|ODA Director Coba peers into the crystal ball for 2012|
Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba enters her 10th year on the job. Despite the challenges of the past few years, she looks forward to the opportunities ahead in the new year. The following interview with Director Coba highlights many of the key issues facing Oregon agriculture over the next 12 months.|
Q: As we head into 2012, do you have your usual sense of optimism for Oregon agriculture?
A: I do, partly because we've weathered an incredible economic storm. Certainly with specific commodity sectors, we're seeing a lot of improvement and opportunity. So I'm optimistic for 2012 and hope that all of Oregon agriculture can see improvements.
Q: What are some of the bright spots in Oregon agriculture production?
A: You have to mention wheat. The price has been very good for wheat growers for a pretty long time, relatively speaking. Oregon wheat producers have to be feeling pretty happy about how things are going. Hay is another commodity where the price is just through the roof right now, which makes hay growers happy but makes livestock producers not so happy. Beef cattle, relatively speaking again, we are seeing very low numbers across the US. Of course, that has driven the price up, even in these down economic times. I also have to mention blueberries. We've seen a lot of growth on the production side. Now we're going to see some expansion on the market side and, I think, some real good opportunities for our blueberry growers.
Q: Do you see a brighter future for some of those commodities that have been struggling the past few years?
A: Yes, I do. Specifically for nursery and grass seed-the sectors probably hit hardest by the economic downturn because of their ties to housing construction in the US. Some nursery producers are seeing upward trends in the market, which is a good thing. With grass seed, we are starting to see built up inventories being reduced and almost eliminated in some cases. Hopefully, these important agricultural sectors will see more of an upturn in 2012.
Q: What might be some of the challenges facing producers in 2012?
A: If you talk to farmers and ranchers, as always, they have concerns about regulations and duplication of regulatory agencies. There is a lot of focus at the national level on environmental regulations. Some of those proposed regulations are being tapered or will not be moving forward. But the proposals have raised enough concern that producers are just on edge right now, and understandably so. As an example, there is a brand new NPDES permit required for aerial applications of pesticides on, over, or near water. We think the issue is more than adequately covered under FIFRA regulations, but now because of a court decision, agriculture has a new NPDES requirement under the Clean Water Act. That's very frustrating for growers. From an Oregon Department of Agriculture perspective, it makes our job even more important as we try to reach out and help producers meet regulations, even if they are our own regulations-making sure we're implementing them in a way that's workable on the ground, and that they are flexible and don't provide any more challenges to our producers than they currently have.
Q: What's on the horizon for our food processing industry?
A: Again, in this economic downturn, it's a challenge for our food processors to compete with processors in other countries that have lower costs. I'm proud of our processing industry. I really have not heard of many-knock on wood-that have gone out of business during this downturn. They, like our farmers and ranchers, have maybe been able to weather through the storm. They remain an absolutely critical component to Oregon agriculture. Anything we can do to strengthen and encourage that strong relationship between our producers and processors is a benefit for all of us.
Q: When it comes to marketing, you've said Oregon agriculture relies on a "three-legged stool" approach, where it needs local, domestic, and international markets. Is that still true for 2012?
A: Yes, I would say two of the three legs are really rockin' and rollin' right now. Clearly, there is strong interest and heightened desire for all things local. We see it everywhere we turn. It really started at the restaurant level, but we're seeing it at the grocery store level. People want to know where their food comes from, they want to know how it's grown, and they want to support their local farmer and rancher-which is a good thing. Sometimes getting our local products into a local market can be a bit of a challenge. But I think there is a lot of interest, particularly at the federal level, to try and figure out a way to facilitate allowing local products to stay in the local market. Then you've got the Farm to School Program, which is a huge success in Oregon-not just due to ODA, but we are certainly on that team moving that issue forward. We're hoping to see other opportunities-maybe farm to hospital-that can really help local farmers and ranchers.
The other leg doing well is the international market. US agricultural exports reached an all time high this past year. We expect that trend to continue. Right now, the opportunities for Oregon into Asia, because of our proximity to that market, seem to be endless. The recent ratification of the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement means that South Korea is definitely a renewed focus for us at ODA, working with the industry, to get Oregon products into that market. There are great opportunities now that tariffs are slowly ratcheting down. Don't forget, Oregon is the first and only US state allowed to ship fresh blueberries into South Korea. We'll start doing that in 2012.
Q: Are there some new export markets to look forward to in 2012?
A: The one that jumps to mind for me, and we were just there on a mission with the Oregon and Washington potato commissions, is Vietnam. Oregon agriculture, at least from ODA's standpoint, has not been real active in that country. There may be some good options for Oregon agriculture. Fresh potatoes dipped their toe in there first, but there are definitely some other products that could be successful in Vietnam.
