Monday, March 31, 2008

Sideline was great place for watching the ag game

By Scott A. Yates
of Capital Press

Editor's note: Longtime Capital Press reporter is hanging up his notebook and taking up his briefcase. April 4, 2008 will be his last day at Capital Press.

After 21 years being an observer of agriculture, I’m looking forward to being its advocate.
I am departing the Capital Press for the Washington Grain Alliance, where I will assume the post of director of communications.

Working from my Spokane home these past two decades has been a marvelous experience. Unbeknownst to Capital Press readers, I raised three daughters, went through a divorce and (happily, blissfully) remarried during my tenure at the paper.

I also grew from a man with a ponytail who knew next to nothing about agriculture to a man who shaves his head and knows quite a bit about the subject. It has been unique experience learning about the best-kept secret in America: our incredibly productive and safe agricultural food system.

You might think that being on or near the front lines of every food disaster that’s occurred in the past two decades would temper my enthusiasm. Instead, the failures have only reinforced my opinion that the United States has capable, honorable people overseeing a complex system that will never be perfect.

Are there glitches, bad apples, poor examples? Sure, but taken as a whole, I have faith in the system.

Progress is not a place, it’s a process. Working toward excellence doesn’t mean you achieve the goal.

I can’t forecast the future, but I am willing to bet that in 2028 consumers are even more isolated from their food production than they are now.

That’s troubling because the more removed people become, the less likely they care about where their food is grown. And the less they care, the more we, as a nation, will succumb to the temptation to outsource agriculture.

We got a taste, a small inkling, of what depending on foreign sources for our food needs could lead to almost a year ago now.

Remember the Chinese company that sold tainted wheat gluten that was made into pet food. “If you like imported oil, you’ll love imported food” is not just a bumpersticker.

After 21 years covering agriculture, I know “Made in America” means something when it comes the food we produce and consume.

The process isn’t always pretty and rarely clean, descriptions that can also be applied to the politics of agriculture. I started as a reporter for Capital Press when Tom Foley of Washington state’s 5th District was Speaker of the House, a man who could bring home the bacon, but who still got tossed out by farmers who believed his power had isolated him.

His successor, George “The Giant Killer” Nethercutt was a natural at his job. Put on an appropriations subcommittee as reward for having defeated Foley, he was a powerful force from his first day.

Nethercutt loved ruffling feathers, whether it was trying to fire USDA employees for their treatment of his agriculture constituents or becoming the lightning rod for opening trade with Cuba.

Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Wash., has had a harder road to travel. Elected in 2004, she started at the bottom, worked hard and still doesn’t have the visibility of Nethercutt in his first year.
Like Nethercutt, McMorris forsook the agriculture committee for other assignments. She isn’t alone. The entire West is deficient in agriculture committee members in the House and the Senate. Want more clout for the region’s agriculture? Start there.

Although national politics is considered the apex of the art form, don’t count out university politics. There are a lot of brilliant, even noble people at universities, but if there is a more dysfunctional institution, I have not come upon it. What should be utopia all too often devolves into a caste system where enforcing the hierarchy is more important than fulfilling the mission.
When I started at Capital Press in 1986, it meant doing a lot of interviews between 7 and 9 p.m. — after the farmer had gotten in, but before he had gone to bed.

No more. Cell phones have made everybody accessible everywhere. I’ve talked to farmers in their pickups, combines and tractors. I’ve talked to them on vacation. I’ve talked to them overseas.

Communication advances have, in fact, shaped my time at Capital Press.

In the early days, I shipped strips of negatives by Greyhound bus to Salem. Now, I move digital photographs on my computer from one software program to another and, with the click of a button, send them instantly over the Internet.

Once upon a time, when my children were young and we would all tuck in for a big breakfast, I’d ask them to name all those we should thank for our meal.

Try it sometime. Almost any meal includes a list that is at least a dozen people long before it starts to get complicated. There’s the farmer who grew the wheat for the pancakes, the corn for the syrup, the potatoes for the hash browns, the pork for the sausage, the beans for the coffee, the oranges for the juice.

But don’t stop there.

Agriculture is a system. Thank the USDA inspectors, the country elevator operators, the barge captains, the railroad engineers, the truck drivers, the store stockers.

Aw heck, while you’re at it, go ahead and thank the agricultural reporters, too.

Staff writer Scott Yates is based in Spokane, Wash., until Friday, April 4, 2008.

Read Capital Press Managing Editor Carl Sampson's column about Yates' departure on the Capital Press Website.

