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Basin ag focus of harvest tour

Herald and News by Jill Aho, 10/20/08

< H&N photo by Jill Aho.
Marshall and Eddie Staunton of Staunton Farms will store recently harvested Burbank russet potatoes through July in this temperature- and humidity-controlled shed.

Lay’s potato chips, horseradish, toothpaste, Horizon milk and waterfowl. The commonality? No, not that they’re all edible; they’re all produced, at least in part, in the Klamath Basin.

The Klamath Water User’s Association drove home the idea that the Basin is a productive agricultural area, with an estimated $298 million impact on the local economy, in its first fall harvest tour.

Representatives of the media, the financial and education sectors, farming interests and KWUA board members spent Friday on a tour bus visiting areas of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project, which is served by the KWUA.

The tour highlighted benefits of the Klamath Project, including irrigation pumps that add oxygen to otherwise unoxygenated water, which may benefit the endangered sucker. The group also visited Cal-Ore produce and a potato storage shed at Staunton Farms, where 1.2 million, 100-pound bags of produce are processed through 11 months of the year.

The tour also explained the cooperation between farmers and wildlife managers at the Walking Wetlands at the Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge.

This unique project involves flooding farmlands for three years, providing habitat to local wildlife, and rotating previously flooded land into agricultural production. The land is leased to farmers through a sealed bid process.

In a crop-sharing agreement, farmers must plant cereal grains and leave a portion of the crop to feed fowl during winter months. Once farmland has spent three years as a wetland, it is certified organic, said Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges Manager Ron Cole.

The Walking Wetlands project makes farming more productive as well, said Luther Horsley, who has leased land in the refuge. Crops are less bothered by nematodes and diseases than farmland that has been continuously farmed.
Cooperation key

For water user and wildlife supporter Rob Crawford, cooperation between the Fish and Wildlife Service and area farmers has been an experiment that works.

“Sometimes little conservation efforts can do a lot,” Crawford said. Crawford has taken 70 acres of his personal property and turned it into wetlands.

The tour wrapped up overlooking Lost River, where water management is especially tricky because so little precipitation falls on the area, and the Clear Lake reservoir evaporates water, said Don Russell of Horsefly Irrigation District.

“We’ve had a few good years, but that’s hard to remember quite frankly,” Russell said.

For Sterling Savings Bank Shasta branch employees, the trip was eye-opening.

Branch manager Angela Nichols said, “It’s good to see what the farmers do.” Nichols thinks the experience will help her better understand her customers.

“The farmers had a whole different perspective,” she said.
Side Bar
The history of the Klamath Project
Steve Kandra, a Merrill area farmer, explains the significance of Upper Klamath Lake Friday during the Klamath Water User’s Association fall harvest tour.

   Local farmer Steve Kandra gave a brief history of the Klamath Project Friday.

   Authorized in 1905 by the Bureau of Reclamation, the Klamath Basin Project encompasses 220,000 acres, or about 340 square miles. Kandra said it is the third oldest Reclamation Project in the U.S. It began irrigation services to farmers in 1907, although irrigation has existed in the Basin since the 1860s. 

   Before the Project, much of what is now farmland was under shallow water. The point of the project was to divert that water into the Klamath River and use the land underneath as farmland. Now, water is re-circulated through the irrigation channels to be reused within the Project before being returned to the Klamath River. 

   “I would claim we put a lot of water back into the system,” Kandra said. Issues surrounding water are a high priority for many constituents, including local tribes, fish and wildlife officials, and many farmers. 

   Although the water systems extend north of Upper Klamath Lake, the lake contributes to the water quality further downstream. A naturally eutrophic body, Upper Klamath Lake has high levels of phosphorus and other nutrients, contributing to the high levels of blue green algae and low levels of oxygen. 

   Bob Gasser, of Basin Fertilizer, said farming is often blamed for the naturally occurring phenomena in the lake. 

   “As you saw this morning, over 95 percent of agricultural production is below Klamath Lake,” Gasser said, referring to maps shown prior to the trip. When water is delivered to wildlife refuges below Klamath Lake, “water has less phosphates due to the Klamath Project,” Gasser said.
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