Q: Another area we hear about each year is food safety. What do you hear will be going on in 2012?
A: The big question mark is the Federal Food Safety Modernization Act. There are just so many questions surrounding its implementation. FDA is slowly developing rules and guidance that they will be getting out for comment. It's absolutely critical that the industry pays attention to those proposed rules and comments on them so we can try to structure them in the best way to be successful. I don't see any way that FDA is going to be adequately funded and staffed to fully implement the new Food Safety Modernization Act. That's going to pose a real challenge because there are such high expectations. It just seems that right now, we can't catch a break from food borne illnesses. So food safety is going to continue to be a huge topic for us at ODA, for the industry, and how we move forward to hopefully and successfully implement the Act.
Q: What do you see in 2012 regarding environmental issues?
A: Besides the pesticide issues mentioned earlier, water quality will continue to be important. There is a lot of interest and a recommitment by farmers and ranchers to the success of ODA's ag water quality program right now. Producers want to show that it is working. We are working hard to document and be able to tell a story that showcases success to those outside of the agriculture industry.
Q: There will be a huge need for increased food production to meet future population growth. You've said in the past that research holds the key to making that possible. Do you see advances in research and development in 2012?
A: There are going to have to be advances in research and development. I'm a little concerned about how that will be funded as we see budget cuts at the state level. Oregon State University is scrambling to keep support for sufficiently operating their experiment stations and extension service. The federal budget is no better. A lot of critical research is funded with federal funds that I'm concerned aren't going to be there in the next few years. Will the private sector be able to pick up the cost of that research? In some cases, they will. In other cases, I think they will struggle. At the same time, we can't feed a projected world population by the year 2040 with our current technology and ability to produce food. The pressure is on and we must keep paying attention to that issue, knowing that the need for research and development is only going to intensify.
Q: What do you see happening with the Farm Bill this coming year?
A: I think the Farm Bill is going to be very contentious. We saw a sneak preview of that with the Super Committee work and concerns that the agreement reached around the Farm Bill reductions were kept secret. No one knew what those reductions were and the committee was trying to push them through in a hurried fashion. Of course, those efforts fell apart, but there are many saying what was proposed to the Super Committee is going to be the starting point for the Farm Bill negotiations. We already know there are people on all sides of the issue that are unhappy with one or more provisions. It's going to be a very difficult political negotiation and it's going to be an election year. We may find come September that Congress is just going to have to extend the current Farm Bill and deal with it after the election. I think it's going to be very difficult to get a Farm Bill completed in 2012.
Q: How is ODA going to do its job in 2012?
A: No new news here. Again, we face a budget shortfall. We don't know to what extent. So we will go into the February session, just as every other agency, looking at potential cuts. We've tried to manage to what we expect that cut level is going to be. We're really trying hard to move forward with programs and a budget that was approved for the 2011-13 biennium. We are already facing cuts four to five months into that biennium. It depends a lot on what happens in the February session and how legislators choose to balance the budget statewide. It also depends on Oregon's future economy and if we can hold steady from an economic perspective or if we are looking at additional downturns in revenue. If we see additional reductions, we are going to be cutting programs. I've been straightforward on this topic. There are no longer places where we can get enough efficiency to avoid impacting programs.
Q: Where does the non-ag public fit in when it comes to the agriculture industry this coming year?
A: The message I like to share with the non-agricultural public is, first and foremost, agriculture is still a very important part of Oregon's economy, and will be an even more important part in the future because of the growing worldwide demand for food and fiber products. US and Oregon agriculture will be picking up a lot of the burden of meeting that increased demand. We grow wonderful products in our state that we can share locally, domestically, and internationally. So Oregon agriculture is here to stay. It's not going away, it's not a dying industry.
Secondly, I think Oregonians love their farmers and ranchers. They don't always love the things that they think [the farmers] are doing to raise food and fiber products. They have to understand that farming is a business. It takes the full suite of tools to grow the products Oregon grows. On the other hand, Oregon's farmers and ranchers are all about what is wonderful about this state-our environment, our wildlife. If they don't take care of our land and our water, guess what? They can't grow a crop. I hope Oregonians will give a little more credit for the way agriculture manages our natural resources. And I hope Oregonians continue to appreciate our farmers and ranchers in 2012.
|Board of Agriculture Profile: Holiday wishes for Oregon agriculture|
If you have one wish for Oregon agriculture in 2012, what would it be? That's the question posed by the Agriculture Quarterly to each member of the State Board of Agriculture. For many board members, there were multiple wishes.|
"I wish for fair prices and a general understanding that some of the regulations that we in agriculture have to deal with need some modification so we can continue to be in business. I also wish to see the encouragement of future generations to get involved in agriculture. We need young people to consider agriculture as a career."
