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 The Agriculture Quarterly  
Oregon Department of Agriculture, Issue 373, Spring 2009, 4/6/09
Local food finds a bigger stage
Board of Agriculture spotlight
Director's column
Census of Agriculture gives snapshot of Oregon farms
Food safety workshop focus on farmers' markets
Oregon agriculture takes advantage of conservation programs
Oregon Farm & Ranch Sesquicentennial Award
Grant program helps nursery improve energy efficiency
ODA honors dairy operators for outreach and education
ODA publications now available
Alternative file formats

"Here is the county ranking for 2008 gross farm and ranch sales:

  1. Marion County, $604 million
  2. Umatilla County, $379 million
  3. Morrow County, $371 million
  4. Clackamas County, $364 million
  5. Washington County, $302 million
  6. Klamath County, $301 million
  7. Linn County, $296 million
  8. Yamhill County, $284 million
  9. Malheur County, $276 million
  10. Polk County, $164 million"
Local food finds a bigger stage
Photo of grocery display
By Bruce Pokarney

The big food retailers used to be outside the reach of local growers. Many producers in Oregon were confined to farmers' markets, smaller grocery stores, or even their own farm stands. Times are changing. Consumers now show a preference for locally grown and the larger retailers now show a desire to cut down on transportation costs as they source the food offered for sale. Linking the two is Oregon's ability to grow and supply what's on the food wish list.

"From what it can produce to how it can be marketed, Oregon enjoys a rich tapestry of agriculture," says Dalton Hobbs, assistant director with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. "From farmers' markets to major retailers like Wal-Mart, our products can compete in so many sectors. That's a testament to the strength of Oregon agriculture."

Evolution and revolution
In the late 1980s, rising concerns about pesticide residues on food set off a chain reaction of attitude changes shaping the consciousness of the US consumer. Within a few years, health and diet became important factors in food purchases. In the last several years, that has evolved into increased consumer preference for organic and sustainable food. Today, the target has moved again as some consumers equate food that is good for you with food that is grown nearby.

In fact, a new consumer survey on local shopping, conducted by the consumer research firm Mintel, shows one in six adults buy local products as often as possible and are willing to pay a higher price. The same survey identified 30 percent of the respondents who say they would purchase local foods if they knew where to find them.

"More consumers are choosing based on a preference for local food more than any other kind of identifier, including brand," says Hobbs. "Price is still a primary concern for a majority of consumers. But for 10 to 15 percent of those making food purchases, the price is secondary. These are shoppers that consider locally grown more important."

A number of food movements have become established in the past decade. This revolution of food-oriented interests values products that are connected to a real farmer or rancher. That person is often used to merchandise and showcase the product. Whether it's based on reality or perception, knowing where the food comes from and who produces it provides greater assurance that the food is grown with care, is better tasting, and is safer than food grown outside of the region.

The meteoric growth of farmers' markets in Oregon offers more evidence of the public's interest in local foods. In 1988, there were just 10 farmers' markets around the state. Now, there are more than 90. Going to a farmers' market has become just as much a social event as a food buying experience.

"There has been a hunger by consumers to reach out to where the food is coming from and connect a face to the source," says ODA trade manager Laura Barton. "This has led to more trust in the local grower. At the same time, traditional retailers have taken notice."

Barton says retailers saw their produce sales go down during the summer months as farmers' markets stayed busy. The impact on the bottom line opened their eyes to the buzz about local foods. As more customers asked the traditional grocery chains for locally grown produce, retailers saw an opportunity.

Meanwhile, the grocery sector began consolidating in the 1990s. Many of the independent grocers, such as Thriftway, IGA, and Roth's, couldn't compete on price any longer because of the buying strategies employed by the large retailers. That left a couple of ways to distinguish themselves while remaining competitive-service and local foods.

Some of these independent retailers chose the local food option-with vigor.

Grow it locally and they will come
The launch of New Seasons Market in 1999 proved that offering local foods could be economically viable in a retail store setting. The relative economic prosperity at the time created a consumer with established buying habits that includes locally-grown. That group of purchasers has remained loyal despite the dot-com crash, the 9/11 terrorist attack, and the current economic recession.

To New Seasons, there is no mystery to why the buy local trend is taking place.

"I think that a growing awareness of people wanting to know where their food comes from and how it is grown is driving the trend," says New Seasons President Lisa Sedlar. "When the safety of the food we're feeding our families is called into question, as we saw with the recent peanut recalls, it clarifies the fact that we need to take responsibility for knowing the life history of our food. Stores will sell what customers want to buy, and customers vote with their dollars. Another reason buying local is a growing trend has to do with practicality. The price of transporting our food from all over the nation and the world has never been higher, so now it's making economic sense to buy local. Local food also means fresher, better tasting food, and since local producers tend to be smaller family farms that are more likely to use sustainable food production methods, the overall carbon footprint is reduced. As more and more people learn the benefits of buying local, the demand will continue to increase, and the long-term benefit is the preservation of our farmland for generations to come."

