Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Western response optimistic to proposed Farm Bill, although cuts still being examined

At first reaction, the agricultural community — particularly in the West — was positive about what Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns outlined for the 2007 Farm Bill.

Considered the diversity of geography and commodities in the country, it’s remarkable that any Farm Bill can get a favorable response from across the country.

The tendency in the past was some areas, such as Western specialty crop growers, were left out when farm programs were being developed.

As usual, corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton remain the biggest winners when it comes to continued subsidy payments proposed by the Farm Bill. While some of those crops are grown in the West, it’s generally the Midwest and Southern states that benefit the most from the Farm Bill programs.

However, thank the patient, steady lobbying efforts of farm and commodity organizations in the West for the inclusion of specialty crops in this version of the Farm Bill. Whenever they have had the chance, they have stressed how important this was to farmers here.

Johanns agreed: almost $5 billion has been committed to research, marketing programs and trade expansion for those specialty crops.

Western Growers spokesman Tim Chelling summarized the reaction of a lot of vegetable and fruit growers: “We’re extremely pleased with this kind of recognition of this portion of American agriculture, which is roughly half of U.S. crop agriculture. Finally the government and the Farm Bill recognizes the place of specialty crop agriculture in the nation’s agriculture policy, and that alone is a significant milestone.”

The other areas that Westerners looked at as priorities for more money included conservation, and resources to support farm trade and fight international trade barriers. Johanns came through on those, too: $7.8 billion for conservation, and $400 million regarding the trade issues.

Farmers also wanted a commitment to biomass research, the development of ethanol, and renewable energy, and the Farm Bill included proposals in those areas.
The agricultural community will be still digesting all the details of the Farm Bill, especially since Johanns said farm spending would be reduced by $18 billion over the next five years. The farm programs part of the proposed 2007 Farm Bill would cost $87.3 billion over 5 years, according to Johanns. This is down from $105 billion for the programs in the 2002 Farm Bill.

The main change appears to be that subsidy payments will be limited to those who make less than $200,000 in adjusted gross income annually. That’s down from the current income cap of $2.5 million, and would impact 80,000 producers who collect about 4.5 percent of overall farm payments in the country. Johanns estimated this would save about $1.5 billion in the next decade.

However, farmers will be looking carefully where the other billions of dollars will be saved and how it will impact them personally.
As late as a day before Johanns made his announcement, a broad coalition of about 100 groups that included the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, but also just about every national organization representing crops, fruits and vegetables, nurseries, viticulture, dairy, and even banks united to formally ask that farm bill spending be increased.

In their letter to the Senate and House Budget Committees, they wrote “Given the cuts agricultural programs have already sustained over the last several years, and the substantial savings as a result of farm bill programs, we ask that you adopt mandatory and discretionary spending levels that provide for additional funding and resist efforts to force further budget reductions on agricultural, food assistance, conservation and other critical programs.”

Whether that coalition will stay united and support Johann’s proposals remains to be seen.

Whenever a new Farm Bill is introduced, questions arise from the public on why should there be support for farmers in the first place.

This year, one of the strongest arguments came just before Johanns made his announcement.

The USDA’s Economic Research Service released its statistics that American families and individuals currently spend an average of just under 10 percent of their disposable personal income for food: in other words, an average household can pay for its full year of food with its disposable income after about 36 days of employment.

“Compared to food, Americans work longer each year to pay for their housing, federal taxes and medical care,” said Anne Rigor, Chair of the Oregon Farm Bureau Women’s Advisory Council, in a press release. The Oregon Farm Bureau is marking Feb. 4-10, 2007, as Food Check-Out Week to help people understand and celebrate the affordable, healthy and safe food that farmers produce in this country.

“According to the Tax Foundation, Americans must work 52 days each year to pay for health and medical care, 62 days to pay for housing/household operation and 77 days to pay their federal taxes,” said the release.

The public benefits when farmers and ranchers can afford to stay on the land and expect income support when they need it, whether it’s from weather disasters or international trade disputes, as well as support for rural development.

While debate continues on what should be in the final Farm Bill to be adopted later this year, Johanns made some good steps to ensure Western farmers feel more respected and protected in what they do for the nation.

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Officials sending emails during meetings are no laughing matter

For some, it might seem like just a funny story: the Oregonian newspaper used a public records law request to obtain the e-mails that Oregon city council members and city staff text-mailed to other people during a meeting.

While these officials were supposed to be listening to public testimony, they instead were doing what they called “multi-tasking.” As the Oregonian described Commissioner Erik Sten’s busy meeting: “He listens to public testimony with his ears and uses his fingers to snap together a quote for a union press release, celebrate Oregon City’s decision to fight global warming or taking a tip on how he mispronounced a name.”

During the Jan. 18 hearing, Sten “led the council with 15 emails,” pointed out the Oregonian. He wasn’t the only one using a Blackberry or other device to correspond with other people during the meeting.

Should we laugh at this, admire the people who multi-task, or should we call it for what it really is: Ignorant. Disrespectful. Shameful. And yes, a serious problem.

Talking with the executive director of an agricultural commodity organization this past fall, she talked about the “Crackberries” that have become an addiction to politicians and their staff.

She talked about numerous times that she or others in the agricultural community have made serious, well-meaning, important presentations to elected officials in Washington, D.C. or at committee hearings that sometimes travel the country.

She said how frustrating it is to see these officials and their staff pay attention more to their Blackberries or other such devices than to the farmers, ranchers and their representatives that have committed their valuable time and resources to attend these events, whether it’s across the state or on the other side of the country.

Are all these officials doing business that just can’t wait and takes a higher priority than dealing with these people in front of them? Are their staff perhaps recording the points made by the farm speakers, ensuring they captured the message that will influence important legislation later?