"First, as we enter this holiday season it is fitting that we give thanks for this past year. Much of the rest of society has experienced loss of jobs, decrease in values of homes and retirement accounts, drought and famine. Although we can find cases where Oregon producers or a commodity group have had a difficult year, generally Oregon Ag has had a good year and is off to a good start for 2012."
"I wish for success in marketing what our farmers and ranchers produce. ODA's continued efforts in creating and expanding markets for Oregon agricultural products will help all of us. Removing trade barriers and establishing trade agreements overseas helps Oregon producers. Having been to Asia recently, I can say for certain that these markets will continue to demand food products we produce in Oregon. So I'm hoping we can maintain the momentum and build on the successful efforts already made."
Steve Van Mouwerik
"My wish for the new year would be no sudden changes in commodity prices or input costs. I hope as things play out, any changes in the ag economy will be incremental rather than any sudden snapbacks in markets or input costs. That's another way of saying I hope we have stable oil prices and some predictable supply and demand scenarios."
"Probably one of the best things to wish for is continued good prices for our producers so the agriculture industry can catch up from years past and start investing in more projects that keep Oregon successful."
"It's fairly simple for me. I wish for continued fair and profitable prices, positive weather conditions, continued use of inputs, and reduced regulatory burden."
"I wish that everyone is able to understand and appreciate the efforts that farmers and ranchers make to sustain the environment so it will continue to produce high quality food for future generations."
"My wish would be that the food consuming population would continue to learn about what it really takes to grow and deliver high quality food to our urban centers. I hope consumers continue to know more and care more about their food source, and that they are willing to pay the true cost of what it takes to produce that food."
"I wish for plenty of rain at the right time, plenty of sunshine at the right time, and less government regulation ALL the time."
"I hope to see Oregon agriculture increasingly sustainable in the coming year so that it is better for people, the planet and, of course, more profitable. One of the ways I see to do this is to get more consumers connected to local food. This has the potential to build healthier communities and increase profitability for the farmers too!"
|A better butterfly bush|
Sunday morning garden shows have often promoted the butterfly bush as a desirable ornamental plant for homeowners. After all, its flowers are attractive and its nectar alluring to butterflies and hummingbirds. But the plant spreads aggressively and in 2004 was listed as a noxious weed in Oregon by the State Weed Board. Home gardeners and retail nurseries were upset that the butterfly bush could no longer be sold in Oregon.
|Photo credit: Ball Horticultural Company|
But thanks to plant breeding, the invasive nature of butterfly bush has been bred out and new sterile varieties are now commercially available in Oregon.
“This has become a win-win situation,” says Tim Butler, supervisor of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Noxious Weed Program. “With the development of sterile varieties, we’ve been able to restore a popular plant for homeowners while protecting our environment from spread of an invasive species.”
A pretty plant can do some ugly things
With its showy flowers, fast growth, and ability to prosper in poor soil conditions, the butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii, doesn’t seem to belong on a list with such nasty sounding species as bull thistle and medusahead rye. But the plant has long been a huge problem in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. It has negatively impacted parts of the US. Escaped butterfly bushes have been known to grow in the cracks of pavement or sidewalks, reaching as high as 20 feet tall.
“When we first started getting reports of it in the wild in Oregon, we began an early dialogue with the nursery industry,” says Butler. “At the time, they were not very receptive to the idea of listing the butterfly bush as a noxious weed. So we collected evidence through surveys to document the spread. We worked with private foresters who showed us examples of butterfly bush moving into clearcut units and becoming a problem.”
Private timber company sites in Coos County had large populations of butterfly bush outcompeting young Douglas fir seedlings that were planted as part of a reforestation effort. These sites were many miles away from any residential areas where butterfly bush might be planted, suggesting that the wind carried seeds a long distance. Gravel bars in the Salmon Creek drainage in Lane County were covered in butterfly bush. It was not hard to produce pictures that proved the invasiveness of the ornamental plant.
Oregon became the first state to list Buddleja davdii as a noxious weed. That status has been modified because of commercial cultivars now available that simply have no seeds.
Research to the rescue
Where there’s a market, there’s often a way. So many consumers want to purchase butterfly bush, that the nursery industry responded through plant genetics. At the time of its noxious weed listing, sterile varieties of the desired ornamental had not been developed. By about 2008, non-seed producing varieties of butterfly bush were allegedly ready for market. ODA wanted proof these plants would not continue to be a threat.
“There are other examples of ornamental plants where claims have been made about their sterility, such as purple loosestrife,” says Dan Hilburn, administrator of ODA’s Plant Division. “These plants may have produced less seed, but weren’t completely sterile. So we were skeptical at first when approached about seedless butterfly bush.”
