Monday, December 29, 2008

Earning my keep around the old homestead

I spent the weekend back in Eastern Oregon, visiting family for the holidays. I got to relive a little of my youth too, as I did a few chores while I was home.

When I arrived at my folks' place Friday evening, after braving some icy roads through the Columbia Gorge and freezing rain in Interstate 84 from Boardman to the Hermiston/Lexington exit, I was relieved to see my parents' home as I drove south on the Buttercreek Highway. Little did I know, the most treacherous part of my drive was still to come. As I slowed to turn into the driveway, I could see the ruts of tire tracks through the deep snow leading up the hill. I turned in, picking what looked to be the clearest tracks and headed up the hill only to feel the traction give way on the back wheels of my pickup. The tires started to spin, sending the back end of the truck sideways.

I just knew I would end my journey trudging the final 50 yards of my trip through a foot of snow carrying my luggage.

Fortunately, there is not a traffic on the road in front of my parents' house, so I backed down the driveway and onto the highway, which had been cleared of snow. I backed as far as I could without getting my back tires into the snowy shoulder to get a run at the driveway again. But I wasn't at all confident that I would get great traction as I had been driving in freezing drizzle for the last 30-40 miles. But I was sure I wanted to drive up to the house far more than than walk, I accelerated as quickly as I could without spinning the tires and charged the hill.

This time I carried more speed into the driveway and was able to keep the truck churning and slipping forward, but still making progress up the hill. I reached the house, tired from a long trip on difficult roads, but relieved to be home safe and sound.

Saturday, fortunately brought some warmer weather and the snow and ice were starting to melt. But I wasn't sure if things might freeze again. Since I had another obligation in Pilot Rock Saturday afternoon and evening, I didn't want to try to navigate an icy driveway on my return. So I decided to work on some snow removal.

I started off clearing snow, ice and slush off the sidewalks around the house. Fortunately, my brother Ron pitched in too, to save a little strain on my middle-aged back.

The driveway proved a bigger challenge. The battery was dead on the old Ford tractor, and my father informed me that the hydraulics to lift the blade weren't working either. So, I used why I had at my disposal, which was my truck and its tires. I made repeated trips up and down the driveway, trying to break up the deepest spots in the snow and widen the ruts to more than a single tire track in width. Perhaps predictably, the results were less than satisfactory.

At one point I found myself, scoop shovel in hand, trying to clear snow and slush at the bottom of the driveway.

It turned out that I needn't have worried. The meltoff continued throughout the day and the temperature stayed above freezing all evening, so there were no problems getting up the driveway later that night. And by the time I woke up Sunday, the snow was all but gone in the yard and driveway.

But if felt good to get out and do a little physical work around the ol' place. The exercise was good, but the biggest satisfaction came from pitching in without being asked — or ordered — to do so. I used to hate those sorts of chores as a kid. It seemed I was always being directed to do lawn or weed mowing, or watering, or wash cars (or trucks or airplanes) around the place. I hated it all. But this was different. It felt good to do something because it was my idea and it was something I wanted to do. Never mind that Mother Nature did the job I was trying to do much more effectively all on her own. For a few hours, it was easier to walk around the house and navigate the driveway because I got out there to put in some sweat equity.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Feeling lost on Christmas Eve

I think it may be time to get a GPS. I should have put that on my gift list. I need to know where I am.

For some reason, YouTube seems to think I'm somewhere across the pond in the United Kingdom today. I'm not sure what's going on there. I thought I was in Salem, Ore., but every time I venture outside and see snow all around me, I'm not so sure. So maybe I have been transplanted and don't even know it.

Wherever you are this Christmas Eve, I hope you have a happy, healthy and safe holiday. I am sending out holiday greetings — from wherever I am.

I wonder if NORAD can track my whereabouts. I don't have Santa's clout through.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A little something for your Christmas stocking

Since Christmas falls on Thursday, the Capital Press is working a little ahead this week to get the print editions of the paper out and in the mail before the holiday. But if the thrill of anticipation is too much, you can get a sneak peak online Wednesday afternoon.

We should have stories and other items for this week's edition posted online tomorrow. It's just a little something extra — something you can open early without getting intro trouble for peaking — this holiday season.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Fight for your right to farm

A story by Mitch Lies in this week's Capital Press is drawing some attention on our website today. The article, headlines "Farm Bureau jumps into battle over animal rights" is generating the most views on our website today. One reason for that may be because of a blog post on the American Farm Bureau Federation's FBlog by Chris Chinn.

Chinn is urging farmers to post a comment in response to a comment from a non-farmer on the article. As Mace Thornton, deputy director of public relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, to the Oregon Farm Bureau, farmers need to be part of the discussion. And a lot of that discussion nowadays is taking place on websites, in addition to voting booths and government halls. Agriculture needs to use the tools available to be part of the discussion.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obama picks cabinet members who will have big influence on farm policy issues

We finally know who President-elect Barack Obama has picked for his secretaries of Agriculture and Interior. Look for more reaction from ag folks to be posted later today on the Capital Press website.

Will Tom Vilsack be a good Agriculture Secretary for farmers and ranchers? Will Ken Salazar serve the best interests of livestock producers and growers on issues related to federal lands, federal water and endangered species issues?

Anyone have any thoughts on that?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Are any Blogriculture/Capital Press readers going to Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo?

I won't be here or making any posts next week. I'm taking some vacation time and heading off to Las Vegas for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

A couple of years ago I filed some blog posts from the NFR here on Blogriculture. I won't be doing that this year, but I may posts some updates via cellphone to my Twitter account.

My family has had NFR tickets for years, and I've been fortunate to utilize one of the tickets most years since about 1995. I'm pretty excited about this year, which is the 50th NFR. The rodeo performances are always spectacular.

I've found my tastes in rodeo have changed over the years. When I was younger I preferred the rough stock events. But as I've gotten older, I've learned to appreciate the roping events more. And maybe it's because there are still a few guys in my age range competing in those events.

Even though this is a vacation, I still inevitably end up talking about Capital Press during the trip. That's probably because a lot of the people who are part of the tour group I go with are farmers and ranchers from Eastern Oregon, so agriculture is a common topic of conversation on the bus back and forth to the rodeo, or on the plane ride from Portland to Vegas. Sometimes the Capital Press even comes up with other people, like the time I was standing in line at a concession stand at the Thomas & Mack and a couple of guys behind me noticed my Capital Press shirt and asked me if I worked they. They said they were both subscribers, even though neither one of them lived in one of our 4 core coverage states. One was from Nevada and one was from Utah, if memory serves.

So, I won't be working next week, but I'll still be talking up farming, ranching, as well as roping and riding, with aggies here in the West.

I hope to see some of you in Vegas next week. I'll be one of the guys in the Capital Press caps with the tractor tread design.

