diana Walker, ODA’s GIS coordinator, who has been an invaluable contributor to weedmapper’s current version.

At the heart of GIS is, of course, geography. Utilizing such basic information as longitude and latitude, just about anything can be plotted onto a map. GIS doesn’t create the data, but makes use of it in a way that helps land managers and weed specialists deal with current and future problems.

With the ability to create multiple maps of the same geographic area, weedmapper combines data sets to provide what is called a spatial picture. ODA’s noxious weed control specialists and others can carry out their programs with more precise information that provides a better picture than a spreadsheet.

Dennis Isaacson managed ODA’s Noxious Weed Control Program in the early 1990s. State employees were just starting to use computers. There was no internet and little GIS capability. Still, ODA wanted to capture weed data from cooperators such as the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and county weed programs—people who were out on the ground and could see the weeds with their own eyes. The black book was a start, but Isaacson and Doug Johnson of Oregon State University’s Rangeland Resources Department took advantage of the internet to provide a web-based map that cooperators could access to help them make better land management decisions.

By today’s standards, however, that early version of weedmapper was archaic. Now, with the capabilities of GIS, it is a tool of many purposes, according to OSU's Johnson.
 
"From the viewpoint of policy, you can get a real quick view of the extent of a weed problem in the state. A lot of people visiting the site are interested in seeing the relative magnitude of the threat. From a scientific standpoint, you can use it as a tool by which you can predict risk of a weed species. From a public information standpoint, this is a way to get information into the hands of Oregonians so control efforts can be coordinated and effective."

Rob Emanuel is the noxious weed program coordinator for Clean Water Services, which provides sanitary and storm sewer services for more than a half million Washington County residents. The utility is committed to protecting water resources in the Tualatin River watershed by managing riparian and wetland areas.

“The basin is under siege by a lot of garden variety invasive weeds such as Himalayan blackberry and reed canarygrass, but we are also seeing a lot of new species moving into the district,” says Emanuel. “So I am coordinating an early detection, rapid response program with a number of partners. Early detection means we need to have data points on a map to know what is out there in terms of weeds we should be watching out for.”

Emanuel has been using weedmapper data to load into a GIS program that generates maps of the area’s major weeds. Emanuel has used those maps to alert partners and the public on where these weeds are located.

“Weedmapper is an intelligence gathering tool that lets me know what weeds are in my district. I can also see what weeds are around us. We are using weedmapper for early detection of invasive weeds such as spurge laurel, lesser celandine, and yellow archangel.”

For Clean Water Services, weedmapper is energizing the public as to where weeds are, what risk they pose, and how close they are to the places where people work and play. That energy is getting the public to want to do something about invasive weed species.

The weedmapper website has mapping capabilities. Weedmapper can also provide specific data that allows local folks to generate maps through their own GIS capabilities. Either way, it’s something that has been well received.
 

One click away

While complex in structure, weedmapper strives to be user friendly. Selecting weedmapper.oregon.gov will take you to a menu of invasive weed species. Click on the species of interest and it brings up a map that displays populations of the weed in question. Much like a google map, you can zoom in on an area. You can also start with the geographic area to begin with and see all the different invasive weed species within its borders. Click on the dots, and weed profiles are displayed, which include pictures.

“There are many ways to access the information—by weed, by geographic area,” says Butler. “The new version has a lot more capability.”

User data shows that visitors to the website are staying for several minutes, suggesting they are using the tool as it is intended. Weedmapper is averaging up to 800,000 hits a year from a full range of viewers—cooperators, land managers, and the general public.

“What sets weedmapper apart from other websites and data sources is that anybody—whether it is a farmer with 500 acres or someone living in the city—can access the data and learn about specific weeds they may be concerned about,” says Alex Park, an integrated weed management specialist with ODA. “The public can keep their eyes open for invasive weeds we don’t want. Weedmapper was the first platform to allow the public to do that.”

Park has painstakingly standardized all the data that is provided to ODA from cooperators so that it can be properly displayed in weedmapper. The latest version, launched in April, is one of ODA’s most viewed sites on the internet. The new mapping platform gives access to layers relevant to weed management such as roads, rivers, and boundaries for Cooperative Weed Management Areas.

“The old weedmapper provided just flat county and statewide maps with red dots showing generally where specific weeds were located,” says Park. “That’s as far as it went. The new weedmapper uses aerial imagery technology and now includes an overlay of weed data. You can get very specific as to the location.”

Without the kind of information provided by weedmapper and its ability to display the data, land managers and the public might know what weed problems may exist in their neck of the woods, but may not know what’s on the other side of the fence or in the next county. They may not know what weed is coming their way and what to look for.

“Now they can go to weedmapper, turn on the layers, and see where things are,” says Park. “That can spark a conversation that doesn’t otherwise exist in weed management, ecology, and getting the public involved in keeping the ecosystems around them healthy.”
 

Wave of the future

Predictive modeling. That’s the wonkish term used for an exciting application of weedmapper. Using data for such characteristics as soils, rainfall, and elevation, it is possible to determine the potential threat certain weed species present in a given geographic location. ODA is working with OSU to determine the risk that specific weeds represent—a function not possible under the old weedmapper version.
 