One look at the staff yawning and clicking on their devices and it’s clear that most of the time they’re bored, their minds are wandering, and probably what they’re reading or typing has little or nothing to do with the business on hand.

In the same day’s Oregonian, there was another short story about how a University of Florida psychologist believes cell phones are a growing addiction.

The newspaper said people suffer anxiety and it interferes with their lives if they can’t use their cell phone for a couple of hours.

Almost every day there seems to be some new technological gizmo that excites people about how much more connected, entertained and up to date they can be with families, friends and the world.

Ironically, the more communicated they become through the technology, the less in touch they became with the real world and people who may be standing in front of them or living with them.

Why should we care what elected officials and their staff are doing at meetings or hearings?

Often, these are the rare times when they can meet the public directly and interact face-to-face. If they listen carefully, they might learn from each other or have a useful question and answer exchange that avoids further miscommunication and problems down the road.

At the very least, these officials should turn off those cell phone, Blackberries and other technical devices and show the respect and interest that the public deserves.

Otherwise future requests under public records laws may reveal much more embarrassing and awkward moments for those who are elected or hired to serve the public.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Wisdom extracted from the dentist chair

Sitting tensely in the dentist chair yesterday, while several sharp, spinning, buzzing, grinding, smoking tools aimed at my mouth and my dentist cheerily whistled a tune, I realized these are one of those moments when I probably might want to question the wisdom of my past habits in life.

I never should have used my face to block those soccer ball shots when I was so bravely playing defense. Perhaps developing that chocolate addiction as a kid has come back to haunt me. Chewing on those hard peppermint candies my mother gave us kids to silence us in church probably was a no-no.

And I admit it, I never should have bobbed for beer bottles floating in that barrel of ice cold water when I attended that one pre-wedding party back in my much younger days. For years after that the dentists kept remarking how they couldn’t understand why I had so many chipped teeth.

Funny how we think we’re invincible at that point in our lives. Or at least our teeth are. I recall we actually admired the guys in the community who could get the cap off pop or beer bottles with their teeth because finding a bottle opener would have been too inconvenient. Of course, now that I think about it, the fact that these same guys were down to only two or three teeth should have been a clue that maybe we should have sought more deserving heroes to earn our praise.

So there I was in the dentist chair, trying to figure out how many teeth the dentist wanted to tackle. I was struggling to understand the differences in terminology but dollar signs kept floating through my mind. Maybe it was because of all the talk of silver fillings and gold crowns.

But I knew it needed to be done. It’s been tough to write cheery blogs on our website and make pleasant conversation in the office when all I wanted to do is growl arggggghhhhhh, arggghhhhh and hunt down more painkillers.

Whenever I’m in a dentist chair, I try to think of happy, pleasant, serene thoughts. Like fishing with my family on a warm summer evening on one of our favorite lakes. Casting a line in a lazy loop over the water, listening to it spin out of the reel, and the gentle plunk of the lure hitting the water as a ripple of circles emerges around it.

Thinking of the farm is always a good escape. Yesterday, I thought about some of the things we were taught to chew on at an early age.

A blade of grass, a long hay straw. Wild berries, ranging from bitter to sweet. Crab apples, plums and other fruit off trees in our yard. Petals of wild roses. A handful of soft wheat kernels in mid-summer, followed by hardened kernels during harvest time that we’d chew until it became gum. The first carrots and radishes that emerged in the garden. Sweet sap frozen into icicles dripping from maple trees.

We were fairly self-sufficient on the farm, buying only a few of the necessities we needed for groceries. Shamefully, I realize it was when I moved away from the farm that I probably adopted the bad habits that led me to the dentist. Bobbing for beer was probably the worst.

“See you next week,” the dentist cheerfully said as I left his office, my left cheek puffier than a squirrel after it has packed in a few acorns.

I just nodded, richer in wisdom, if not in the pocket.

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Groundhog Day revolt

The most influential teacher I had when I was a student at Echo High School, Jeanie (Robson) McCoy, used to love Groundhog Day. She used to say it was her favorite holiday.

I don't know if it's still her favorite holiday or not, but I wonder what her reaction would be to a move to rename Groundhog Day in the West to "Prairie Dog Day."

I didn't know there was any big controversy related to Groundhog Day until I got an e-mail from Lauren McCain, deserts and grassland program director for Forest Guardians.

According to the press release McCain sent, Forest Guardians and other conservation organizations have been working for four years to get the prairie dog some props each Feb. 2. The effort is an effort to promote the importance of the prairie dog in the Western ecosystems where it is found.

“Just as the groundhog predicts the duration of winter, the West’s ‘groundhog’ – the prairie dog – foretells the future of a community of wildlife dependent on prairie dogs for food and for the habitat they create,” McCain wrote.

And the effort appears to be gaining some momentum. Forest Guardians report that in 2006 both the Santa Fe, N.M., City Council and mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., officially declared Feb. 2 as Prairie Dog Day.

As a lifelong Westerner, I sort of like the idea of a Western critter getting some recognition, whether on Groundhog Day, or any other day for that matter. I have never seen a groundhog personally, as I suspect many of my neighbors haven't either. But then again, I'm not sure I've ever seen a prairie dog either.

Now, ground squirrels I've seen. I didn't know what a ground squirrel was until one day as a teenager when I was riding dirt bikes with a friend of mine on the farm/ranch he lived on near the Umatilla/Morrow counties line in Eastern Oregon. We were roaring off down some dirt road and came upon this area of rolling hills and grasslands beyond the fringe of the irrigated circles and dryland wheat fields. As I recall it, it was an area used to graze cattle that feature a huge covered concrete water tank (which would later serve as our own private swimming pool out in the middle of nowhere.

