Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Educational programs help weed awareness

The following piece was written by Boise, Idaho-based reporter Patricia McCoy. — Gary

Capital Press Staff Writer

When I started writing for the Capital Press nearly 23 years ago, noxious weeds and invasive species weren’t a topic I gave much thought to.

Oh, subconsciously I knew they were there. I’m one of the millions of victims of hay fever and occasional bouts of asthma. I avoid weeds, especially when they’re in bloom.

Capital Press reporters hear a lot about the damage these critters cause and the expense of combating them. At least one reader became thoroughly furious with me after I wrote about a control program in his area. There’s a difference between control and total eradication, which he obviously, and understandably, wants. He made that clear in a rather nasty letter I found so hot to handle I promptly dropped it in the trash.

Unfortunately, eradication isn’t too likely. Weeds and other pests have been with us ever since Adam ate the forbidden fruit. Once they take over thousands upon thousands of acres, as Yellowstar thistle has the mountainsides above Hells Canyon on the Idaho-Oregon border, preventing further spread is about the best landowners can hope for.

It may be my imagination, but public awareness of weeds appears to be increasing. Here’s some of the reasons why.

First is Idaho’s coordinated weed management areas. They attack noxious weeds on a watershed basis, pulling federal, state and local agencies together with landowners to map the weed problem in each area, select priorities, then attack them on a regional level.

The areas were the brain child of the late Glen Secrist, former employee of both the Idaho State Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Land Management, and of Pat Takasugi, former director of the state Department of Agriculture. They’ve brought widespread recognition to Idaho, with many other states adapting them to suit their own situations.

Eurasian watermilfoil

Another sign is the $4 million the Idaho State Legislature appropriated last year to tackle Eurasian watermilfoil. The goal is to eradicate this aquatic weed in all Idaho lakes and streams. Great progress was made in the first year of the program and state officials are optimistic for its ultimate success.

The project has other states asking how on earth Idaho’s weed control workers managed to win such a sizable chunk of money to battle a weed. They’re clearly impressed. One wonders how much more impressed they’ll be if the Idaho Legislature appropriates the $6 million for fighting noxious weeds requested by Gov. Butch Otter during his State of the State address this year.

The effort goes well beyond Idaho. Oregon’s important nursery industry is asking USDA help in combating plant pests and weeds. Other states are also taking action.

This week, Feb. 25-March 2, the Invasive Weed Awareness Coalition will host National Invasive Weed Awareness Week in Washington, D.C. The project is designed to share invasive weed information with federal officials at the highest levels, and collaborating with experts to address what has become a national and global environmental concern.

Cost billions

Promoters point out what farmers and ranchers have known for years: Invasive plants are spreading across the United States, costing billions of dollars for control and restoration each year. Successful control strategies and tactics will be showcased during the week. It’s an opportunity for participants to share with each other.

It obviously isn’t practical for many Westerners to travel to Washington, D.C., for such a conference. That doesn’t mean they have to remain ignorant. A number of education programs are available on the Internet. There’s no way to list them all. Enter “noxious weeds” in your search program. Mine turned up over 1.2 million items.

A couple merit mention here. Terri Grimm with Sonata Inc. of Bend, Ore., and Lesley Richman with the Bureau of Land Management in Burns, Ore., have developed http://www.weedinvasion.org/. Their site features Alien Invasion, a weed curriculum for kindergarten through 12th graders. Teachers can log on and find plenty of material for classroom use.

There’s also http://www.idahoforests.org/, which leads teachers to Project Learning Tree, an environmental education program. It includes units on invasive versus native species.

My hot-tempered correspondent would probably do well to visit a few of these sites, then use his energy to encourage teachers in his area to use them. Oh, we know. Teachers have more material from which to choose than they know what to do with. But some things are especially important for them to use — like lessons on noxious weeds. If just one student reminds Dad to be sure to carry certified weed-free hay into the woods for his pack horses during his annual hunting trip, or knows to tell Mom not to take firewood imported from another state into the woods for a campfire lest some noxious pest like the Asian long-horned beetle is lurking under its bark, ready to infest and destroy the local forests, it’s worth it.

Pat McCoy is based in Boise. Her e-mail address is pmccoy@capitalpress.com.