New Seasons' mantra is "the closer the better." Sedlar says the company has employees whose specific job is to cultivate and maintain relationships with local farmers and ranchers. Those relationships have allowed New Seasons to provide what the customer wants while giving local producers an important marketing outlet.

It is not unusual now to see local produce highlighted in Safeway, Albertsons, and Fred Meyer stores. But when the largest of all major multiple retailers in the US joins the club, it doesn't seem to be a trend anymore. It is now a full-fledged strategy for food retailers.

Local food for the masses
Oregon produces more agricultural products than it can consume. In fact, about 80 percent leaves the state. Export markets will always be vital to the state's producers. Still, having local outlets is a key marketing strategy that provides important sale opportunities for many Oregon farmers and ranchers. Well-known large retailers and restaurants now tout their purchases of locally grown food. In 2005, McDonald's purchases of local produce from Oregon included more than 320 million pounds of potatoes, 1.5 million pounds of onions, and almost five million pounds of cucumbers that were processed into pickles. Those numbers have generally been maintained the past three years.

Last summer, Wal-Mart announced its commitment to source more local fruits and vegetables to the level of $400 million nationwide. That will make Wal-Mart the nation's largest purchaser of local produce. During the summer months, local fruits and vegetables will make up a fifth of all produce available in Wal-Mart stores.

"At Wal-Mart, we are committed to increasing our locally grown offerings and the number of local small farms we work with," says Pam Kohn, senior vice president and general merchandise manager. "Through this program, we are able to cut shipping costs and decrease food miles, but most importantly we are offering our customers an opportunity to support their local farmers."

Fresh Oregon blueberries will be the first local offering in July. Oregon watermelons will be on the shelf in August and September. Also in the fall will be significant offerings of Oregon russet potatoes, onions, pears, and a variety of apples. Signage at the point of purchase will make it easy for customers to recognize local products.

Five years ago, it was hard for the Oregon Department of Agriculture's marketing staff to get phone calls to Wal-Mart returned. Now, a working relationship has been established. For its part, ODA put Wal-Mart in touch with local growers and helped locate an official state-grown mark as part of the signage. (The products will be identified by the phrase "Oregon Born"-part of the Brand Oregon campaign.)

"The fact that Wal-Mart is showing this interest speaks volumes on how important the local foods phenomenon really is," says ODA's Hobbs. "Wal-Mart does nothing if it can't be delivered. They are extremely savvy and among the best retailers in the world. Like them or not, Wal-Mart is head and shoulders above most in terms of understanding the customer and giving them what they want."

Hobbs says savvy Oregon growers can take advantage of opportunities to supply the large retailers. But it may take creative thinking and an understanding of the complex, dynamic nature of the system. One solution might be collaboration among growers, forming grower clusters of a certain food crop or a specific local geographic area, where resources can be pooled and freight costs can be consolidated.

Interestingly, the established Oregon retailers who have been championing locally-grown food from the beginning don't seem threatened by having the big guys like Wal-Mart on board. They actually see it as a good thing.

"Larger chains offering local choices draws attention to the idea of buying local, makes local products available to a wider audience, and helps support regional economies," says New Seasons' Sedlar. "The more retailers who support our local farmers, the more likely it is that we will keep our farmland in agricultural production."

The crystal ball
In the next few years, Oregon agriculture will evolve along with a more sophisticated retail sector that demands an increased local food supply. But it won't be as simple as having a farmer grow something, take it to the store, and place it on the shelf. The modern system of wholesale buying and distribution makes it difficult for many small-to-mid-size farmers and ranchers to access the Wal-Marts, Fred Meyers, and Safeways of the world.

"That's why farmers' markets and farm direct sales are such an important part of this rich mix of options for Oregon producers," says Hobbs. "They do not have the same kind of distribution complexity and constraints that current retail marketing has."

Still, the convergence of the consumer's interest in local foods, the retailer's interest in providing more local products, and the grower's ability to be a reliable supplier has demonstrated that Oregon agriculture can compete in several marketing sectors-even showing up prominently in the largest of store chains.
New voucher program provides more access to fresh local produce
From the small mom-and-pop outlets to the giant retailers, you can add local grocery stores to the list of places participating in a supplemental nutrition program that allows the purchase of fruits and vegetables by nutritionally-needy pregnant women and mothers of small children.

Beginning in August, the Oregon Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) will provide eligible participants with a monthly cash value voucher ranging from $6 to $10 for the purchase of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables at any of the hundreds of stores around the state authorized to sell WIC foods. State officials estimate the cash value vouchers have the potential to add up to $600,000 a month for fruit and vegetable purchases.

While the products purchased are not required to be grown locally, the Oregon Department of Agriculture is reaching out to retailers and their produce buyers to see what can be done to highlight local fruits and vegetables.

"This program can be a launching venue to bring more attention to the locally grown produce items that a retailer stocks," says ODA's Laura Barton. "We would like to help support the stores that carry locally grown, encourage them to stock more, and encourage buyers to pick out local products."