As we rode along, there was something odd about the landscape. I couldn't put my finger on it right away, but soon realized we were being watched. As we slowed and eventually stopped I realized that hundreds, no thousands, of little creatures were watching us. Some cautiously poked their heads out of holes in the earth. Others, a bit more distant, stood on all fours near their burrows. And still others, stood up on their hind quarters to eye the pair of noisy interlopers who had invaded their domains. Thousands of ground squirrels dotted the area. As we stopped our motorcycles, and got quiet, the furry little creatures resumed their activities, sprinting about or standing sentry over the rolling hills.

So, after reading about "Prairie Dog Day" I got to thinking, maybe there should be a campaign to have a "Ground Squirrel Day" too. But reflecting on a decade of more than a decade in California, most of that in the deserts there, I realized maybe each region should have it's own burrowing, ground-skittering critter to honor on Feb. 2.

How does "Lizard Day" grab you? Or maybe "Desert Tortoise Day" or "Borrowing Owl Day?"

Move over Punxsutawney Phil and make some room. You've got some competition.

I don't expect a lot of farmers and ranchers will hop on the bandwagon to support recognition or protection of prairie dogs or ground squirrels, animals that can damage crops or compete with livestock for rangeland grasses. What would be next, gophers?

Whether a critter is a loveable icon or a pest is strongly dependent on whether those critters live on your land or some far away place and only make an appearance once a year or so in search of its shadow to give you a prediction on the weather.

Monday, January 29, 2007

iTunes, we have a problem

They say doctor's bury their mistakes. I tend to bury mine online.

Take Friday for example. I was posting a new episode of the Capital Press podcast when I stumbled over one of the digital corpses I've left lingering out there on the World Wide Web.

A few weeks ago, when working on a podcast I noticed that the label at the top of our podcast home page just said "podcasts." I thought that was sort of stupid, and not very descriptive so I changed it to "Farmers CAP Podcast home," which admittedly is not poetry, but at least I thought it would be more descriptive.

I never thought anymore about it until after I posted Friday's 10th episode of our podcast. For some odd reason, I decided to check the way the episode appeared in the iTunes Music Store. When I did, I realized the last couple of episodes weren't showing up, which I thought was odd. When I followed the link to the website from the iTunes store the webpage that came up didn't show the two most recent episodes either.

Well, come to find out, by changing the type at the top of one page (using iWeb) I had created a whole new directory. And since the way we publish our podcasts is by uploading stuff via ftp to our server, the "old" directory wasn't overwritten after I made updates. I haven't figured out exactly home many people are coming to our podcast through iTunes, but they were missing out on the new stuff.

I probably would have caught this on iTunes on my home computer, which I used to download podcasts and music onto my iPod. However, a while back iTunes decided it was going to refuse to launch on my personal computer, leaving me tragically out of date on all the podcasts I monitor (not to mention all the New Music Tuesday releases).

So, without iTunes at home, the error when undetected until Friday.

I won't bore you with all the details about how I had to edit our rss feed and redirect iTunes to the new page and jump through various hoops while spinning bits and bytes on my fingers and toes. But suffice it to say, I "think" I got the problem I didn't even know I created fixed.

But who knows.

The good thing is, the whole podcasting thing is a pretty new venture for us/me, so it's not like we have a ton of subscribers clamoring for new episodes or anything. To my way of thinking, it's better to make mistakes when no one's looking so my image of perfection goes unblemished.

It's certainly been a learning experience. And I've learned a lot through trial and lots of error. But what I still don't know would fill a volume thick enough to make "War and Peace" look like haiku. On good days, it's still challenging and fun. On bad days, that old student's lament I learned back in junior high goes sing-songing through my head.

The more you study, the more you know.
The more you know, the more you forget.
The more you forget, the less you know.
So why study?
Why indeed.

Now, if can just figure out how to fix iTunes on the home computer.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What's the impact from ethanol announcement?

While reaction was generally positive to the president supporting ethanol and reducing America’s dependency on foreign oil supplies, there has been some caution emerging about some of the goals George W. Bush outlined in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

Bob Krauter, of Capital Press, reported that Matt Schmitt, a managing partner in Calgren Renewable Fuels, a company that is building a California ethanol plant, welcomed the news but the proposed mandate may be too ambitious for ethanol producers.

Bush’s goals require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 — nearly five times the current target.

“I think ethanol has a saturation point of 15 billion gallons,” Schmitt said. “The rest would come from biodiesel, which means 15- to 20-billion gallons of biodiesel, which I think will be a tough call to have as much biodiesel as ethanol.”

According to DesMoines Register in Iowa, another Californian who expressed concern is Tad Patzek, an engineer at the University of California at Berkeley. The newspaper called him a “ leading critic of the ethanol industry” and reporting him saying “ the nation will never produce the amount of fuel Bush wants because of technology issues, land availability and other obstacles.”

The article added that Patzek stressed, “our politicians need to start talking about cutting energy use by a factor of two,” he said.

In several of the states that have seen great growth in their ethanol industries, they welcomed the comments by Bush. Their ethanol leaders also admitted it was ambitious, but appeared confident that production will be expanded and needs will be met.

One of the questions will be what will fuel the country: will corn continue to be the main product used in ethanol? The goal outlined for ethanol by Bush would mean using seven times the amount of ethanol distilled from corn last year, and the agricultural industry has already been buzzing about what ethanol is doing to corn prices.

Corn prices have doubled in the last 13 months, reaching a 10-year high, and farmers who depend on corn for feed for livestock have been worried as their profit margins have shrunk and supplies become harder to find.

It’s not just America that is affected by higher corn prices. Last week, according to Associated Press, Mexico’s president Felipe Calderon “signed an accord with businesses Thursday to curb soaring tortilla prices and protect Mexico's poor from speculative sellers and a surge in the cost of corn driven by the U.S. ethanol industry.”

