Friday, February 29, 2008

Guest writer says goodbye (at least for now)

Something's missing from the ol' Blogriculture site.

Our regular Friday contributor, Kevin Duling of Maupin, Ore., who has written a column for the Capital Press blog has opted to put his time and energy into other pursuits. So, unfortunately, we won't be seeing any new Friday post from Kevin.

We sure enjoyed his contributions though and I know Kevin enjoyed hearing from people who read the things he wrote and took the time to write to him.

Thanks a lot Kevin, we enjoyed having you, or at least your words, featured here on Blogriculture. Good luck with the farm and your pending nuptials.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Video from the World Ag Expo

Capital Press photo coordinator Mark Rozin has put a video together from his first trip to the World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif.

If you would like to see more of Mark's images, but of the still variety, check out his photo gallery.

You can see more of the Capital Press coverage of the World Ag Expo here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sesquicentennial award honors Oregon pioneers

Wearing his blue FFA jacket, 15-year-old Thomas Moore listened to a presentation about how his ancestor, William Hatchette Vaughan, was part of the first wagon train to go all the way from Missouri to Oregon in 1843’s migration, eventually settling near Molalla. Cattle are still raised on a 107-acre parcel left from the original claim made 164 years ago.

Moore’s family was one of 14 that received sesquicentennial awards at a ceremony held by the Oregon Century Farm and Ranch Program on Feb. 14 in Salem.

For Moore, who traveled seven hours with his grandparents from Fox, Ore., to attend the ceremony, it was a learning experience. Although his grandfather had shared stories about the past, Moore said he “didn’t really know about this stuff, and I learned a lot today about agriculture.” One of the things that stood out was “people sticking with the family farms and not letting other people take it over.”

Speakers during the ceremony said several times how agriculture faces challenges, and hasn’t always been viewed in a positive light.

“There are some who I think would opine that we rape and pillage the land, and take from it and don’t give back,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Kruse, a farmer himself. He said the best way to fight this is for those critics “to be able to hear the real story of the struggles, of the love for the land, of what we’ve done to give back.” Kruse said farmers all have given back to the farms, the land and their communities.

Kruse said he hoped that sharing the stories might influence urban people and politicians so they “won’t try to stop us from farming.”

Democratic Rep. Chris Edwards, a non-farmer from Lane County, is a fifth-generation Oregonian. He described his district: “If there’s an issue that is controversial and involves land use, pesticide use and a whole lot of people continuously growing out into the farm country, it resides right in my district.”

However, Edwards thanked farmers for what they do. “You’ve been a rich part of Oregon’s history, and will continue to be a good part of Oregon’s future, if any of us have something to say about it in Oregon’s Legislature.”

He admitted that there are people who don’t understand natural resource-based industries, “but there are a lot of us that do get it and will continue to support you from both sides of the aisle.”

Moore and his family know what it’s like to have other people try to influence their farming practices.

“I understand that very well,” said Moore’s grandfather, Jack Johns. “I’m in two lawsuits right now, trying to keep my cattle, to be able to turn them out on national forest.”

Johns’ family has two century farms, including the one in Fox and the one on Molalla that is run with 30 cousins as a partnership.

On his Eastern Oregon ranch, Johns has about 650 cows and has fought the last 10 years — with the last three in courts — to graze his cattle on Malheur National Forest land.

“If we don’t win this one, we might not turn them out this spring. We’ll just have to cut our cattle in about half,” Johns said.
Yet Johns knows his ancestor, William Hatchette Vaughan, faced big challenges of his own. He explained that Vaughan came to Oregon in 1843 on the wagon train. He first was in Oregon City, where he built a barn “where the courthouse is now, and in the spring of ’44, he raised his wagon, right where the elevator is, with horses and ropes and came to Molalla.” Vaughan was only the second white man to try to settle in Molalla — the first one was run off the land the year before.

“It had to be very, very tough,” he said. “Just think, raising a wagon where that elevator is, just to get started to go home, to make a home. And he had many a scrape with the Indians before he became friends with them.”

The original farmhouse still stands near Molalla, and is owned by a cousin, Champ Vaughan. The original Vaughan “never put a dime in it. It was all barter, he had his own sawmill, and he cut his own lumber.”

Other sesquicenntenial award winners could relate.

Jim Heater’s ancestors also worked with timber. They needed to slash, cut and burn heavy timber to open enough ground to grow crops for their cattle.

