Thursday, April 27, 2006

Blogging the staff meeting

Gary West, reporting live from the Capital Press editorial staff meeting. I'm showing our staff how quick and easy it is to make a post to our blog site. Do you think any of them will sign on?

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Giving field reporters a whole new meaning

In most newspaper operations, the home office is where the bulk of the reporting staff is located.

But the Capital Press is not the typical newspaper operation.

Many newspapers cover a place -- a city or a county or in some cases a state. They may have some "bureau" offices that cover secondary markets of interest outside their home territory, but the bureaus supplement the main operation.

Capital Press covers an industry and a way of life, agriculture, in four states. From the Canadian to the Mexican borders, from the Pacific Coast to the intermountain West, our staff works to bring news on hundreds of commodities, all manner of livestock, international trade and issues large and small home to the farm, ranch, vineyard, nursery, implement dealership and farmer's market to the people who need it.

Our staff is not centrally located. Most of our news staff is spread out in rural communities and farming areas in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California. Our office mailing address is Salem, Ore., but the Capital Press newspaper and website would not exist without a cadre of people who live and work far from Salem.

But for the next two days, our editorial staff is gathering at the "home base" in Salem to conduct some training, do some planning and talk about issues of common interest in carrying out our mission to remain the most important source of information for agriculture news on the West Coast.

So, to the bulk of the Capital Press staff, who makes the newspapers production of four separate editions each week, I say welcome -- to the Salem bureau. I hope you enjoy your stay until you can return to our various home offices from Washington's Inland Empire to California's San Joaquin Valley, from Idaho's Treasure Valley to Oregon's Rogue River Valley and all the mountains, plains and valleys in between.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Technical glitches at

We are experiencing some technical difficulties over on the website today. Server issues with our Internet service provider are making it difficult to access the site and are also affecting our ability to make updates.

One of the updates I had hoped to post over there today was about President Bush's announcement to temporarily suspend environmental rules for refining gasoline in an attempt to address the latest spike in fuel prices. Read the Associated Press story about the suspension here.

Our service provider assures us they are working on the problem and hope to have the situation resolved soon. So thank you for your patience and understanding.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Makin' hay while the sun shines

I'm going to try to squeeze in a quick post here. Blogger has a scheduled outage pending here shortly, so I won't get too carried away. I just wanted to say sorry there haven't been posts in a few days. I had the opportunity to take a few days off last weeks, so I grabbed at it.

And I was fortunate to time those days off with some of the best weather the Willamette Valley has had in a while.

One other oddity cropped up today when reviewing visitors stats for our website. It seems a story over there about farmers making their own biodiesel has been pretty popular. So far this month, that article has been printed 4,627 times. So either a lot of people are interested in that topic, or someone is printing out enough copies to mail them to all their friends, family, customers, vendors and anyone else who passes by.

More later.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A look at what's making news in California agriculture

The following is a look at some of the headlines in agriculture news from around California today.

This list was compiled by Bob Krauter, the Capital Press' California editor in Sacramento. Bob put this list together for our California staffers, but I thought I would post it here too. This could become a regular feature if it proves useful to our staff or for our readers.

Capital Press NewScan - Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Desert - $3.5M to help ag businesses

An arm of the Imperial Irrigation District will spend $3.5 million to aid agricultural businesses hurt by a water conservation program that has left farmland idle. The decision Wednesday may be both the first and last time the so-called Local Entity is able to distribute money as its future is in question. (imperial Valley Press)
Click here for the link to the story.

South Coast - Affordable homes for farmworkers to be focus of tour

Few affordable, quality homes are available for the more than 30,000 farmworkers who live in Ventura County, housing advocates say. On Thursday, the public will have a chance to tour some of those locations and gain an understanding of the issue. (Ventura Star)
Click here for the link to the story.

Wine grapes buoy mixed year for agriculture

Led by a huge increase for wine grapes, Santa Barbara County crops yielded $997.6 million in gross value in 2005, a 10-percent increase over 2004, according to numbers released Monday. But while the data appears to be glowing news for local agriculture, officials are classifying 2005 as fair to poor for individual commodities and growers. (Santa Maria Times)
Click here for the link to the story.