Share your views, pics of Clintons, Obama, etc. with Capital Press

President Bill Clinton visited California yesterday, and Oregon today as part of the campaign to elect Sen. Hillary Clinton to represent the Democrats in the presidential election. Clinton spoke in Medford, Ore. last night, and today’s visits include Portland, Salem and Bend.

It’s expected that Hillary Clinton will be through this area of the West in another week or two.

This follows within a couple of weeks of Barack Obama’s visit on March 21.

All these visits — by Democrats and Republicans — to Western states has that stirred people to feel like their vote might actually matter here. The last time presidential candidate came through here was a couple of decades ago, and since then usually election candidates are decided well before primary season hits Oregon.

It’s nice to see people feel like their opinions and votes actually count and that politicians care about them. There’s more than a political buzz in the air: People are being encouraged and influenced to participate, in everything from writing letters to the editor, to attending speeches, to working as volunteers for campaigns they support.

One of the differences from four years ago is the role the Internet is playing in all this. Whether it’s citizen journalists, bloggers, or even families e-mailing each other across the county or country, more people are participating in sharing their latest political news and views. In some ways, the traditional media can end up being ignored or irrelevant because people are turning to so many alternate sources to influence them. The sources might be word-of-mouth (or is that word-of-type?) from people they know, or it might be reading blogs of online political pundits.

At Capital Press newspaper and, we’re still considering what should be our role, especially with our website giving us new ways to not only communicate the news to a wider audience — and much faster — but also be able to encourage our audience to be more interactive and send information to us that we can post.

We invite people to send us their opinions, but also photos, video, etc. that we can post online of what they’re seeing, attending, thinking. If any of you have attended any of the speeches by some of these politicians on the road to the presidency, what was it like? Why did you go, and what did you get from the experience? Did it strengthen or change what you plan to do with your vote? Did you take any pictures you can send us?

To contact us, e-mail us, or send e-mail to me directly.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Housing slump already hurts Silverton, Ore. business

A community in Oregon of approx. 9,000 people is about to feel the impact of a national problem: The sales of new homes is down to a 13-year low, and analysts say this slump could last from 2006 to 2009, according to an Associated Press story.

Meanwhile, according to the Statesman Journal newspaper today, “Champion Enterprises notified Silverton's mayor that it would shut down its Redman Housing plant by May 23” in Silverton, Ore. When the company that builds manufactured homes closes, it will cost about 160 jobs to the community.

While the city hopes another business will buy the manufacturing facilities and generate other jobs, this may be a sign of bigger problems down the road: A recession on its way.

“Many analysts believe the (housing) slump could combine with a multitude of other problems including a severe credit crunch, soaring energy prices and plunging consumer confidence, to push the country into a full-blown recession,” said AP.

Large companies in small towns mean jobs, and when those businesses close down, their impact is huge, not just for those directly who are employed, but for all the other benefits and money injected into the community.

Outside of Silverton, other natural resource industries and businesses will also be watching closely what happens with housing across the country. For example, the slower sale of new homes will hit the timber and nursery industries that supply materials and landscaping to these new homes.

The Western states are supposedly not facing the housing crisis as badly as other states. “Sales dropped the most in the Northeast, falling by 40.6 percent. Sales were also down in the Midwest, dropping by 6.4 percent, but posted gains in the South of 5.7 percent and 0.7 percent in the West,” reported AP.

I’d be curious to hear from our blog readers in other parts of the country on what they are seeing in their communities, especially in how it may affect their rural areas and agricultural businesses.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Clinton "mistake" is like a Monty Python skit

As each new day arrives on the election campaign, and as I hear the different politicians swap "I had it worse, more dangerous, more death-defying, more miserable than you" conditions, I am reminded of Monty Python, with Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, and Terry Gilliam in the "We were poor" skit.

They keep comparing how bad each of them had it when they were growing up, and it degenerates into the following...


GC: House? You were lucky to have a HOUSE! We used to live in one room, all hundred and twenty-six of us, no furniture. Half the floor was missing; we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of FALLING!

TG: You were lucky to have a ROOM! We used to have to live in a corridor!

MP: Ohhhh we used to DREAM of livin' in a corridor! Woulda' been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woken up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us! House!? Hmph.

EI: Well when I say "house" it was only a hole in the ground covered by a piece of tarpaulin, but it was a house to US.

GC: We were evicted from our hole in the ground; we had to go and live in a lake!

TG: You were lucky to have a LAKE! There were a hundred and sixty of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road.

MP: Cardboard box?

TG: Aye.