Lorenzo and Sophia Heater founded their farm in 1852 near Sublimity, Ore. Lorenzo Heater had first seen the land when he came out from Iowa with his brothers. He left for the California gold fields, went to Panama and crossed it, and didn’t get back to Oregon until a year and a half later.

“But in the meantime, there was a squatter that had come on some of the land that (Lorenzo) had intended to homestead,” said Heater. “The squatter hadn’t done too well. One of his oxen had died, and he was kind of in a bad condition.”

So Lorenzo Heater struck a deal. He gave the squatter one of his oxen and a new pair of britches he had brought back from Missouri — and got his land back.

His descendants have raised everything from cattle to hops, small grains to strawberries. Jim Heater said they mainly grow Christmas trees along with nursery and small grains crops.

Heater reminisces about the past. “It was a lot different then. Things moved a lot more slowly, you accomplished things a lot more slowly. The world events weren’t quite as close on your coattails as today. … I’ve often thought that I’d like to go back and live in that time once in a while, and just kind of get a good flavor for what those ancestors had to go through, because they had to be terribly stout, terribly dedicated people.”

Executive editor Elaine Shein is based in Salem. E-mail.

More online
Audio: Click here.
Oregon Century Farm and Ranch Program:
Information: Glenn Mason, coordinator, at 503-297-5892 or e-mail.

The 14 families honored on Feb. 14 were:
Robert Friedrich, Clackamas County.
Jack E. Johns, Clackamas County.
William MacFarlane, Clackamas County.
Victor Ted Birdseye II, Jackson County.
Stephen Ford-Ford Farms, Lane County.
Dwane Richardson, Lane County.
Donald H. and Dona Coon, Mike and Tami Coon, Linn County.
Frank E. Herrling, Linn County.
Joyce Jackson Martinak and Art J. Martinak, Linn County.
Richard Rice, Linn County.
James and Timothy Heater, Marion County.
Dean Arthur McKay, Marion County.
Guy and Mary Ann Scott, Marion County.
Ann D. Vasconi and John H. Davenport, Marion County.

Lunar eclipse in Oregon

What was rarer: a clear winter night on the West Coast, or a full lunar eclipse?

For those of us here, considering all the rainy weather and fog we received during the winter, it was a delight to have an exceptionally clear night and be able to witness the last full lunar eclipse until 2010.

These images were taken from my backyard in Salem, Oregon.

Monday, February 18, 2008

How much is the rising flour price connected to wheat prices?

On both sides of the international border, farmers have been frustrated to hear consumers — and media — blame higher food prices on the better prices seen for commodities.

First of all, farmers do deserve higher prices for the grains and commodities they produce.

However, it is incorrect to assume that farmers are enjoying windfalls thanks to the higher food prices seen on store shelves.

Lorne McClinton is a Saskatchewan wheat farmer who is also an agriculture journalist in Canada. He writes for The Furrow in the U.S. and other publications in North America.

McClinton shared some of his frustrations today on the Canadian Farm Writer Federation listserv, and helped put into perspective what is happening with grain prices in Canada and what it means to farmers there.

“The mainstream press ran a story on the weekend about how increasing wheat prices have doubled the price of flour,” wrote McClinton. “The story also gave the false impression that this would automatically double the price of bread, too. While the price of grain is one component of a food product’s final price, it is not the only component, and in most cases not even the main component.”

McClinton then gave a few statistics to put things into context.

“A bushel of top quality Canadian hard red spring wheat makes approximately 67 -16 oz loaves of bread. Assuming a wheat price, to producers, of $8 a bushel, there’s about 12 cents worth of wheat in a loaf of bread. Even if wheat hits $20/bushel, that would work out to about 30 cents per loaf, well below the price spread bread between Safeway and 7/11.

“Makers of top quality pasta, made from semolina, have a bigger reason to complain about rising prices. One bushel of durum (60 lbs) makes 42 lbs of semolina-based pasta. Last year durum was selling for $5/bu. That translates to 12 cents per pound of pasta. This year durum is selling for about $20/bu or about 48 cents per pound of pasta.

“Any increase in the price of beer though can hardly be blamed on the price of barley. A bushel of barley yields a bushel of malt, many beers use about a bushel of malt per barrel of beer, (333 bottles). Currently the Canadian Wheat Board (world’s largest exporter) is selling barley at $8.50/bu that works out to about 2.55 cents per bottle of beer. (Last year it sold for half that 1.25 cents per bottle),” wrote McClinton.