“It’s possible to show what the map of weeds would look like if we chose not to actively manage a certain weed population,” says Butler. “Weedmapper modeling can give us some idea of the potential for some of these species.”
 
ODA may also be able to show where its many biological control agents are deployed to fight invasive weeds, another useful application of weedmapper for land managers and the public.
 
But perhaps the most futuristic function just around the corner is a smart phone application that would allow anyone with the app to be a contributor to the weedmapper data base.
 
“For example, someone can be in the woods on the Pacific Crest Trail and see what they think is spotted knapweed,” says Park. “Using GPS capabilities, they might be able to take a photo of the plant and automatically submit it to ODA with location data. We could confirm the noxious weed and use that information to update weedmapper. The University of Georgia is actually working to develop such an app.”
 
All of this high tech talk points to perhaps the true value of weedmapper.
 
“It is important to get people involved in providing weed data to us,” says Park. “People are more aware and interested in noxious weeds. They have seen them starting to take over the landscape and don’t like it. The main benefit of weedmapper is that it provides a feedback loop that gets the public involved. Hopefully, they will add more data while seeing themselves as part of the process. That’s the cool part.”
 
There may not be enough money to deal with all of Oregon’s invasive weeds. But with weedmapper, everyone can at least see where the problems are and take cost-effective action. Will the tool make a difference in the war against weeds?
 
“Absolutely,” says Park. “It takes good cooperators and a knowledgeable public to have success. This tool helps us get there.”
 
 
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Board of Agriculture profile: Barbara Boyer
Photo of Barbara Boyer

As chair of Oregon’s Soil and Water Conservation Commission, Barbara Boyer is automatically a member of the State Board of Agriculture. However, her interests and experiences go far beyond conservation issues. She’s part of a small business, and is involved in community supported agriculture and the local farmers’ market. Boyer is an organic producer but has grown conventionally. She’s involved in nutrition issues and is a passionate supporter of farmland preservation through land use efforts.

So it’s fair to say, Barbara Boyer hopes to bring more than just a conservation perspective.

Born and raised on the East Coast, Boyer graduated from the University of Connecticut (UConn) with a degree in plant science. She was also a scholarship athlete as part of the women’s gymnastics team. After graduation, Boyer set sights on Oregon’s nursery industry, which was booming in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“I thought I would be raising nursery stock my whole life until I fell in love with a farmer,” laughs Boyer, who married Tom and became part of a hay growing operation outside of McMinnville. “I quickly learned that Oregon is where I belong. It’s such a beautiful state.”

Barbara and Tom took over the family farm’s operations in 1999 and created two businesses—a company called Gourmet Hay and a small community supported agriculture operation where families are paying to grow organic vegetables. Boyer is clearly an advocate for local agriculture.

“With our hay operation, we only deliver within a 50 mile radius of our home,” she says. “It’s the locals that have taken care of us, so we feel like we are paying them back.”

Twelve years ago, Boyer co-founded the McMinnville Farmers’ Market.

“We are in a county deeply rooted in agriculture, but didn’t have a farmers’ market to showcase what we produce. I got turned down initially, but then found the right people to help with funding. We started with just seven vendors, now we have 56.”

In 2004, Stan Christensen, who had been a director with the Yamhill County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) for more than a half century, decided to retire. One of his last duties was to knock on Barbara Boyer’s door and ask her to run for his position at the SWCD. Just as it was when she was recruited by UConn to be part of the gymnastics team, Boyer said yes to Christensen and was elected.

“Those were very large shoes to fill, but I had Stan to bounce things off of—he was my mentor,” says Boyer.

The Yamhill County SWCD is considered cutting edge and many other districts around the state often seek its advice on a number of issues, especially farmland preservation. It’s not surprising that many of the tasks performed by the SWCD involve key issues facing the Board of Agriculture, in Boyer’s opinion.

“Ag water quality and land use are large issues right now,” says Boyer. “To be successful, the board needs to be a good listener. We need to hear from all sectors of agriculture.”
For now, Boyer plans to listen closely, especially when other board members are speaking.

“I normally like to be quiet for awhile to earn the respect of the board and understand the opinions of others," she says. "However, one member told me this is not the time for being quiet, at least not on this board.”

So don’t be surprised to see Barbara Boyer take part in the discussions, early and often. After all, involvement is one of her specialties.
 
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Director’s Column
Photo of Director Coba

I am delivering a call to action for Oregon farmers, ranchers, and other landowners—please pay attention to water quality issues. It’s an important topic that is receiving a lot of attention right now and we want you to be part of the conversation.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture is directed by statute to administer its Agricultural Water Quality Program, which works with farmers and ranchers to improve ag’s contribution to water quality. We work closely with other state agencies that are in the water quality business—most notably, the Department of Environmental Quality. Our program has been and will continue to be successful in addressing and, frankly, reducing agriculture’s negative impacts on water quality. It has been in place for 19 years, fully implemented for the past few years with the adoption of rules for the 38 basins around the state, which determine how agriculture is going to deal with water quality problems.