Central Coast - Small lettuce crop could raise prices

Though the rain has stopped, the problems it's caused for growers have not. Many Salinas Valley growers say their lettuce-harvesting schedules, delayed by waterlogged soil that prevented work crews from getting to crops, are behind by at least a week. (Salinas Californian)
Click here for the link to the story.

San Joaquin Valley - Tulare County farmer's recollection of the great quake

Editor's note: Ray Pritchard was a Tulare County farmer and landowner for most of his life. But in 1906, he was 10 years old and living in Middle River, a branch of the San Joaquin River west of Stockton. His father was employed by the Santa Fe Railway as a ticket agent, freight agent, Wells Fargo agent and bridge tender. (Visalia Times Delta)

Preserving a way of life

Arturo Vigil recalled his first job at a Tri Valley Growers cannery in Modesto, cleaning floors for about $3.50 an hour for just a few months a year. He has stayed for 33 years at the plant, now owned by Signature Fruit Co., and today makes about $20 an hour plus benefits as a year-round warehouse supervisor. (Modesto Bee)
Click here for the link to the story.

Rain's Toll Hits Hard - Strawberry grower says much of his crop is ruined.

A rainy March and early April has destroyed some crops and delayed the planting of several others. It's also reason for farmers to take extra precaution to protect their crops from disease. Strawberry farmers between Atwater and Merced said the heavy rain and flooding has wiped out part of their planting. (Mcerd Sun Star)
Click here for the link to the story.

Farmers ready to nurture crops

Forecasts of generally good weather this week have San Joaquin County farmers looking forward to catching up on three weeks to a month of tilling, planting, spraying and other chores delayed by the long stint of spring rains. And even with skies clear Monday over Stockton, most area growers may need another seven to 10 days of dry weather before they use tractors and other heavy equipment on the sodden fields, said Mick Canevari, county director for University of California Cooperative Extension. (Stockton Record)
Click here for the link to the story.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Mia culpa to Orblogs

Thanks go out to Orblogs for adding Blogriculture to the listing over there. And thanks for taking the time to let us know that as well. We got a very nice note from Paul over there, who is Orblogs, letting us know we were in the listing and that Orblogs has nothing against anything geared toward ranches or farming. So thanks Paul.

If you haven't checked out Orblogs before, but have any interest in issues big or smal, happening in Oregon state, it is worth exploring. There are a number of RSS feeds you can monitor to keep track of what's hot or what's new or what's happening in the Oregon blogosphere in particular locales.

So, thanks to Orblogs for adding us to the listing featuring Blogriculture, at least for now, as the "Recently Added" site of the moment.

And thanks too to B!x for pointing out my paranoia.

I blame it on tax season.

Friday, April 14, 2006

So far, snubbed by Orblogs

I've been trying to get an Oregon-based blog directory called Orblogs to add this site to their listing, but so far I'm getting no response. I'm not sure if they are just experiencing a backlog of requests or what.

Their site says it normally takes 48 hours or so to get added into the listing. I sent in a request weeks ago and thought maybe it didn't go through so I sent another one in several days ago.

Yea, 48 hours my, um, well...

Maybe they just have something against sites geared towards farmers and ranchers.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Blogriculture headline news

We've added a new feature here at Blogriculture. Now, on the right side of the page, under the heading "News feeds," you can now get some of the most recent headlines from some of the news and agriculture sites I try to keep an eye on. Of course, that also includes the latest updates to the Capital Press website.

So don't feel guilty for spending your time cruising blog sites instead of staying on top of the latest headlines. Now you can do both, right here a Blogriculture! And if you have any suggestions for sites you think I should keep an eye on, leave a comment or drop me an e-mail. We might add some of those as well.

Ain't technology cool?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Memory dribbles on of small town sports

By Elaine Shein

When university players from Maryland and Duke battled at the NCAA women’s basketball playoffs last night in Boson, and on the men’s side LSU took on UCLA in Indianapolis the night before, there probably were basketball fans in many rural areas across the nation that were glued to their TVs.