For American grain farmers, the numbers sound familiar. They also serve as a reminder that even though farmers around the world compete against each other for international market share to sell their crops, farmers in other places share equal challenges when it comes to what actually is their share of the price tag on food and beverages.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Foggy road at World Ag Expo causes crashes, finds heroes

When our staff heard yesterday about a foggy 50-car pile-up north of Tulare, Calif. during the first day of the World Ag Expo, our first concern was whether our gang of staff traveling to WAE that morning were all safe.

They would have all been taking that same route, near Kingsburg, Calif., around that same time, prior to 9 a.m. Fortunately, we were relieved to hear they were all okay, although our photographer Mark Rozin did go past some vehicles on the side of the road that might have been the beginning of the mess.

According to an Associated Press story, “The chain-reaction accident Tuesday morning shut down a portion of Highway 99’s southbound lanes and scattered broken glass and mangled cars along a three-mile stretch in Kingsburg. Visibility was just 50 feet when CHP officers got to the scene.”

Later, police revised their estimate of vehicles, saying there were actually 15 — not 50 — vehicles involved, and this included three semi-trailers.

The Fresno Bee said two people were critically injured among the dozen victims from the series of crashes.

The Bee also reported yesterday that one of the vehicles involved included a busload of Canadians who were heading down to the World Ag Expo. It would be easily to assume several other people involved in the accident may also have been bound for the show.

Dense fog is nothing new to that area. There are signs warning to test distances that can be seen in fog, and anyone who has participated in an Expo or two knows to bundle warmly for those damp, dull mornings.

Unfortunately, on Highway 99, everyone always seems to be in a hurry no matter what the weather or road conditions.

A story in today’s Fresno Bee described the scene. “Truck driver Victor Dubinetskiy, who drives between Sacramento and Tulare three or four times a week, said he was stunned by how fast the thick blanket of fog dropped in front of him. He said good Samaritans may have prevented even more crashes. Dubinetskiy, 29, said several men ran along the side of the road, waving their arms at him and other approaching motorists and shouting at them to slow down.”

The Bee talked to Mike Fitzgerald, service manager at Oxbo International, a farm-equipment dealer and service shop near the freeway, who was one of the people who was trying to wave people to slow down.

“I was outside walking to another building when I heard a skid and then an impact, then a second skid and an impact, then I heard a truck crash,” Fitzgerald told the Bee, “and then after that you just continued to hear the crashes.”

The Bee added, “Fitzgerald said he and one of his employees hopped the fence and onto the freeway. While the other worker ran to help one driver who was hurt, Fitzgerald ran north along the edge of the freeway for about 200 yards, waving his jacket over his head to warn oncoming drivers of the danger ahead.

“All I could think of was trying to slow them down,” he said to the Bee. “I haven't run that hard in years.”

Talk about true heroes. How many people would run in the middle of a dangerous, foggy California highway during rush hour and put their lives on the line to save the lives of others?

Our baseball caps/cowboy hats are gratefully off to honor Fitzgerald and his employee, and are thankful nothing happened to them.

(For people who want to see what the World Ag Expo looked like in the fog, go to and click on the tile on the homepage that links you to see photos from the Expo.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Following a fire: what happens next?

My route to work took me past a house that has sat dark more than a week.

There’s a small pile in the driveway of some burnt materials such as drywall, and a free community newspaper that was tossed there last weekend remains still in its plastic wrapper.

The house remains devoid of life, silent.

Looking oddly out of place, a large blue tarp is draped on part of the house’s back wall. The tarp covers a hole made by firefighters sawing through the house siding to tackle a fire that started one evening less than two weeks ago.

That evening, there had been no towering flames, just smoke that billowed out the front and back of the house through any open doors or holes. Sparks had flown at one point when a firefighter had to climb a ladder and snip the power lines to the house. The power company had not yet arrived to help out; that would be about another half hour or so.

The screaming sirens that evening, from several fire engines and police cars, attracted a few neighbors to wander occasionally over to settle their curiosity. On a chilly night, most people didn’t stay long. A couple teenaged brothers from down the block watched for a while, they decided to go back to their suppers grown cold. A woman out for an evening walk with her elderly mother gingerly crossed the street to ask what was going on, then decided to return back to their warm home.

The firefighters toiled at their jobs. They kept floodlights on the house from as many sides as possible. Used chainsaws to cut into a house. Unrolled water hoses to attach to fire hydrants. Entered the house where they could, climbed ladders to investigate more, drank water when possible as they coughed through the smoky conditions.