The cash value voucher is in addition to the Farm Direct Nutrition Program (FDNP), which provides $20 per WIC participant per season for fresh produce purchases at farmers' markets and farm stands. The cash value voucher program is year around-unlike FDNP-and is being established through a shifting of WIC funds.

Since the new program runs 12 months a year, local growers may have more opportunity to connect with customers on an extended basis than they could through a farmers' market alone. Also, starting in 2010, farmers selling directly through their stands or farmers' markets will have the opportunity to participate in the new year-round program, in addition to their seasonal participation in FDNP.

For more information, contact the ODA's Agricultural Development and Marketing Division at 503-872-6600.
Board of Agriculture spotlight
Board of Agriculture Chair Ken Bailey and Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba
Board of Agriculture Chair Ken Bailey and Director Coba
Twelve key issues facing Oregon agriculture highlight the State Board of Agriculture's second biennial report of the industry's status as presented to Governor Kulongoski and the Oregon Legislature. Copies of "The State of Oregon Agriculture" were formally presented to members of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in February by Board of Agriculture Chair Ken Bailey and Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba. The presentation comes two years following the inaugural report presented to the governor and the same legislative committee.

Rather than providing an all-encompassing, comprehensive look at Oregon's complex agriculture industry-the first biennial report from the board covered 115 pages-the 2009 version narrowed its focus to the most critical emerging issues that policy makers need to understand and provided policy recommendations for consideration. Each board member authored a section focusing on one of these key issues.

"By asking each board member to tackle an issue where they had some experience and expertise, it allowed a more personal account of the impact these challenges and opportunities present to the agricultural community," says Board Chair Bailey.

The 12 key issues featured in the report include:
  • Sustainability in agriculture
  • Protecting crops and animals
  • Agricultural labor
  • Water and agriculture
  • Land use
  • Food safety
  • Production costs
  • Transportation
  • Local foods
  • Family farm transition
  • Climate change
  • Energy

In addition to the issues, the report provides an industry overview that generally shows a mixed bag of results in terms of agricultural production, prices, markets, and other economic factors.

The 2005 Oregon Legislature passed HB 2196, requiring the State Board of Agriculture to prepare biennial reports to the governor and legislative assembly regarding the status of the agriculture industry.

The full report is available online at http://oregon.gov/ODA/pub_bd_rpt.shtml

Director's column
Photo of ODA Director Katy Coba
ODA Director Katy Coba
National Agriculture Week, celebrated March 15-21, gave me another opportunity to reflect on this wonderful industry I am privileged to be a part of. The celebration this year happened to coincide with Oregon's sesquicentennial, marking 150 years of statehood. Our state's history is intertwined with agriculture and I thought of the pioneers who came to Oregon for a better life. They arrived and began to make use of our natural resources by farming, fishing, and harvesting timber.

It has been 150 years or more that folks in Oregon have been raising crops and animals. In fact, we have 150-year old family farms and ranches in our state. What was true back in 1859 is true in 2009-agriculture is very much alive and well. Today, the industry is responsible for about 10 percent of the state's economy. Today, Oregon farms and ranches are predominately family-owned and operated. The people of Oregon agriculture have been, and continue to be, an integral part of our state's fabric.

Two major themes surfaced during National Agriculture Week this year-the environment and technology. It's amazing what Oregon agriculture does for the environment. Our farmers and ranchers have made huge strides in understanding potential impacts to the environment and taking steps to mitigate any adverse effects. There is a real focus on keeping soil on the ground and keeping it from running off into streams and waterways. Farmers and ranchers play a huge role in providing habitat for wildlife in this state. Through conservation programs, the public is seeing more of the environmental benefits that landowners provide. Our producers deal with invasive species. Whether it is weeds, insects, or diseases, farmers and ranchers are very aggressive in dealing with these invaders on their property to keep them from becoming established in Oregon.

Research and technology have allowed agriculture the ability to continue providing a world food supply. The US still produces more than it consumes and feeds populations throughout the world. Locally, Oregon produces more than Oregonians can consume. We ship our product regionally, to the rest of the US, and overseas. It truly is technology that allows us to do that. Production costs in the US and in Oregon are higher than in other countries around the world. The only way that Oregon agriculture can remain competitive is to take advantage of technology. Sometimes that drives controversy. But we are smart enough to know how to use technology to our advantage and still provide an extremely high quality, safe food product for Oregonians, Americans, and consumers all over the world.

There are so many facets to Oregon agriculture, focusing on two themes doesn't come close to telling the whole story. That's why confining the celebration to a single week isn't enough.

I would like National Agriculture Week to last 52 weeks a year. How can Oregonians best continue to celebrate? Go out and buy an Oregon product. Several retail establishments in this state really do a great job of working with Oregon producers to source local foods. We have farmers' markets now open and operating for the season, so take the opportunity to visit a farmers' market. We have wonderful nursery products ready to bloom this spring. Go out and buy some Oregon nursery stock and plant it in your yard. Just do anything that directs your dollars to supporting Oregon agriculture.