Plant breeders first tried crossing one variety of Buddleja davidii with another variety—a traditional way to get different colors of flowers. But intra-species hybrids still produce millions of seeds. Breeders then tried inter-species crossing. Buddleja davidii bred with Buddleja glabosa mixes up the chromosomes enough to keep the plant from producing seed. The complexity of plant genetics made it difficult for anyone at ODA to truly evaluate the claims of sterility offered by companies who contracted with the breeders.
“We needed some help,” admits Hilburn. “As luck would have it, Oregon State University was hiring a plant geneticist at the time who agreed to help ODA. Ryan Contreras has been advising us ever since. Whenever plant breeders send us their data with the request to allow sale of what they claim is a sterile variety of butterfly bush, we send it to Ryan. It’s usually a research report with a genetic analysis. Ultimately, he advises us yes or no on each proposal.”
About a dozen seedless varieties are now available for sale in Oregon. More could be on the way.
Keeping an eye on things
It’s the job of ODA’s nursery inspectors to make sure off-limit plants are not sold or even available for purchase in Oregon. Some residents may still have fertile varieties of butterfly bush in their yard. Despite the noxious weed listing, at no time did ODA ask anyone to pull out their prize bush from their yard. However, seed producing varieties are still a concern.
“Every spring, there are a few nursery outlets that still sell the non-sterile variety,” says Hilburn. “It’s often the big box stores that get a lot of material shipped in from their suppliers. They aren’t specifically ordering butterfly bush, they just get it as part of the bigger shipment from the supplier.”
Now, all nurseries and retail outlets have a “safe” variety of butterfly bush to sell. It needs to be labeled as the sterile variety. ODA inspectors look at the variety names to make sure they are on the list of sterile hybrids.
“The downside for nurseries in Oregon was that the process to approve sterile cultivars did take some time,” says Gary McAninch, supervisor of ODA’s Nursery Program. “That meant butterfly bush was not available for sale in garden centers and retail outlets for about two years. Approved cultivars did start showing up in retail nurseries last spring. They appeared to be popular with home gardeners.”
In fact, an ODA-approved cultivar, Flutterby Grande™ Peach Cobbler Nectar Bush from Ball Ornamentals won Best of Show at the 2011 Far West Show held in Portland.
“With that kind of recognition, I think we’ll see sterile cultivars of butterfly bush become even more popular in the future,” says McAninch.
In praise of teamwork
ODA officials are pleased with the response to the noxious weed listing of butterfly bush. Cooperation between the nursery industry, OSU, and ODA was outstanding and could become a model for how to deal with future invasive plants of horticultural interest. Had ODA not listed the butterfly bush, it’s not clear whether developing sterile varieties would have been pursued.
The industry continues to look at developing sterile replacements for many of their problem plants. That’s a solution that should be more than acceptable to home gardeners, who don’t want to cause any problems but still want to have a showy, colorful array of ornamentals.
“I like butterflies, and I like them in my yard,” says ODA’s Hilburn. “When I moved to Oregon and saw how well butterfly bush grew, I planted a lot of it. After it was listed as a noxious weed, I cut it all out. But now, with the new varieties, I can bring butterfly bush back as part of my gardening experience.”
For many Oregonians, an environmentally-friendly seedless butterfly bush is the best of all worlds.
|Northwest ag directors promote potatoes in Asia|
Oregon and Washington have teamed up to promote Pacific Northwest potatoes in Southeast Asia and conduct early market development in Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macao. Potato commissions and state agriculture directors from Oregon and Washington returned encouraged after November's trade mission that could lead to great opportunities for many food crops.
|Dalton Hobbs, Katy Coba, and Dan Newhouse in Vietnam.|
"This was a very productive mission, but there is a lot of followup work to do," says Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba, who was joined in the mission by Dan Newhouse, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture. "I give a great deal of credit to the potato industry and the commissions for conducting a joint Oregon-Washington trade mission, and inviting the directors of agriculture from both states. We think pooling resources and efforts is the way to go. You get more bang for your buck. Having the two states together gives us much more of a presence, particularly when our states' agriculture is similar. The market itself doesn't see any difference between the two states."
Funded by a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, the trade mission followed up a similar trip two years ago, combining the efforts of both states in Taiwan, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. This mission included a stop in Hong Kong, but also focused on relatively new markets centrally located to a huge population of potential consumers.
"Half of the world's population lives within a five hour plane ride of this region, so it's clearly an area of market influence and dominance," says ODA Assistant Director Dalton Hobbs, also a member of the trade delegation. "It is a region of great potential for Pacific Northwest agriculture. This kind of mission is an appropriate way to tap that potential through early trade development activities, jointly conducted by the private sector and government, to introduce products and identify trade channels."
