|An interview with Governor Kitzhaber|
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber responded to a series of questions regarding agriculture posed by ODA’s Bruce Pokarney, director of communications. In the interview, the governor discusses his vision for Oregon agriculture and the important role it will play in the state’s economic recovery.
|Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber|
What are some of your top priorities as governor for Oregon's natural resource industries, specifically agriculture?
Oregon agriculture is a huge part of our economy and supporting the agricultural economy can, on its own, help strengthen the fabric of our state's economy, smoothing out the boom/bust cycles that have plagued us in the past. I am committed to doing all that we can to grow this economy. To do this, I have introduced a four-part strategy in which we use locally what we can produce locally; we add even more value to our own products when possible right here in Oregon; we bring in fresh capital from the world through opening up new markets and increasing exports of our commodities and value-added products; and we lead the way in research and look for new ways to make agriculture more efficient and add even more value. If we can focus on these four priorities, we can make Oregon agriculture a sustainable and growing part of the economy, by getting even more new capital and keeping it engaged in Oregon even longer and to a much larger economic effect.
From your perspective, how has the agricultural landscape changed since you were first governor?
Certainly the products that Oregon produces have diversified into an incredible array. I also believe that we have an even greater opportunity to collaborate on difficult issues such as water resources. One thing that has not changed is agriculture's importance to our economy, and that is something that likely will never change.
What might you be asking of Oregon's farmers, ranchers, and fishers during your administration? Are there specific actions they can or should expect to take to move the state forward?
I hope that the industry will—as it has before—be willing to work collaboratively with me and our various stakeholders to grow agriculture in Oregon. I believe that we have built good collaborative models like the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds before, and I think there are several promising areas, such as an integrated approach to water use, in which we can make progress during my administration.
What should Oregon farmers, ranchers, and fishers ask of you and your administration? What are some reasonable expectations over the next four years?
Agriculture is our second highest traded sector segment behind technology, and in rural Oregon, it is head and shoulders above the rest. I am committed to sustaining this success and promoting Oregon agricultural products in trade missions to the international marketplace while, at the same time, looking at a number of opportunities to increase our value-added right here in the state. We can do this by engaging in other agriculture-related activities such as renewable, distributed energy, agri-tourism, and innovative programs like farm to school. I am also supportive of efforts to develop an integrated water resources strategy that will address quantity issues important to agriculture as well as all other uses for water and I encourage the agriculture community to be part of this conversation.
You have a reputation for protecting Oregon's environment and worked hard to establish the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds during your first administration. With the ag economy hurting just like other economic sectors, do you take into consideration the financial impact on farmers/ranchers as you advance your environmental agenda?
Oregon's farmers and ranchers are stewards of the land and nothing is more closely associated with Oregon than its ethic of environmental stewardship. And because of this, we have a competitive advantage associated with our reputation for high quality, wholesome, environmentally responsible products that continue to gain recognition in markets here and around the world. That said, I'm fully aware of the impact regulatory programs have on producers. That's why it is important to provide assurance and build upon the good work that has already taken place in the agricultural community.
Senate Bill 1010 and the "Oregon Plan" was one of the great "wins" in the last decade. We demonstrated that by working together voluntarily, we can address an Oregon problem with an Oregon solution—without heavy-handed prescriptive federal oversight. Agriculture made a commitment to improve water quality, restore watershed health, and protect fish habitat, and has generally kept its end of the bargain.
Although we may not always agree on everything, experience clearly shows that when we put our minds to it, develop consensus, and move forward collaboratively, there is no limit to the work we can get done. At this time it is vital for all of Oregon, urban and rural, to come together to address and work through the challenges we face.
You have noted that jobs and the economy are a top priority for your administration. Do you have any specific thoughts on creating or maintaining jobs in the ag sector?
I think there are a couple of things we can do that will have very high impact. First, it is clear that our agricultural economy brings in much needed capital through trade. I engaged in helping our products find new markets when I was Governor before and I plan to do even more this time around. Second, I think the state can play a significant role through its economic development resources to ensure that producers have access to the capital they need to purchase equipment, train employees, and engage in other activities that can help increase the number of products to which we add value right here in Oregon.
Do you have ideas on bringing urban and rural Oregon together through agriculture?
More than in the recent past, I believe that all Oregonians understand the importance of having access to good, wholesome foods and that we have good food security. I believe that through this awareness, we can help bridge the urban/rural divide. Farmers' markets and farm direct sales are extremely important to Oregon agriculture. Like everyone else, I enjoy seeing locally-grown food and agricultural products in our neighborhood grocery stores, schools, and restaurants. And through these preferences, we can begin to educate about the importance of agriculture as a critical trade sector industry in Oregon.
