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Service aims to help small farms
OSU Extension Service tries to keep pace with shrinking Oregon farms

By HOLLY OWENS H&N Staff Writer

    As the sizes of Oregon farms shrink, the needs of the farmers are changing.
    Oregon State University Extension Service is hiring new agents to teach operators of small farms and ranches better ways to grow crops, raise livestock and successfully market their goods.
    New extension agents have been hired for the northern Willamette Valley, southern Willamette Valley and central Oregon Coast regions. Positions for southwest and Central Oregon are yet to be filled.
    According to the most recent census by the Oregon Agricultural Statistics Service, roughly twothirds of Oregon’s 40,000 farms are less than 69 acres.
    “You travel through areas like South Poe Valley and what was one ranch is now maybe four or five or six,” said Ron Hathaway superintendent of the Klamath County Extension Service. “That’s a lot of people’s dream — five, 10, 20 acres in the country.”
    Agricultural experts say keeping small farms in the black will reduce pressure to subdivide, or otherwise develop, Oregon’s most fertile land as a result of Measure 37.
    ‘‘Measure 37 is so divisive, even in the farming community,’’ said John Belton, a Sandy-area woodland owner and chairman of the Clackamas County Extension advisory committee. ‘‘It has become quite clear that these people need all the help they can get to make a financial go of it.’’
    Under Measure 37, anyone whose property value was harmed by land use laws passed after he or she purchased the property is entitled to be paid for the loss or have the new regulations waived.
    The growing presence of smaller farm and ranch operations is not unique to any particular region in the state.
    “But we’re seeing more of this,” Hathaway said of grower trends in the Basin.
    The small-acreage farms and ranches can’t sustain a grower as a sole source of income, but instead help provide a supplemental income for their owners, and Hathaway notes, they are often lifestyle choices.
    “Lots of them are people in town who’ve wanted to be out in the country — generally professional people,” Hathaway said. “And they’re not dependent upon that acreage for their total living so ... they have more resources to put into the property than someone who was trying to rely on it for a livelihood would.”
    The smaller parcels of land are used for a variety of purposes.
    “They’ll have 35 to 40 head of cows, or five horses and put the rest up in hay, or someone else comes and does the hay for them,” Hathaway said. “There are a few that are going to the farmer’s market down here which is a good outlet for a small acreage.”
    A growing consumer interest in organic products is providing a niche market for the small-acreage farmers and ranchers.
    The organic market has improved incrementally over the years, Hathaway notes, as organic products and produce can now be seen in local grocery stores like Safeway, Albertsons and Fred Meyer.
    “Its becoming a larger and larger portion given that it’s only 1 or 2 percent,” Hathaway said. “But it’s expanding and I think that’s one of those opportunities for this niche market.”
    The smaller plots also provide an opportunity for growers to test out crops not traditionally grown in the Basin, such as grapes or sweet corn, Hathaway noted.
    “They can experiment on a smaller scale,” Hathaway said
    The Klamath County Extension office, like many others in the state, doesn’t have an agent dedicated specifically to helping smallacreage farmers and ranchers.
    “We’ve just included those in what we do at the extension and the experiment station,” Hathaway said.
    Klamath County’s extension service has been answering the same general questions for small-acreage farmers and ranchers as for their large farm and ranch counterparts in the Basin. Agents answer questions as to how to properly manage manure, what kind of grass to use when putting in a pasture, fertilizer use and application, and livestock health issues.
    “For the most part the practices are the same,” Hathaway said.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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