While more established export markets such as Japan, China, and South Korea continue to be primary destinations for Oregon products-each were part of a September trade mission that included Director Coba and Governor Kitzhaber-the potato industry is highly motivated to develop a market in Southeast Asia and its success could pave the way for others.
As with real estate, success in marketing agriculture largely depends on one overriding factor.
"It's location, location, location," says Hobbs. "These four markets we visited benefit from their proximity to so many people. It's what sets them apart."
The trade mission's first stop was Singapore which, like Hong Kong, is a major distribution hub for agricultural exports. Singapore's population is similar to Oregon's, but it has a land mass the size of Marion County. A sophisticated and mature market, emphasis there was placed on reaching the food service sector because of the numerous four and five-star hotels and restaurants located in Singapore.
The next stop was Vietnam, a largely unexplored market for Oregon agriculture. With a population of more than 70 million-about twice the size of South Korea-the country is rapidly making the transition that other Asian markets did 10 or 15 years ago.
"Vietnam is on the verge of moving to a well developed country, " says Hobbs. "There are no McDonald's in Vietnam yet, but there probably will be soon. We see a very young population base with a large percentage under the age of 25. These energetic consumers will be looking for quality foods and enhanced products that come from the United States. So for us, we believe this is the right place at the right time."
The delegation toured modern retail outlets in Ho Chi Minh City, including a grocery store similar to Winco in the US. It was easy to envision a Vietnamese housewife grabbing a bag of fresh Pacific Northwest potatoes and putting it into her shopping cart. Vietnam recently opened its market for fresh potatoes.
Next up was Macao, a Special Administrative District of China. It is the world's largest gambling center with more than $26 billion annual revenue-larger than the gambling revenue of the entire US. With 50,000 hotel rooms and numerous casinos, food service in Macao is a prime target for Pacific Northwest food products.
The delegation then traveled by ferry from Macao to Hong Kong, where Oregon has already established strong ties. Hong Kong is one of Oregon's top 10 trading partners. The stopover was to further establish relationships and emphasize the benefits of Pacific Northwest potatoes, presenting novel uses of fresh potatoes to up and coming culinary students at the Hong Kong Vocational Institute.
"We weren't introducing something totally new to Southeast Asia," says Hobbs. "They understand potatoes and even grow some of them. But it's about our potatoes. They can't grow the high solids, high quality potatoes that are especially attractive in a food processing or food service setting where portion control, quality, and appearance are so important to the end product. Even with shipping costs, we can deliver high quality potatoes into these markets at about the same price as locally produced potatoes."
Chef Leif Benson, a trade show veteran who has conducted many product demonstrations on behalf of Oregon's potato industry, was once again on hand during the trade mission to help with the promotion.
Directors Coba and Newhouse added value to the trip by elevating the attention given by local officials, retailers, and wholesalers just because of the status afforded US and state government officials.
"Having an ag director along raises the profile of the mission," says Coba. "We got better attendance and response from the people the potato commissions wanted to reach."
Largely a reconnaissance mission, the November trade mission could lead to test shipments of potatoes to these Southeast Asia markets in the next year. The real value, however, may come from establishing a blueprint for other commodities grown in both Oregon and Washington.
"This was groundbreaking work by the potato industry to recognize that both states are in the same boat," says Coba. "Collaboratively, we can do market development work that we can't do individually. That's a great recipe for other specialty crops grown in our respective states."
|South Korea opens doors to Oregon blueberries|
The timing is coincidental, but on the heels of a governor's trade mission that included a stop in South Korea came the announced agreement this fall that Oregon will be the first state allowed to ship fresh blueberries into the Korean export market. The announcement is viewed as a major development for one of Oregon's brightest agricultural industries and could lead to a sharp increase in blueberry export sales.
|Currently, only processed blueberry products are allowed.|
"This is great news for our blueberry industry and could give us a significant new market," says Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba. "There is still work to be done, but we are poised to take advantage of being the first state to have a green light from South Korea for fresh blueberries."
For years, ODA has been working with the US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the state's blueberry industry in crafting a deal with South Korean food safety inspection officials to clear the hurdles that have kept fresh berries out of that market. The agreement will allow Oregon to ship fresh blueberries to Korea beginning with the 2012 season. Protocols still need to be ironed out, including the finer details that ensure fresh Oregon blueberries pose no risk and won't be a vector for pests and diseases that might be introduced to South Korea. ODA has already seen the list of concerns and has drafted proposed procedures to address those concerns. Over the next few months, the agency, USDA, and the industry will work to refine the proposed procedures.