The state budget is facing a huge challenge for the coming biennium. Do you have a message for those who rely on agencies like ODA to deliver important programs and services?
Like all states, Oregon is facing a very, very serious fiscal crisis. But if you look beyond the big numbers, we discover that this fiscal crisis is being driven by some very disturbing trends. Oregon is on an unsustainable course into the future and we are spending more money on problems than we are investing in people. My message to all Oregonians is that the next biennium will be our most difficult, which is why we have to approach it together and approach it correctly. We are at or near a low-point in state revenues but we are at a high point in human need. Balancing our budget will require some difficult choices. It will require managing to a clear set of priorities and in a way that reflects our long-term vision. And it will require leadership to look beyond the next two years to where we want Oregon to be in 2020 and beyond.
Do you remain optimistic about Oregon's future given the current challenges, and if so, where do you expect the agriculture industry to be four years from now at the end of your term?
Yes, I remain optimistic about our future. We have an opportunity—this year—to set Oregon on a course to a bright future. It won't be easy but my budget marked the first step in shifting state investment from addressing problems after they have developed to preventing them in the first place. It funds proven job creation programs to get Oregonians back to work in the short-term and supports early childhood investment as the foundational element to achieving long-term education and economic objectives for Oregon. The agricultural industry has a large part to play. On the road to recovery, we must focus on how we can grow the economy and deliver services that create a fertile environment for that economic growth. And there is no better place to start than with agriculture. It is why people came to Oregon 150 years ago and it is every bit as important today as it was then.
Although I think it is sometimes taken for granted, agriculture is a mighty and enduring economic engine in Oregon. It is steady and reliable. Agriculture-related employment now comprises nearly 11 percent of all jobs in the state. Looking forward to the next four years of my administration, I want to pledge to you that we will do all that we can to not only to sustain Oregon agriculture...but enhance it.
|Board of Agriculture report |
|Board supports the “Big Tent”|
At its quarterly meeting in June, the State Board of Agriculture approved a policy resolution in support of diverse systems, scale, markets, and technology—an approach commonly called “the big tent” because of its inclusiveness to the diversity found in today’s Oregon agriculture:
Whereas a broad spectrum of production systems, certification programs, and technologies exist in agriculture (with many labels)—ranging from organic, natural, sustainable, Good Agriculture Practices (GAP), conventional, biotechnology, and many more;
Whereas Oregon farms vary in scale, business structure, and length of time in operation—some new, some over a century in the same family farm business—all contributing to the mosaic of agriculture in our state;
Whereas farmers have opportunities and responsibilities to many markets, including those nearby (local), regionally, and internationally, any of which may involve selling direct to consumers or wholesale, via contract or open market pricing;
Whereas those engaged in production of agricultural crops or livestock are entrepreneurs, venturing their own knowledge, capital, resources, and ideals to bring products to market with the intent to make a profit;
Whereas farmers should, of their choosing, be able to pursue and utilize all available legal technologies and agriculture production systems to grow crops and raise livestock while preserving the safety of our food supply;
Whereas all growers have the responsibility for good stewardship of natural resources, and every farmer/rancher must make management decisions that can support such stewardship regardless of production system;
Whereas good communication between neighboring farmers about practices and cropping choices is important to maintain crop integrity, resolve potential conflicts between neighboring operations, and help maintain successful farm operations;
Whereas those engaged in agricultural pursuits recognize that improvements in production processes require research, technological advances, and infrastructures to support adoption of new methods;
Whereas feeding and supplying a world population projected to increase from 7 billion to over 9 billion people in the next 30-40 years will require every available production methodology and technology, adapted to local conditions, that improves output while maintaining natural resources;
Therefore, the State Board of Agriculture supports:
a) Wise management of all production systems on farmlands and agriculture applications, striving for economic viability, natural resource stewardship, good neighbor and employee relations, and community connections;
b) Growers retaining the legal and economic opportunity to choose production technologies and resources, size of operation, and business structures necessary to produce products that meet the markets they choose to serve.
c) Growers using Best Management Practices (BMPs) where needed to minimize conflict between production systems as necessary, such as required isolation or control areas, good neighbor (farm-to-farm) communications about crops to be grown, pinning systems that notify other growers of crops and production systems, and other methods of adequate management to minimize cross pollination or crop commingling, noise or nuisance impacts, and other potential interactions;
d) State and Federal programs that encourage a variety of agriculture production systems with appropriate research, infrastructure, tax policies and marketing support to engender new ideas; facilitate commerce; support efficiencies in inputs, production and yields; sustain natural resources; and provide financial and technical assistance when available and appropriate.
A decent legislative session
Board members took great interest in this year’s legislative session, tracking issues important to agriculture, and providing direct input to lawmakers when the opportunity presented itself. Earlier this year, each board member participated in private meetings with key legislators—a process that seems to have been helpful.