MP: You were lucky. We lived for three months in a brown paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at 6 o'clock in the morning, clean the bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down mill for 14 hours a day week in, week out. When we got home, out Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt!


You get the general idea of where the skit goes from there.

Today I was reminded of this as I read an AP story about Hillary Rodham Clinton admitting she misspoke, or perhaps made a mistake, about a claim of being under hostile fire while visiting Bosnia in 1996. Guess this is her way of comparing herself to John McCain's prisoner-of-war experiences, or Barack Obama's stories about his family and life.

According to AP, "In a recent speech and interviews, the New York senator described a harrowing scene in Tuzla, Bosnia, in which she and her daughter, Chelsea, had to run for cover as soon as they landed for a visit in 1996. But video footage of the day showed a peaceful reception in which a young girl greeted the first lady on the tarmac.

"Clinton told reporters in Pennsylvania on Tuesday that she erred in describing the scene, which she now realizes after talking with aides and others."

She then explained she was tired, it's been a long campaign, and ... well, what's a little mistake like that?

Hmmm. Is this how it begins? Today ... it's mixing up a greeting by a friendly young girl on the tarmac with being fired at by enemies ... Tomorrow ... you think you saw weapons of mass destruction hiding under somene's dining room table at some state function in a foreign country?

This is more than just a mistake, and this isn't that funny. Clinton is running for the top job in the country, the top decision maker in time of crisis, and the country is relying on her word regarding what is fact and fiction in time of national crisis.

What's a little exaggeration on the campaign trail? The question is, when would the exaggeration stop and what should we believe?

And while yes, 1996 was a few years ago, and perhaps she had travelled a lot and maybe she was in more dangerous circumstances at other points in her life, these things do stick in the memory. One remembers if there was real danger or not.

For example, in 1996 I remember doing an interview at a university in Chile when water cannons and tear gas were used to break up a student demonstration on that campus. I recall the university personnel attempting to rush my colleagues and me away from the danger, asking us to run away as fast as we could up a hill from the campus — and I recall the burning sensation of tear gas affecting my eyes and throat.

Was I in real danger? No. But there definitely was an adrenaline rush and fear of what happens next.

A person tends to remember what's real and not real, even if it was more than 10 years ago.

While Clinton might have been caught this time on her "mistake," it will be interesting to see what she and other political candidates learn from this.

Hopefully we won't hear next about them living in shoebox houses.

Nursery owners hope snow misses them

Nursery owners are watching closely the weather forecasts during the next couple of days.

Unusually cool weather is expected Wednesday and Thursday, according to the National Weather Office, and the foothills and mountains of the Cascades and the Coastal Range are expected to get snow as low as 500 feet and possible accumulations of two to four inches.

That might not sound like a lot, but for nursery owners who have been moving their colorful stock out of the greenhouses to prepare them for shipping to markets, it has become a guessing game of whether their nurseries will escape the snow or not.

Bob Terry, Oregon Association of Nurseries president, said this afternoon that his nursery and others are busy preparing for “just in case” — if the snow appears to be heading their way, the nurseries will try to cover up as many of their more vulnerable plants as possible. While a hard freeze would cause serious damage, the nurseries don’t want to take any chances with unusual snowfalls this time of year.

This is the critical time for nurseries as they try to get their plants ready for the eager gardeners across the country. The calendar says it’s spring, even if there remains a lot of wintry weather in some areas; West Coast nurseries play an important role in helping meet the demand of retail and wholesale markets.

Hopefully, the weather office is wrong on how low temperatures will get and how low of elevations any snow will accumulate, and the snow will fall on the mountains where a healthy snow pack is always welcome.

Monday, March 24, 2008

FFA celebrates 80th with pride — and promise for the future

Oregon FFA executive secretary Mike Stebbins and Oregon FFA state president Sheryden Root accept the Excellence in Education award presented to the state FFA organization by Oregon director of agriculture Katy Coba during the Ag Progress Awards Dinner in Pendleton on March 18.

Chances are, if you’re involved in agriculture or have attended an agricultural event, you’ve seen the familiar blue jackets, or perhaps interacted with or been helped by a member of the National FFA Organization.

Across the country, along with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, there are 7,358 chapters and almost 501,000 members in the organization that is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year.
Their motto since 1928 has been “learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live, and living to serve.”

There is a good chance that FFA members will continue to serve agriculture, even long after they are no longer members.

In Pendleton this week, the state annual meeting gave enthusiastic members a chance to demonstrate their speaking skills, agricultural production and marketing knowledge, and their science projects to help agriculture in the future.