In the end, ODA will develop and implement a voluntary fee-for-service certification program for fresh blueberries intended for South Korea. This summer, there were 10 Oregon companies indicating an interest in exporting to Korea. The ODA program will be open to all blueberry growers, packers, and shippers. It could be that more than 10 companies will be interested by next year.
The Oregon Blueberry Commission will sponsor a Korean inspector to visit at the beginning of the 2012 harvest season to review the protocol and Oregon's response to it. A first hand look at the insect trapping and all other steps taken by growers to ensure Korean phytosanitary concerns are being addressed will go a long way in clearing the path for Oregon blueberries.
It's clear that Koreans have embraced the health benefits of blueberries. The governor's trade mission included visits to grocery stores and other retail establishments where blueberries were prominent. Dried and frozen Oregon blueberries-along with other non-fresh blueberry products-have been in the market for years. Koreans consider blueberries to be as valuable as ginseng and other culturally-important herbs and foods.
The trade delegation also toured a cargo handling facility owned by Asiana Airlines near the airport at Incheon. In September, Asiana launched a direct cargo flight from Portland to South Korea. The technical sophistication of accepting, processing, and distributing imports at the Asiana facility is impressive. The delegation was told that it will be possible for an Oregon blueberry picked in the field on a Tuesday morning to get into the mouth of a Korean consumer by Thursday afternoon, thanks to the new direct service and facility.
Blueberry plantings in Oregon have increased dramatically the past decade. Ten years ago, Oregon blueberry production was roughly 20 million pounds. This year, the harvest is estimated in the range of 60 million pounds. Finding a home for all those berries is important. A fraction of that production going to South Korea can help even those growers who don't export by re-directing product that might otherwise be sold domestically.
Oregon is seen as a test case for other blueberry-producing states that also may be interested in the export market. But for now, Oregon will exclusively test the waters of what could be a sea of Korean consumers.
|Specialty Crop Grants help Oregon ag|
|The Oregon Department of Agriculture has awarded more than $1.7 million in federal funds to 24 projects aimed at boosting the competitiveness of the state's fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and nursery products.|
"A majority of our agricultural production comes from specialty crops," says ODA Director Katy Coba. "These projects will help our diverse array of growers and producers address their top priorities. The grant program has been good to Oregon, and the dollars it provides have funded many successful projects in the past. I'm excited about this year's projects."
Oregon ranks fifth in the nation in production of specialty crops.
Once again, an industry advisory board helped select this year's final list of grant recipients. In evaluating the proposals, emphasis was placed on producer and consumer outreach, market development and access to local and export markets, value-added initiatives, food safety, and traceability/certification.
A variety of groups being funded are specifically interested in accessing the Asian export market.
"As we've seen from the recent governor's trade mission to Asia, there is a strong demand for many of Oregon's specialty crops-especially Oregon berries," says Katie Pearmine, coordinator of ODA's Specialty Crop Program. "We are funding a project that works to help cranberry growers on the southern Oregon coast reach markets in China. We are also funding a project with the Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission to increase the promotion of Oregon's individually quick frozen, dried, and canned berries in both foreign and domestic food service markets."
The Curry Soil and Water Conservation District is receiving $90,000 to manage the cranberry export project. The Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission is receiving $53,362 to oversee the industry's promotional campaign. Another export related project is a $91,900 grant to Certified Onions, Inc. to promote a voluntary food safety testing program used by about 90 percent of the Treasure Valley's onion growers in Eastern Oregon. Certified Onion received a grant last year to expand the testing and certification program.
Other projects concentrate more on local agriculture and its issues.
"We received many more applications from groups that work to help beginning farmers or serve socially disadvantaged growers in many regions throughout the state," says Pearmine.
Among the awards is a $45,200 grant to Adelante Mujeras, a Forest Grove-based organization, to help low-income Latino producers reach consumers through the Forest Grove Farmers' Market. Another regional effort is a project by the Gorge Grown Food Network, which is receiving $23,448 to provide vegetable growers in the Columbia Gorge with hands-on classes and workshops to help them lengthen the growing season. In Southern Oregon, a group called THRIVE will connect consumers with beginning growers in the area through targeted education and outreach centering on a new online farmers' market, thanks to a grant of $51,786.
For the first time, an agricultural distributor will receive specialty crop grant funds in Oregon.
"We are excited to see a project from Organically Grown Company, which will offer growers trainings, guidance, and third-party food safety certification," says Pearmine. "It's great to see a distributor working directly with growers to address food safety issues."
Organically Grown, which is receiving a $69,564 grant, claims to be the Pacific Northwest's largest wholesaler of organic produce. It has operations in Eugene and Portland.