“I think these visits were very productive,” says Board Chair Tom Fessler. “We need to continue making those visits. The board went to the State Capitol with a united front, and I believe it paid off. We had legislators who were on the fence that ended up voting for agriculture on key issues. “
Fessler says the board and the industry prepared well for the 2011 session.
“Agriculture has been more united this year due to all the homework done ahead of time,” he says. “The agriculture industry went into the session united and that also paid dividends. We will need to continue the progress we’ve made in order to help agriculture and the other natural resource industries.”
Board looks to fill vacancy
Board member Dan Carver of Maupin has finished two terms of valuable and much appreciated service and his position is now vacant. The Governor’s Office is currently accepting applications. The position is to be filled by an agricultural producer and will be selected by Governor Kitzhaber. While there is no set deadline for applications, the appointment will fill a position whose term expires September 4, 2011.
Those interested in applying for the State Board of Agriculture must complete an interest form and return it to the Governor’s Office. The interest form and other important information can be found online at http://governor.oregon.gov/Gov/boards.shtml.
ODA Director Katy Coba presents
Dan Carver with a gift basket.
When the Oregon Legislature convened early this year, the dark clouds of a challenging economy hovered over state government. Agencies braced for some very serious budget cuts that would impair their ability to provide full services in the 2011-13 biennium. As the session drew to a close, those clouds didn’t completely go away. But most natural resources agencies, the Oregon Department of Agriculture included, were treated as well as could be expected by the legislature given this economic climate.
|Director Katy Coba|
The Oregon Legislature approved a biennial ODA budget of $83 million, which is slightly smaller than the previous budget. It includes some cuts, but also some enhancements. I take that as a signal of strong support for ODA’s mission and programs. Their approval allows us to move forward in key policy areas, programs, and services over the next two years.
This is not something I could have predicted. All agencies went through the process of preparing a budget that included a 25 percent cut in General Fund dollars. While the Governor’s Balanced Budget for ODA did not include that big of a cut, it still contained a significant reduction compared to the 09-11 budget. The legislature was very supportive of the agency and actually reinstated some General Fund dollars above and beyond what was included in the Governor’s Balanced Budget. That puts us in a fairly good place right now.
ODA’s General Fund appropriations have decreased overall. Our reliance on other funds continues to grow and our budget does include some fee increases for customers of specific programs. But what we have seen this session is plenty of bipartisan support at the State Capitol for ODA and the work it does.
To me, that’s a reflection of general support for Oregon’s natural resource industries, not just agriculture. There is a broad recognition by lawmakers that natural resource agencies get such a small percentage of the General Fund compared to other state agencies. Over and over again, the theme at the State Capitol was that Oregonians benefit from the work being done by natural resource agencies, and that it is incumbent on the state to support those agencies with General Fund dollars. By providing proper funding, legislators believe Oregon can keep its natural resource sector strong. Since those industries account for a third of Oregon’s economic activity and also contribute to environmental protection, you can see why there was so much legislative support for agencies like ODA. Jobs and the economy were priorities for Governor Kitzhaber and the legislature.
Budget enhancements approved by the legislature will help. Our Water Quality Program suffered position cuts in the 09-11 biennium. A shortfall in lottery funds also contributed to positions being left vacant. The legislature provided enough revenue to not only fill the vacancies, but create three positions to restore what had been cut while adding a person dedicated to monitoring efforts by landowners to improve water quality.
Budget enhancements for ODA’s marketing effort came as a surprise. Agricultural marketing was a priority for State Senator Chris Edwards, co-chair of the Natural Resources Subcommittee, who wants to take advantage of our success in helping increase agricultural sales. We do a lot of behind-the-scenes work to help folks move their products into the marketplace. The enhanced funding will create three positions in the Portland-based Agricultural Development and Marketing Division. While exact plans for the positions have not been finalized, they will likely address emerging export markets and federal trade issues.
The legislature also added dollars to ODA’s existing predator control efforts—along with a similar enhancement for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife—to deal with emerging threats of wildlife damage facing farmers and ranchers statewide.
Also in the ODA budget are three approved fee increases, all supported by industry groups. They include a hike in seed dealers’ license fees to inspect and certify the quality of Oregon seed crops, an increase in the Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permit fees from a flat rate to a tiered structure based on size of operation, and an increase in commercial shellfish license fees to ensure interstate shipment of shellfish.
The support we received at the Capitol from ag groups and non-ag groups is gratifying. I commend the ODA staff who interact with our customers on a daily basis. Our customer service attitude serves the agency well. We do the best we can with the resources we have. There is no fluff in this agency, and I think that’s recognized by our customers.