The story went on to say “The corn tortilla is the basic staple of the Mexican diet and is especially crucial for the poor. The accord limits tortilla prices to 8.50 pesos ($0.78) per kilogram and threatens to use existing laws to achieve prison sentences of up to 10 years for company officials found hoarding corn. Some stores have been selling tortillas for as much as 10 pesos ($0.91) per kilogram.”

While corn prices rose here in the U.S., it was tortilla prices that soared in Mexico.

“Tortilla prices rose by 14 percent in 2006, more than three times the inflation rate, and they have continued to surge in the first weeks of 2007. The rise is partly due to U.S. ethanol plants gobbling corn supplies and pushing prices as high as $3.40 a bushel, the highest in more than a decade.”

The U.S. ethanol industry cannot accept all the blame for what is happening with Mexico’s tortilla prices and how it affects the poor families there, since corrupt Mexicans appear to be taking advantage of those who can least afford large increases in the price of their staple food.

But the U.S. should be aware that the world continues to watch closely what direction the president wants the ethanol industry to grow here, what impact will it have on agriculture directly and indirectly, and if the country can even meet the ambitious goals he has set.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Western farmers will watch if Bush follows through on promises

It was a more reserved, less smug president that addressed the Republicans and Democrats Tuesday night in Washington, D.C. during his State of the Union address.

George W. Bush pleaded for support of his plan to add additional troops in Iraq, and emphasized the role that America needs to serve in international affairs while still protecting itself at home against terrorism.

The tone was different than speeches made by the president during the last few years: there wasn’t the air of defiance against critics, the bragging of success, the vows to defeat the axis of evil or unflinching cheerleading by his fellow Republicans.

While there were plenty of standing ovations and considerable applause, the support didn’t break down along the tradition lines of the president’s own party supporting all he said. This was especially clear on issues such as when he stressed the need for a temporary workers program, when he noted that there’s a serious problem of global climate change, and when he discussed the plan to send more troops to Iraq.

While there was the expected harsh words from Democrats later criticizing Bush’s foreign policy and failed objectives on the domestic agenda from his years thus far as president, there still appeared to be some acknowledgement that there needs to be change and cooperation to get things done — and cautious commitment made to work with the president if he indeed is serious on dealing with health, education, immigration and energy issues in the next two years.

Bush sadly ignored the Farm Bill, international trade and those areas impacted by weather disasters as priorities in his speech at a time when they deserved attention.

What can the West’s farmers and ranchers expect for help from Bush’s speech and the direction he wants to influence the House and Senate?

There is hope that something will be done about immigration issues and the challenge to have the workforce that segments of the agricultural community need so much.

Bush brought up that border patrols will not do enough to secure America’s border, but that a temporary worker program is needed. “We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis. As a result, they won’t have to try to sneak in — and that will leave border agents free to chase down drug smugglers, and criminals, and terrorists.

“We will enforce our immigration laws at the worksite, and give employers the tools to verify the legal status of their workers — so there is no excuse left for violating the law,” Bush said. And then he touched on what many wanted to hear.

“And we need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country — without animosity and without amnesty.”

It was obvious not everyone in his own party or in the Democratic party supported him as he announced this. The media dutifully recorded politicians that did not applaud or stand up in support. Bush expected and acknowledged this in his speech.

“Convictions run deep in this Capitol when it comes to immigration. Let us have a serious, civil, and conclusive debate — so that you can pass, and I can sign, comprehensive immigration reform into law.”

Westerners will applaud Washington’s politicians finally confronting the immigration issue head on, resolving the problems that exist: there is a need for a legal work force, but most importantly, there needs to be a labor force in place when and where it’s needed. Too many commodities were hurt this year when there was a worker shortage at crucial harvest times. Fruit and vegetable growers were particularly vulnerable and frustrated.

An area where Bush did find more support on from the politicians he courted during his speech was when he urged his country to be less dependent on foreign oil supplies.

This is not a new direction, but it renewed hope that perhaps something will finally be done about it, and there was hope that agriculture can provide the alternative energy sources needed.

“It is in our vital interest to diversify America’s energy supply — and the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power — by even greater use of clean coal technology ... solar and wind energy ... and clean, safe nuclear power. We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol — using everything from wood chips, to grasses, to agricultural wastes,” Bush said.

More specifically, Bush challenged everyone: “Let us build on the work we have done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years — thereby cutting our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.

“To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory Fuels Standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 — this is nearly five times the current target. At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks — and conserve up to eight and a half billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017.”

Education, healthcare and the economy were other domestic issues on Bush’s agenda that deserved and received attention in his speech.

But for agricultural community in the West, if the farmers can’t find the workers when they need them, or afford their fuel for their machinery, the transportation costs to get to market, and the heat for their business operations or even their homes, it’s tough to think about some of the other domestic issues.

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Robins visit Willamette Valley

The robin has always been one of the first signs of spring, a promise of better things to come.

The timing for hope seemed perfect: in the midst of the snowstorm last week, a large number of robins descended on my yard in Salem, Ore., flittering and bopping all over the place.

The normally defensive, jealous birds flock together this time of year in preparation for their annual migration northbound. Sometimes they visit for just a day, sometimes they'll stay for a couple of weeks around my yard, but everywhere you look there are robins. There usually are 50 to 100 at a time, and they quickly outnumber the usual sparrows and blue jays who are fighting at the bird feeders.

According to information about robins published by Oregon State University, when they're migrating robins can fly up to 36 miles per hour and travel 200 miles per day.

I'm guessing my visitors came from Baja, Mexico, and that they had a good time there. I had some pretty plump robins in the yard. That didn't stop them from finding the bird feeder, chasing away a few squirrels for any berries in the yard, and eating anything else they could find.

Even squirrels know when they're outnumbered. They hid away, chattered furiously and flipped their tails, but didn't challenge the robins for their cherished berries.