Other projects in this year's group deal with such issues as getting more local foods into schools, expanding markets for community supported agriculture (CSAs), and warehouse fumigation research for Oregon grass seed growers.
All in all, the specialty crop grant funding is more than welcome and hopefully it will continue for years.
"These dollars are vital for our specialty crop growers in Oregon," says Pearmine. "The funding allows us to better support our growers and keep them competitive in the marketplace."
For a list of all funded projects, go to <http://oregon.gov/ODA/ADMD/docs/pdf/project_summary_FY2011.pdf>.
The next round of Specialty Crop Block Grant funding is about to get underway. Concept proposals for 2012 are due February 27 and will be reviewed by ODA and an advisory board in March. A final list of applicants will be invited to submit full grant proposals this spring with the selections announced by early summer. The US Department of Agriculture has the ultimate decision to approve Oregon’s list of grant awards and would make that announcement and provide funding in the fall.
Projects for eligible non-profit organizations, local, government entities, for-profit organizations, industry trade associations, producer groups, and commodity commissions should range between $25,000 and $100,000. Applicants are highly encouraged to provide evidence of matching funds, either in-kind or cash. Funding will not be awarded for projects that directly benefit or provide profit only to a single organization, institution or individual.
Application timing and requirements vary. To learn more about Oregon's program visit
|Water Quality Program gains several tools to evaluate effectiveness|
By Stephanie Page
During the 2011 Oregon Legislative Session, ODA received funding for several monitoring activities that will help evaluate changes in agricultural land conditions and water quality.
The monitoring activities will complement existing information about water quality improvement activities on agricultural lands. "We already know that landowners, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Watershed Councils, and many state and federal agencies have accomplished a great deal over the past 15 years," says Dave Wilkinson, Water Quality Program manager. "ODA administers funding for Soil and Water Conservation Districts to work with landowners on water quality improvement projects, and we see a variety of accomplishments in their quarterly reports including acres of no-till farming, manure storage facilities, streamside areas planted to trees, and irrigation efficiency improvements."
However, it's more difficult to say at the watershed or regional scale how these accomplishments have affected land conditions that lead to good water quality. "We believe that landowners' efforts have contributed to improved land conditions, but additional data will help us verify our assumptions," adds Wilkinson.
To help evaluate agriculture's efforts and their impacts on land conditions and water quality, ODA received the following resources for the 2011-2013 biennium.
- The Agricultural Water Quality Program received funding for a water quality monitoring specialist to plan and develop ODA's water quality and land condition monitoring activities, collaborate with other agencies and organizations to maximize efficiency of monitoring resources, and provide recommendations to program staff to make changes based on monitoring results.
- The legislature restored funding for the Water Quality Program to continue aerial photo monitoring and evaluation of trends in streamside vegetation conditions along randomly selected agricultural stream segments throughout Oregon. This will allow the Water Quality Program to collect an additional two years of streamside vegetation condition data and compare these data with photographs taken five years ago of the same stream reaches.
- The Agricultural Water Quality Program received funding to establish additional water quality monitoring sites in agricultural areas throughout Oregon. In the past, the program evaluated water quality trends solely from sites funded and monitored by DEQ in agricultural watersheds. ODA staff identified additional sites in predominantly agricultural watersheds that would help provide a more complete picture of agriculture's influence on water quality throughout Oregon. ODA is partnering with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to conduct the sampling at 19 publicly accessible locations.
ODA is very pleased to have the additional resources to evaluate the effectiveness of landowners' significant efforts. Program staff believe that these monitoring data, in combination with other agencies' monitoring data, can be used to identify areas to focus work, develop measurable goals for improvements, and communicate progress to stakeholders.
"Communication of our monitoring results with local advisory committees, landowners, agencies, the environmental community, and the public is critical," explains Wilkinson. "We're pleased to be able to gather additional data to support conversations with our stakeholders about how we can continue making improvements in water quality and land conditions."
|Oregon farmers and ranchers bring home a slightly bigger paycheck|
|After a dismal 2009, the bottom line for Oregon's farmers and ranchers last year showed modest improvement. However, it will take a much larger gain before the state's net farm income is restored to its lofty pre-recession numbers.|
"Overall, agriculture did a little better in 2010," says Brent Searle, analyst with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. "Oregon net farm income is up about 8 percent. But it's a very slow dig out of a precipitous fall in 2009."
An economic snapshot of Oregon agriculture shows net farm income at just under $458 million in 2010. That's an improvement from the $422 million recorded the previous year, which was a 41 percent drop from 2008. The latest numbers begin to reverse the downward slide of net farm income in Oregon that started following 2004's record high of $1.3 billion.