Families that lived directly across the street from the affected house gathered on their lawns and sidewalks. They chatted to other neighbors from a few blocks around. They tried to guess the cause of the fire, share what they knew about who owned the house and what was its history.

Near the house, a woman appeared and carried a young child snuggled close to her. Walking among the fire engines, she paused to stop and talk to the firefighters and other emergency services staff.

Spotting the small crowd gathered across the road, she gathered her courage — and walked over.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m your new neighbor. I just moved in today. And that,” she motioned towards the house, “is my place.”

Immediately she faced many questions, but also received more than that: There was a reassuring pat on her shoulder, offers to help in any way.

The woman’s family, with young children, had moved in that day to rent the house. They had switched on the power, and her spouse has started the washer to do laundry. Seconds later there was a loud POP sound — they hurried back to the laundry room and found flames shooting out of the electrical box, already licking away at the wall above the box.

They rushed out with their kids, phoned 9-1-1, and as fire alarms screeched in the house, the family helplessly realized all their worldly possessions sat in boxes in that smoky house. They had barely any time to even start unpacking that day.

A neighbor next door gave them shelter as fire engines within minutes had raced to contain the fire. Family within town also helped what they could.

“Welcome to the neighborhood,” the neighbors told the mother, who was trying to encourage her sleepy, shy child to say hi to the strangers. Eventually, the mother went over to the ambulance and sat in there for a while away from the cold.

Promising to stay in touch, the neighbors drifted away in the night.

Days later, the house sits cold, dark, blue tarp in the back. All life seems to have vanished from the house and streets around.

* * * *
How a city reacts to a local fire is different than in rural areas.

Sirens and smoke attract the curious, but in this age of seeing spectacular fires on television or on newspaper pages, we have less patience for boring tragedies that happen in our cities.

While a tragedy still impacts a family greatly, a small fire is soon ignored or forgotten. It might not even make the local city newspaper, or if it does, it’s merely a line or two in a police report released a day or two later. Time, place, short explanation of cause if known, that’s about it.

We are attracted to and are fascinated by larger disasters, especially if it happens to someone else. Highway accidents can draw our attention, but unfortunately it’s usually if it’s a fatality, or if it impacts us in some way (we witness the accident, drive by it, or are delayed in our travels because of it.)

Small town newspapers in rural communities go beyond reporting even the smaller accidents and fires — they often say what happened to the families involved, and how people can help out. Rural communities have not become that hardened yet to what happens to neighbors, peers or even strangers who have had fires, accidents or other misfortunes. Usually if there are accidents, no matter how serious, people in the community want to find out what and where it happened, if everyone was okay.

If there are fires, often people in rural communities try to pitch in a hand to help, from being volunteer firefighters, to offering shelter, meals, babysitting or anything else needed to help those affected. They raise money to help out. They want people to know they’re not alone.

Strangers don’t remain strangers for long, and in a time of tragedy, that’s exactly the support a rural community and families need to survive.

In rural communities, a small fire such as that one here recently, would spark long-term warm friendships.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Higher food prices are still a bargain

If you read The Economist in December, an article called “The end of cheap food” might have grabbed your attention.

“Food today is so cheap that the West is battling gluttony even as it scrapes piles of half-eaten leftovers into the bin,” said the magazine.

The story pointed out what a lot of American consumers enjoyed from 1974-2005: “Food prices on world markets fell by three-quarters in real terms.” Since then, “prices have jumped by 75 percent since 2005,” said the magazine.

The magazine said rising prices are due to “agflation” and that emerging economies such as China are growing wealthier, changing their diets, and pushing up demand for certain commodities.

“But the rise in prices is also the self-inflicted result of America’s reckless ethanol subsidies,” said The Economist, which took aim at other government food policies and urged that it was time to “wean rich farmers from subsidies.”

One of the people who counter the argument that encouraging ethanol has impacted food prices is Brent Searle, special assistant to Oregon Department of Agriculture’s director.

Searle said there are a lot of things that increased in price that weren’t tied to corn and ethanol. For example, fruits and vegetables: They were affected by frost, drought, increased demand and other market factors.

Dairy product prices are affected more by supply and demand: Production was having a tougher time meeting the worldwide increase for dairy products.