ODA’s Agricultural Water Quality Program has mobilized a great deal of effort. A lot of people in agriculture and many agencies have put in a lot of work already throughout the state, and they should be commended for their commitment. The challenge we’ve had to this point is not being in a position to really address or quantify the effectiveness of the program. We’ve been focused on getting the rules in place and working with landowners interested in putting projects on the ground. Those projects have involved soil and water conservation districts, watershed councils, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and others. Sometimes landowners have completed projects on their own. But there has not been a coordinated, cohesive collection of data or analysis to show progress and how water quality has improved.

Going forward, what should ODA’s Agricultural Water Quality Program look like? Right now, our program is predominantly a complaint-based program. Should it move to some other kind of regulatory-based program? There is some interest in putting resources into demonstration projects that focus on a specific stream stretch within a basin. In that scenario, an entire reach of a stream would get priority treatment with focused work on the landscape, riparian area, and other elements critical to maintaining or improving water quality. Monitoring conditions would take place before and after the work has been done to determine how water quality is impacted. As we heard during our recent tour and listening sessions around the state regarding our water quality program, there are a lot of ideas out there and probably many more yet to be considered.

So now is the time for all of us to step up and figure out how we can better show the effectiveness of ODA’s program. There are critics out there and it is incumbent upon those of us in agriculture to show results. Just as they have over the past 19 years, I know farmers, ranchers, and landowners can step up and document the effectiveness of our Agricultural Water Quality Program.

This is a call to action, a call for help, a call for great ideas. The State Board of Agriculture, in its latest meeting, reinforced its interest and commitment to the program and how to move it forward. We want all of our partners around the state to work with us to do just that. The board has asked ODA to spend some time putting together options for the future. We will be developing those options this summer and will report back to the board in September. We want your input and involvement. You can contact my office directly or our Water Quality Program staff. You can contact a Board of Agriculture member. Or if you are more comfortable working with your local SWCD, watershed council, or producer organization, those are also great avenues to provide input on how the program should move forward.

The issue of water quality isn’t going away, nor should it. There is a seat at the discussion table reserved for Oregon agriculture. I’m banking on that seat being occupied by Oregon agriculture.
 
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Dalton Hobbs: Three decades worth of wisdom
Photo of Dalton Hobbs

(After 28 years with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, assistant director Dalton Hobbs is retiring this summer. A lot has happened during that time span and Hobbs offers some keen observations and great memories of his time with ODA as part of this “exit” interview with the Agriculture Quarterly.)
 

Q:    You started with ODA as the agency’s information officer in 1984. How has the department changed since then? How has the industry changed since then?

The most profound difference in the agency has been the role of technology. When I started, there were no emails, facebook, twitter, or even a fax machine. There weren’t even any desktop computers. We used to dictate a letter, it would be hand typed, brought back to you for a signature, then it would be mailed with a stamp or postage meter mark on it. The change in technology has freed up personnel resources to do other tasks. At one time, we had six people doing nothing but typing letters all day. Those positions can now be used to do other things that extend the reach of the agency.

In terms of the industry, there has been an important evolution. It has gone from simply “I just want to grow it and once it leaves my farm, I’m not really concerned about it” to an industry that understands its role in the big picture. That role now operates on so many different levels—the industry is an environmental steward, it is a key driver of the state’s economy, and agriculture is also an important part of enhancing people’s lives. Farmers, ranchers, and fishermen now view themselves as someone who feeds people. They are the ones that now make dinner possible. When I arrived at ODA, my job basically was to keep the agency and the industry out of the newspaper. We really didn’t want to attract a lot of attention. Producers didn’t want people coming onto their place and wanted to be left alone. That has evolved into a much more broad-based, outward looking, and self-assured perspective. It has been very positive to see the role that agriculture plays outside of strictly plowing and harvesting. The industry has a very important role in food policy discussions, environmental policy discussions, and also in trade and economic matters. Agriculture is much more mature and capable of telling its story—laying claim to its rightful importance.
 

Q:    You moved from ODA’s Information Office to managing the agency’s Seafood Program. What led you to that position?

I was naturally attracted to the interesting work going on and the opportunities to promote Oregon agriculture. I felt that was a natural extension of the communications function. I had been a commercial fisherman during my college years, the seafood marketing position opened in Portland, and I took it. Within a week, I was manning a trade show booth in Cologne, Germany promoting Oregon seafood. It was an interesting time in the seafood industry—the end of the era of the large-scale salmon fishing industry that we had off the Oregon coast. We began to move into more specialized products like Dungeness crab, pink shrimp, and Pacific whiting. We began to look at developing the capacity to process those products on the Oregon coast. I was at the right place at the right time for that particular sector. This is also the time that we began to transform our marketing efforts from simply handing out a product brochure at a trade show to more technical marketing. We pioneered markets using ODA’s Food Safety Division to convince the Japanese government that our standards for live Oregon seafood are equivalent to those in Japan. We drew upon the regulatory expertise of ODA to market the product. This presaged things we would be doing later to help market other Oregon products.