Wrong number update

Last week I made a post about some mysterious wrong numbers I've been getting. The callers who have been dialing me up were really trying to get Bank of America.

I may have finally figured out why callers who thought they were calling Bank of America got little ol' me instead. One of the callers provided a key clue. He told me the number he was trying to dial, which was an 800 number.

In doing a little research, it appears the number he was trying to call is for Bank of America mortgage in Tennessee. Which explains why so many people were asking me about whether they could refinance their loans. And perhaps this whole mortgage crisis may help explain why I've been getting more calls like that in recent months. If more people are calling, that would increase the odds of more people misdialing and getting me.

But just why the calls were coming through on my line was still perplexing. The 800 number people were calling did not match my direct line number, which has a 503 area code.

The other crucial clue in the puzzle came from our new editor, Joe Beach, and a job applicant for one of our California reporting positions for Capital Press.

Joe had given out a toll-free number he found on some note pads we had made up years ago. I'm not sure when they were made up. I've been here three and half years and they were here when I got here. The pads list an 800 number at the bottom. And that number is exactly the same as the 800 number the caller trying to reach Bank of America gave me, except for the last digit. But that number, our number, is not listed on any of our contemporary in-house phone lists. So, we had a toll-free line we (or most of us anyway) really didn't know about. And, for whatever reason, that line doesn't go through our switchboard. It rings right at my desk.

So, if you need to talk to me, let me know. I can give you a toll free number that will put you right through to my desk. But be careful. If you misdial you might get someone in Tennessee from Bank of America who may ask a bunch of questions about your mortgage.

Suddenly, I have the chorus from a classic Blondie song running through my head:

Call me, on the line
Call me, call me any anytime
Call me

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Corn Down...Gas Down....What about Food?

I chatted briefly with Brad Etling of Hebron, Nebraska yesterday. He said corn was down to 3.30. from over 7.00 a bushel affecting the price of almost everything in the area.

He said the house he rented for 475 last year now rents for 275.00.

We both pondered why if corn is down, and so are gas prices, why are food prices staying high? Somebody is keeping the profits somewhere.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Western states plan for less tax revenue

Governors from the West in Idaho, Oregon and California had press conferences today to detail their plans for dealing with less funds flowing into state coffers.

Of course California, with the biggest coffers, has the most to lose and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is declaring a fiscal emergency. Govs. Butch Otter in Idaho and Ted Kulongoski in Oregon don't report such dire news.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

News doesn't take a holiday

It's fairly quiet today around Capital Press headquarters, which is unusual for a Wednesday. Normally, Wednesday is the day we have all hands on deck because we are finishing up the print editions of the newspaper. But our deadline was pushed up a day this week to try to get the paper out to folks on time around the holiday.

So, some folks on our staff are taking some vacation time today and/or Friday in order to spend time with family for Thanksgiving. We aren't the only folks affected by the holiday of course. Reporter Mitch Lies has said that he's had a tough time reaching people this week to make appointments or conduct interviews.

We can see the difference in the number of visitors to our website too. The number of visitors to are down today too. But rest assured, we are still posting news and updates online and we'll have the full contents of this week's edition posted by tomorrow, even though tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Due to the holiday, our office will be closed and we will not be posting news updates to on Thursday, but we will be back Friday to fill readers in on what's happening in news affecting farmers and ranchers in the West.

As the saying goes, news doesn't take a holiday, but we know people do, or at least try to now and then.

We hope you and your family and friends have a pleasant and safe Thanksgiving holiday. And if you need a break from the holiday hubbub, you can still find lots of new and interesting agriculture news on

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wrong number rings up potentially lucrative idea

I think I have the answer to the current financial crisis. It came to me through a ringing telephone.

Every once in a while the phone on my desk rings with an unusual ring that tells me it is coming in on a direct-dial line, not through the main switchboard. Of course, I get excited, because I think it's someone who wants to reach me specifically. Maybe one of those business cards I've handed out at some ag event is netting a phone call. So I answer the phone with enthusiasm.

"Capital Press newsroom, this is Gary."

There's silence on the other end of the line. So I repeat my greeting, but switch it up a bit, speaking a bit slower.

"Newsroom, this is Gary, may I help you?"

The answer back usually goes something like this:

"Hello, um, is this Bank of America?"

"No, this is the Capital Press newspaper," I say.

"Oh, sorry, I must have a wrong number," they say, followed by the inevitable click.

Obviously, my direct line number must be close to one of Bank of America's phone numbers. Sometimes those calls annoy me. But the one I got today gave me an idea.

Rather than disappoint those folks when they call, I'll just open up a bank branch right here in my office. Of course, due to limited space, staffing and time constraints (there is only me in my office, and I can only work so many hours a day, and I have a another job, so can't devote full time to banking) it will be limited services branch. We won't offer loans or withdrawals, but we will accept loan payments and deposits.

It could certainly help me get through the current economic crisis.

OK, so I won't really start a bank branch in my office. But a guy can daydream can't he? Just don't tell my bosses. I'm supposed to be working.

Disclaimer: The Gary West branch of Bunco America is not FDIC insured. Depositors assume all risks. Deposits are considered non-refundable gifts to the branch owner. Void where prohibited or if any statements herein might result in civil or criminal action against Bunco America or its stockholders or if it might result in the firing of the "bank's" president/CEO/CFO and sole proprietor.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thank you for what you grow

In my grandparents' generation, many Americans had to grow much of their own food in order to eat. All four of my grandparents were born before and lived through the Great Depression. They came from farm families and worked on farms part or most of their lives.

My mother's mother also maintained a large garden, which provided fresh vegetables for the summer with plenty left over to can for winter meals too. There was not money for luxuries — things my generation and my daughter's generation now take for granted — but there was always plenty to eat. And the dinner table was the centerpiece of family gatherings.

A lot of families will be gathering this weekend for feasts of Thanksgiving. Perhaps the economic hardships so many are experiencing will make us remember the more basic things of life for which we should be thankful — things like having food to eat and family and friends with which we can share our meal and our fellowship.

I feel fortunate that members of my family, to present day, still make it possible for so many people to put food on their holiday table by working in agriculture. Most Americans are far removed from the farm and have little idea where their food comes from or what it takes to grow it. I've got to see those things first hand and am proud of my family members who help grow food, not only for their neighbors, but the nation and the world.

My grandparents are all gone now. My mom's mom was the last to go shortly after Thanksgiving last year. My grandparents, and several aunts and uncles, won't be around to share in the feasts of Thanksgiving. But I can't help but think of all of the family gatherings, holidays and special occasions that revolved around a family dinner table and featured food our family has grown with their own hands or had a hand in growing.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my family and friends, near and far, and all the people who help feed us all. Their work, a labor of love and great sacrifice, is worth far more than they will ever receive in financial compensation. They deserve to be remembered and thanked this holiday as we remember the many blessings we are fortunate to enjoy.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Separating the wheat from the Christmas trees

I learned something new today.