Well, at least before or after chores were done.

Listening to the squeak of the running shoes, the buzz of the time clock, the shouts of the coaches, the dribble of the ball and the swisssssssh as the ball sliced through the net reminded me of what it’s like to play sports in rural communities.

We often drove long distances, an hour or two or more, to get to the games and returned home in the dark. We hoped our parents would be there to pick us up, and that the local small-town grocery store/coffee shop was still open for us to spend an hour or longer waiting for our rides.

I still marvel at the patience of the store owners who allowed us to dawdle for so long, nurse a few pops and share a community bag of chips for a whole team. We giggled, argued, flirted and acted like a bunch of hyperactive teenagers, which we were.

Some bookworms crawled into pages of homework; they slumped down in the corner of the table, tried to block out the ruckus and scribbled furiously in notebooks so they could sleep on the long morning school bus ride with less feelings of panic.

We prayed that the roads weren’t too icy, dusty, or muddy and that our rides to games and home again would be safe. We had our share of flat tires, being stuck, and even occasionally getting lost.

Sports in small town gymnasiums aren’t like the huge spectacles that we have witnessed at various universities during these playoffs. We usually had room only for narrow benches along one wall and no fans. And usually the only fans were the players from the other team that traveled with us that night on the bus (men and women usually traveled together to games at the same rival town to help save costs).

There were the coaches, the bus driver and depending on the town, the odd curious bystander that had nothing better to do that night. There were no bands, cheerleaders, television cameras, talent scouts, loud music, confetti, or even extra seats for fans. To be honest, even if our parents were our biggest fans, they usually were home on the farms doing our chores so we could compete in the sports we loved.

In the NCAA playoffs, we learn that universities work hard to attract the best athletes. These wonderfully gifted competitors are coaxed to come from all over the country (and sometimes abroad) and offered scholarships as they fight for a place on the team.

In small towns, we welcomed whoever could show up for a game and could dribble a ball, swing a bat, run without tripping, or even just knew which way to run. Often the same small core group of players competed in every sport together because there were no other players around. We often played shorthanded, whatever the sport, because we had just enough players to avoid a forfeit but not enough players to be able to have regular substitutions. We were extremely exhausted by the end of the games.

While some people might think this would lead to a lack of talent, it was this type of situation that led to such a close-knit team. You knew everyone so well that you’d anticipate every move, vow to protect each teammate from injury, and yes, when a certain player broke her glasses several times in one season from too many sports, it was those loyal teammates that pitched in to buy the new pair of glasses when her parents refused to buy any more glasses.

(Perhaps it wasn’t loyalty, now that I think about it, but they were embarrassed by the tape in the middle of my — I mean, this player’s — glasses.)

Farms are busy places and we learned early that not all of us could compete in all the sports we wanted. In my case, I lived 11 miles from the town where I attended school. My father became my first economics teacher as he explained supply and demand (he demanded chores be done and my brothers and I supplied them) as well as the wear and tear principle.

Wear and tear happened to tires and vehicles used for frivolous purposes such as travel to and from sports. Apparently the amount of wear and tear is directly proportionate to how frivolous the trip is. Driving 22 miles to town and back was much, much worse than driving 164 miles to the nearest city where we could get machinery parts. Needless to say, using this same math led me to do poorly in my first real economics class I took at university.

But I digress.

In high school, after he allowed me to try various sports through the prior years and increased my love for them all, my father threw an ultimatum: Pick only one sport for my final year in high school.

It seems the fuel price had gone up, and add this to the wear and tear principle, multiply by the amount of chores I was now capable of doing with my increase in age and maturity: the final answer was it had now become outrageous to allow me to participate in more than one sport. Just one. One.

It was the most difficult decision I had to make for the whole last year of high school. Algebra had seemed easy compared to this complicated decision for me. Which sport did I love more than the rest?

So tough to ask someone who bought her first ball glove, a battered decades-old flat gray glove for 10 cents from a classmate … on her second day of school in Grade 1.

Within a week of buying that glove, I pitched my first strike-out against the same guy, who probably regretted selling me his dad’s glove.