Members shared how they work on their parents’ farms, doing such hands-on things as developing grass seed varieties and eliminating exotic weeds, and breeding and raising sheep and cattle for sale. But they also showed their work on science experiments, such as extracting oil from the invasive weed Scotch broom and turning it into biofuel.

Known as Future Farmers of America until 1988, FFA has continued to grow and adapt to the changing times and challenges.

This was one of the reasons the state FFA was honored just a few days earlier by the Oregon Department of Agriculture with an Ag Progress Award.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture noted, when the Excellence in Education Award was presented, that FFA has “more contemporary ag programs (that) are now capturing the attention of students, including greenhouse and nursery operations, landscape management, and agri-business. These new fields reflect the diversity of Oregon agriculture and forestry, and have resulted in an increase in the number of students involved in Oregon FFA following years of decline.”

“Any student in grades 7 to 12 who is enrolled in an agriculture course at a public school may join FFA,” explains national FFA literature. While many people might assume FFA is mostly rural teenagers, that’s not the case. More than 70 percent of its membership “are from rural non-farm, urban and suburban areas,” according to FFA’s website.

However, the organization remains a strong influence on the goals it has focused: to develop leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education.

While each week the kids learn about agriculture in classrooms, meetings and even attending agricultural shows, the success of FFA has a lot to do with the passion and involvement of the members, their advisors and the agribusiness community that has helped support the program for so many decades.

It has become a win-win for all sides. The agribusinesses have been able to influence and hire bright, talented, well-educated, confident and eager FFA members to help the industry for the future. Most importantly, these teenagers have shown how passionate they can be about agriculture — whether or not they will remain in it after they graduate.

In the West, there are many agricultural business leaders that proudly share they have been involved in the past with FFA, or currently have children that are FFA members, and they are praise the influence of the organization.

Oregon FFA state president Sheryden Root, when she accepted the ODA award from director of agriculture Katy Coba on March 18 in Pendleton, talked about how she and state officers traveled around the state this past year to “every single FFA chapter” — an impressive accomplishment, with the 104 chapters scattered around the state serving more than 4,600 members.

Root talked about what she met: “A truly amazing group of students that are excited about agriculture, that are ready to make a difference in the industry.”

In Oregon, as well as the other Western states, indeed the agriculture industry will benefit from the difference this next generation will make from their involvement in FFA.

(More online: To see more on the FFA annual meeting in Pendleton, including a photo gallery, see coverage in For more on national FFA, see

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring fling

Capital Press advertising staff members from four states gathered in our Salem, Ore., office this week. Staff members meet at Capital Press HQ twice a year for a planning and training session. One of the big topics of conversation at this week's meetings was how advertising representatives can help clients reach their customers in print and online.

Technology now allows the Capital Press to serve clients and readers in a variety of ways beyond our best known medium of ink-on-paper. In the future, you may even see video used on Capital Press websites.

As a little demonstration, today I shot some photos and a snippet of video using a cell phone camera. You probably won't hear the audio, and the video is bad, but I just wanted to demonstrate what's possible with simple tools widely available to the public for the Capital Press staff.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Entering our third spring planting

Two years ago, on March 15, 2006, a little experiment began. This blog site was created on that date. If you read the post I wrote on that date, it's apparent I was anything by convinced that the blog would have a long life. Back then, I wasn't sure it would last a month, let alone two years.

Some of the things that we tried on this site have gone on to be included on the Capital Press website. This as been a fertile test plot for our staff to try new things.

I'll leave it up to others to measure how much success we can claim here. But the site has been going for two years now. It has grown into something of a team effort, with 6 members of our staff signed on as contributors. And we are closing in on 21,ooo visits to the site. That's pretty tame in blog terms. It's also just somewhere north of half the readers we reach every week with our print newspaper, the Capital Press. But we've learned a lot in those two years.

For one thing, the people who visit our blog come from a wider national, and international, base than our print readership. We've also learned that some of the people who find our blog or our main website come here because they are interested in the issues that affect agriculture and how that it affects the food they eat. They want to know more about how their food is grown, even if they are not commercial growers of food and fiber. So our blog and our website allow us to reach people we would not ordinarily reach.

Whatever your reason for visiting Blogriculture, we want to thank you for your role in taking what was an experiment for a season and helping turn it into a perennial crop.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Urban farming

As urban sprawl takes over farmland, some people are trying to bring the farm downtown.

AeroGrow is attempting to bring a niche farming technology to the kitchen for people who love fresh herbs and vegetables but don't want (or can't have) a full garden. While it may not offer a lot of opportunities for the average farmer or nursery (it's proprietary and marketed via TV), its success shows there is a segment of urbanites willing to spend for a touch of fresh flavor.