Now it’s time for the agency to get to work and show that the legislature’s budget support this session is well justified.
|Oregon provides fertile ground for fertilizer products|
This spring, Don Wolf of the Oregon Department of Agriculture was in Medford to attend the state’s largest indoor garden and hydroponic trade show. As one of ODA’s fertilizer specialists, Wolf educated exhibitors about the requirement for product registration. It was a great way to know what new products might not be registered yet and to give manufacturers a point of contact. It’s just part of his job as a team member of ODA’s robust fertilizer program that has come a long way in 10 years.
|Don Wolf spends time looking at the labeling on fertilizer|
Fertilizer producers sometimes make some outlandish claims.
“There are a lot of products trying to make environmental claims that they are eco-safe, eco-friendly, safe for kids, safe for pets,” says Wolf. “Frankly, many of those claims should not be on the product. We’ve seen products claiming on one part of the label to be safe for kids, but on another part of the label, it says keep out of reach of children. That kind of labeling is not fair to the consumer.”
With the proliferation of fertilizer products in Oregon these days, marketing claims are sometimes fabricated to gain a competitive edge. It’s good that someone is watching to level the playing field.
“We follow the entire process,” says Wolf. “We take the phone call from the person who may be interested in marketing a fertilizer product. We help with the label and registration process. We make sure the heavy metals in the fertilizer product are tested and below legal limits. We make sure the label claims are reasonable for what is in the product. Then after they start selling the product, we go to various retail locations and check those products. We do some random sampling to make sure what’s advertised on the container is really what’s in the container. If there are issues with any of that process, we may take enforcement action.”
But like many other ODA regulatory programs, education comes first. As far as the legal requirements for fertilizer products go, Oregon’s fertilizer law—revised in 2001— is relatively new and those who manufacture or distribute products have been given some time to learn all about it.
“This is primarily a consumer protection law,” says fellow ODA fertilizer specialist Matt Haynes. “Ten years ago, the labeling of fertilizer products was all over the place and potentially misleading the consumer. Few paid attention, there were no standards, and some companies were doing whatever they wanted. The new statute actually has some teeth to it and allows us to go after violators.”
The law’s major components deal with product labels and heavy metals. Oregon requires an internet address on labels to provide the public with relevant information. Oregon has also set maximum limits of arsenic, cadmium, mercury, nickel, and lead allowed in fertilizer products offered for sale or distributed in Oregon.
“California and Washington both adopted standards for levels of non-nutritive substances in fertilizers,” says Haynes. “We didn’t want to become a dumping ground for products with elevated levels of heavy metals.”
In 2010, ODA registered 7,515 fertilizer, agricultural mineral, agricultural amendment, and lime products, amounting to more than 1.1 million tons of product. ODA also conducted 61 marketplace inspections in 2010, sampling and analyzing 82 products for accurate claims.
“Ten years ago, we registered about 3,000 products and the program consisted of a half time position to cover the whole state,” says Haynes. “Now we have three full time positions, but still can’t get everywhere.”
To some extent, the explosion in fertilizer products corresponds to the growth in hydroponics in general, and specifically the production of marijuana—both medical and non-medical.
“Hydroponics has been one of the fastest growing segments of our registrations,” says Wolf. “There is a wide range of products out there and it is very competitive. Portland and Medford seem to be the areas where there is a growing number of hydroponic product distributors.”
Hydroponics is growing plants without soil by using minerals and nutrients in water. A part of the market is geared towards food production. But a sizable portion of the fertilizer products sold at hydroponic markets appear to be used for “alternative agriculture,” largely known as marijuana production. Oregon’s Medical Marijuana Act allows the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana by patients with certain medical conditions, through a doctor’s prescription. It’s no secret that many parts of the west are known for non-medical marijuana production, too. Anecdotal evidence suggests more users are growing their own and that production has moved indoors, allowing for year around cultivation. Of course, that kind of non-medical marijuana production is illegal. ODA’s role in regulating fertilizer products does not come with authority or responsibility for what the fertilizer is used for. Criminal activity involving controlled substances is handled by law enforcement agencies.
“Again, we are concerned that every product out there is registered so that we have some idea of its safety in terms of heavy metals and that the labeling is consistent with what’s in the product,” says Wolf.
That’s assuming there is a label in the first place.
“Some retailers have admitted they have received boxes of products without any labels,” says ODA fertilizer investigator Toby Primbs. “Sometimes the front label doesn’t match the back label. Sometimes the company gets the wrong ingredients from the supplier.”
When that happens, ODA issues a stop sale, use, or removal order until the problem can be resolved. Repeated problems can result in regulatory actions ranging from a notice of non-compliance to a civil penalty.
Some businesses actually say thank you when ODA pays a visit.
“I’ve had distributors tell me they are glad we are looking at fertilizer products and wish some of the other states would look as thoroughly, too,” says Primbs.