"It's good to see things begin to turn around," says Searle. "But to put it in perspective, net farm income in Oregon is only about a third of what it was at its highest point just seven years ago."
Net farm income is the amount retained by agricultural producers after paying all business-related expenses. It is considered an important indicator of the agricultural economy's overall health. Think of it as the farmer's paycheck. Out of that paycheck, growers make payments on land purchases, family living expenses, and family health insurance. Statistics provided by the US Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS) show net farm income is a cyclical phenomenon.
Why the improvement in 2010? Net farm income is essentially a see-saw with production value-which reflects the prices paid to growers for what they produce-on one side, expenses on the other. The value of production was essentially flat last year, even though some commodities enjoyed strong prices. However, the expense side of the equation was down, leading to the overall higher net farm income.
The value of Oregon crop production in 2010 fell to just over $2.7 billion-a decrease of about 5 percent, while the value of Oregon livestock production was more than $1.1 billion-an increase of about 20 percent. With more crop production than livestock production in Oregon, the drop in crop value outpaced the gains in livestock value, leading to a 3.5 percent overall decrease in value of production.
The expense side of the balance sheet, which had steadily gone up in recent years until 2009, went down again last year in several categories. Overall, Oregon farmers are cutting costs where they can.
"Generally, we see a reduction in what farmers are buying, not necessarily the cost of things," says Searle. "They appear to be using less fertilizer and finding different, cost effective ways of doing things. Feed costs have been higher, but producers are adjusting. Also, when you sell off animals, you spend less on feed."
Expenditures for repair and maintenance were down 15 percent, leading to speculation that farmers are trying to get by as best they can without having to pay to fix or maintain equipment and other capital items. Motor vehicle registration and licensing fee expenditures were down. Although not a major expense, the numbers show farmers are trying to save money by registering fewer vehicles.
Last year, there was a near 48 percent increase in direct government payments, mostly conservation programs that paid farmers to leave environmentally sensitive land out of production.
Labor continues to be the greatest cost incurred by agricultural producers. But even the category of employee compensation was down slightly last year.
"Wages or employee compensation continues to be significant, even if the overall number has dropped slightly," says Searle. "That category is close to $1.1 billion annually. Compared to the net farm income of $458 million, you can see farmers are bringing home a paycheck that is less than half of what they pay in wages."
It will be late summer of 2012 before this year's balance sheet is finalized. But with much of 2011 already completed, the early forecast portends a continued upswing in net farm income.
|Of wolves and chickens|
The Oregon Legislature has addressed both wolves and chickens, directing the Oregon Department of Agriculture to develop and adopt rules dealing with each species. No, this has nothing to do with wolves guarding the hen house, but deals with two separate issues that have great impact on the state's livestock industries.|
The return of the gray wolf to Oregon has already resulted in conflicts between the predatory animal and livestock, leading to past, present, and future losses for Oregon ranchers. This past session, the legislature established a $100,000 grant program to compensate the ranching community when livestock and working dogs are attacked and killed by wolves. ODA has finalized rules surrounding that compensation program.
"Even though a plan is in place to manage wolves returning to Oregon, there is compassion for the suffering of livestock and the producers who experience losses due to depredation," says Dr. Don Hansen, state veterinarian with ODA. "The legislature has decided to support those people who have suffered losses as well as those who want to protect their livestock by practicing prevention."
Funds from the wolf depredation compensation and financial assistance grant program may go to ranchers who have had their livestock killed or injured by wolves, or to those who take measures to reduce the possibility of wolf attacks. The ultimate decision of who gets the money, how much, and why will be made at the county level by advisory committees. The rules are set up to ensure the awards are appropriate and that money isn't handed out just because someone asks for it.
Under ODA's rules, applications by counties for grant funds will be submitted by February 15 of each year. Ranchers will be compensated for animal death and injury attributed to wolves that occurred since the law went into effect-August 2, 2011. Ranchers will be paid for certain prevention scenarios they want to put into place in the year to come.
Meanwhile, ODA has adopted a temporary rule that describes space allotment and management requirements for egg-laying hens that are confined in cages. It also requires that all eggs and certain egg products purchased in Oregon be from hens that are raised under requirements stipulated in the rule. In addition, Oregon egg and egg product producers are required to submit a farm business plan to ODA to document how their facility will meet the implementation schedule for increasing cage sizes.
Oregon producers are expected to invest an estimated $65 million over the next 15 years to phase in the new hen housing and animal care requirements, considered to be the nation's strongest welfare standards for commercial egg layers. The legislation gained support from Oregon egg producers as well as animal welfare groups.
More information on both sets of rules is available by contacting
Oregon Department of Agriculture
635 Capitol St. NE
Salem OR 97301