I'm incredibly proud of the farmers and ranchers in Oregon for all they do. I know many Oregonians, including urban residents, also recognize the great contributions made by our agricultural producers. My message to everyone involved in Oregon agriculture is simple-keep up the great work.
Census of Agriculture gives snapshot of Oregon farms
Chart showing average age of farmers in Oregon
Average age of farmers in Oregon
Oregon is reporting a smaller number of farms and a slight decrease in the size of those farms, according to data from the 2007 Census of Agriculture released last month by the US Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS). The 14-month process of collecting and tabulating information from the nation's farmers and ranchers has been completed. A quick look at the figures shows that Oregon is running counter to the rest of the nation in many areas, including a reported decline in the total number of farms.

Among the national highlights:
  • There are more than 2.2 million farms in the US, a four percent increase from the 2.13 million farms counted in the 2002 census.
  • Average size of US farms is 418 acres, down from the average size of 441 acres in 2002.
  • Very small and very big farming operations experienced strong growth in the last five years-more so than mid-size farms and ranches. The largest increase in number of farms is in the category of farms reporting less than $2,500 in annual sales, which also represents the greatest number of farm operations in the US. That number increased about 9 percent. The largest percentage increase in farms is with those reporting more than $500,000 in annual sales. That number increased by about 63 percent.
  • Average age of operator is 57.1 years, up from the average of 55.3 years old reported in 2002.
  • Oregon's census data shows a state headed in a slightly different direction. Among the state highlights from the 2007 Census of Agriculture:
  • The number of farms in Oregon is 38,553, down about 4 percent from 2002 when there were 40,033 farms reported.
  • The average size of farms in Oregon decreased slightly to 425 acres in 2007.
  • The amount of land in farms in Oregon fell 4 percent to 16,399,647 acres in 2007.
  • Contrary to the national trend, the number of farms dropped in all categories of income with the exception of operations with more than $500,000 in annual sales. That includes small farms with less than $2,500 in annual sales. There are more operations of that size than any other, with about 45 percent of all Oregon farms falling into that category.
  • Market value of agricultural products sold increased 37 percent in 2007 to $4.3 billion. However, farm production expenses increased 34 percent to $3.7 billion. The increase in expenses may have led to some of the decrease in the number of small farms in Oregon.
  • The average age of operator in Oregon is 57.5 years, up from 54.9 years in 2002 and slightly more than the US average of 57.1 years old.
  • The percentage of principal operators in Oregon reporting something other than farming as their primary occupation has increased to 54 percent compared to just 43 percent of all operators in 2002.

The latest census shows some interesting production and sales trends. In Oregon, organic production sales increased nearly 900 percent, from about $9.9 million in 2002 to $88 million in 2007. In addition, farm direct sales-through such venues as farm stands and farmers' markets-increased 250 percent, from $21.4 million in 2002 to $56.3 million in 2007.

Additional data, including individual county statistics, is now available and there will be greater interpretation of the numbers in the months to come. For now, the preliminary figures can be useful as well as interesting.

"This first glance of the census data reaffirms the strength of Oregon agriculture and its contribution to our state's economy," says Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. "We still need to keep an eye on a few numbers of concern, including the increasing age of our farmers and ranchers, and the decreasing number of farms and farm acreage in Oregon."

The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years, and is the most ambitious and important compilation of all agriculture surveys. Data from all 50 states has been gathered and is being analyzed following a comprehensive survey of nearly every known farmer and rancher in the United States.
Eastern Oregon counties move up agricultureís top 10 list

Marion County remains the runaway leader, two eastern Oregon counties have cracked the top three, and more than half of Oregonís 36 counties reported an increase in agricultural sales in 2008 according to statistics released by Oregon State University. Many counties reported dramatic growth last year buoyed by high prices and good yields. The latest figures continue to emphasize the importance of agriculture to both the local and state economy.

Oregonís total agricultural sales for 2008 are up 1.2 percent at more than $4.9 billion with eight counties recording double digit increases this past year.

Here is the county ranking for 2008 gross farm and ranch sales:
  1. Marion County, $604 million
  2. Umatilla County, $379 million
  3. Morrow County, $371 million
  4. Clackamas County, $364 million
  5. Washington County, $302 million
  6. Klamath County, $301 million
  7. Linn County, $296 million
  8. Yamhill County, $284 million
  9. Malheur County, $276 million
  10. Polk County, $164 million
Food safety workshop focus on farmers' markets
Oregon farmers' markets and the Oregon Department of Agriculture are using the classroom to address the growing concern among consumers for a safe food supply. A series of seven workshops recently held across the state provided farmers' market managers and vendors with food safety information they can put into action once the season begins in earnest this spring.

"We all have the same goal of ensuring a safe food supply for everyone, and this kind of training helps move us closer to achieving that goal," says Kelly Streit, a farmer and nutritionist from Tualatin who is part of the Oregon Farmers' Market Association (OFMA) Board of Directors.