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Courtesy has its place; so does curiosity

The following piece was written by Spokane, Wash.-based reporter Scott Yates. — Gary

Capital Press Staff Writer

SPOKANE — I lived in Canada for two years 20 years ago, but it was only recently that I made the connection between farmers and Canadians and why I like both groups so much.

They’re polite — painfully and perhaps excessively polite.

All things being equal, I prefer too much courtesy to too little. Still, I wonder whether it’s possible to take the notion too far. Are there times when Canadians — or farmers — should step up and shout when whispering won’t be heard?

I began thinking of these questions after a presentation at the Spokane Farm Forum by the undersecretary for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Thomas Dorr is part of a crew of USDA figures the secretary of Agriculture is sending out to farm meetings around the country to sell his farm bill proposal.

I imagine all these individuals are supplied with the same PowerPoint presentation Dorr brought with him. Prepared by public relations specialists within the USDA, it laid out the secretary’s proposal succinctly and clearly.

The undersecretary went through all 10 titles of the farm bill, spending more time on some sections than others. He whizzed through one portion that included comments from growers who spoke at some of the 52 farm bill forums held around the country in 2006. After all, none of the farmers quoted were from the Northwest.

He did a good job as far as he went, explaining how the secretary’s proposal differed from the 2002 Farm Bill and where it was similar. He didn’t, however, talk much about specific commodities and for wheat growers, that’s where the rubber hits the road.

Talk to anyone in a leadership position of the National Association of Wheat Growers and they’ll tell you Mike Johanns’ proposal stinks. OK, they’re more polite. They say they’re disappointed. They tell you it contains nothing to get excited about. From a Northwest perspective, the proposal may be even worse because soft white wheat growers have taken it on the chin price-wise more than others during the 2002 Farm Bill.

At the close of the undersecretary’s presentation, however, there wasn’t a whisper of wheat grower unhappiness. Folks clapped politely and threw the white-haired Dorr a few softballs.
As a reporter, I believe it’s my job to ask questions farmers are too polite to ask, the sort of questions that put speakers on the spot, make them tug at their collars, force them to search for words that haven’t been carefully scripted. I don’t do it out of any notion of self-aggrandizement. I do it because I’m genuinely curious, not just about the answer but about the answer in the context of a roomful of people.

I was cautioned at the undersecretary’s speech, however, not to ask questions. This is the time for front-line farmers, not grandstanding reporters, one of the farm forum volunteers said.
I’ve been accused of many things, but grandstanding is a new one. As a person who makes his living as an observer, my nature tends to be more reserved than gregarious. In fact, truth be told, even after years of reporting, I still get nervous asking questions in front of a crowd. I do it because it’s my job.

Which is why, despite the caution I received, I posed my question anyway, describing for the undersecretary the wheat industry’s concerns and asking for his response. Bottom line, he felt wheaties were overreacting and that the proposed revenue-based countercyclical payment would work to protect them from crop failures as well as price declines.

But he also said, “We are under no illusion we have everything figured out perfectly,” leaving the farm forum audience with the unspoken but clear impression if they don’t like what they’re hearing to do something about it.

Over the years, many farmers have come up to me after meetings, expressing their thanks for my asking the tough questions that they won’t. This occasion was not an exception and their support is always uplifting.

Still, the volunteer’s insinuation I wasn’t on the front line stuck in my craw. After 20 years of reporting on Northwest agriculture, I’m not sure how much more front-line a person can get.
Certainly, courtesy and deference have their place and farmers and Canadians make the world more civilized by their behavior. But there’s a reason Thomas Jefferson said that given the choice between a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, he’d prefer the latter. I guarantee his sentiment didn’t spring from the fact that reporters are polite.

Scott Yates is based in Spokane. His e-mail address is syates@capitalpress.com.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

We hear you, now the world can hear you too

One of my favorite innovations that has stemmed out of blogging and been adopted by more mainstream media outlets is the option for readers of a post or story to add their comments. It enriches the reading experience for readers by giving them more details than were found in the original story or post.

Blogging has forced the media to be more interactive. That's not to say that people weren't sharing comments with ink-and-paper media before. People have always had the opportunity to also put ink and paper and write letters. Since its invention, the telephone has also offered people an opportunity to put their two cent in on how a newspaper has covered or not covered various issue.