In hindsight, I now realize I was probably a better negotiator with that kid when I was a six-year-old on a dusty playground than when I was a mature Grade 12 student facing my father.

So which sport did I pick?

As I watched the NCAA playoffs, I thought about this. I think it was basketball, but I’m not sure. All I remember is that the following year, my first year in university, I eagerly joined up with every intramural sport on campus: 11 sports in total.

I treasured every moment of those games, and some of those teammates from my school and university days remain some of my closest friends.

And listening to the squeaky shoes, swishing ball, buzzing clock, and frantic shouts of the coaches and players last night, my heart skipped a little as I recalled the passion that always lives in the soul of an athlete, even when that humble small town gymnasium no longer exists.

My hometown school closed permanently in 2004.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Auction season sees a record auction

Sometimes an abandoned farmyard is all that is left after the auctioneer's chant fades away.

By Elaine Shein

At this time of year, farmers see it as the time of three seasons: calving, seeding and auction. This tradition has been handed down several generations and become a ritual as common as looking for the first robin: gazing intently at classified ads in agricultural newspapers, checking the local posters at the small town bulletin boards in stores, and checking mailboxes for flyers from different auctioneers.

Growing up in a rural area, I fondly recall listening to the mesmerizing auctioneer chant as he sold off everything from large machinery to the boxes of miscellaneous that held everything from dusty doorknobs to oily wrenches to dusty dented oilcans.

Auctions were a place to greet neighbors, support the local group who sold the steaming coffee to take the shiver off early spring mornings, and perhaps have a last chat with the family who had decided to retire or move. Often it was the farms or neighbors within less than an hour drive from our farm; we recognized the machinery we had often seen working the fields, had their grain bins memorized from the twice a day treks our school bus entered the yard with students, even knew their dogs because of the kids on the bus yelling out the window at them to quit barking.

People at the auction would scribble what the bids had reached on small, coiled notebooks, the back of the auction program, or on any piece of paper they could find. Occasionally, you could see the bidding going on; some people were confident, loud, and raised their arm enthusiastically; other people were so subtle that it took a trained auctioneer to catch their wink, slight hand movement or stern nod.

Auctions were family events. Kids playing tag and ring-around-the-rosie, mothers helping to prepare the food being sold, and the majority of the bidders being the men and their sons who followed their footsteps.

I still recall when my grandfather’s farm sold when I was four years old. I recall the pockets of relatives huddled and reminiscing through laughter and tears about the various things being sold, the kids playing in large groups, the mosquitoes buzzing around, and so many people going to grab the 7-Up bottles out of a portable big cooler that had been moved onto the house porch that day. I still have that frail, yellowed poster listing everything my grandfather possessed that was to be sold that day: it was quite humble, but all he had after several decades of farming the land.

In the last few years, auctions have changed a lot. My younger brother began to call me to check on the internet for auction items. My family began to travel sometimes hundreds of miles to check out auctions. Strangers appeared at the local auctions, and it seemed it was fewer neighbors who bought land that came up for sale. Farms became bigger: families owned larger parcels of land scattered over greater distances, and gone was the time of when every half mile of farmland would house another family.

While there remains places that still have a lot of farms and are now threatened by urban sprawl, there are a lot more places that suffer from changing land ownership patterns and greater distances between neighbors. Small towns are struggling to survive as schools and post offices close, and people are willing to travel farther for services.

Perhaps an example that struck me the most in the last couple of days was a story I read from my home province in Canada, where my parents still farm. The Western Producer , an agricultural newspaper on the Canadian prairies, had a story about an “auction billed as the largest in Saskatchewan history”: on March 24, Don and Amy Gillen sold 80 parcels of land, more than 51,000 acres of land they owned. The Gillens had rented another 100 quarters of land: so altogether they had farmed more than 67,000 acres of land.

The story about the auction said there was a large crowd that wished to bid on the large amount of land but also the variety of farm equipment, with close to 2,000 registered bidders. Some drove several hundred miles to attend. But there were also people bidding on the internet, from places as far away as Texas, Scotland and Ireland.