The ultimate consumers—from home gardeners to food producers—are also happy ODA is looking.
|ODA certification gives Malheur onions a boost|
Near the Oregon–Idaho border, the steady buzz of activity in the onion fields of Malheur County is still weeks away. But the Oregon Department of Agriculture is gearing up for year number three of a voluntary testing and certification program that truly is first-of-its-kind and designed to give the local onions a decided advantage in the marketplace.
|ODA's Casey Prentiss (left) and Don Landis |
“This program doesn’t just help Oregon onions in the export market, it works domestically as well,” says Ontario-based ODA Shipping Point Manager Casey Prentiss. “What we have here is a government certification program that says our onions are clean.”
The term “clean” refers to onions that are verified by ODA as being free of pesticide residue and microbial contamination issues. Certification can pave the way for clear sailing into the marketplace.
“It really has given many of our shippers an advantage,” says Prentiss. “They have something no one else has.”
A mainstay in Oregon’s top ten list of agricultural commodities, onions have a production value that annually hovers around the $100 million mark. Much of the state’s onion production takes place in the Treasure Valley of Malheur County. The region is home to gifted growers, proficient processors and packers, and savvy shippers and marketers who know how to add value to the crop through certification.
In 2009, a group of onion industry leaders formed a consortium of shippers that would require all the onions purchased from local growers be sampled and tested for pesticide residues. The non-profit group, known as Certified Onions Incorporated (COI), has worked with ODA to create a program that now certifies 96 percent of the onions grown in the area. Out of 31 shippers, 22 have joined COI. Some of the onions in the program come from Idaho.
“What they are trying to do is admirable,” says Jim Cramer, administrator of ODA’s Commodity Inspection Division. “They have wanted to clean up the industry and, at the same time, gain market share for their compliance efforts.”
Food safety assurance is at the heart of the certification program. Onion growers and shippers recognize the importance of having a comprehensive sampling and testing process that reassures large-scale buyers—and ultimately consumers—that the product is safe.
The certification by ODA begins in the field. Documentation is key. An identification system follows the onion from field to fork. Should there be a product recall, the documentation can trace the onion right back to the field, reducing the amount of product recalled.
Onion samples are taken using a predetermined selective process. ODA inspectors practice biosecurity—including rinsing boots with disinfectant—to make sure field sanitation is maintained and inspectors are not vectors for disease. Samples are bagged and taken to a preparatory lab in Ontario where the onions are sliced, diced, and minced before their journey to ODA’s regulatory lab in Portland. The preparation work saves time and money.
“I check the paperwork and the sample numbers with the actual onions,” says Don Landis, who does the prep work in the clean room. “Each onion comes with the grower’s name, sample number, date, GPS coordinates, and who pulled the sample. I then make sure everything is sanitary before prepping the onions.”
Twenty pounds of onions get whittled down to a more efficient and usable form. At the end of the process, official samples are held in small plastic cups that are loaded into freezers until it is time to send them off to Portland. When Landis is done with one batch, he cleans the knife, the blender used to puree the onions, the cutting board, and anything else that might have come in contact with the sample. Then he repeats the cycle. In late summer, he will work as many as 80 hours a week during peak season to get the onions prepared for lab analysis six hours away in Portland.
“The shippers have signed an agreement that says they won’t ship these onions until the test results from the analysis come back,” says Cramer. “It’s very time-sensitive.”
The testing takes place before harvest. Any problems with pesticide residue need to be discovered before shipping.
Once in Portland, ODA chemists and microbiologists analyze for pesticide residues or food pathogens in order to meet industry standards set for onions. New sophisticated equipment is used to test and analyze food products destined for specific markets. After the test, shippers receive a certificate that verifies the onions are free of pesticides or micro-organisms. The certificate is a powerful marketing tool.
The information provided by Certified Onion’s proactive program is often a necessity nowadays to gain entry into the domestic and international marketplace. The independent, third-party certification leads to a warm reception overseas for Oregon onions. The success could pave the way for other Oregon commodities to employ the same kind of certification.
“Things will really be hopping in late July,” says Prentiss. “The difference this year is the amount of acreage involved in the program. In year one, we certified less than 10,000 acres of onions. This year, we will do close to 20,000 acres. This year, we will be certifying some peppers and shallots. Things are progressing. People are realizing that COI is gaining market advantage and is a good investment.”
Prentiss was asked by COI to work a booth at this year’s Produce Marketing Association show in Orlando, which attracts buyers from all over the world. In three days, he gave out more than 500 brochures promoting the certification program for Oregon onions, choosing to only provide brochures to people who were really interested.
“I know our shippers have received some new business from that show,” he says.
ODA and COI consider each other partners. The program has brought some unity among shippers and has shown onion growers the value ODA can provide.