They grow Christmas trees in Kansas.

I never would have guessed that. I was browsing the AP wire and found an item about a Christmas tree being delivered to the official residence of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

I thought for sure the tree was probably shipped in from Oregon or Washington or maybe even Idaho or California. But no! Kansas has its own Christmas trees. The state even has its own Christmas Tree Growers Association.

That's why I love my job. I learn new things all the time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Some new faces coming to Capital Press

We've got some new people coming to the Capital Press who will make in imprint on what, and how, we cover West Coast agriculture.

First up, we've got a new executive editor. His name is Joe Beach. He started work this week. You can learn more about him in a column he wrote for this week's edition of Capital Press. There's also a story about his hiring posted online now.

Next week we will be joined by a new California reporter too. Tim Hearden is joining the crew. He's coming aboard from Redding Record Searchlight. You can read his farewell blog on here.

Maybe we can lasso him into contributing to Blogriculture when he gets on board.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Separated at birth, or an alien conspiracy?

Is it just me, or does Washington state Veterinarian Leonard Eldridge look an awful lot like the actor that played the alien jeweler in the movie Men in Black? I was Eldridge's picture with an article on the Capital Press website and immediately thought of a scene in the MIB. I swear Eldridge could be related to actor Mike Nussbaum.

You decide. But if Eldridge tugs on his ear and his face opens up to reveal a tiny alien, someone call the Men in Black.

Leonard Eldridge, Washington state veterinarian

Mike Nussbaum, actor

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Who will tell your story?

Susan Crowell, editor of Farm and Dairy, has a great column today advising farmers and ranchers to do a better job of telling the story of the good things they do to the American public. The column follows a similar theme to one of this week's Capital Press editorials.

It may be difficult for an individual family farm to have its own public relations department, but farmers in general need to get far more PR savvy. The American people don't understand why farm subsidies are needed. They don't understand why egg producers need battery cages. They don't understand why you use water by the acre foot — can't even picture it — when they use water by the cup or gallon.

If you don't show them, some activist somewhere with a decidedly different point of view will.

It's great that you are all so good at talking to the farm press when we call to talk to you. But you need to talk to the mainstream press too. And you would be well served to have some sort of online website presence to take your message straight to consumers too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Twitter me this

I resisted as long as I could. However, I'm now on Twitter. If want to follow me on there, here's the link. I've also added the rss feed into the right side rail here, so you can get the latest Twitter post here too, right under our list of Blogriculture contributors.

Tweet long and prosper.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A new deal needed for a new century

Perhaps something good can come out of the economic turmoil gripping the country. Maybe in President-elect Barack Obama's administration can make a new "New Deal" to benefit rural Americans in the 21st century. One legacy of the 20th century Depression was the development of infrastructure that brought electricity and phone service to rural residents.

Hopefully, one of the outcomes of addressing job losses and other symptoms of the current economic collapse will be to put people back to work to address the 21st century divide between urban and rural Americans that exists in cyberspace. Rural residents need better, faster, less expensive access to Internet services to provide the same educational and business opportunities for people who live in the country that exist in urban neighborhoods.

Of course, farmers and ranchers will have to embrace and use that technology too in order to get the benefit out of it. Of course, some won't. As in early generations, some folks stubbornly took pride in still having a working outhouse, or the fact that their mail was only delivered 3 days a week. But the fact of the matter is that in order for farmers and ranchers to compete in the global agriculture economy, they need to have access to and utilize the tools of the modern world. Yes, you can still harvest a grain field with a team of horses, but does it make the best business sense to do so?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Just imagine the Cabinet meetings

Country music star Willie Nelson speaks July 6, 2007, in Salem, Ore., during the  groundbreaking ceremony for a SeQuential-Pacific Biodiesel processing plant. Photo by Mitch Lies/Capital Press.Chuck Zimmerman over at AgWired offers up another suggestion as a possible Barack Obama appointment for Agriculture Secretary in a post on his blogWillie Nelson.

I may have to play some tunes from the Red-headed Stranger's library on my ol' iPod and think about that one for a while.

Picture the scene: Secretary Nelson walks up to the podium at a meeting of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association to the refrain of his hit song "Momma Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys". Talk about a show stopper!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Who would fill the West Coast agriculture dream cabinet?

I've gotten caught up in all the election excitement, and disappointment, swirling around this week. I can't help but wonder what impact things like the election of President-elect Barack Obama, the passage of Proposition 2 in California and the defeat of Sen. Gordon Smith in Oregon might have on West Coast agriculture for the next 4 years or more.

Who will Obama pick for key Cabinet posts? Who would farmers and ranchers hope to see as the next heads of Agriculture, Interior, Homeland Security, Energy, Labor, Environmental Protection Agency, Transportation and Commerce?

Mark Nicholas at has a list of possible cabinet appointments that have reportedly been leaked already. There are some names Westerners will recognize in there, like:

• California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a possible Energy secretary.

• Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber as a possible head of Health and Human Services.

• Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire as a possible appointee as Interior secretary.

• Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon in Transportation. has some different names in it Cabinet list. The Associated Press has a different version too. But who is on your list?

If you have ideas of who could, or should, be appointed to an Obama Cabinet to best serve Western agriculture and the people of the West, feel free to post a comment of let us know where we can see your suggestions on another blog or website.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Pizza and poll numbers go together

During the last presidential election — actually during the last four (five if you count college) — I was working at a general news, or mainstream, newspaper. This is my first presidential election working for an agriculture weekly. The pace is decidedly different.

Election Day is always a big day at mainstream papers and is generally a long day for staffers, particularly editors. Lots of pizzas will be consumed in newsrooms around the country today as journalists work to report the most up-to-date news and election results from the presidential race right on down to local boards and commissions.

Here at the Capital Press, we are not so wrapped up in political coverage. For one thing, our paper won't come out until Friday, so everyone will know who won what where (except perhaps for the Washington state gubernatorial race). And since we cover four states, the hyper-local races, which may be highly important to some of our readers, will be of absolutely no interest to most of our readers. So our political coverage will be confined to reaction to the results in the presidential race, a couple of U.S. Senate races, some statewide races and a ballot measure or two.

Another contrast between the Capital Press and the mainstream press, is that the mainstreamers will be burning the midnight oil to get results out while our staff will be working a pretty normal schedule today. But if you are an election news junkie and a reader, I'll be posting some of the major election results for you tonight on our website. Maybe I'll order a pizza to make the experience seem a little more like old times.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How do you take your milk? Preferably liquified and non-cumbustible

One thing I love about my job is that I learn new things all the time. Sometimes I learn lots of new things in a day.

Here's my latest gem of knowledge: Milk explodes.