It’s very clear the marketplace wants to know that the food product is safe and wholesome. Where else can you get that kind of assurance? It’s from the Oregon Department of Agriculture or FDA or some other government agency. But we have that capacity. The pretty picture of Mt. Hood is not enough in today’s world to sell the product. You need to have something standing behind it. That’s what led us to this evolution of leveraging all the expertise in our agency to successfully market Oregon products.
 

Q:    During your time with ODA’s marketing program in general, there has been an explosion of export activity. But that doesn’t discount the value and work put into local and domestic marketing, correct?

Right. If you look at Oregon’s geographical position, the state almost assigns itself as an export location. We have ports. We have nothing geographically between us and Asia, where 50 percent of the world’s population resides. We also have a relatively small population in Oregon. So we depend on markets outside the state. That doesn’t mean local markets aren’t important. We’ve seen a very significant and meaningful development of locally-sourced products. ODA pioneered programs that enable women and children as well as seniors to use vouchers to buy basic staples at the store, and also redeem those vouchers at a farmers’ market for locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables. We also played a very important role working with the Food Safety Division to streamline, and bring into the 21st century, standards for domestic kitchens and small scale processing. The collaboration we’ve had with Oregon State University at the Food Innovation Center is noteworthy. There’s a lot of work yet to be done, but the need for this kind of approach is uniquely Oregon and a tool we can use to help small, medium, and large-scale operations.
 

Q:    You must have a lot of significant memories during your time at ODA.

Oh yeah. As the public information officer in 1985, we had to deal with a nationwide watermelon recall on the Fourth of July because of California melons illegally tainted by the pesticide product, aldicarb. There were 2000 people who got sick in that incident. In the late 1980s, I made the big time—a quote in the New York Times in a story about Oregon's archaic bakery law that required baguettes to be 16 ounces in size. More recently, the "cow that stole Christmas" kept me busy in 2003 as I faced TV cameras during the nation's first outbreak of BSE in our neighboring state of Washington. Then there are the memories of directly being involved in concrete activities. There was no other way to accomplish the marketing breakthroughs without that face-to-face experience. You can’t do marketing virtually. Even though you can go to a website or send a picture by email, there is nothing that can replace the importance of presence and product. As government officials, we gain access to places that the average person never has. It’s largely because—in the markets we deal with, especially in Asia—government officials are venerated and thought of as very important, unlike here (laughter). Some of the work we did in China with grass seed allowed us into the interior parts of China before that country really emerged as a developing market. You would see these villages where people lived in houses without front doors. The people in many of these places had never seen a Caucasian before. I’ve traveled to more than 50 countries and have seen some amazing things.

Doing physical demonstrations of products and displays, there is always the unexpected. So you have to be flexible and adaptive. I remember when we hired PBS chef Martin Yan to demonstrate how to use Dungeness crab in Chinese cooking. At that time, and even today, live seafood is preferred to fresh or frozen. So we shipped live crab from Portland to Singapore. They arrived okay, but in Singapore, they were used to putting all live seafood in warm water tanks, which would be lethal to Dungeness crab. They like cold water. We had to convince the executive chef who ran the kitchen to allow us to place big blocks of ice into the holding tanks to keep these crab alive. The problem was, we couldn’t let the blocks melt because it would dilute the saline content and kill the crab. So we had to place the ice blocks in these large plastic bags and then into the tank. The crab actually survived and the next day Martin Yan cooked the crab. It was a very successful promotion.
 

Q:    Despite occasional frustrations, it has been a good ride at ODA, hasn’t it?

I look back with a great deal of pride and appreciation for the opportunity to work with a wonderful industry like Oregon agriculture. The international market, the domestic market, all markets—the one thing that is constant is change. There are always new opportunities and I think the industry will need the Oregon Department of Agriculture to help pave the way.
 
I’m very optimistic about the future. Oregon agriculture is very well positioned with its current batch of leaders and current portfolio of products. It all bodes well.
 
South Korea getting hungry for Oregon blueberries


The US-Korea Trade Agreement went into effect March 15, 2012, with the following statement from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack:
 
"Today is a monumental day for American farmers and ranchers. Under the new US-Korea trade agreement, two-thirds of the tariffs imposed on US food and agricultural products exported to South Korea are being eliminated. Over the next few years, as additional barriers fall and more US businesses market products to Korea's expanding economy, American agricultural exports should grow by $1.9 billion and help support nearly 16,000 jobs here at home. The trade agreement with Korea is the most significant for the United States in decades. Now the world's 12th largest economy, with a GDP of over $1.4 trillion and a population of about 49 million, Korea is already the fifth largest export market for US farm products.”
 
The trade agreement has special significance for Oregon, which counts South Korea among its top export markets. Tariffs work their way to zero on such items as wheat, cherries, wine, and frozen potatoes—all produced in abundance in Oregon. The tariff on fresh blueberries is not eliminated, but is reduced incrementally over time. But the real exciting news is that fresh Oregon blueberries have entered Korea for the first time this summer. A separate agreement between Oregon and South Korea, with assistance from USDA, cleared the way for the state to be the first in the nation and first production area in the world to provide fresh blueberries to the Asian nation.
 
