Adaptability a key word in agriculture
Two years ago, Klamath Basin farmers and ranchers struggled with commodity prices.
And even if there were no other issues, such as a natural scarcity of water, agriculture officials say many still would have struggled.
Prices are better today, but natural resource s issues, specifically water scarcity, still put farmers at risk. And the costs of their operations continue to increase.
Those in agriculture have always adapt e d . Many use computers on a daily basis and conservation practices are a regular part of the industry. Maintaining that adaptability will be key to agriculture’s survival, experts say.
“People just have to keep up with their business plan,” said Willie Riggs, director of the Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center.
I n K l a m at h Count y, agricultural sales exceeded $205 million in 2006, a record. Overall, sales increased every year since 1998 with the exception of 2001, the year the federal government cut off irrigation water to Klamath Basin farmers.
Prices for nearly a l l commodities exceeded estimates. Hay g rowers enjoyed prices $30 higher on average than last year’s prices, especially on organic varieties. Grain prices were also several dollars above initial estimates.
But despite record sales, the Oregon Department of Agriculture reported that increasing costs resulted in a decrease in net income to farms and ranches in 2006.
“All of our costs are up,” Riggs said. “When we look at fuel costs, that’s only one part of it.”
In the Basin, natural resources issues demanded attention.
The need to satisfy biological opinions for endangered fish created a delicate situation. Farmers had to be sure there was enough water for crops as well as wildlife.
Many of the problems aren’t new, said Harry Carlson, director of the Intermountain Research and Extension Center. Securing water for crops and animals is common across the West, while prices and costs are perennial issues.
“ T hat ’s the challenge that ’s faced agriculture for the past 150 years,” he said.
Carlson pointed out that one group, the United Potato Growers, realized the need for individual growers to stop competing against each other. By working together to reduce acreage, the organization exerts some control over prices.
Crop diversity also is important. With more to choose from, diversity gives growers a choice when one or two crops aren’t doing well in any single year, Carlson said.
Whereas potatoes, grain and hay used to dominate, now there a re fields of mint, horseradish, onions, s t r awb er r y pl a nt s a nd other niche crops alongside them. Biofuels crops, such as canola, also may be grow regularly in the future.