Perhaps it's because they figured they still had their hazelnuts tucked safely away.

Meanwhile, my cats are taking up birdwatching...

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Cartoonist responds to criticism, shares memories

I got a note today from Rik Dalvit, a freelance cartoonist whom we regularly feature on the opinion pages of Capital Press. Rik saw the letter we received from Andrew Moore of the National Agricultural Aviation Association about one of his cartoons on ag pilots. Rik shared some of his thoughts with me, and I asked his permission to share those thoughts with you.

Mr. Moore wasn't very happy with the cartoon we published in the Capital Press. If you missed that, I wrote a post about it on our other blog and also posted it on this blog.

Here's Rik's response:

I read the letter from Andrew Moore, and your response.

His use of the word "storming" rather than "buzzing" made me wonder if he actually saw the cartoon.

That cartoon remains a favorite of mine, when I did it, I never intended, nor did I think it would offend anyone.

My dad was a pilot, not an ag pilot, but a civilian recreational flier, and I was privileged to spend some incredible time in the air with him and also on the ground, hanging around the small airport where the plane, a surplus Fairchild trainer, he co-owned with a buddy was hangared.

One day we watched a pilot flying a Stearman spraying an orchard, and marvelled at the skill he exhibited.

I have watched ag pilots flying on other occasions, recognize their skill, and respect the work they do.

I have respect and appreciation for everyone in agriculture, an industry which is the foundation of a stable civilization, and prevents the necessity of all of us being wandering hunter gatherers.

I especially like working for Capital Press because of the very readership it serves.

I really liked Rik's note and his sharing of the anecdotes about his father. It reminded me of many happy times I spent hanging out at airports and airstrips with my dad as a kid. The memory he shares about seeing a Stearman spraying a field reminded me of my dad and my uncle and the Stearmans they both used to use for spraying.

Dad kept one Stearman for many years, long after he had upgraded his spray planes to more modern and more efficient models. He sometimes talked about taking the spray tank out of it and restoring it to its original two-cockpit configuration. I would have loved that. I never got the chance to ride in an open cockpit plane, even though I was around them a lot in my youth. They'd all been converted to spray planes, with the front seat taken out to make room for a tank to carry ag chemicals.

I wrote a post a while back about how difficult it is to buy gifts for my father. There's only one gift I ever got him where I felt maybe, just maybe, I got it right. I got my dad a print of a painting that showed two Stearman's and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle's in it. The original painting by Stan Stokes is called "Two Ways to Fly." Stokes' work is featured prominently at the Palm Springs Air Museum. I took my dad there once and he seemed to admire Stokes' aviation art.

When I saw the "Two Ways to Fly" print, it reminded me of my dad when he was a younger man. One of my favorite photos of my dad is an old black-and-white picture with him posing with his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. And I have a very fond memory of a ride I once took with my dad on his Harley. I don't know how old I was, but I know I was pretty small. I sat up on the gas tank, with my hand on a center portion of the handlebars. And as I mentioned early, there he did some of his early flying in Stearmans. The ones in the print aren't spray planes, but when I saw that print I saw my dad.

I should have bought one of those prints for myself.

Thanks for sharing, Rik. I enjoyed reading about your memories which sparked some very pleasant ones for me as well.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sometimes less is more

Sorry, I haven't had a new post here in a couple of days. It's been a bit busy. If you are a regular visitor to the Capital Press website, you may notice that we have had a lot more breaking news/news update posts over the last couple of weeks.

I've been helping our staff reporters post their news items to our website. The recent freeze in California has dominated news, but there have been other items as well.

We are attempting to make more frequent and newsworthy posts to The downside this week has meant that the time I might ordinarily spend working on blog posts has been used to edit, format and post updates on our main website.

I hope we'll bet back to regular updates here too before too long. But for now, fewer posts here has meant more posts on

Stay tuned and be patient.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Let it snow

It's snowing in the Willamette Valley. This rare occurrence is the stuff that can strike fear and dread in the heart of anyone forced to venture out on the roads.

Fortunately, a lot of folks seem to have decided to stay home today. The roads are fairly quiet and even foot traffic on the sidewalks is light, leaving few footprints in the fresh snow.

I'm just glad I don't have to venture out in this stuff to feed cattle or something.


Of course the snow and freezing rain here is not nearly as damaging as the freezing temperatures have been on agriculture in California.

It's going to be a long winter for some of those folks.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Damage not always visible from the outside

It's the type of disaster that doesn't make for dramatic footage on the evening news. But the freezing temperatures gripping much of the West have a stranglehold on California's citrus groves and others vulnerable food crops.

Much of California, particularly the areas where agriculture and people are centered, rarely experience prolonged periods of freezing temperatures. It's part of what makes the state such an ordinarily ideal place to farm, and a nice place for the thin-skinned among us to live (or spend our winter months).

But when cold hits, it can destroy crops, like oranges and lemons, and wipe out the livelihoods of growers, farmworkers and packing plant workers alike.

The devastation occurring right now in California isn't as immediately visible as that wrought by a hurricane, flood or tornado.

Fruit hanging on trees, to outward appearances, looks normal. However, much of the citrus still hanging on trees in groves through the San Joaquin Valley and even in Southern California will never make it to the grocer's shelf.

Some may get turned into juice, but there isn't much call for orange juice from California. Florida has a virtual lock on that market.

It is in the weeks ahead when people traveling through the citrus groves will notice something amiss. Fruit will begin to accumulate on the ground, left to rot and draw flies.

Back in 1998, when the last major freeze swept through the California citrus belt, a few cold December days rocked many San Joaquin Valley communities. The signs of the disaster were most visible away from the groves in places like the unemployment office, were people with "stable" jobs suddenly found themselves out of work.

There were lines everywhere. People lining up for jobs, lining up for food, lining up for assistance from government agencies and local charities.