Searle gave specific examples of how little corn prices affect food products. For example, a box of cornflakes has 10 ounces of corn. Even at $4 a bushel, Searle said, the cornflakes has a nickel of corn. Meanwhile, a can of soda has less than two cents’ worth of corn sweetener; about 18-25 cents per pound of pork is from the corn used for feed.

The main effect on food prices has been “rising energy prices, which have led to higher expenses for processing, packing and transporting food for retail sale,” said the American Farm Bureau Federation today in a press release, as it evaluated food prices.

Even with that increase, food is still cheap in America. USDA’s Economic Research Service released at the end of January that “families spent 9.9 percent of their disposable personal income on food — as disposable personal income continues to climb, the share spent on food declines.”

The research service said Consumer Price Index “for food increased four percent in 2007, the highest annual increase since 1990. Food-at-home prices, led by eggs, dairy, and poultry prices, increased 4.2 percent, while food-away-from-home prices were up 3.6 percent in 2007.”

The latter category continues to grow: Last year, 48.9 percent of food expenditures were away from home.

Oregon Farm Bureau and Farm Bureaus in other states are celebrating Food Check-Out week from Feb. 3-9 to put into perspective what food prices mean for people.

In 37 days, the average household has earned enough disposable income to pay for its annual food supply. In 1970, a family would have needed an extra 14 days to earn income to pay for that food.

In comparison, said the Farm Bureau, as it quoted the Tax Foundation, “Americans work an average of 52 days each year to pay for health and medical insurance, 62 days to pay for housing/household operation, and 77 days to pay federal taxes.”
The Economic Research Service, in its evaluation, forecast that the Consumer Price Index for all food would increase three to four percent in the next year, “as retailers continue to pass on higher commodity and energy costs to consumers in the form of higher retail prices.”

Are food prices going up? Yes.

But it is time to appreciate how cheap food really is in this country, and understand better why the cost is increasing.

The agriculture industry needs to educate consumers so they don’t just mistakenly assume it’s bad farm policy, or that so-called “wealthy” farmers are getting a larger share of the grocery bill.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Small-town football player wins Super Bowl and hearts of Oregonians

Oregon was far from the Super Bowl XLII in Arizona, and even more distant from where the New York Giants play their home games.

Yet, a lot of Oregon — especially rural Oregon — was cheering for Kevin Boss, a rookie tight end playing with the Giants.

Boss, a native of the small town of Philomath, Ore., had attended Division II Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Ore. He had been selected as a fifth-round draft pick, and earned a starting position with the team after his teammate — and mentor — Jeremy Shockey was injured.

You could almost hear the collective roar across the state when Boss made a key 45-yard catch from quarterback Eli Manning on the first play in the fourth quarter. It helped set up the Giants to get their first touchdown, and helped create the momentum that led the Giants to pull off an upset and defeat the New England Patriots who had a perfect record for all season.

In December, the New York Post had done a story about Boss. Talking about Shockey, Boss was quoted, “We’re both from small towns, we’re obviously a long way from a small town right now.”

However, Boss was never far from the minds of people who live in the Oregon small towns that developed a relationship with him over the years. Classmates, teammates, former teachers, friends, even people who might have occasionally just passed him on campus were eager to talk to the media about how much they respect and support Boss. From the comfort of their homes, to loud pubs, people cheered him on.

When Boss returns to Oregon, he’ll be treated as a hero in small towns and big cities. It didn’t matter if he didn’t catch a touchdown pass. Or that he wasn’t the most valuable player. Heck, even if he didn’t catch that 45-yard pass, people still would treat him royally when he returns.

He had shown that someone from an Oregon small town could train hard, persevere, and make it to the most important football game in the country. More importantly, he had proven a person can do this while still retaining the reputation of being respectable, a role model and someone who may one day serve as a mentor for other kids who are perhaps picking up a football for the first time.

This all seemed a great reminder of another small town Oregon hero who made headlines in the baseball world when his team won the World Series this past fall.

Jacoby Ellsbury, a rookie outfielder with the Boston Red Sox, is from Madras, Ore. The graduate from Oregon State University earned media attention for getting four hits in a World Series game, the first time in 61 years that a rookie had done this.

Both Ellsbury and Boss are more than a couple of lucky guys that got breaks when, during their rookie years, they ended up taking the place of others during the last key games of teams destined for victory.

They both contributed significantly to their teams, and earned kudos for being role models during a time when professional sports continues to be under so much scrutiny for the conduct of other athletes. They’ve opened the doors for more talented athletes from the rural West to be taken seriously, but also shown what real heroes can be for sports fans in the future.

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