The Oregon Department of Agriculture is working closely with Oregon’s blueberry industry, the USDA's Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS), and the government of South Korea to make sure all systems are in place to comply with the requirements set forth by the agreement.
 
“The protocol Oregon growers must comply with in order to ship into South Korea has been finalized, including such finer points as packaging and labeling requirements,” says ODA Assistant Director Dalton Hobbs. “We think the industry is prepared and capable of meeting the requirements, but we are being very careful to make sure every aspect of this protocol is complied with. We want to make sure shipments of our blueberries meet all of Korea's requirements and that we establish a record of full compliance from the first shipment onward. It’s like the old line, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”
 
ODA plays a central role in the protocol by ensuring that growers and packers follow the procedures, and ODA will issue the federal phytosanitary permits that allow fresh blueberries to be shipped to South Korea. The requirements of that protocol include a pre-registration of those growers who intend to export to Korea and inspections—both before and after harvest—to make sure the blueberries are free of pests and diseases that the Korean government is worried about introducing to its country.
 
The signup period has ended with nine Oregon blueberry packers and 50 growers intending to ship this year into South Korea. The first Oregon blueberries, grown in Roseburg and packed under the Hurst Berry Farm label, showed up at Costco stores in South Korea at the beginning of July.
 
Both sides of the Pacific are cautious yet optimistic that year one of the fresh blueberry supply from Oregon will go well based on the time and commitment that has been invested into the effort. There is no doubt that Koreans have strong interest in importing the product this year. They do want to make sure they have the temperature controlled supply chain and logistical support to handle a product that is highly perishable. On the Oregon side, a careful and deliberate approach is underway. It is estimated that as much as a half-million pounds of fresh Oregon blueberries may be shipped to South Korea this year.
 
“This is one of the most highly anticipated, highly prepared, market entry projects that I’ve seen in my 28 years at ODA,” says Hobbs. “So far, so good. A great deal of credit needs to go to the Oregon Blueberry Commission and the industry for bringing growers to the table and giving this opportunity a great deal of planning, care, and attention.”
 
The Oregon Blueberry Commission's Bryan Ostlund is cautiously optimistic while acknowledging all the effort to date.
 
“Many of us have a new appreciation for how difficult this type of market access can be. There have been a lot of calories burned organizing protocol and procedural elements. We all want this done right.”
 
The commission is sponsoring a Korean inspector to visit Oregon this summer. A first hand look at the steps taken by the state’s blueberry growers will go a long way to ensure South Korea is getting the highest quality fresh blueberry possible—from Oregon, of course. 
 
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Miles of continuous progress: the Fifteenmile watershed
Photo of stream with riparian buffer

The best team usually wins. This saying is true for football and basketball, and for restoring watersheds. The Fifteenmile watershed in Wasco County is an excellent example of how great teamwork can create meaningful environmental improvements.

Landowners in the watershed have been working with agencies for decades, building on past successes to continuously improve conditions. The partners work collaboratively to address new concerns as they identify them. The landowner—agency partnership has helped improve streamside vegetation, protect cropland from erosion, and improve water quality in the watershed. Recently they have started tackling short summer water supplies, pesticide monitoring, and nutrient use efficiency.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) first started working with landowners in Fifteenmile, a priority fish habitat watershed, in the 1980s to fence out streams. Other organizations, including the Wasco County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), USDA agencies, and OSU Extension, joined the effort. Now, the USDA and Wasco County SWCD work together with landowners to implement riparian buffer programs in the watershed. Numerous other partner agencies, including the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) and Bonneville Power Administration, also provide funding to support these efforts.

“When we started coordinating the buffer program, we checked with ODFW on their priorities. Then we started working with them to enroll landowners who had previously done fencing with ODFW into the USDA Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to expand the riparian buffers.” There are now 111 miles in the CREP riparian buffer program in the Fifteenmile watershed, and local partners estimate that 90 percent of the streams in the watershed have streamside buffers. We’ve got most of the low-hanging fruit now, so are focusing on tributaries off of the main channel,” says Ron Graves, Wasco County SWCD manager.

In the 1990s, severe erosion occurred in the watershed during a heavy storm and flash flood. “That really got people’s attention,” says Ron Graves. Federal hazard mitigation funds helped jump-start erosion control education and assistance programs. “Folks started doing strip-cropping, which eventually led to no-till.” USDA conservation education funds helped send local growers to the Dakotas to learn about no-till farming and adapt the practice for north-central Oregon. OSU Extension and the Ag Research Station have also been important partners in the tours and workshops that have been done. “They provide a practical element,” explains Graves.

The flash flooding also prompted Wasco County SWCD to help set up and support the Fifteenmile Watershed Council. “The thought was that they could bring greater focus to the area and identify specific areas of need,” explains Ron Graves.

