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.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Is (rural) Oregon's 15 minutes of fame over?

Perhaps the only surprise about this week’s election was it took at least 13-15 minutes before most news organizations officially declared Barack Obama the winner over Hillary Rodham Clinton in Oregon’s Democratic primary.

With the majority of precincts reporting late election night, Obama claimed 58 percent of the vote versus Clinton’s 42 percent. This gave Obama 1,961 pledged and super delegates, against Clinton’s 1,779.

While Obama came just short of claiming victory of the party’s nomination, since he needed 2,026 to cinch the nomination, the math supports that he will be the one that squares off against John McCain.

McCain has already sealed his place with 1,501 delegates when he needed 1,191. He coasted easily to 85 percent of the votes over Ron Paul’s 15 percent in Oregon’s Republican primary.

For the agricultural community in the West, this signals it’s time they seriously evaluate what the next president will mean for their farms and ranches.

Whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat in the White House, putting aside whatever traditional allegiance the farm community feels for a specific party, which candidate will likely impact them the most?

Now is the time to nail down what are the agricultural platforms, and responses to certain issues. Forget the staggering millions of dollars that have been spent on advertising with 30-second clips of promises, or the rock star gathering of more than 70,000 cheering on their candidate in Portland. What are these candidates vowing will be their priorities?

It has been fortunate that the race has lasted so long for one reason: All roads led to Oregon for the candidates as they continued to fight each other. Small towns and cities in this state that never or rarely saw presidential candidates before now could claim they were part of the campaign trail, and they made a difference.

Or at least it appeared that way. Although it was expected to be a record- breaking number of more than 1 million votes in Oregon, that’s still only a bit more than half of registered 2.02 million voters in the state, and a long way off from the almost 73 percent that took part in 1968.

Democratic voters participated more and broke records, with 68 percent of 867,000 registered Democrats voting this week.

While Oregon has been in the center of the political spotlight in recent weeks, it’s too bad that it’s so rare that they are allowed to make a difference: Being this important to an election race once every 40 years or so is unacceptable and cries out for change.

Too often, under the primary system, the battle is over long before the elections are held here.
Hopefully, when the next round squares off between the inevitable Obama and McCain, the candidates won’t forget Oregon and the other western states.

After all, people in eastern Oregon won’t forget that Obama said he’d like to come back for the Pendleton Round-Up.

Hopefully, these presidential candidates will remember the small towns they saw here, the farmers and ranchers they met, and the stories they heard as people sought solutions and answers to challenges they face.

People in rural communities are looking for change. They are clinging to hope. But they will demand and deserve action, and not just goodwill promises made during the heat of an election race.

Media training workshop will help prepare ag community

Near the end of May, a media training workshop is being held in Portland to help people in the ag community understand the media better but also prepare them for doing interviews.

The idea first was suggested last November, and eagerly embraced even by those who quite regularly are interviewed by journalists. Everyone felt you can never get enough training in this area of communication. Sometimes agricultural groups or even individual farmers just want to get their message out, to educate consumers or perhaps influence more positive legislation, image or buying habits.

In today's media environment, sources are pressured to be even more focused, succinct and prepared to give articulate messages within a few seconds. Often these are made to jouralists with threatening deadlines and little background in agriculture.

The workshop will give tips on how to handle these interviews.

Sometimes people find themselves in a crisis management situation — some disaster has struck their industry. It could be BSE, Sudden Oak Death, E. Coli, animal rights abuses or some other unwanted event that throws the spotlight on someone when it might be least expected.

The workshop will provide advice and training on what to do, and also allow people to share anecdotes of things that have happened to them so they can share their collective wisdom on maybe how to handle things differently in the future.

Another part of the workshop will be about the changing technology: Journalists carry new tools, and even print reporters may be using digital cameras, digital audio taperecorders and small camcorders — and be posting stories/audio/video within hours, if not minutes, after an interview.

The workshop will give people a taste of what it's like to face a big TV camera, but also the little camcorders that allow such easy transfer to websites such as YouTube.

Last week, a few people got a taste of this at Oregon Board of Agriculture meeting in Portland.

I carried in our new small camcorder and the digital taperecorder and taped some of what was being presented to the board.

At first some people were unnerved by a little camera on a tripod. They probably would be even more nervous if they thought I might use this as part of the workshop coming up.

But perhaps even more unnerving is realizing the power these new tools — and the changing technology of communication — have and how quickly messages can get out.

I taped an interview with Tammy Dennee of the Oregon Wheat Growers League and posted a few video clips online early Friday morning on YouTube.

By noon today, four days later, one of the videos has had more than 26,000 views. A second clip has more than 900 views.