Participation in the statewide workshops was voluntary, but those attending obtained useful tips on food preparation, handling, and storage-key areas for minimizing the risk of food-borne pathogens. Both ODA and the OFMA are quick to point out the workshops are no indication of a specific or severe food safety problem in Oregon farmers' markets.

"We are not identifying any specific problems that exist right now in our farmers' markets, it's more of a case of prevention," says Ellen Laymon, food program manager with ODA's Food Safety Division. "ODA has never formally directed an education campaign to this group. It has been a gap in our outreach efforts. So for the first time, we have developed training materials and are taking them on the road."

Participants received more than just a lecture. ODA food safety specialists demonstrated proper procedures and equipment necessary to protect food at farmers' markets.

"Maintaining food at the proper temperature is critical," says Laymon. "So we actually showed people what kinds of thermometers are acceptable for taking the temperature of food products. We also took portable handwash stations to the workshops. We need to show vendors and market managers exactly what we mean when we talk about making handwashing available where certain types of food is being served for sampling to the public."

Requirements for farmers' markets include washing hands before preparing or serving food samples, thoroughly rinsing all fruits and vegetables with potable water before cutting them, using clean utensils and equipment, and discarding cut produce samples and other food items after four hours if they require refrigeration. The proper temperatures for keeping food out of the danger zone-above 130 degrees Fahrenheit for hot foods and below 41 degrees for cold items-were emphasized at the workshops.

ODA also offered advice on safe sampling designs that prevent customers from contaminating food. Examples include sticking a toothpick in each sample to discourage toothpick reuse, spooning individual samples for the customer rather having the customer serve themselves, and filling small disposable cups with food samples. There was also advice on product labeling as required by law.

"Produce growers are not necessarily the highest concern at farmers' markets," says Laymon. "Those who manufacture food products like baked goods or cheese available for sampling are more of a target for education because of the actual touching of the product."

In fact, vendors offering processed foods at farmers' markets are required to have a license with ODA. Fresh fruit and vegetable growers do not, unless they are selling produce grown on someone else's farm.

In conjunction with a presentation from ODA's Food Safety Division, the workshops featured information from the agency's Commodity Inspection Division on certification programs that ensure good handling practices of fresh fruits and vegetables. Both presentations offered food for thought to those who offer food for sale.

ODA's Measurement Standards Division is also part of the workshop agenda, providing licensing information for those who use scales to sell product by weight.

The most recent peanut butter and peanut product nationwide recall has once again brought food safety to the forefront. Officials agree that eliminating risk factors is easier than dealing with an outbreak of food-borne illness.

"Education is a preventive step and not a reactive step you find yourself in with a food recall," says Laymon. "If you help vendors and market managers understand which food safety factors are most important and why, I believe they will do the right thing. Again, we are not suggesting that food sold at farmers' markets is not safe. We are not seeing a rash of food illnesses associated with farmers' markets. We just think this is an important outreach activity."

With more than seven-dozen farmers' markets now operating in Oregon, connecting consumers with local food products has never been more popular. Making sure that food is safe has never been more important.

Oregon agriculture takes advantage of conservation programs
Photo of riarian zone.
Conservation funds have helped restore riparian zones
Oregon's farmers and ranchers are among the nation's leaders when it comes to tapping into federal conservation programs. Since 2000, the amount of government payments for conservation programs to Oregon producers has grown by more than 400 percent, according to statistics provided by the US Department of Agriculture. That reflects the commitment Oregon agriculture has for protecting and improving the state's natural resources.

"Oregon agriculture has a very good story to tell in terms of its contribution to protecting and enhancing the environment," says Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba. "Our farmers and ranchers recognize the importance of investing in measures that sustain the natural resources so important to agriculture."

The dramatic rise in conservation program payments by the federal government is evident in the statistics. In 2000, Oregon received about $23 million. That number has steadily increased over the past eight years to nearly $94 million in 2007. Those dollars led to several on-the-ground projects that have improved water quality, reduced soil erosion, and enhanced wildlife habitat-all key measures of overall environmental health in Oregon.

"Oregon has positioned itself well to compete nationally for some of these conservation funds that have come through the Farm Bill," says Larry Ojua, manager of ODA's Soil and Water Conservation District Program. "Recent Farm Bills have dedicated more money in green payments and conservation programs. Even before the emphasis, our state has done a lot of conservation work in the past. That has not gone unnoticed. As an example, the federal Conservation Security Program (CSP), a program administered by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, rewards producers who are already doing good conservation work. It incentivizes them to do more. Many of those payments are coming to Oregon because we have made conservation a high priority."

The federal dollars don't just sit in an idle account. The money is spent wisely.

"We wouldn't be receiving more than $93 million in conservation program money if Oregon wasn't stepping up and providing an investment in protecting natural resources to begin with," says Ojua.