“I don’t believe ODA could have done this program by itself, neither could COI,” says Prentiss. “The onion growers here are kind of like herding cats with a broom, it’s hard to get them to one place. But the shippers took this on and the growers have embraced the program. Hopefully, it continues to be a big marketing tool for our onion industry.”
|Weed warriors leave ODA a legacy of accomplishment|
About 30 years ago, Douglas County rancher Ken Bare welcomed a visitor bearing gifts. Ken French of the Oregon Department of Agriculture showed up with a vial of cinnabar moths– good bugs that feasted on bad weeds. Many parts of the state were plagued by tansy ragwort, a poisonous noxious weed responsible for $4 million in annual cattle losses from animals ingesting the plant. French released the moths on a patch of tansy. The results were not immediate, but within a couple of years, the tansy was gone. The plant still exists in Oregon, but at populations small enough to avoid the damage done in the past. Three decades of control efforts have greatly improved the situation, especially west of the Cascades where French has been operating.
|Ken French - weed control, the early days|
“It’s all about protecting Oregon’s valuable resources,” says French. “We have some of the most productive forage in the world here."
Another ODA noxious weed control specialist, Dan Sharratt, has operated in the opposite corner of the state. Hells Canyon is one of his favorite spots, but the scenic beauty of the area is threatened by Dalmatian toadflax. Once again, biological control has come to the rescue in the form of Mecinus janthinus, a weevil that feasts on toadflax.
“I worked with the Forest Service and BLM getting Mecinus moved to sites on the Snake River and Salmon River in Idaho, where toadflax was rapidly invading and threatening MacFarland’s 4-O’Clock habitat– a gorgeous rare plant,” says Sharratt. “Two years ago, they quit spraying herbicide on toadflax in the canyon because the bugs are doing the job.
Noxious weeds, desirable but threatened plants, and biocontrol agents all seem to have colorful names. But the Oregon Department of Agriculture is saying goodbye to a pair of its most colorful workers. French and Sharratt are retiring after long careers battling noxious weeds. French, who covers Southern Oregon from his base in Canyonville, has served ODA for 31 years. Sharratt, based in Eastern Oregon’s Union County, started with ODA in 1976 as a graduate student at Oregon State University.
“I was doing research at OSU on biological control agents for tansy ragwort,” says Sharratt. “Upon graduation, I went full time working primarily on the ragwort flea beetle. While at OSU, my primary studies were horticulture, with strong minors in botany, entomology, and statistics. I took weed control and biological control classes, so I guess my training was a good fit.”
After working for ODA at its Salem headquarters, Sharratt convinced his bosses that it would be more effective to have permanent staff located in eastern Oregon, rather than sending crews out periodically to do surveys. When he started, ODA’s biological control program was working on two weeds with two insects. Now, Oregon is seen as a national leader in the biological control of noxious weeds. To date, ODA has released 71 species of biocontrol agents against 30 species of weeds.
“Biological control implementation and monitoring has easily been the best part of my job,” says Sharratt. “Watching the long term changes to the landscape over a period of years has been rewarding. I also realize that no matter what happens to our program or county weed control programs, the good bugs will still be out there working. It has been a kick.”
The list of noxious weeds French has dealt with over the years reads like a who’s who of invasive plant species– rush skeletonweed, tansy ragwort, Italian thistle, distaff thistle, Scotch broom, Himalayan blackberry, and Paterson’s curse. French was the first in Oregon to deal with the latter.
“We had to act quickly to keep Paterson’s curse from becoming the next tansy ragwort,” says French. “You can’t underestimate how destructive weeds can be. If we don’t go after them, they will just take over and displace our crops and native plants.”
Ken French has been a master at bringing together landowners and others to get the job done. Paterson's curse spread over 300 acres when it was first detected in 2004. A variety of partners have come together to deliver a comprehensive blow to the weed. French has worked with the Douglas Soil and Water Conservation District, Roseburg Forest Products, and the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Indian Tribe to treat the infestation before the weed goes to seed. Paterson’s curse is now considered 90 percent controlled in the area. In Australia, where the noxious weed is out of control, officials report a $33 million per year impact on pasture and range land.
The annual damage caused by noxious weeds in Oregon is estimated in excess of $100 million. A strategy of early detection and rapid response effectively keeps introductions of invasive weeds from fully establishing.
“For those who remain in the program or who will follow, it requires passion,” says Sharratt. “It’s great to see there is still passion in the force out there. I feel like I am leaving things in good hands.”