At the time of the last big freeze I was editor of a small daily newspaper in the buckle of the California citrus belt, Porterville, Calif. For months the news throughout the paper was dominated by damage estimate and relief efforts to help the hard-working families who suddenly found themselves struggling to keep their families fed, their utilities on and a roof over their heads.

Now, when the memories of that disaster have grown dim by the passing years, the memories, uncertainty and fear for many of those same communities comes flooding back, thank to an Arctic blast of air that refused to go away. And all that occurring just a little more than six months after record heat in July wreaked its own havoc (and more the $1 billion in damage) through the heart of California's farming country.

In the coming days, weeks and months the tallies will be done as to the extent of the damage to crop. But this disaster isn't just about lost oranges and lemons. It's about lost incomes and disappearing jobs too and families wondering how they will feed their children and pay the power bill.

For folks from northern-tier states, they may not have much sympathy for those poor Californians having to endure a few nights below freezing. And they may barely notice that the fruits and vegetable they ordinarily expect to find in their favorite stores' produce sections aren't there. But the devastation California is still enduring is real and about more than a few days of chilly temperatures. It's about lost livelihoods and desperation.

The one positive I saw come out of the freeze of 1998 was that the communities of California's Central Valley came together to help their neighbors through the hardship. I hope that the freeze of 2007 surpassed that event with its outpouring of generosity and support.

You can read updates about the affects of the freeze in California at

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Dairy princesses deserve a toast

SALEM, Ore. — Watching the Oregon Dairy Princess-Ambassador coronation banquet on Saturday night, I admired how well the competitors from various counties had prepared for this event. They were charming, confident, courteous and knowledgeable. Each reflected how passionate and proud she was to represent and promote the dairy industry.

They memorized long fact-filled speeches, wore gorgeous long gowns, answered questions spontaneously, and kept their dignity intact and smiles on their faces as long as they could — even when they might have made any mistakes while in the spotlight in front of an audience of mostly strangers.

Their lives flashed before them on the screen: videos showed these women as they grew up from little girls on farms and dairies in the state. We saw their classmates, families, farm animals: we saw these women as they played sports, posed with their siblings, and saw them change from farm girls doing chores at home one moment to being escorted in heels to the stage in Salem, Ore. while dressed in formal wear.

Whether they won or lost, these women usually shared how much they had matured during the time they competed for this title. They learned about themselves as well as picked up skills preparing them for this position.

Shannon Henderson, of Tillamook County, earned the honor of being the next dairy princess-ambassador. In an interview later, she talked about how in the next year she will gain new realms of responsibility and learn “ to be ladylike in front of all these people.” She said that a charm class had already taught her and the others “how to sit, talk, walk, eat, sleep and be ladylike at the same time.”

I have this image of Michael Caine teaching Sandra Bullock how to be ladylike in the movie Miss Congeniality and I think … he was lucky. She was an easy one, compared to me.

Anyone who can make a transformation from working on the farm to being totally comfortable, confident and a coronation contender earns my respect any day.

For any of us who grew up on a farm or still toil on one, we all know how big of a challenge it can be sometimes to be ladylike and maybe even glamorous.

After pushing around stubborn cows in a stall to coax them to accept their calves, mucking around with heavy hay bales for steers and heifers in the muddy feedlot, picking rocks in a dusty field, shoveling itchy grain in and out of trucks and bins, picking berries with stained hands, weeding and digging and pulling and doing everything else our gardens and fields needed, well … sometimes I wondered whether I could ever truly learn to be ladylike. I think I’ve given up that goal in this lifetime.

But I raise a glass of milk to toast all those who competed this year in their respective counties and states to be the next dairy princess.

Friday, January 12, 2007

We're back!

Blogriculture is back in business!

I just got an e-mail from a member of the Blogger team that the technical problems we were having were fixed and it does, indeed, look like we can make posts here again!

Here's what "Blogger Buzzer" had to say in a reply to a post made to Google's troubleshooting groups/help site:

"To all people on this thread with team blogs and posting problems. We
just pushed out a fix that should clear your problem. Sorry for the
So, look for new posts, well, soon!

It's so nice to be home.

I'm not sure if we'll keep the vacation home over at Blogriculture Too or not. I sort of liked the view from over there. But I missed all my furniture.

So, I'm gonna stretch out on the virtual couch, put my feet up, and watch the sunset from the porch. Maybe take a little nap wrapped in my favorite comforter.

Yes, it's nice to be home.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Farm Bureau experience is more than just a meeting

By Elaine Shein

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — While the American Farm Bureau Federation is a serious, powerful farm lobbying group, those who come back year after year know it’s more than just the grassroots’ representatives deciding policy.

The annual meeting is a display of passion and humor, show business flair, and a chance to learn, vent and network.

President Bob Stallman as usual stirred members to be proud of the work they do back on their farms, feeding the world and protecting their way of life. This year he threw out tough messages for American politicians to do what is needed to help agricultural interests, warned that animal rights groups need to be stopped, and rallied his troops to play hardball against other parts of the world who present challenges to American agriculture such as South Korea.

Stallman and the power of the Farm Bureau cannot be ignored. There were policy heavy hitters attending the meeting in the last couple of days, talking to farmers on issues such as farm policy, animal ID and biofuels. The House Ag Committee Chair Collin Peterson, U.S. Ag Secretary Mike Johanns and USDA Under Secretary Bruce Knight were among those who met with farmers.

Several countries in the European Union had representatives from their Washington embassies on hand to also listen carefully to whatever the politicians said, including being present at press conferences.

But the Farm Bureau meeting also helped show the passion and support that people have for their organization, their communities, and their neighbors.

As they met in the hallways and sat next to each other in the meeting rooms, farmers and ranchers from different states shared stories of blizzards and droughts and how they impacted their operations. They offered sympathy to each other, and talked about being united to seek disaster support.