Who knew?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Waiting for final word on COOL

So what does the new country-of-origin labeling law mean for food processors? Well, that's still a little hard to say, as the following video from the Idaho Farm Bureau illustrates.

One way to know what's in food is to watch it being made, or make it yourself. Here's a little video story by Cookson Beecher on making apple juice in Washington.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A mention from the Old Gray Lady's cyber offspring

Capital Press coverage of the presidential candidates' farm policies, in a story written by California Editor Hank Shaw, was mentioned and linked in this blog posted on the New York Times website.

It's nice to know that someone east of the Rockies makes note that there is agriculture west of the Great Divide.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mixing business and football

I attended the Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation's Fall Harvest Dinner on Saturday, but I have to admit, it was a little difficult to pull myself away from my truck in the parking lot and walk in to the Linn County Fair and Expo Center.

It's not that I didn't want to go in or support this great cause, but the Oregon State-University of Washington football game was still in the first half. Come to think of it, it was awfully hard to leave the house, where I had the game on the TV, to get into the truck in the first place. But I at least knew I could hear the game on the radio.

My resolve to walk into the Expo Center was strengthened by seeing so many Oregon State Beaver bumper and window stickers on the other rigs in the parking lot. I knew someone would be getting score updates.

What I didn't know, is that the best source of information would be the biggest man on the OSU campus. OSU President Ed Ray and his wife were in attendance at the event and Ray's Blackberry kept him up to date on developments in Husky Stadium.

Ray was gracious enough to let me interrupt his dinner for one update and thoughtful enough to share the final score with event organizers so it could be announced to the assembled crowd, which was heavily laced with OSU alums and fans. So while the alumni of Oregon State — sometimes known as Moo U or the Cow College and Corvallis is sometimes called Corn Valley (in spite of the dearth of corn there) — got to support a great cause in teaching young people about the importance of agriculture in classrooms around Oregon, we also got to follow our beloved Beavers too.

Karie Hoffman of Molalla, Ore., Walks through the crowd at the Oregon Ag in the Classroom Fall Harvest Dinner carrying a tricycle decked out in Oregon State colors and logos. Hoffman, a member of the Oregon State University Collegiate FFA, was assisting with an auction of items to benefit the Ag in the Classroom Foundation. Capital Press photo by Gary L. West

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Not many complaints at Brownsville, California Feed Store.

A funny thing happened when I was driving the Capital Press van this week in Brownsville, California. The Whitehorse Ranch & Feed Store makes sure you get a chuckle even before you get up their driveway. As a result, customers are sure to arrive in a good mood.

Customers are encouraged to leave their complaints with a local rancher even before you arrive at the feed store.

The good news is proprietor Alan Austin says the Whitehorse Ranch & Feed Store now carries the Capital Press.

Now every rancher that pulls up the driveway of Whitehorse Feed Store can get his or her own copy.

(You might want to leave a copy for our friend here though.)

Monday, October 06, 2008

You're not supposed to milk that

The tainted milk scandal just keeps getting deeper and dirtier. The Economist has a column examining farmers' favorite topics — input costs and quality control. Why exactly would Chinese dairymen put a toxic plastic ingredient in milk?

But something fishy seems to be going on here. For one thing, melamine is not all that easy to dissolve into milk. For another, there’s been a worldwide shortage of melamine for some time now. Its price has shot up to more than $1,750 per tonne from $1,100 a few years ago.

So why use an expensive industrial chemical that’s in short supply to dilute a dirt cheap product like milk? The answer can only be that either some flaw rendered the melamine industrially worthless, or it wasn’t melamine at all.

You're heard that soylent green is made of people? The (anonymous) columnist suggests that Chinese milk products are made of something else that cows produce:
Urea may be not as rich in nitrogen, but it’s certainly a whole lot cheaper (around $650 per tonne). Sprayed into the milk at the temperature used to create a powdered product for baby food and confectionery, enough of the urea would be converted into melamine to show up in tests.

If that’s the case, where does the urea come from? Is it really fertiliser—or something else cattle produce in prodigious quantities? Perhaps that’s why the Chinese authorities are suddenly so keen to blame more hygienic melamine for all their woes.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A summer/fall vacation

I'm back from a week's vacation, which probably sounds pretty strange to people who work in agriculture. This is the the busy time of year for most people in agriculture. A summer vacation for a farmer or agriculture business in the northern hemisphere is pretty much impossible.

Frankly, that's one reason I didn't go to work for my dad in his aerial application (i.e. crop dusting) business. When I worked for my dad in my late teens, it was just impossible to plan anything with friends because you just didn't know when you would be able to get away from work. Evening events were out, even though we didn't work after dark, because we were always up and at it before it was light each morning to get the airplanes fueled and head out to remote airstrips to work in the calm conditions after dawn. We often stopped work in the middle of the day, as the rising temperatures were often accompanied by wind, making it impossible to spray.

But that didn't mean we were done working for the day. There was always work to do, like servicing equipment and cleaning. Oh, how I hated the cleaning. And it seemed there was always something to clean. If it wasn't washing airplanes, pickups or other service vehicles, then there was always the shop floor to clean. Then, as sunset approached, the winds would calm down, and it was back to spraying again until twilight.

Even on days when we woke up to windy conditions you could never venture too far on the off chance conditions improved later in the day. So, some days we did get days off, but you didn't necessarily know it would be a full day off until the day was done and you hadn't worked.

I didn't like the unpredictability of that sort of schedule. So, instead, I ventured into newspapers, where you work a specific schedule but cover unpredictable events. It seemed a good compromise. Oh, sure, sometimes those unpredictable events have meant canceled plans, like on Sept. 11, 2001, I had been on vacation that week, but got called in to work as the nation and the world tried to come to grips with, and the media tried to cover, the stunning enormity of the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington, D.C., and the airline industry.

Agriculture businesses, like my father's, have changed a lot since I was making my career choices. There is a lot more regulation and oversight of things like work schedules, moving the industry closer too general society's "norms." Who knows, maybe if I were making my career choice today I would choose a different path. But, as the saying goes, you have to make hay while the sun shines and in agriculture, you work with the growing seasons and the weather permit it, and you take time off to recreate in the off season.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Ag educator lost in farm tragedy

I want to offer condolences to the family of Max Corbett and the current and former agriculture students and staff at Tulare Union and Tulare Western high schools in Tulare, Calif.

Corbett, the farm manager for the Tulare Joint Union High School District Farm, was killed by a bull on that farm over the weekend. It's a sad reminder of the dangers of working on a farm setting around large, powerful equipment and large, powerful and unpredictable livestock.

I never met Mr. Corbett, at least not that I recall, but I was editor of the Porterville Recorder for a time in neighboring Porterville, Calif., about 10 years ago. The Tulare County economy is still driven by agriculture, as is California's, but like so much of California, a lot of the understanding and appreciation for agriculture is lost in the cities surrounded by all that precious farmland. Teachers like Corbett play a vital role in maintaining interest in agriculture for young people along the rapidly growing Highway 99 corridor through the heart of California's farm country.