Oregon's historically strong conservation ethic is backed up by organized state and local organizations that promote the federal programs and educate landowners about the benefits of participation. Outreach and education efforts create an awareness that there is funding to help landowners who want to make improvements on their property. Local soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) and watershed councils have been selling the idea for years. Now that there is more to sell-the 2008 Farm Bill dedicates even more money for conservation-there is an even greater opportunity for Oregon.

Some programs essentially pay rent for environmentally-sensitive land that is taken out of agricultural production. Other programs fund technical assistance and on-the-ground projects. In both cases, financial incentives appeal to a high percentage of farmers and ranchers who want to do the right thing.

The economic benefits of participation serve to enhance the environmental benefits. One specific program-the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)-is a good example of how federal funds help. CREP is a partnership program between the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the State of Oregon. CREP provides incentives to landowners who install and maintain riparian buffers on agricultural land. More than $59 million will be paid out to Oregon farmers and ranchers during the life of the 15-year contracts they signed beginning in 1999. That money includes rental payments and on-the-ground payments for such conservation practices as installing trees and shrubs along streambanks.

CREP provides great leverage for state dollars. FSA provides 75 percent of the funds to install conservation projects and 100 percent of the land rental payments. On average, Oregon has been investing an additional $2 million through the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB) as a supplement to the federal funds appropriated for riparian improvements.

Voters have also enabled SWCDs to effectively enhance the money that comes from conservation payments. There are now 11 districts with a permanent tax rate, as approved by voters. Those districts can now offer their own cost share program, giving producers multiple opportunities for funds and assistance.

 "For Wasco and Sherman counties, districts have been successfully dealing with erosion control," says Ojua. "These are places with a high percentage of producers adopting reduced tillage or no-till systems. In the Willamette Valley, where there are so many specialty crops, districts have been implementing cover crops, irrigation water management, and integrated pest management. In Hood River County, weather stations have been installed and producers are figuring out when and how they should spray their orchards to reduce drift-practices that minimize impact to water quality. All these management techniques and projects are making a difference."

Whether it is CSP, CREP, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), or the long list of other federal programs that offer money for good conservation work, Oregon producers are aggressively taking advantage-in some cases, outcompeting their counterparts in other states for available funds.
Oregon Farm & Ranch Sesquicentennial Award
Photo of crowd
Waiting for the ceremony to begin
By Madeline MacGregor

The Big One Five O!
On February 14, 2009, the Oregon Sesquicentennial Award was presented to five Oregon farms and ranches. Over 10,000 visitors squeezed into the State Capitol Building to celebrate the kickoff of Oregon's 150th year of statehood. Amid the crush of elbows, and lines of eager faces waiting for free cake and hotdogs, a steady stream of Oregon ranchers and farmers wound its way to the Senate Chamber.

Clad in John Deere caps or cowboy hats, dress pants or blue jeans, senior members of families arrived in wheelchairs or walked steadily holding the hands of grown children and grandchildren. Infants and toddlers snuggled close or sat on the laps of their parents. Sisters, brothers, cousins, and altogether, six generations of Oregon's agricultural community were in attendance.

For the first time in senate history, honorees were allowed private admittance to the senate floor. As the doors to the chambers closed, a peaceful hush prevailed-a world away from the noisy hubbub of the birthday mob outside.

What does it take?
As each family made its way to the front of the chamber to receive their award certificate, beaming smiles were tempered with serious introspection. The tenuous nature of farming is the inheritance woven into the honorees' daily lives. And although 150 years have passed since original Donation Land Claims (DLC) were established, time has not diminished the obstacles facing these families.

Family farms and ranches must weather a multitude of physical and emotional hurdles punctuated by the spread of urban development into rural reserves. Spiraling costs of fertilizer, fuel, and feed; competition from foreign produced imports; or regulatory measures tailored to large scale operations rather than the small or mid-size farm have produced many a sleepless night. Factor in neighbors who may not understand the noise, dust, or odors from farming and the hurdles assume colossal heights. Are there enough positive incentives, both monetary and emotional, that will support these families for another 150 years? What must be done to encourage the next generation to pursue a career in agriculture?

Without Oregon's agricultural industry, our state would be hard pressed to celebrate its sesquicentennial. Most families recognized by the Oregon Century Farm & Ranch Program are true stewards of the land. They participate in cultural and historical associations such as the National Historic Register or municipal and regional historical societies. They engage in conservation restoration enhancement and water quality programs that benefit the population at large, not just their own land and operations. They promote healthy discussions on how to approach and resolve public and industry conflicts. Oregon's farmers are innovators, inventors, educators, and risk-takers extraordinaire. They are caretakers of the green wide-open beauty that Oregon exhibits to the rest of the nation. As co-sponsors of the Oregon Century Farm & Ranch Program, ODA salutes this year's sesquicentennial award recipients.

And the award goes to...
The William Goodrich Farm, founded in 1848. William's family traveled the Oregon Trail with the Barlow wagon train in 1845. As the wagons became mired in snow in the mountain passes, personal belongings were abandoned, and the family members walked the rest of the way to Oregon City. Owned by Donald C. Goodrich and Eunice M. Goodrich, the farm is located in Yamhill County. One hundred and sixteen acres remain today, and produce grass seed, corn, beans, and beet and clover seed.