Sharratt and French can talk about good hands, but ODA will try to follow in the footsteps of these two retiring warriors as it keeps fighting the good fight against noxious weeds.
|Equine herpes episode captivates Oregon horse owners|
The season for county fairs, horse shows, exhibits, and competitions is in full bloom. Thankfully, a serious form of equine herpes that occupied the full attention of western state veterinarians apparently has run its course with minimal consequences.|
“Horse owners in Oregon and throughout the Pacific Northwest should feel free to participate in horse shows, rodeos, and other equine events,” says State Veterinarian Dr. Don Hansen of the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
A multi-state outbreak of the neurological form of equine herpes virus (EHM) this spring was traced to a horse show in Utah. Sufficient time has passed to give a clean bill of health to horses that may have been exposed to the virus. The few horses that did show symptoms of the disease were quarantined in their barns or stalls and monitored closely until the virus was no longer present.
“Any horse that didn’t test positive, show any symptoms, or was not exposed to a confirmed positive horse has been okay for travel and participation in equine events,” says Hansen. “Early on, we were in close communication with owners of the affected horses and owners of the horses’ stable mates. Those animals were kept isolated and under close watch for several weeks. Once those horses had gone 28 days without any signs of illness, including fever, they were no longer contagious and were released from quarantine.”
As soon as the first case of the outbreak was reported in another state, Oregon responded with rapid communication. Hansen alerted a statewide network of veterinarians about the disease and directed them to contact all owners of horses in their care. Any suspected or confirmed cases of EHM remain reportable to Dr. Hansen.
EHM is not transmissible to people, but it is a serious disease of horses that can cause respiratory, neurologic disease, and death. The most common way for EHM to spread is by direct horse-to-horse contact. The virus can also spread through coughing and sneezing, contaminated equipment, clothing, and hands.
Among the lessons learned from this spring’s equine herpes event is the importance of horse owners doing what they can to prevent the diseases in the first place. That includes practicing good biosecurity and hygiene at all times.
“While we appear to be out of the most recent episode, herpes viruses in general are common in horse populations as they are in human populations,” says Hansen. “It’s always a good idea to take steps that minimize the threat of disease. That was the case before the recent outbreak and will continue to be the case in the future.”
Tips to help prevent the spread of equine herpes virus
- Don’t share equipment among horses on the facility. The virus can be spread from horse to horse via contaminated objects such as water and feed buckets or bridles.
- Prevent spread of the virus from horse to horse, via hands and clothing. People should wash hands after handling one horse and before handling another. Using disinfectant to sanitize footwear can also help minimize the risk of people spreading the virus between animals.
- “For the rest of the summer and fall, there is no reason to avoid shows, exhibitions, competitions, and other equine activities,” says Hansen.
Any questions or concerns from horse owners in Oregon should be referred to their private veterinarian.
For more information on equine herpes virus and biosecurity tips, go to http://oregon.gov/ODA/AHID/pages/equine_herpes_virus.aspx
|Hazelnut farmers recycle empty shells for hazelnut drying|
By Stephanie Page
|Steve Heesacker stands in front of the new biomass boiler|
This coming fall, Steve and Karla Heesacker will not have to purchase propane to dry hazelnuts at their Forest Grove farm and drying facility. Instead they will use an agricultural resource in ample supply—“blank” hazelnut shells—to fuel a biomass boiler. This renewable energy project also offers significant cost savings.
In the past, the Heesackers typically used about 9,000 gallons of propane a year to dry hazelnuts from their farm and other local hazelnut farms. Between 2007 and 2009, their propane costs varied between $1.00 and $2.14 per gallon. At one point, they looked into having natural gas piped out to their farm, but the effort was not successful.
However, another potential source of heat energy was available right on the farm—“blank” hazelnut shells. The Heesackers separate the blank shells as well as sticks and other debris from other hazelnuts in a cleaning system before drying the nuts at their facility. The blank shells and sticks have a high energy content, making them an excellent heating fuel.
Steve Heesacker began researching biomass boilers online in 2009, and found the Max Ox boiler through Total Energy Solutions, LLC in Pennsylvania. He contacted the Oregon Department of Energy and Oregon Department of Agriculture about funding opportunities for such a project. The two state agencies, along with USDA Rural Development, worked with the Heesackers to successfully apply for a Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) and a USDA renewable energy grant.
In the summer of 2010, Total Energy Solutions delivered and installed the boiler, and BCJ and Sons Mechanical Corp in Newberg installed heat exchangers and a dehumidifier.
“Total Energy Solutions connected an internet cable to the boiler, so they can monitor it from Pennsylvania and access it if I ever have a problem,” Steve Heesacker explains.
That fall, the Heesackers were able to test the system as they dried the year’s hazelnut crop. They expected that the blank shells would provide enough fuel to completely eliminate their need for propane, and this year’s supply turned out to be more than enough.
“The fuel didn’t burn as fast as we expected to get the heat we needed,” explains Steve Heesacker. “We had two times the expected number of blanks in 2010, so we had way more fuel than we needed."