You can read accounts of the tragedy from the Associated Press, Visalia Times-Delta/Tulare Advance-Register and Fresno Bee.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Thanks to Paul Bausch and ORblogs

Blogriculture is not specifically intended to be an Oregon blog, or even a blog about Oregon agriculture. The intent when I started it was to have a blog about agriculture in the Western states of California, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

But the simple fact of the matter is that Blogriculture is an Oregon blog because the people who contribute to it most are in Oregon most of the time. For good or ill, blogging is largely a first-person perspective thing. Bloggers write about what they see, hear and know or what they are interested in and the immediate geography around us all has a huge influence on what interests us personally and professionally.

I'm proud to say that Blogriculture has been part of the ORblogs directory/community since the very early days of this blog's existence. If you aren't familiar with ORblogs, that's too bad, because Orblogs is going away.

ORblogs' creator Paul Bausch posted a notice on the website on Thursday, Sept. 4, that ORblogs is closed. He writes that he's going to leave the directory in place for a while to give people time to figure out other ways to monitor their favorite blogs, but you won't be able to find the latest post from Oregon-based blogs there anymore.

The site was a pretty cool thing if you were interested in what the latest buzz was in the Oregon blogosphere. You could go to one site and see things like the most recent posts, most popular topics written about, most popular posts with ORblogs' visitors. You could (and still can for a little while at least) find blogs based on what cities the bloggers were blogging from. What made it even more remarkable, is that this was all just a side gig, a hobby, for the guy who created it — Paul Bausch.

Of course many of the best, or at least most interesting, blogs out there are written by people who write out of passion, not for pay. That passion, in the best blogs and bloggers, comes out in their writing. Oregon bloggers got to share their passion much more efficiently and effectively with the help of Paul Bausch and ORblogs. ORblogs was not a perfect site, but it was a great resource for finding interesting blogs based here and a way for bloggers based here to get some exposure for their little corner of the blogosphere.

I don't know Paul personally. I think we exchanges a few e-mails back in the days I was getting Blogriculture hooked up with his site. But from what I've read about him, he's a pretty remarkable dude. He helped create the Blogger software popular with many blog writers (including the software we use here at Blogriculture). Do a Google search of his name or follow this link to his biography on his site or on his about page if you want to read more about him. For example, you will find that he is web developer, author and a journalism graduate from the University of Nebraska who is based in Corvallis, Ore.

It just seemed appropriate to give Paul and ORblogs some recognition and appreciation here on our website for what he has contributed to bloggers in general and Oregon bloggers in particular.

As a native Nebraskan, a journalist trained in technical writing in Corvallis at Oregon State and an amateur computer geek, this Oregon blogger just wants to say thanks. ORblogs will be missed, but I am thrilled that it was around for as long as it was. It was an honor to be included in ORblogs.

Story about fair manager placed on leave attracts attention

A story about Dave Koellermeier, manager of the Oregon State Fair manager, being placed on paid administrative leave is drawing attention today on the Capital Press website.

An investigation is under way into complaints about undisclosed conduct at the recently completed State Fair. Capital Press reporter Mateusz Perkowski broke the story Thursday on the newspaper's website. The story got picked up by the Associated Press wire service. An item on the Oregonian's OregonLive website and a link from are feeding traffic to the Capital Press story.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

When computers misbehave

I love computers, but they are sort of like teenagers. They do a lot of amazing things that can be quite difficult to understand. And just when you think you can trust them and leave them alone unsupervised, they mess up big time!

A machine with a mind of its own recently left me scratching my head, and wishing I could turn it over my knee.

The Capital Press has started a new blog about small farms, sometimes lovingly (or disparagingly perhaps) referred to as hobby farms. So after getting the site up and operational (not fancy mind you, but there), I decided to register it with Technorati. Technorati attempts to keep an obviously electronic eye on what's happening in blogs and track things like popularity of sites and topics. So i plug the new information into Technorati for the blog, which we are calling Back Forty, and some machine with a screw loose somehow figures the name of the site is — get this — "Reilable backstreet boys compilation."

I can assure you that there is not one reference to the Backstreet Boys on the new blog. The best I can figure is that someone, at some point, had used the URL we are using for the Back Forty blog to write about allegedly reliable (unless there really is such a word as reilable) compilations of music, or whatever, related to the pop boy band, and Technorati didn't take the information I gave it but instead decided to live in some realm of the cyberpast where someone actually gave a rip about boy bands.

Sadly, the ghosts of that era still haunt us and our new blog. I have the iPod cranking out some country music (The Wreckers, "Leave the Pieces" at the moment) to expunge any boy band lyrics that try to sneak into my synapses. If only Technorati's misfiring memory could be repaired so easily.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Photos from the Oregon State Fair

Here are some photos of the Capital Press staff at the Oregon State Fair over the Labor Day weekend. It was fun to see so many people and get a chance to take note of agriculture's importance to Oregon's economy and lifestyle.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Look for us at the Oregon State Fair

Look for members of the Capital Press staff Saturday, Aug. 30, at the Oregon State Fair.

We'll be hard to miss.

Just look for the neon-lime green T-shirts celebrating Ag Day.

I wouldn't advise actually looking directly at the shirts unless you are wearing suitable eye protections. Sun glasses may help, but welder's goggles would be better. The shirts are bright.

It ought to tell people how committed the Capital Press staff is to celebrating agriculture in Oregon and the West though. If our staffers will go out in public wearing those shirts, they are indeed committed to the cause.

I'll be working the Ag Day booth between the hours of 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. Unless I'm rushed to the hospital with retinal damage. That would not be a great way to spend Labor Day weekend.

Click here to see what other fun stuff will be happening on Ag Day.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Breakfast in Fresno without Raisins

Fresno, California is with without question the raisin capital of the world. But you cannot get California raisins for your oatmeal.

Hard to believe, but it's the perfect example of how corporate structures fail. Corporate franchises cannot accommodate local needs or improvise for their local communities.

In the case of Denny's Restaurant on Olive Way in Fresno, (and probably among others from my experience) you cannot get raisins for your oatmeal. None. I couldn't believe it. It's like peanut butter without the jelly. A cookie without the milk.

Don't get me wrong the oatmeal was fine. But there is only one way to ruin it: Provide no raisins.

Sun-Maid, ...if you're listening...somebody in Fresno needs a talkin' to.

Tomorrow you'll get my oatmeal report from the House of Pancakes™. I

I'm hoping to get my raisins.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Thank you for being a fan

Earlier this month I posted a blatant solicitation for fans of our Capital Press Facebook page, and some of you have answered the call! We have 6 fans so far (including me, former Blogriculture author Elaine Shein and California editor Hank Shaw). Thanks fans and friends!