Phil Kaser, who raises dryland wheat, cattle, and irrigated hay, is the chair of the Fifteenmile Watershed Council and is also on the board of directors of the Wasco County SWCD. “The watershed council has a lot of members who are genuinely interested in working in restoration,” he explains. “We have a good group and have good input.”

Kaser sees the widespread conversion to no-till farming as the biggest conservation accomplishment in the watershed. He is highly complimentary of the local, state, and federal organizations that worked with growers as they converted. “Our service center here—they all cooperate with each other very well—USDA, the SWCD, and OSU Extension. We feel very fortunate as growers to have the staff that we’ve had here, to try to get money to do some of these projects and it’s made a lot of difference. They’ve all worked as a team.”

Kaser explains that the USDA funding, combined with technology advances and affordable herbicides to keep fallow fields clean, made the conversions possible. “The funding took part of the risk of making the change away, that was one of the big factors. When we first started, we had to buy new equipment and the farming system was something we didn’t have much knowledge about. It was not easy for people to do it. It was a risk as far as what our yield might be so the funding helped compensate for part of the risk. As somebody who farms other people’s property besides my own, it was nice to have some way to assure that we’re taking this risk but we’re getting USDA money to help offset that risk.”

Local partners estimate that 96 percent of the watershed is now in no-till, protecting water quality and fish habitat as well as soil quality. But even with the significant amounts of progress landowners and agencies have made to restore the watershed, problems and opportunities remain.

“We’re working on the next step now,” explains Ron Graves. For the SWCD, that means bringing in more technology with precision agriculture. “A lot of farmers are doing yield monitoring and auto boom controls. With yield monitoring, they can adapt differential fertilizer rates so they’re putting less on where the soil is less capable. A new company in the area, Ag-Teq, is also helping producers map soils and soil characteristics to support precision agriculture.”

The Fifteenmile Watershed Council has been monitoring for pesticides in the water. They have worked with the Oregon departments of Environmental Quality and Agriculture to screen for them. Although multiple pesticides have been detected at the Fifteenmile Creek monitoring location near The Dalles, most detections were well below established benchmarks. While this is good news, it is possible that some approved pesticides currently used on no-till ground in the watershed are not part of the laboratory screening. The council is exploring whether they can or should conduct further tests.

The council has also been working with irrigators in the watershed on water conservation and monitoring projects. Facing increasing the likelihood that flow-measuring devices would be required in the future, the Watershed Council secured funding from a variety of partners to buy meters for irrigation diversions and install a new stream gauging station to monitor streamflow.

“We now have a recorder that is continuously monitoring the water level, and the Oregon Water Resources Department is going to host the data on their website, which is a huge improvement,” says Kate Conley, the Watershed Council Coordinator.

In 2009, low flows led to high water temperatures that caused fish deaths in Fifteenmile Creek. “Folks were very concerned,” explains Conley. “Everyone on the Council is extremely interested in being proactive and preventing another problem.” The National Marine Fisheries Service investigated the issue and is working with the council to avoid fish deaths—and the need for regulatory action—in the future. “Since 2009, we keep working towards a plan to avoid any take of listed species in the future,” explains Conley. The council is also holding irrigator workshops and received funding for irrigation efficiency projects in the watershed.

Once again, support from USDA, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, and local agency staff is helping landowners address these emerging issues. “The main emphasis should really be on the local staff, and how they’ve worked as a team with landowners,” says Phil Kaser. “If we didn’t get that support, these things don’t get done.”
 
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2011 a year to remember for Oregon seafood industry
Photo of fishing boat

Any way you fillet it, Oregon’s commercial seafood and fishing industry had an outstanding year in 2011. For many fisheries, both the volume harvested off the Oregon Coast and the corresponding dollar value were the best in decades. A total harvest value exceeding $145 million for all Oregon fisheries has given coastal economies from Astoria to Brookings a much needed shot-in-the-arm.

What makes the numbers more impressive is the sustainable manner in which Oregon’s seafood is being harvested. Quite simply, there are plenty of fish left in the sea.

“This is the healthiest I’ve seen the ocean off the Oregon Coast in many decades,” says Nick Edwards, a long-time pink shrimp fisherman based in Charleston.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture, which has worked for years to promote Oregon seafood in export markets, is also excited about the current shape of the state’s fisheries.

“We have seen the continual evolution of Oregon’s seafood industry, where harvest and processing have combined with sustainable management to add value to the catch while allowing future generations to provide a product that is in sync with the marketplace,” says Oregon Department of Agriculture Assistant Director Dalton Hobbs. “A great deal of credit goes to the seafood commodity commissions that have provided dollars for research, education, and promotion in a successful effort to add value to what is harvested off our coast.”

Seafood OREGON is the name given to a consortium consisting of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, the Oregon Trawl Commission, the Oregon Salmon Commission, and the Oregon Albacore Commission. Nick Furman, who serves as director of Seafood OREGON, says recent statistics prepared for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association indicate 2011 was the best, dollar-wise, in 23 years.

“We continue to remind fishermen that it’s not the pounds of fish that you take to the bank, it’s the dollars that you take to the bank,” says Furman. “All this speaks well for the health of the ocean, it speaks well for the management schemes presently in place that ensure we have sustainably-harvested stocks. The resulting evidence is the increase in pounds of fish harvested and dollar value.”