The J. Rowland Farm, founded in 1845. Jeremiah Rowland arrived in Oregon in 1844, and established a double parcel DLC in Yamhill County. Married three times, Jeremiah raised 14 children. Early crops on the farm included wheat, barley, and oats. The farm once produced 12,000 bushels of wheat and 11,000 bushels of oats. Cows and hogs were also raised. Owned today by Jeremiah's great, great granddaughter, Marian L. Gray, the farm's 38 tillable acres now grow grass seed and clover.

The Hawley Land & Cattle Company, founded in 1852. The great, great grandparents of current owner Bill Hoyt, Ira and Elvira Hawley, traveled by wagon train to their DLC site near Cottage Grove with five head of cattle and three young sons. Old-timers refer to the ranch as the "ranch at the divide," because it is situated between the drainage of the Umpqua and Willamette rivers. Hoyt's great aunt Alsea Hawley propelled the ranch into the seed stock business by purchasing a Canadian National Champion polled Hereford bull. During her time, the ranch was heralded as one of Oregon's premier seed stock producers. Hoyt has continued to diversify, and now raises sheep and goats as well as cattle. His invasive weed PhD project teams with OSU-and uses grazing goats for weed control in environmentally sensitive areas. Hoyt is president-elect of the Oregon's Cattlemen's Association.

The Montgomery Farm, founded in 1857. William Grimes Montgomery and his wife Mary Cusick met as children, on neighboring DLC parcels. When they married in 1855, Mary was just 13-years old-and she and her 21-year old husband qualified for a 320-acre parcel of their own. Because their DLC was located between their parents, they were able to plant a large-scale fruit orchard that included apples, prunes, pears, and cherries. Each year William would load up his wagon with his farm raised and smoked hams and bacon, and travel from Scio to Oregon City. In the 1920s, William's descendants grew corn silage. In the 1980s, a southern portion of the farm was planted in grass seed. Today, William's great, great grandson Leland Montgomery has 123 acres in grass seed production.

The Sprenger Farm, founded in 1852. Nicholas Sprenger caught "Oregon fever" and moved to the Willamette Valley with his wife Maria Bird and 13 children. The Sprengers were able to secure a 320-acre DLC, 11 miles south of Albany. Early crops included grain and hay, and diversified livestock. A two-story barn, built by one of Sprenger's sons in 1873, still stands proudly on the farm today. It boasts hand-hewn timbers that stretch 54-feet in length. Wooden pegs connect the old timbers to one another. Sprenger's great, great granddaughter Rebecca Owen operates the farm today. Grass seed is produced and sheep, horses, and cows occupy the outbuildings.
Grant program helps nursery improve energy efficiency
Photo of greenhouse interior.
The new greenhouse walls and roof save on natural gas bills.
By Stephanie Page, ODA renewable energy specialist

In 2007, Woodburn-based Fessler Nursery successfully applied for a USDA Rural Development grant to fund greenhouse energy efficiency improvements. The nursery became one of a growing number of Oregon businesses to receive grants through this program, which was reauthorized in the 2008 Farm Bill and is now called the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Oregon energy professionals have been pleased with the growing interest in REAP and hope to see even more successful applications from Oregon in 2009.

Fessler Nursery uses natural gas to run forced-air heaters in its greenhouses, which contain a variety of annual plants and hanging baskets sold in retail and wholesale markets.

"Heating costs are 12 percent of our annual expenses, so we were interested in reducing energy use," explains Marvin Fessler.

The nursery began looking at options to replace old fiberglass greenhouse walls and roofs, which had become clouded with age and had a low heat retention capacity. An energy audit evaluated the benefits of upgrading the greenhouse walls.

"We compared the energy savings from converting to a new double-wall material with a U-value of 0.55, with leaving our existing walls, which have a U-value of 0.7," explains Fessler. The U-value is a measure of the material's capacity to lose heat; the lower the U-value, the better. "The projected payback was 4.2 years."

Fessler decided to apply for a USDA Rural Development Energy Efficiency Grant for the new walls and roof. The program requires a professional energy audit for all efficiency applications, so the nursery submitted its audit to document the projected savings.

"We were going to do the project anyway, but the grant would make it an even better deal for us," he says.

The application process was time consuming, but Fessler is pretty positive about it.

"It's not hard," he says. "It just takes time. The USDA staff were a big help, and they walked me through all the forms that I needed to fill out."

Jeff Deiss, Business Program Director for the Oregon office of USDA Rural Development, has worked with other Oregon staff to promote the program and help applicants through the process.

"We're committed to help deliver programs to Oregon businesses," says Deiss.

As part of the construction, the nursery put in clear material on the roof, and white material on the walls.

"The old fiberglass was so yellowed, there wasn't as much light getting through to the plants," explains Fessler. "The new material allows more light in, which allows even more heating in the winter."