Within a day, the machinery and land was sold, with one bidder buying 28 quarter sections of farmland at an average price of $28,000 (Cdn), according to the Western Producer.

Not every auction will be so big as this one, but it reminds me that times are changing from the time I attended my first auction as a child.

The Western Producer

Monday, April 03, 2006

Watch Hermiston grow

The large water tank on Highway 395 used to sport the slogan "Watch Hermiston Grow" on one side and had a large slice of watermelon painted on the other. The slogan has been painted over, but it's really no longer needed. The signs of growth are everywhere. And the water tank, which used to be on the outer edge of town is seeing development of government facilities and new housing in its shadow.

The city's logo still includes a watermelon slice, celebrating the locally grown produce which helped give the city an identity when it was just a little farming town.

Compared to more urban areas of the West, Hermiston may still look like, and in fact may still be, a little farm-market town, but in rural Eastern Oregon this little town is on the move.

For the 10 years I lived in California, when people asked me where I was from, I rarely used Hermiston as a reference point. Even when I was going to college in Western Oregon most people had no clue where Hermiston was, so I gave up trying to explain it. I used to ask people who expressed curiosity about my upbringing if they had ever heard of Pendleton. As host of the Pendleton Round-Up and namesake of the Pendleton Woolen Mills, even people who have never been there had at least heard the name.

I went to school in and was graduated from high school in Echo, about 30 miles west of Pendleton and a few mile south of Hermiston. But back then, more than 20 years ago, Hermiston was the social center for all off us farm and country kids looking for fun and girls (or boys) on a Saturday night.

When my family first moved to Oregon in 1973 it was a 15 mile trek into Hermiston for grocery shopping or other necessities. Big shopping trip, for school clothes or other amenities, might involved a trip to Pendleton or even Portland or more likely to the Tri-Cities, Wash. The Tri-Cities (Richland, Pasco and Kennewick, Wash.) weren't much farther than Pendleton from our little country house and they had a mall and fancier restaurants, and a nuclear power plant where material for our nation’s first atomic weapons were refined. Prom dates mean going to Tri-Cities for dinner and then trekking back to Echo for the dance. But for pretty much everything else, Hermiston was the place. When mom and dad said they were going into town, they didn't mean Echo, they meant Hermiston.

An A&W restaurant, the kind where carhops brought your order on a tray that hung on your window, was the only drive-in or fast-food-type place in Hermiston when we moved in about 10 miles from town. So when McDonald’s came to town it was a big deal. But there have been a lot of big deals since then. Now there are several fast-food places in town. There is even a Starbucks on the main drag.

Back as a young reporter I covered City Hall in Hermiston and my big scoop was being the first reporter to get the words Wal-Mart in print when a new retailer was coming to town. In the years since then Wal-Mart not only build a story there but expanded it into a Supercenter and the company also build and operates a distribution center out by the airport between Hermiston and Stanfield.

The latest big deal was the recent opening of a Home Depot store just off the main drag.

The city, which had maybe 5,000 people when my dad bought his aerial spraying business and moved us there in 1973 has tripled in size. In 35 years time, from 1970 to 2005, the city grew by more than 10,000 people, from 4,893 people to 15,027 according to the latest population estimates.

I was back in the old stomping grounds over the weekend, cruising "The Gut" as we then-teenagers used to call Highway 395 between the old McDonald’s to the plaza across from the 7-Eleven (yea, it was a big deal when 7-Eleven came to town too). My dad took me on a tour around town, showing me some of the new housing, government and commercial developments that moved in in the years since I moved out, much of it in the last handful of years. Out by the airport, near the newly opened Stanford Hansell Government Center, is a narrow street leading from the National Guard Armory and Blue Mountain Community College branch campus back into a residential area. In the span of maybe a quarter to a half mile, you can see what Hermiston was and what it is becoming. A small pasture with cattle is surrounded on three sides by the signs of the encroaching city on the once rural area. Just down the road a few hundred yards is a new church. The sign out front saying "future home" has been hand-edited to read "new home" to let prospective congregants know the facility is open for the business of saving souls.