Now, with digital voice-mail technology, we have an opportunity to capture comments from people who call us at Capital Press and share their comments back, as audio files, with visitors to our website.

This week we posted the first batch of what I hope will be many comments from readers who want to share their views and have those views shared back with readers. It's sort of like a way to call in a letter to the editor.

You can hear what some of our readers are saying for yourself through this link. I've also used some excerpts from those calls in episode 13 of our Farmers' CAP podcast. If you would like to leave a comment yourself about the Capital Press, Blogriculture, our podcast or an issue important to agriculture, you can let your voice be heard too by calling 800-285-6005. The call won't cost you a dime.

My thanks to our first batch of callers. Keep those comments coming — on the phone, in letters to the editor, on the blog or on the article comments on the capitalpress.com website.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

A new link

We've added a new link onto our blogroll. It belongs to Elkton Farmers.

Thanks to the anonymous commenter who sent us the link.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Rain, rain … come again?

As the rest of the country has been fighting blizzards and squalls dumping 10 feet or more of snow in places, the West has been examining its snow pack and making water supply predictions.

Remarkably, while back in November and December some parts of the Northwest were receiving almost record amounts of rainfall and the snow pack seemed healthy in the mountains, January has unfortunately began to cause some concerns.

In a news release issued today, the Natural Resources Conservation Service said January’s precipitation “ranged from 27 to 71 percent of average across Oregon,” according to Jon Lea, the Snow Survey Supervisor for NRCS.

“The February 1 snow pack was 50 to 80 percent of average throughout most of the state, and Oregon streamflow and reservoir forecasts for the year so far reflect these conditions.”

The report added “many of the state’s major reservoirs could face significantly reduced spring inflows and may not fill to capacity without significant precipitation through the remainder of the water year that runs through May.”

Even if normal precipitation happens for the rest of the year, this “may still result in potential deficits in parts of the state during the coming year.” This includes east of the Cascades, and the Rogue and Umpqua Basins.

The Willamette, Columbia at the Dalles, and Deschutes summer forecasts “are near or slightly below normal,” said the press release.

Now, if only New York state could shovel some of its snow out this way…

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

From the Big Apple to the biggest farm show

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani spoke to farmers, ranchers and agribusiness leaders today at the World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif.

The Republican is touring California to drum up support for a run for his party's presidential nomination.

Giuliani, with an American flag pin on his lapel and an American flag on the wall, behind him, made a speech shortly after the official opening of the World Ag Expo this morning.

Giuliani's California tour begs the question, when does a presidential candidate become a presidential candidate. Giuliani said in California this week that he will enter the race, but he has not made a "formal" declaration of his candidacy.

Find out more about what Giuliani had to say to the farm crowd at the expo, and more about the farm show's opening day later today at capitalpress.com.

The photo of Giuliani was taken by Capital Press California Editor Bob Krauter, who is one of three ag journalists from our staff covering the World Ag Expo this week, which continues through Thursday.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Speak up, we can't hear you (yet)

We want to hear what you have to say. If you have an opinion on an issue related to agriculture, we want to hear from you.

There are certainly no shortage of issues important to farmers, ranchers, agriculture suppliers and consumers in the news out there. A glance at the headlines in issues of Capital Press, which went out to our subscribers today, or posted this week on capitalpress.com, gives an indications of issues affecting us all. The 2007 Farm Bill, food safety, a new mad cow case in Canada, avian flu, eminent domain, land-use planning, bovine growth hormone use, environmental regulations, water supply, winter snowpack levels, levee safety, impacts of the '07 citrus freeze — well, you get the idea. There a lot of stuff brewing in not-so sleepy little farming communities from border to border. Oh, and speaking of the borders, I left out immigration, guest worker legislation and worker shortages.

There is no shortage of issues, or opinions, for that matter. However, the proliferation of issues and opinions isn't always reflected in the quantity of letters to the editor or guest commentary pieces that we receive or print in Capital Press. We understand that it takes time to write us a letter and send it to us. So, now we are going to give people a new opportunity to let their voices be heard — literally.

The Capital Press has established a new, toll-free comment line for readers of our newspaper and websites. You can now call us and leave a voice mail message. And if people you do leave us messages we will give our web readers an opportunity to hear what you have to say on our website or through one of our podcasts.