There was a moment of silence during the general session after Bob Stallman told people of a recent tragedy involving a promising young farmer. In November, Jeffrey Michel won the North Dakota Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Achievement Award. In December, he was killed in an avalanche while snowmobiling with friends.

As for the other Young Farmer and Rancher competitors, they received a lot of support from the more than 5,000 people who are attending this year’s annual meeting in Salt Lake City. When one of the young couples accepted a prestigious award, the guy became rather choked up and shared how much the award meant to him and how devoted he’d be to Farm Bureau for the rest of his life. The thousands in the audience watched the stage and giant screens spellbound, right up to the back of the giant room and warmly applauded this next generation.

There is also the entertainment component of the meeting, from a well-known cowboy poet like Baxter Black to country music stars performing.

Well-known television journalist Sam Donaldson shared stories of interviews he had done with various presidents, but also shared messages on what makes a great leader.

He said a leader should have a complete plan. “Great leaders make great plans.”

A leader needs to build trust, earn it and talk straight.

A leader is with the people and not apart from the people. A leader gets out there, wants to know more about the people he meets, and wants to know more about what people want and need … even though a good leader also knows there are times to be tough and not give what people want.

A leader takes responsibility, and takes the blame.

A leader has persistence.

And, Donaldson said, sometimes it’s even more important to take a plan and modify it.

Donaldson made some blunt comments about Iraq and the problems Bush faces there. He stressed that Bush rewarded people who didn’t do a good job, and warned that it isn’t good leadership.

“A good leader rewards those that do a good job.” Giving awards to those that don’t deserve it doesn’t breed the trust a leader needs from people, he concluded.

Donaldson’s speech was timely. American Farm Bureau Federation, as well as state Farm Bureaus, has enjoyed strong leadership.

What helps make a good leader in this organization is that the leaders recognize the importance of the grass roots and follow their wishes when it comes to policies.

The organization also does a good job of rewarding those who serve it well, from the promising new farmers and ranchers to those who have served their Farm Bureau for decades.

And Stallman, as well as other former presidents of the Farm Bureau such as Dean Kleckner from Iowa, were often greeting, shaking hands and seen mingling with the farmers who have gathered here from all around the country.

Why has this organization continued to grow and become so powerful?

Yes, good policies and leaders have a lot to do with it.

But a lot of it also has to do with the winning formulas that the organization has developed, from involving grassroots members at meetings at counties across the nation, to educating and entertaining farmers and ranchers at this impressive meeting each year at the national level.

Read more of the Capital Press' coverage of the American Farm Bureau Federation conference here including audio coverage of Stallman's speech. Listen to the latest podcast on Stallman's remarks here.

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Trading one TV guy for another

There was a change in plans about who would be the keynote speaker at this year's American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Salt Lake City.

ABC newsman Sam Donaldson was picked to substitute for actor and former-U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson. According to the Farm Bureau, Thompson was "called away to shoot the TV series Law & Order," on which he costars as the gruff by lovable district attorney.

Perhaps it is true that Thompson's acting schedule got in the way, but it should also be noted that he is currently filling in for radio newsman Paul Harvey this week.

I'm not sure which speaker, Thompson or Donaldson, members of the American Farm Bureau Federation would get more out of hearing as a speaker. I do know who I would rather hear from. Even as a journalist, I don't have a lot of desire to hear Donaldson speak.

Thompson strikes me as a much more interesting character -- a lawyer, who was co-chief counsel on Senate Watergate Committee, went on to become an actor and later a U.S. Senator from his home state of Tennessee.

So while Farm Bureau attendees may be missing out, those of us who have time in our day to listen to the radio can hear Thompson's commentary on some of the items making news this week on the Paul Harvey radio show.

You can follow the developments at this week's American Farm Bureau convention on the website.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Bull riders play in NY, farmers work in Salt Lake

At times over the last two years, I've played at being a rodeo reporter. I've posted updates from the Pendleton Round-Up in 2005 and 2006 and made some blog posts from the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas last month. But if would like to see some regular updates on what's happening in professional rodeo, here's your chance to speak up.

Veteran radio/rodeo man Butch Thurman of Pendleton, Ore., is offering the Capital Press the opportunity to run his column on a trial basis to see if our readers are interesting in reading his comments on a regular basis.

Butch has covered rodeo for 27 years and this year, in addition to his radio duties, which includes doing a daily radio show on rodeo and his weekly column, he's got another little side gig. Thurman is this year's president of the Pendleton Round-Up board of directors.

So, check out his column about bull riders taking on the Big Apple and let us know if you like it.


Capital Press Executive Editor Elaine Shein and California Editor Bob Krauter will be in Salt Lake City this weekend for the American Farm Bureau Federation convention. They will be posting updates from Salt Lake City.

Bob previews the convention here. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns will address the conference. Check for updates beginning Sunday and early next week on


On another note, I'm still making mistakes, and still learning, about this whole podcasting thing. I ended up having to re-post Episode 7 of the Farmers' Capital Press Agriculture Podcast today. When I posted it yesterday, for some reason the file had about 5 minutes of dead air at the end of the file. I would have though the blank portion wouldn't add to the files size, but I would have been wrong. Dead air makes for a big file.

Who knew?

So, I lopped off the dead are and reposted the file.

Live and learn.

If your iTunes subscription downloaded the big file, my apologies. Someday maybe I'll get all this stuff figured out.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

How do I offend thee? Let me count the ways

Reading Gary’s blog about how a political cartoon he suggested for Capital Press led to the executive director of the National Agricultural Aviation Association being offended reminds me of times in the past when we in the media have offended people whether we intended to or not.

Sometimes it’s the subject matter, sometimes it’s a factual error, and sometimes it’s a typo, bad grammar or other mistakes that lead to someone being offended.