Last year, 285 million pounds of fish and shellfish were landed in Oregon, up from 216 million pounds in 2010. Meanwhile, four Oregon fisheries have received coveted Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification ensuring they are well managed, sustainably-harvested, and environmentally-neutral. Those fisheries include pink shrimp, Dungeness crab, albacore, and Pacific whiting.

“While the volume of fish coming in has increased, it is not happening at the expense of healthy fisheries and the stocks available to us,” says Furman.

Most Oregon fisheries enjoyed higher prices for what was caught. Combined with the higher volume harvested, the dollar value of Oregon landings increased to $145 million last year from $105 million in 2010. That’s about 44 percent above the annual average of the past 10 years.

“Oregon is doing something right and it is represented by healthy stocks, good volume, and prices that are going through the roof because of the global economy and worldwide demand for seafood,” says Furman.

As is the case with agricultural commodities, Oregon fisheries last year had both winners and losers. Fortunately, the winners outweighed the losers.

The pink shrimp fishery had its best season in 19 years, with 48 million pounds of high-grade shrimp harvested off the Oregon Coast and a dollar value to the fishing fleet of $24.6 million. Fishermen and processors have benefitted from the catch, but there is also a bigger demand for Oregon pink shrimp in the export market, which is bringing in new dollars to coastal communities.

It was another strong year for Oregon Dungeness crab, which normally represents 30 to 50 percent of the total value of all seafood landed in Oregon in a given year. The value in 2011 hit $44 million—another strong year for Oregon’s official state crustacean. Again, export demand in Asia has helped push ex-vessel prices up to unheard of levels.

“We have already eclipsed that mark,” says Furman, who also serves as administrator of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission. “The big story right now is price. The average price for the season to date is a record-high $3.37 a pound, eclipsing last year’s total season average price of $2.30.”

Albacore tuna landings, at 9.5 million pounds, were considered average last year. But thanks to high demand, the price paid at the marketplace drove the dollar value up to $18.7 million, a 33-year high.

A couple of Oregon fisheries didn’t have quite the banner year of others. Salmon landings totaled about 2.4 million pounds, slightly lower than 2010, although its price in the marketplace was slightly higher last year.

“Salmon was a bit disappointing,” says Furman. “Last year was the first time in several years that trollers got to fish the Oregon Coast for salmon. Everyone was optimistic, but the numbers were down a bit—the fish simply didn’t show up as much as expected. This year, there is a better harvest quota and everyone is keeping their fingers crossed.”

The sardine fishery also had a downturn with a harvest value of $3.2 million, down from $5.3 million in 2010. The volume just wasn’t there, with Oregon landings only about 25 percent of its high mark of 2005.

Nonetheless, ports along the Oregon Coast are feeling good about the seafood and fishing industry’s 2011 resurgence, and optimistic about what the rest of 2012 will bring.

“The total picture for last year was great, and we’re seeing some continued evidence of the same level of activity this year,” says Furman.

That’s good news for not only the coastal economy, but the state’s economy as a whole.
 
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Farm to school companies expand their horizons
Photo of Katy Coba

(Editor's note: Oregon Department of Agriculture Farm to School Program Manager Michelle Markesteyn Ratcliffe wrote the following article which appeared in the June 8 issue of the Salem Statesman Journal.)
 
Regional and national school markets are opening for Oregon agriculture as farm-to-school programs in the state mature to include serving local foods for the whole tray. Along the way, a couple of regional companies, including one based in Salem, are making inroads to school districts outside of Oregon.
 
What started a few years ago as a few schools dealing individually with a couple of farmers has grown significantly. Since 2007, Oregon has gone from a handful of schools being involved in farm-to-school efforts to 90 of 189 districts serving Oregon agricultural products. Those 90 school districts represent nearly 70 percent of all Oregon students who are being served local foods. There are also about 200 school gardens across the state.
 
Many schools are buying so much local produce that they diversify their purchasing portfolio with both direct sales and having their distributors source it for them. Schools are increasingly looking to buy Oregon grains, legumes, dairy, beef, seafood, eggs and poultry in addition to a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. The USDA’s new meal pattern increases the variety of fruits and vegetables schools will serve starting next school year.
 
“We are lucky to have Oregon’s diversified agricultural commodities finding their way onto kids’ lunch trays,” says Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba. “Several commodity commissions are striking up great partnerships to bring more of the state’s agricultural bounty to Oregon schools. I think that’s outstanding.”
 
A key component of farm to school is classroom education. Teaching children about Oregon agriculture and the source of their food—along with the value of a healthy diet—is considered just as important as providing the local foods themselves. Several of the state’s 23 commodity commissions are taking advantage of the opportunities to connect in the classroom. The Oregon Beef Council and Oregon Cattlemen’s Association teamed up to bring ranchers into the classroom to talk about life on the range. The Oregon Dairy Council is heavily involved with nutrition education and promotion of products through such activities as field trips to dairies. The Oregon Trawl Commission is working on a “boat-to-school” pilot program that parallels the efforts of farm to school.
 