The nursery also installed roof vents at the same time they replaced the greenhouse walls and roof.

"On its own, the roof vent project didn't make sense -the projected payback was something like 30 years," says Fessler. "But when we combined it with replacing the walls and roof, it worked out."

Now that the roof vents are in place, the Fesslers don't need to run ventilation fans in the summer.

"We used to run them 18 to 20 hours a day in the summer. Now, we just have the roof vent programmed to open on its own at specific temperatures. The vent system is much quieter than the fans. We left them in there just in case, but we haven't needed them yet."

In total, the project cost $183,000. The USDA Rural Development grant covered 25 percent.

"I would definitely recommend the program to others," Fessler says. "It's well worth the time I put into it."

Deiss estimates that the USDA will open the grant application period sometime in late March or early April 2009, and that there will be two application deadlines, one in April and one in June. He encourages potential participants to start putting their projects together as soon as possible.

"If anyone is interested in pursuing one of these grants, now is the time to start," says Deiss.

More information is available on the Oregon Rural Development Office Web site at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/or/reap.htm

ODA honors dairy operators for outreach and education
Photo: Bernie Faber (left) and ODA’s Wym Matthews (right)
Bernie Faber (left) and ODA's Wym Matthews (right)
At the dairy industry's annual convention this winter, the Oregon Department of Agriculture recognized a handful of farm operators for their willingness to educate members of the Dairy Air Quality Task Force-a group exploring technical and policy issues surrounding air emissions from Oregon dairy farms. On-site tours helped the task force understand the challenges and complexities faced by dairy farmers when it comes to air quality, and what some operators are doing about it.

"If you can imagine being asked to let a group of 30 folks, most of whom you don't know, into your back yard to assess if anything there needs regulation, that was the request we were making of these award recipients," says Wym Matthews, manager of ODA's Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) Program.

Among the award winners was Salem dairy farmer Bernie Faber of Cal-Gon Farms, who proudly showed off the methane digester he uses to handle cow manure.

Other award winners include Rickreall Dairy, Forest Glen Oaks of Dayton, Jenck Farms of Tillamook, and Columbia River Dairy of Boardman.

The tours played a major role in the task force's ability to produce a comprehensive report and recommendations on dairy air quality to the legislature.

ODA publications now available
It's been a busy publications season in the ODA Information Office. There are three new information-packed publications that may interest you. You can request printed copies by calling the ODA Information Office, 503-986-4550. All three publications are also available on-line.

2008 Oregon Agripedia
Cost: No charge

Phone: 503-986-4550

Web: http://oregon.gov/ODA/pub_agripedia.shtml

The Oregon Agripedia combines the information of the Oregon Agricultural Statistics Bulletin, the Oregon Farmer's Handbook, and the Oregon Agricultural Resources Directory into one handy reference for Oregon agriculture facts, laws, and resources. This publication is also available on CD. Published December 2008

The State of Oregon Agriculture
Cost: No charge

Phone: 503-986-4550

Web: http://oregon.gov/ODA/pub_bd_rpt.shtml

The State of Oregon Agriculture is the report from the Board of Agriculture to the governor and the legislature. This document will introduce you to the current State Board of Agriculture members and highlight the major issues faced by Oregon agricultural producers. Published January 2009.

Oregon Department of Agriculture 2007-2009 Biennial Report
Cost: No charge

Phone: 503-986-4550

Web: http://oregon.gov/ODA/pub_br.shtml

The Biennial Report is all about the people and the work of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The Biennial Report provides a summary of ODA activities, accomplishments, and goals. Published January 2009.

Oregon Women for Agriculture Auction and Dinner
When: Saturday, April 18, 2009
Where: Linn County Fair & Expo Center
Web: http://www.owaonline.org/annualauction.html

2009 Oregon Ag Fest
When: Saturday, April 25, 8:30am-5pm
Sunday, April 26, 10am-5pm
Where: Oregon State Fairgrounds, Salem

Web: http://www.oragfest.com

Oregon State Board of Agriculture Meeting
When: May 13, 14, and 15, 2009

Where: Salem Agriculture Building Hearings Room, 635 Capitol St NE, Salem, OR 97301

Phone: 503-986-4550

Weed control grants available
Applications are due July 15, 2009

Contact: Shannon Brubaker, grant program coordinator

E-mail: sbrubaker@oda.state.or.us

Phone: 503-986-4622

Web: http://oregon.gov/ODA/PLANT/WEEDS/grantindex.shtml

Oregon Invasive Species Council meeting
When: June 24 and 25, 2009

Where: Portland, Oregon. Location to be determined.

Web: http://oregon.gov/OISC

Rural Energy for America Program (REAP)
USDA Rural Development will likely announce a REAP grant application period this spring. This program offers grants and loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. For updates on the program, check the Oregon USDA Rural Development Web site at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/or/reap.htm.

Save a tree. Get the AQ online
Go to: http://listsmart.osl.state.or.us/mailman/listinfo/aq to subscribe.

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