We've also set up a Blogriculture blog network on Facebook if anyone is interested in joining that.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Shaw returns

Hank Shaw has been discovered. For those of you who don't know Hank, he's our California editor. Hank does, obviously, have a bit of a following in California political circles, where he covered the Capitol for the Stockton Record prior to joining the Capital Press.

It looks like a couple of the political blogs may be glad to see him back. His piece in the Aug. 22 edition of Capital Press on the status of California's beleaguered water bond proposal garnered links from Fox & Hounds Daily and FlashReport.

By the way, is it just me, or does Hank look a little like Matthew Broderick from the movie "Glory" with that mustache and goatee?

Let's see, what was the name of Broderick's character? Oh, yes, Col. Robert Gould SHAW!


Monday, August 18, 2008

Capital Press in the blogosphere for Aug. 18

A Capital Press article on camelina garners a mention today on Biofuels Digest. The post provides a link to the original Capital Press article by freelancer Terence Day.

The Capital Press also gets a mention (but no link) in the Storm Exchange's Stormwire blog. The post is about wheat harvest running behind schedule in Idaho due to weather earlier in the season (see staffer Patricia McCoy's story here).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A nice little raspberry on top

An article by Cookson Beecher about raspberries got a mention this week in the Biz Blog by Dave Gallagher, business editor, of the Bellingham Herald.

Normally, when someone blows you a raspberry, it's not a good thing. But such is not the case here, or for raspberry growers who are enjoying some better prices this year, if not stellar yields.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The pesky liberal farm media

KarenO made a post over at BlogTalkRadio. Karen reposted a letter to the editor that appeared in the Capital Press on July 25, 2008.

The post makes it a little tough to tell where the letter, by Jim Ludwick of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, starts and ends. So, if you want to see the original letter, see the link. And you can find the original story Ludwick was commenting on here.

I got a kick out KarenO's conclusion she tacked on to the letter, which says "You have to love our liberal press -- always looking out for Oregonians!"

Feel free to check out our editorials and judge how liberal the Capital Press is for yourself.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Fans wanted

Are there any Capital Press fans on Facebook? Check us out on Facebook.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

What a difference a year makes

One year ago, I was up in Portland covering an event. I had lined up an intern to do the important work, writing the story and taking the pictures. So, being free of that responsibility, I decided to make my first feeble attempt at shooting video.

I had no clue what I was doing or what I was in for. I had literally zero experience using a video camera. I was once a still news photographer, but had little interest in shooting video. So, this was my chance to do something different.

The video was not good, and knowing even less about video editing than I did about videography, the resolution sucked. But it was my first attempt and I counted it as a success to even get the video posted online.

The video I shot was of last year's watermelon and produce giveaway by Eastern Oregon farmers in Portland. Perhaps it is fitting, or merely ironic, that I've spent part of the last week working on video editing and posting, because it is watermelon giveaway time again.

So, to show how far we've come, here's a look at the first video I did a year ago and the most recent one I edited and posted that was shot by Capital Press reporter Cookson Beecher.



I've still got a lot to learn, as do my colleagues here at the Capital Press. But we are making progress.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dismal agriculture

Freakonomics, an economics blog on the New York Times, has an interview with University of California-Davis agricultural economist Daniel Sumner. Some of the reader-supplied questions are a little off the wall (one reader wants the government to require every American to garden), but it's still fascinating. To sum up, he says biofuel mandates have significantly increased the cost of food, organic food is great for the rich but not for average consumers, local isn't always good for the environment, and he's no fan of farm subsidies:

This rationale, or rationalization, for farm subsidies makes no sense. Farming is a long-run business and there is no reason to think the government is better at regulating the markets for farm commodities than are the farmers and other who are in the business and have strong incentives to use storage, forward pricing, lines of credit, and the like to deal with commodity markets.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Onward (Eastward?) on the Oregon Trail

Next year, Oregon will celebrate its 150th anniversary as a state — its sesquicentennial.

Celebrations will include people talking about where they came from, a lot of them from the Midwest and other parts of the country, venturing forth along the challenging Oregon Trail as so many people sought to start new homes in the Western frontier.

I’m bucking the trend — I’m moving from the West to Nebraska later this week. I’m actually planning to travel along the Oregon Trail route, although in less time than the covered wagons needed. It depends a bit on how heavy traffic is during the summer tourist season.

To relive the spirit of moving livestock along the trail, I’m taking one of my cats with me: I expect yowling from the cat carrier most of the way. At 14 years old (72 in human years), Mac will be quite cranky about the trip from Oregon to Nebraska. I might be pretty cranky myself about Mac by the time we reach Nebraska, and I expect to age a few years myself.

It’s amazing how many people in the West have ties to Nebraska. As soon as I mentioned I’m moving to Omaha, people began to share they were from there, their grandparents or parents were from there, they went to university there, what they know about college football or the college baseball championships in Nebraska, or even that they have a tie with corn on it from there…

Corn has become the main topic of conversation for people. As in “they grow a lot of corn there, right?” or “I hope you like corn.”

Some people just decided to share corny jokes with me. I’d pop one into the blog if I had a good one, but people might be looking to this blog for kernels of wisdom.

OK, here’s one: What has ears but cannot hear? A field of corn.

Maybe I should stick to my day job… hmm … actually, I am at a point where I am between my day jobs. But before anyone runs off screaming from the corn punishment, I assure you I am much too busy packing boxes for my move and couldn’t possibly think of any more corn humor to puntificate about.

But I digress from the subject of moving.

As I prepare to move, I have found nightly visitors have decided it’s time to bid me farewell. Currently I am juggling a family of raccoons and a skunk. The latter seems most determined to visit the cats’ food dish. The cats seem determined to run after the skunk. I fear that at some point the skunk will run after the cats. I am willing to bet it will be the day I leave for Nebraska, and the cats will be determined to climb into the car as I load it up for the trip. That would be a catastrophe. Especially if the cats decide to hitch a ride with me up until say, Hood River.

So if you see a packed car — with a yowling cat, Oregon license plates, and faint skunk odor trailing it pass through your West/Midwest states later this week — don’t worry.

I’m just reliving the settlers’ journey (with a few changes) on the Oregon Trail in the opposite direction.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New video player

We are testing out a new video posting tool. Our YouTube channel is available at the bottom of this page. Above is the one we are trying out. If you have a preference, let us know.

Coyotes in a Field of Dreams.

On occasion when my office day lags for my break I will saunter into the Circulation Department at work, by stealth snipe a piece of chocolate from Claudia's desk bowl and a get a laugh or two. Today's diversionary conversations were largely about life's disappointments such as her empty chocolates bowl, various uses of hard licorice, and eventually to what was growning on her farm.

"We have corn, seed and beans," said Claudia.

"You are bona fide Farmer then! I don't imagine the seed tastes very good though." I said joking.