The farm-to-school effort is maturing in Oregon It’s not just about fresh fruits and vegetables that are locally grown, but now includes minimally processed fruits and vegetables and protein sources that include beef, dairy, milk, seafood, eggs, and poultry. In many districts across the state, schools are buying Oregon beef and serving it as part of the main entrée at lunch.
 
The interest in serving Oregon foods is expanding beyond the state’s borders.
 
Recently, 200 innovative school food leaders including food service directors, representatives of related nonprofit and advocacy groups, government partners, vendors, and others from across the country convened for the 2012 Transforming School Food National Gathering in Chicago, produced by School Food FOCUS. A small, juried exhibition within the conference showcased products from some of the most progressive vendors of healthful foods working in schools today. School food buyers who attended the showcase collectively serve lunch to about 20 million children each school day.
 
Entrance into the showcase hinged upon a five-person committee made up of school food service professionals and farm to school experts. Products in the showcase included whole grain breakfast foods and snacks, vegetable sides, whole grain pasta, and entrees of chicken, beef and turkey, all priced affordably for large school districts. The committee reviewed numerous submissions, ultimately accepting 17 companies into the showcase. Three of the 17 were from Oregon or used Oregon ingredients.
 
Two regional food businesses, Truitt Brothers Inc. of Salem and Fairlight Bakery of Vancouver, Washington, obtained coveted spots in the School Food Showcase, as did Cool Frootz, LLC makers of Froozer and Froozables, which markets a new line of products made with Oregon-grown frozen berries and vegetables. Both Fairlight Bakery and Cool Frootz, LLC’s Froozer products were incubated, in part, at Portland’s Food Innovation Center, a joint facility operated by Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
 
“Our participation in the FOCUS Showcase these past three years has reaped great dividends and positioned our company in the epicenter of the nutrition conversation surrounding school food service,” said Rod Friesen, Director of Market Development at Truitt Brothers. “Building key relationships with key thought leaders and difference-makers has been invaluable and provided a launching pad for innovative product ideas.”
 
Truitt Brothers, a Willamette Valley processing company, currently supplies food to preschools and schools across Oregon. This includes several of the largest districts such as the Portland Public Schools and Oakland Unified School District in California. Fairlight Bakery already serves numerous schools in Oregon and Washington, and recently set appointments with two of the top 20 school districts in the country. Schools in five states, and eight hospitals, are interested in serving their students and patients Froozers. Making connections with the largest school districts across the country opens up hubs of market opportunities for other institutions such as health care facilities and business campuses.
 
As the nation’s farm-to-school movement grows in stature and popularity, Oregon agriculture will continue to be right in the middle of it all.
 
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“Celebrating Oregon Ag” kicks off
ODA is pleased to launch Celebrating Oregon Agriculture, a multi-platform program designed to increase consumers’ awareness how Oregon agricultural products are produced, the virtues of the products, where to purchase them, and how to use them. ODA is teaming up with KATU and ediblePortland on this educational and promotional program with television, print and online components. On KATU, Oregonians will see both segments and vignettes. Four-minute segments will take viewers to where Oregon products are produced and encourage viewers to purchase and enjoy them. Segments will air during AM Northwest, Portland’s longest running and favorite talk show, on the following Friday dates: July 27, August 17, September 7 and 21, October 5 and 19, November 16, and December 14. Segments will run again those days on AM Northwest Primetime, which airs on KATU, Channel 2 from 7-8 PM. If you miss the show, you can always view it online at www.katu.com/amnw. Click on the Celebrating Oregon Agriculture tile. Thirty-second promotional vignettes will air the week leading up to the segments. Additionally, one-page promotions will also be seen in ediblePortland’s summer and fall issues, and online at edibleportland.com.

The Celebrating Oregon Agriculture series is expected to reach 88 percent of households in Portland approximately 10 times generating over 15 million gross impressions. This program builds on the previously successful promotions with KATU and ediblePortland of eight Oregon commodities including pears, potatoes, hazelnuts, blueberries, salmon, albacore, Dungeness crab and trawl.

For more information contact Michelle M. Ratcliffe, ODA Farm to School Program Manager. 503.872.6600.
 
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ODA staff settle into new Hermiston facility
Hermiston facility

Finishing touches have been made to ODA’s new facility in Hermiston at 30588 Feedville Road. The region’s Shipping Point Inspection Program, including office coordinator Stephanie Petty, has been operating for several months out of the new, larger, and conveniently-located facility. In addition to a much roomier warehouse and inspection building, the facility houses a training/meeting room open to ag groups. ODA’s Eastern Oregon entomologist, Paul Blom, is also located at the new Hermiston facility.
 
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Announcements

Summer Fair Season

Oregon Soil and Water Conservation Commission meeting

July 25, 2012
Salem, Oregon
Contact: Heather Rickenbach, 503-986-4775

State Board of Agriculture meeting

September 18-20, 2012
Medford, Oregon
Contact: Sherry Kudna​​, 503-986-4619
 
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