We journalists always appreciate when people tell us if they have a problem with something we did. Sure, it can be embarrassing for us or we might be disappointed someone took something a different way than we first intended, but we appreciate their honesty and courage to let us know how they perceived what we did.

There are definitely times when mistakes need to be corrected, but other times this gives us a chance to explain why we did things certain ways. It leads to good discussions and better understanding on both sides.

Sometimes people hesitate whether to let us know we offended them.

At a former agricultural newspaper I worked at, we had a popular ads section that allowed farmers to run want personal ads seeking spouses.

One day we received a letter from one of the people who had run an ad. He admitted at first he wasn’t sure whether to complain or not about a typo in his newspaper ad that appeared, since he had received a large number of responses.

Perhaps his worry was that some of these responses were more out of curiosity rather than being interested in seeking a meaningful relationship with this farmer.

So what was the typo?

Seems that he had requested we include in the ad that he was 6 ft 1 in. tall … but instead we had published he had a 6 ft loin.

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Ag pilot cartoon sputters

We received a letter-to-the-editor over the weekend from Andrew Moore, the executive director of the National Agricultural Aviation Association.

Mr. Moore was not too happy with the editorial cartoon you see here, which we published in the Capital Press last month. Here's what Mr. Moore had to say:

In the Capitol Press Ag Weekly December 1, 2006 edition, your publication ran a cartoon on page 7 titled ‘Ground Invasion, Air Assault,’ which shows aerial applicators storming ground sprayers. While we understand that the cartoon is meant to be humorous, it paints a negative picture of aerial application pilots and the aerial application industry.

Pilots in the aerial application industry are well-trained, highly professional people who take environmental and public safety very seriously and they do not storm anyone or anything on the ground. In fact, it is a violation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Worker Protection Standards (WPS) to treat any field with workers present. The aerial application industry is also tightly regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). I am certain that chasing people on the ground would guarantee a violation of 14 CFR Part 91.13, which prohibits “careless and reckless” operation of an aircraft.

Aircraft help in treating wet fields and spraying when crop canopies, such as orchards, are too thick or too high for ground rigs. When pests or disease threaten a crop, time is critical. An airplane or helicopter may accomplish more in one hour than ground equipment can in one day. This means less fuel used, less air pollution and no soil compaction. The aerial application industry appreciates the importance of ground sprayers as a tool needed in agriculture when aerial or chemigation work cannot be done. In fact, many aerial application businesses today use both aircraft and ground rigs to make crop protection product applications.

Today’s aerial application industry is a sophisticated one. Again, our pilots are well-trained, highly professional and they use cutting-edge technologies to ensure their own safety, safety on the ground and the safe application of the products being dispensed. Aerial application assists in providing a safe, affordable and abundant supply of food and fiber for the world's growing population. It is also vital in protecting our natural resources and combating pests that threaten public health, such as West Nile Virus carrying mosquitoes.

The National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) and its membership would appreciate the Capitol Press Ag Weekly providing space in its publication detailing the importance the aerial application industry provides to our nation’s farmers and consumers, rather than deleterious cartoons.

Andrew D. Moore
Executive Director, National Agricultural Aviation Association
Maybe I should have run that cartoon past my father before I printed it. My dad is an aerial sprayer and a past president of the Pacific Northwest Aerial Applicators Alliance. Here was the note I sent back to Mr. Moore.
Mr. Moore,

I would like to thank you for your letter. We will likely be printing it in an upcoming edition, perhaps as early as this week’s edition, which will be published on Jan. 5.

I am saddened and disappointed that you are anyone with the National Agricultural Aviation Association would take offense to the cartoon we published, because I suggested the topic of the cartoon to our cartoonist and made the decision to publish the cartoon. In addition, I am the son of an aerial applicator. I grew up on the site of my father’s home-based business with the runway literally a few dozen yards from my bedroom window. I also have an uncle, who died late last year, who owned and operated an aerial application business. I also have a cousin, who works with my father and his business, who owns and operates a ground-spraying business. My formative years were spent in the company of ag pilots and my first paycheck was earned in the loading pits servicing airplanes.

It was certainly not the intent to portray ag pilots in a poor light. I’m disappointed that the cartoon was taken that way. I can certainly do nothing about how the cartoon was perceived by you or anyone else, but I wanted you to know that my intent in choosing to publish the cartoon was not to disparage an industry for which I have great respect.

Gary L. West
Associate editor
Capital Press
It's sort of odd working in a business and for a publication which covers an industry to which I have a direct family connection. In the traditional mainstream media, I would feel I would need to divulge a potential conflict of interest in writing or publishing anything related to the aerial application of ag chemicals. That's how several members of my family make, or have made, a living (as I've mentioned in a couple of previous blog posts). But now I work for an agriculture media organization where knowledge and understanding of ag-related issues is, if not a necessary prerequisite, an advantage.

It's weird. People who work in the media are often condemned for not relating enough to their sources or their readers. We are perceived as callous or aloof, which in some cases may be accurate. I can say in this case though I chose to put this cartoon on our opinion page because I thought, while not a literal depiction of actual events, it was a visual commentary on an industry (aerial applicators) under assault by the growing use of ground sprayers to do what aerial applicators can do, as Mr. Moore points out in his letter, often more effectively and efficiently. But airplanes spraying chemicals on crops — food — scares many people. Ground sprayers are less visible, less obtrusive and certainly have their own advantages. I picked the cartoon because I though it showed what some pilots may want to do -- to find a way to fight back to protect their livelihood and lifestyle.

I still like the cartoon by our freelance cartoonist Rik Dalvit. I'm sorry if ag pilots did, or will, take offense to the image. It was not my intention to offend or disparage the industry which has fed my family for more than four decades and continues to support many members of my family.

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