"We grow lawn seed." she said.

"Hmm. Then you must be kind of like dentists with white teeth. You must have a perfect lawn!"

"No," said Claudia. "Our lawn is a nightmare of weeds. Didn't you know the cobbler's children never have shoes?"

"Hmm. What a disappointment. I thought for sure a lawn seed farmer would have an immaculate personal lawn."

"My husband is too busy to keep the lawn perfect, and right now, he would be just mowing the Dandelions."

I grimaced in disappointment that I without a doubt will leave the office today without a helpful hint to keep my lawn more perfect than the neighbor's across the street. We Oregonians are very proud of our lawns. It's like war. An attitude that is healthy for the lawn fertilizer industry.

Time to change the subject in order to get another piece of licorice:

"Claudia, tell me about the your corn. Do you ever see baseball players in it?"

"No. I do go walking in the corn. No baseball players like the movie Field of Dreams. I did see some coyote droppings and a bunny."

I thought to myself, maybe farming isn't all its cracked up to be. Weeds, dandelions and coyote poop. I decided not to ask about the beans.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Shein brought added dimensions to paper and blog

The Capital Press and Blogriculture are about to lose a key member of our team.

If you have been a regular reader of this blog, you know that Elaine Shein, the executive editor of Capital Press, has been the primary contributor here for quite a while. Well, Elaine is soon to be moving on to other pastures. I know not everyone who reads this site also reads the Capital Press, so you may not have heard that news or read the column published Friday by Carl Sampson, the managing editor of Capital Press.

In these, her final days with us, I wanted to make sure you all got a chance to learn about her pending departure before she was gone.

What follows is Carl's column about Elaine's departure.

Shein brought added dimensions to paper
After five years, executive editor moves to DTN in Nebraska

By Carl Sampson
Capital Press

Next week will be Executive Editor Elaine Shein's last with the Capital Press. She has accepted a position with DTN as an associate managing editor at its Omaha, Neb., headquarters. DTN provides market and weather information, as well as news to customers in agriculture and other industries.

During her five years at the Capital Press, Shein has brought added vigor and intelligence to our coverage of Western agriculture. She has traveled around the region learning about the issues facing farmers and ranchers and applied that knowledge to our news reports.

She also helped lead special projects that broadened our coverage. Shein was a key player in our first special report on "Water in the West." That report received a first-place award from the American Agricultural Editors Association, as did the two following special reports.

She shepherded another award-winning series on climate change that involved editors, reporters and photographers from our sister newspapers in the East Oregonian Publishing Co. that received several national and international awards.

Shein's tenure at the Capital Press has been about more than winning awards. Her membership and participation in agricultural organizations such as Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation and the Agri-Business Council of Oregon have brought those groups fresh ideas to help get the word out about the importance of agriculture to every American.

This year she served as Oregon's AITC president, secretary for ABC's executive board, and also chair of the Keeping Ag Viable committee for ABC.

Last fall, she facilitated a retreat for representatives from agricultural groups around the state that led this spring to a consumer survey on agricultural attitudes.

Shein, 43, is a native of Alticane, Saskatchewan, where her parents run a farm that produces beef cattle, wheat, oats, barley, rye, canola, peas, lentils and forage.

She is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. Shein started her career as a reporter for the Leader-Post in Regina, Sask., while working on a second degree, in journalism and communications, from the University of Regina.

She worked for several months at Gemini News Service in London before joining the Western Producer, Canada's largest agricultural newspaper that covers much of western Canada.

During her 14 years there, she worked her way up the ladder to become editor and deputy publisher.

In her new job in Nebraska, Shein will find herself in a place that is in many ways different from the West. In the Midwest, corn, soybeans and wheat are king and cattle and hogs are the mainstay of livestock producers.

In other ways, though, she'll find herself right at home among the farmers and ranchers that she has cared about most during her career here and in Canada.

We all wish Elaine the best in her new job.

Managing Editor Carl Sampson is based in Salem, Ore. E-mail:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Too late late for press? That depends where you look

The Capital Press has the wrong deadline for reporting agriculture news to our print readers. I'm not sure what the right one is, but I know it's not the one we've got.

Today, minutes after all of our news pages were done and gone, a pretty big story broke. Korea lifted its ban on U.S. beef. That's an international story with economic and political ramifications. Korean citizens have been protesting about the issue, the South Korean government has been put into turmoil because of the protests. It's a pretty big deal here too, as it opens what has historically been one of the biggest export markets for U.S. beef. Having more consumers for U.S. beef could help cattle producers in this country, who have have been locked out of that market since 2003, and are now facing higher feed costs.

But because of that deadline, people who only read the ink-on-paper editions of Capital Press won't read that story when there paper gets to them in a few days.

As a news guy, that makes me a little crazy, especially since that last news page that went out today was a page I put together and it had two stories on it related to the turmoil over getting U.S. beef back into Korea. In a matter of a few minutes, one of those stories became outdated. Old news. It's enough to drive a newsman insane.

And it probably would have left me talking to myself and drooling on my shoes except for one thing. We posted that new news online and sent out a breaking news alert to people who have subscribed to our electronic newsletter even before the first splash of ink hit the newsprint for this week's edition.

I don't know how much readers think about things like deadlines, but I will share some insider information here, in case anyone is curious.

The Capital Press "publishes" every Friday. That's the day it is available at our newsstand locations and, ideally, reaches people's homes or offices. I say ideally, because the paper gets delivered to people's homes and offices via the U.S. Postal Service and the federal government does things on its own timeline, which means it isn't necessarily our timeline.

In order for us to have any shot at getting a mail-delivered paper to people on Friday means we have to get it in the mail early on Thursday. As most people may know who have ever placed a Classified ad with the paper, we accept classified ads up to noon on Wednesday. So we send our final pages to the press by 5 to 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

As luck would have it, a lot of the big ag news events happen after our print deadlines and still before the paper gets to most of our subscribers. Key announcement in federal or state policies affecting agriculture always seem to be made on a Thursday or a Friday. Several key votes or actions related to the farm bill over the last year have happened on Fridays or Thursdays.


Maddening, except for what people like you, readers of blogs and websites, already know. With the Internet, there are no deadlines. It's never too late to publish. There is no need to yell "stop the presses" because this medium is digital. It's not about ink and paper, it's about pixels and bandwidth. And it's about delivering news and information when the news is still new.

I recently celebrated my third anniversary at the Capital Press. Unfortunately, I have not made many blog posts here on our Blogriculture site. In fact all of us Capital Press bloggers have been blogging less than we may want to contribute here. But I hope we can be forgiven for being away. Things are changing. This blog was originally started as a means to report things in a different medium and a different way than we were doing in print or even online on our website. It's been a test plot to try new things. Some of the things and features that debuted here eventually moved to our main site.