Now, that doesn't mean we will post every message — slanderous material won't be allowed, so if we want talk bad about your neighbors (or family members or competitors, etc.) we could get into some trouble for putting that out there, so we won't put it out there. However, if you have an opinion on an issue, that's fair game. Issues don't sue, but people do.

So, let us know what you are thinking about. Call our comment line, toll-free, at 1-800-285-6005. If it's about the agriculture — the food and fiber products we all eat and wear and the land, water and air that make growing them possible — or Capital Press newspaper and websites, chances are good we will share your comments out here in cyberspace in the multimedia section of capitalpress.com or an upcoming edition of the Farmers' Capital Press Agriculture Podcast.

Call us. Talk to us. Tell us what's on your mind. And we'll help you tell others — in your own words and voice.

Oh, but the way, we are "breaking" the news of this new feature right here on Blogriculture. Other announcements will be made in the future on capitalpress.com, in the print editions of Capital Press and in a Farmers' C.A.P. episode. But you heard it here first. Well, read it here first anyway.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Only temporary?

I found this online today while trying to track down information for a reader who had a question about a story in the Capital Press archives.

The link posts to a web page on the Washington State Department of Agriculture's website, with the headline "Temporary Chicken Slaughter."

I don't know about you, but if I had to deal with the slaughter of chickens in Washington, I'd want it to be permanent. I wouldn't want those birds coming back at me later. They are liable to be pretty ticked off, I would think.

Perhaps Washington state's bureaucrats should rethink what they call their permits and label their web page.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Thanks for the link, Dale Jr.

I just sent the following note to some members of the Capital Press staff:

Guess what website is referring the most traffic to our site today.

OK, I won’t keep you in suspense. It’s a website called www.dalejrpitstop.com. NASCAR racing fans may realized that the website is a site devoted to one of auto racing’s most popular drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

So far today we’ve got at least 72 visitors from that site. And so far in this young month we’ve had at least 294 visits coming from that site. Why, would NASCAR fans be coming to our site today and this month? It’s because of a link from the Dale Jr. site to ours, specifically to Butch Thurman’s rodeo column, which mentioned a bull riding event that Earnhardt was a host/sponsor for that was held recently.

We’ve also picked up at least a dozen links to our site from the Profession Bull Riders website, pbrnow.com.
To which I received the following reply from our executive editor and fellow Blogriculture blogger Elaine Shein:
From now on, EVERY blog, story, opinion piece, and breaking news item published on our website MUST include the following words;
Dale Earnhardt
Britney Spears

And any other words that you think will draw traffic. Well, except for the word sex. I can only imagine what type of messages angry web surfers will leave behind when they find out we are writing about artificial insemination instead of whatever they thought we were writing about.
Do you think she was kidding? I think she was kidding.

But I better start digging up some details on Britney just in case. If anyone sees anything about Britney and Dale Jr. starting a program to breed bulls for the PBR circuit on a ranch in California, please let me know.

By the way, have you noticed that pull riders and other rodeo cowboys are looking a lot more like NASCAR drivers in recent years with all those sponsorship patches all over the place?

Maybe farmers need to seek out endorsement deals to supplement their income.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

The rodent better be wrong

We're in for an early spring, or so says the groundhog. Although I'm not sure ol' Punxsutawny Phil's prediction necessary applied to the entire continental United States.

I haven't heard whether the prairie dog saw its shadow, and I'm not sure there is an official shadow-watching prairie dog anyway.

This has been one of those usually unusual winters here in the West. When it freezes in the deserts of California and the sun shines for days on end in the rain forests of the Northwest in January, it gets hard to believe that a groundhog in some town with an X from back east knows his shadow from his elbow.

Things just ain't right.

Don't me me wrong, I love the sunshine and I am in much better spirits due to its bright, warming effects. But farmers and ranchers need rain and snow in the mountains to provide water for later this year.

Other than in Washington state, seasonal snowpacks are below normal levels in much of the West. The groundhog predicts an early spring, which, if correct, would mean an end to the rainy season, which has already been suspended. As much as I'd love to have some sunny shirt-sleeve weather from now through, say, the end of time, for the sake of the agriculture economy the fat furry rodent better be wrong.

We need rain and snow. Sooner would be better than later, thank you very much.

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