But will the town's agricultural soul be saved?

There is still a lot of irrigated farm ground around and farmers and ranchers are still an important part of the local economy. But where the biggest houses around once belonged to farmers and ranchers and where Lamb-Weston and Simplot potato plants were once king and queen, the revolution has begun. Doctors and other professionals now boast some of the biggest houses. Simplot has shut down a major part of its operation and Home Depot and Wal-Mart are sporting the biggest crowns.

It isn't just California or Oregon's Willamette Valley where agriculture land is being gobbled up for houses. It's happening in places like rural Eastern Oregon too, in a town once known for it's unbeatably sweet and flavorful watermelons.

On one hand I'm proud to see that that little town is growing up. But it's a little sad too to realized the industry that drew my family to that little farming town more than 30 years ago, the industry that helped feed, nurture and employ so many in that town, along with the railroad and the Army depot, is losing its influence on the child it reared for so many years.

April Fool’s Day: Pink snow?

Blossoms float down from cherry trees that line the park near the Capitol building in Salem. Kids especially enjoyed the snow-like petals that drifted down.

By Elaine Shein

For the children, dogs and their families who visited the cherry trees near the Oregon state Capitol building this past weekend, it was obvious everyone loves the sensory and visual delight of spring’s blossoms here.
With the encouragement of rain and wind, the blossoms danced and swirled around visitors and covered walkways, flowerbeds and hedges like a pink snowstorm. Children giggled and raced through the petals, mothers shook branches over their children’s heads to trigger more petal showers, and almost everyone brought cameras to capture the moment.
A mix of cultures and races, rich and poor, young and old all enjoyed the rows of cherry trees, occasionally kicking up piles of soft petals as they walked. Nature is the great equalizer, where everyone can afford this rich experience at no charge and with no boundaries.
This time of year is when many people admire the blossoms of fruit trees, nut orchards, and later in the spring and summer certain field crops.
Bulb flowers such as daffodils and tulips are also at their peak now, with people celebrating these festivals in places such as Amity (Amity Daffodil Festival) and Junction City in Oregon recently inviting people to enjoy the daffodils.
People who desire to see the gorgeous rows of tulips are welcome at Skagit Valley (Skagit Valley Tulip Festival) in Washington state and the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm at Woodburn.

Tiptoe through the tulips

Barb Iverson, from Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, admitted this becomes a very busy time of year with sometimes long lineups and large crowds as up to 150,000 people per year visit, but people can usually find her and others who work there as they meet and greet visitors and customers who visit.
Anyone who loves old machinery will also enjoy the displays on the farm. They’re great props for pictures, but even better for teaching the next generation about production methods of the past.
In the next few months, the Willamette Valley, Skagit Valley and other areas will continue to provide pockets of color as other farmers grow flowers for sale in the seed or bulb market. From poppies to irises to so many other kinds of flowers, people will find them driving along the various roads in the countryside.

A variety of irises

In May, Keizer, Ore. holds its annual iris festival. Schreiner's Iris Gardens, north of Keizer, is one of the most popular ones to visit. This is one of the largest retail growers of irises in the nation, with 200 acres in the fields and 10 acres open to public viewing. This year, 15 new tall bearded varieties are being introduced, according to the company website, which adds that the Schreiner’s has more than 300 varieties already. This third-generation farm takes pride in being around since 1925, and notes that each rhizome is hand-dug and individually packed for shipping.
Also check out Cooley's Gardens in Silverton, Ore. Around since 1928, Cooley’s Gardens of Silverton, is one of the largest growers of irises, and is also known as the largest tall bearded iris grower in the world. The Cooley family grows more than 600 varieties of irises and has nearly 200 acres of display gardens and fields.
For many people in the West, we are blessed to have so many rich experiences in nature so close to our homes. We get to appreciate the colors and scents of the season, but also have a chance to hopefully learn more about the production of these valuable agricultural crops and thank the people who grow them.


Amity Daffodil Festival
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
Junction City
Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm
Schreiner's Iris Gardens
Cooley's Gardens

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