Collectively, our time is being spent putting more energy and emphasis into our main site and our print product, including more emphasis on things like video. We have not been away because we are not committed to the web. To the contrary, we are dialing up our efforts to share agriculture news and information in new and different ways in a world were there are no deadlines and it's never too late to tell people more and give them new information.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tomato scare hurts farmers

As the nation once again tries to pinpoint the source of salmonella-tainted food, the agricultural industry in the West probably let out a collective sigh of relief that this time the problem did not originate here.

However, as investigations into the source of the problem continue, Western vegetable growers will remain cautious about how to better prevent this from happening here. They will also analyze how this latest scare with consumers will impact their upcoming sales season.

Fresh and processed tomatoes are worth more than $2 billion in annual farm cash receipts: Fresh-market tomatoes are grown in every state, and commercial production is in 20 states, according to the USDA.

California had the most to win — and lose — as the complicated investigation continues into what caused more than 227 people in 23 states to be sick by June 17, up almost 50 from a week earlier. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had first been alerted of people being ill from salmonella bacteria on May 30.

The challenge has been that people have gotten sick in restaurants as well as homes, and unlike packaged or canned fruits, vegetables or meats, tomatoes don’t have bar code labels and are often placed in big lots from several farms and suppliers. According to a Los Angeles Times story, this is the 13th time since 1990 that an outbreak of salmonella was traced to tomatoes.

The Times quoted Rep. John D. Ingell (D-Mich.) as criticizing FDA and the Bush administration for being so slow to act on FDA’s Food Protection Plan, introduced in November 2007 but which still hasn’t been fully implemented.

“We face yet another food crisis,” the Times quoted Ingell. “It has sickened people, devastated an entire industry and cost consumers, producers and retailers millions of dollars.”

Why was it so important for California to identify the source of the crisis?

California shares with Florida that distinction of being one of the top producers of fresh-market tomatoes, with each state producing 40,000 acres, and together they supply two-thirds to three-fourths of the total U.S. fresh-tomato acreage.

California is the top producer of all tomatoes, with 95 percent of the U.S. fresh processing and one third of the fresh market, reports USDA.

Meanwhile, imports of fresh tomatoes — mainly from Mexico — have grown to be one-third of the tomatoes consumed in the country. Imports increased as tomatoes have grown to be the fourth most-popular fresh-market vegetable.

While those searching for the cause of the salmonella were still searching this week and strongly suspected Mexico and the central and southern parts of Florida, there were fears the exact problem source may never be found.

As long as the sources of salmonella elude investigators, consumers may unfairly and irrationally remain nervous about buying all types of fresh-market tomatoes, no matter how and where they are grown, marketed or prepared for a meal.

Commissioner for Food and Drugs Andrew von Eschenbach in his online commentary last week said the FDA can do better in its programs of “prevention, intervention and response.” This included implementing programs under last November’s food protection plan. While he praised facilities such as the new Pacific Regional Lab Southwest in Los Angeles, for its major food-testing and research capabilities thanks to its “sophisticated scientific tools,” he also stressed the need for Congress to approve more FDA funding “so we can address these emerging new challenges and opportunities.”

Laboratories that rely on state funding also yearn to have more money budgeted this year to deal with food safety concerns.

The next few months will be critical as federal and state legislators decide priorities in preparing to fight future safety issues, and they are urged to ensure the tools and manpower are available to track down salmonella and other food dangers quicker.

Hopefully this latest tomato scare will help squeeze out more money before more problems happen and FDA is forced to play catch-up yet again as consumers’ physical health and farmers’ financial health suffer.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Peak mule

A farmer in Tennessee has resorted to using a pair of mules to pull a tractor rake to harvest hay.

T.R. Raymond says the mules are slower than a petroleum-powered tractor, but there are benefits.

"This fuel's so high, you can't afford it," he said. "We can feed these mules cheaper than we can buy fuel. That's the truth."

There's also video of the modified equipment, buy you'll have to sit through an ad and a talking head.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bush veto lets down farmers

During the week when temperatures hit 100 in the West, it would have been hotter if Congress hadn’t finally hammered out a long-awaited farm bill agreement with solid support.

When the final farm bill version passed the House 318 to 106, and the Senate 81 to 15, it ensured enough strength to override the threatened veto by President George W. Bush.

The votes by Congress were needed. On Wednesday, Bush vetoed the bill because he sought key reforms and no new taxes to pay for the farm bill.

In announcing the veto, he had his official mouthpieces offer sharp criticism to legislators.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino urged the politicians to not override the veto, according to Associated Press.

“Members are going to have to think about how they will explain these votes back in their districts at a time when prices are on the rise,” she said. “People are not going to want to see their taxes increase.”

The AP story quoted Perino as saying the bill is $20 billion over the current baseline and “way too much to ask taxpayers right now.”

But the biggest insult to farmers is further comments by Perino: “This bill is bloated,” she said. “When grocery bills are on the rise, Congress is asking families to pay more in subsidies to wealthy farmers at a time of record farm profits.”

It isn’t just “wealthy farmers” who benefit from the farm bill. In fact, two-thirds of the bill’s funds go to nutrition programs such as food stamps and emergency food aid.

As for “record farm profits,” those high prices for commodities are already seeing dips, and not all farmers have seen their particular commodity rise dramatically in the first place.

But what everyone has seen are staggering increases in their input prices eating whatever profits big or small they had made in this past year.

AP reported that “White House budget director Jim Nussle said Americans are frustrated with wasteful government spending and the funneling of taxpayer funds to pet projects.”

What was considered one of the “pet projects” being attacked by critics? More aid in the Northwest for our salmon fishermen.

Few here would argue they are in dire need of help, and something needed to be done fast to save the fishing industry.

While there may be some valid criticisms for the bill, it still deserves to pass. Everyone should urge their politicians to override the President’s veto.

The $300 billion farm bill — down by $5 billion of what the original Senate version requested, and down $4 billion from the original House version — has been an aggravating, frustrating path of politics that kept twisting months after it should have been completed.

Farmers have had to pacify nervous bankers who want stability in farm programs before they provide money for all those sharply rising input costs this spring.

Meanwhile, as we wrote in an editorial a few weeks ago, the process to pass a farm bill has been bogged down in politics, committee jurisdictional skirmishes, financial smoke and mirrors and veto threats.

What was finally accomplished with such strong bipartisan support is not perfect, but has enough in it to satisfy the agricultural community who is unified in demanding the bill move ahead.

Bush’s actions have frustrated politicians on both sides of the political fence, but some of them might actually benefit from his stubborn fight against the proposed bill and forcing an override vote.

“An override vote will benefit a lot of (congressional) members who can then go to their constituents saying they stood up for their farmers,” Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.

Sadly, it was the President that we wanted most to stand up for farmers — and his actions surrounding the farm bill has let the country down.

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