Steve Heesacker says he is pleased with the cleanliness and low maintenance required to operate the boiler. “The thing that surprised me is that you don’t have to be babysitting it all the time. I’m too busy that time of year to run it,” he explains.'
A tank stores the blank hazelnut shells, and a conveyor belt transports the shells to the boiler hopper. Sensors in the boiler hopper determine when fuel is getting low and send a signal to the conveyor belt to put fuel in the hopper; once the fuel reaches a certain level in the hopper, the conveyer belt automatically shuts off. Ash from the combustion process collects slowly in an ash bin attached to the system.
“I only had to empty the bin three times during the drying season,” Steve Heesacker explains. “It burns very clean – you can’t see anything coming out of the vents.”
The Heesackers worked with Washington County and the State Building Codes Division to permit the project. A mechanical permit was required from the county. The Building Codes Division boiler inspector helped the Heesackers design the boiler venting system so that a state permit would not be required.
“They just had us add an extra vent,” explains Steve Heesacker. “That made the system unpressurized, because of the double venting, so that annual inspections are not required.”
Altogether the project materials and installation cost approximately $99,000. “I also spent about $8,000 on engineering drawings as part of the county permitting process,” explains Steve Heesacker.
Assuming a propane cost of $1.70 per gallon, the Heesackers will recover the project cost in about seven years. The Oregon Business Energy Tax Credit and $20,000 USDA Rural Energy for America grant will accelerate the payback period.
The agencies involved in the project look forward to working with other agricultural producers and processors on similar projects. “This was such a great project and an excellent use of biomass fuel available on the farm,” explains Matt Krumenauer with the Oregon Department of Energy. “We think there are more farm-scale biomass project opportunities out there and look forward to working with farmers to support more of these systems.”
|ODA web feature: Licenses|
Are you confused about whether you need a license from Oregon Department of Agriculture? Do you want to find a person to talk with about your license? A click on the “search for licenses” link from the ODA home page will let you discover agricultural licensing information in three different ways.
1) Browse our list of ODA licenses to learn about specific license requirements.
2) Browse or search the state’s license database web page.
- Click on the license name to get information about the particular license type including: A description of the license requirement, related rules and statutes, fees, renewal information, and other requirements.
- Click on the division name to access related information provided by the ODA division that administers the license.
- Dial the phone number if you want to speak directly to someone who can answer your questions.
This is one stop shopping for licenses and permits from the State of Oregon. Perhaps you don’t know which agency handles a particular license; this page provides many browse and search options to help you navigate the many license types available.
3) Check out ODA's online database search page.
From this site you can search for license holders and other public information organized by ODA division.
Don't forget to bookmark ODA's home page for news, information, and other resources: http://oregon.gov/ODA
Some examples follow:
- Oregon veterinarians and clinics
- Commercial feed registrations
- Apiary registration
- Wholesale produce dealer
- Domestic kitchen license
- Egg handler permit
- Retail food establishment
- Natural resources (CAFO) licenses
- Pesticide applicator licenses
- Pesticide product registrations
- Nursery and Christmas tree licenses
|Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) Calendar Winner Reception|
August 28, 2011, 1:30 p.m.
More than 1,800 K-12 students from across 28 counties in Oregon submitted artwork about Oregon agriculture. From this plethora of creativity, the program has chosen 13 winners to appear in the AITC annual school-year calendar. The students will be awarded $50 savings bonds and recognized at a reception during the Oregon State Fair.
Oregon State Weed Board Meeting
September 26, 27, 2011, 12:00 p.m.
Boardman, Oregon (venue will be announced later)
For more information, please call Jo Davis at 503-986-4621
Agriculture in the Classroom Fall Harvest Fundraiser Dinner
October 22, 2011, 5:30 p.m. Mark your calendars!
Linn County Fair & Expo Center
Oregon State University offers low-cost energy audits
Producers looking for energy saving opportunities on their farms can now schedule a low-cost assessment with Oregon State University’s Energy Efficiency Center at $370 per assessment, one-quarter of the typical cost. OSU’s Energy Efficiency Center has identified energy saving strategies for agricultural producers, including irrigation systems, insulating greenhouses, and lighting improvements, along with other savings opportunities.
For more information about the program, contact the Energy Efficiency Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-737-3004.
Notice to Hispanic and/or women farmers or ranchers
Compensation for claims of discrimination
USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.
If you believe that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) improperly denied farm loan benefits to you between 1981 and 2000 because you are Hispanic, or because you are female, you may be eligible to apply for compensation.
If you want to register your name to receive a claims packet, you can call the Farmer and Rancher Call Center at 1-888-508-4429 or access the following website: www.farmerclaims.gov
More information: http://www.usda.gov/documents/8.5x11_eng_bl.pdf