The plants are greener on the other side of the wall too, as vertical gardening demonstrates. It's expensive, at $900 to $1,800 a square meter, but if environmentalism gets more popular, more people and companies will pay a lot for a green facade.

It shouldn't be that surprising that kitchen tomatoes and jungle walls are growing in popularity — people are even raising chickens in New York City.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Gilligan’s Island actress in hot water

Most people when they think of Dawn Wells, they think of the perky Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island.
However, in the ag community she is a perky spokesperson that helps promote Idaho potatoes and gives great cooking tips in commercials and on YouTube like how to peel a potato with just hot water and some ice cubes.

However, now Wells might be too much a hot potato herself: The Idaho Potato Commission might want to stay away from using her to promote their healthy, wholesome product.

Seems there was more cookin’ lately with her…

An Associated Press story this afternoon said Wells will “serve six months’ unsupervised probation after allegedly being caught with marijuana in her car.” (Click here to see related AP video.)

More from AP:

“She was sentenced Feb. 29 to five days in jail, fined $410.50 and placed on probation after pleading guilty to one count of reckless driving.

Under a plea agreement, three misdemeanor counts — driving under the influence, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a controlled substance — were dropped.

On Oct. 18, Teton County sheriff's Deputy Joseph Gutierrez arrested Wells as she was driving home from a surprise birthday party that was held for her. According to the sheriff's office report, Gutierrez pulled Wells over after noticing her swerve and repeatedly speed up and slow down. When Gutierrez asked about a marijuana smell, Wells said she'd just given a ride to three hitchhikers and had dropped them off when they began smoking something. Gutierrez found half-smoked joints and two small cases used to store marijuana.

The 69-year-old Wells, founder of the Idaho Film and Television Institute and organizer of the region's annual family movie festival called the Spud Fest, then failed a sobriety test.

Wells' lawyer, Ron Swafford, said that a friend of Wells' testified that he'd left a small amount of marijuana in the vehicle after using it that day, and that Wells was unaware of it. Swafford also said several witnesses were prepared to testify that Wells had very little to drink at the party and was not intoxicated when she left. He said she was swerving on the road because she was trying to find the heater controls in her new car."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Little moth stirs up big controversy

I got an e-mail this afternoon from Amber Dance, an intern for California public radio station KQED's science program, Quest. Amber was kind enough to share a link to a recent report on the program about efforts to eradicate the light brown apple moth in California.

We've been covering that issue rather extensively in our California edition of Capital Press, with much of that reporting coming from staff member Elizabeth Larson. As if the moth itself weren't enough of a pest, in recent months the efforts to get rid of it have gotten pesky too.

Overall, the Quest report, which originally aired Thursday, March 6, does a good job of explaining a complex and controversial issue. One part of the broadcast that's likely to draw grumbles comes near the end of the report where the light brown apple moth is compared to the Medfly. James Carey, a professor of entomology at the University of California-Davis, draws the comparison and the report cites Carey's experience related to the Medfly eradication efforts using Malathion in the 1980s. The report may give the erroneous impression that the pheromone used to disrupt the mating of the apple moth poses a similar toxicity exposure as does Malathion, which is a pesticide designed to kill -- not just confuse -- insects (click here for the pdf of the consensus statement on possible health effects of the pheromone). And, to be clear, the story does not say the pheromone poses those health risks, but it does quote people who believe the pheromone is, or could be, harmful and don't want it applied near them or their families.

One thing is for sure, this issue is stirring up controversy, and the Capital Press and other media outlets are not anywhere near done reporting about it and the views of people in agriculture and urban areas who have a stake in the outcome.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Portland-area market promotes 'buy local' philosophy

The folks at New Seasons Market want to give consumers a change to meet the folks that raise their food. They've done a nice little video to promote a lamb-tasting event they've got going on this weekend.

I stumbled upon it this week on YouTube, which was pretty exciting to see something about agriculture right here on the West Coast in an online video. In this case they are promoting the whole "buy local" philosophy.

I've been toying with the idea of highlighting agriculture related videos here on the Blogriculture site. So I thought, as something of a test drive of that idea, I'd share the New Seasons video with Blogriculture visitors. It's interesting to see how those in and around the ag industry are using the Internet.

New Seasons also has some videos on its YouTube channel to introduce people to farmers and ranchers who grow for their markets.

Ag in the West social media watch

Capital Press videos on YouTube

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