Welcome to the power of YouTube. It can be very powerful.

But also think of what can be done by those who learn to harness the power.

That is the goal of the media training workshop: Know what can be done with technology, understand the media better, and be prepared to get the right message of agriculture out to audiences.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Poor farmer, rich farmer

Not everyone likes the Farm Bill that's now on its way to President Bush. The New York Times editorial board calls it "disgraceful." The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes that high farmgate prices are "making growers perhaps the most undeserving welfare recipients in American history."


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Weather extremes are a good conversational topic

Anyone looking for an escape from the warm temperatures hitting the West might want to catch a ferry to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. Temperatures during the next few days are expected to hit the high 70s or low 80s, a bit more bearable than the higher 80s or even 90s being forecast for other parts of Oregon and Washington State.

It seems ironic: our Capital Press reporters are still filing stories this week about recent frost damage to agricultural crops in the West, at the same time that the National Weather Service has been issuing special weather statements about possible record-breaking heat waves starting to hit us tomorrow.

The service is warning about fast snow melt in eastern Oregon and Washington State that might cause flooding, while gusty winds are making travel tough in some parts of Idaho, and creating dangerous fire hazards in California.

Welcome to the West.

For a news organization like ours, it means we need to keep on top of what is happening and get the information out as soon as possible. What warnings/special statements are being issued? How should people prepare themselves, their crops, their animals and their employees? We also try to research and offer analysis on what is the short-term and long-term impact of these weather extremes.

We have posted several stories on how much the fruit and vegetable crop might be hurt by the frost; now we need to find sources that can evaluate if extreme heat this early in the year will cause more hardship or crop loss.

With water always being such an important issue here, we will watch if the high snow pack received during the last few months will too quickly run off or evaporate, leaving water supply still uncertain for the upcoming irrigation season.

There are a lot of things that happen when weather goes from one extreme to another. For example, dairy cows need some time to adjust when sudden high heat hits. Their milk production can be off. Farmers and ranchers also need to ensure there is a lot of extra water available for their livestock, as the animals need more than usual. In horticulture, plants can also feel the “shock” of temperature extremes and need extra care and especially water.

Weather is probably the biggest uniting influence there is in agriculture: All farmers are curious and eager to discuss the weather’s impact on them, their neighbors, their peers and their competitors.

So far this spring, there has been a lot to talk about — and it looks like the next few days will be no exception.

To check on the weather advisories and forecasts in your areas, check

The cat came back — 22 days later

When our cat disappeared April 15, it was just another reason to hate tax deadline day.

What surprised us was this was the toughest, most street-savvy cat of our three cats. Originally a stray cat, she adopted us more than four years ago as a scrawny, starving, bob-tailed cat that was determined to convince us that our home was actually her home.

Or at least the yard was her domain.

We learned to respect her wishes, and also begain to provide food daily to her as well as a comfy cushion bed and several blankets for her just outside our house door. She even trained us to tuck her in at night when it was cold.

Gentle, loving and easy to purr, Bobbi became part of our family that has since grown to include three cats in total. She also adopted a second family — our neighbors across the street, and she constantly walked back and forth to share her time almost equally between our two yards.

But Bobbi also showed us how tough she can be. She would chase off any stray cats, wild animals or anything else that challenged her territory. A couple of times we saw her not just raccoons out of the yard, but actually ride their backs — she would stand on them, all her claws sunk deep into the poor confused animals that were several times her size.

Needless to say, we always thought this cat could take care of herself, even with all the wild animals on the prowl each night and eagles often soaring overhead.

But then she disappared on April 15. Not a clue of her was around, no signs of fights or scuffles and even fur. Our neighbors and us mourned her absence as the days stretched.

We checked ads for missing/found cats, phoned veterinarian offices, and animal shelters. It was heart-wrenching to go to the humane society and see so many other lost or homeless cats and dogs — but no signs of her.

"I'm sorry," apologized one of the workers at the humane society. "I know you wanted closure."

I found that word was one of the most troubling emotionally. When you hear "closure" you think immediately that hope is gone that she might still be found alive.

Our cat who spent the most time with Bobbi outside was also deeply mourning the loss of his companion. Several years younger than her, he meowed often each day for her and continually searched familiar and unfamiliar places, attempting to find her. He wanted more attention from us than usual, and wanted in and out of the house more often, so determined to continue his search for her.

But then, 22 days after she disappeared, Bobbi came home.

She had lost many pounds. She just walked into the yard one afternoon, meowing loudly to let us know she was back. One could easily feel her ribs and backbone, and she seemed as light as feather when we lifted her up. But somehow she had found her way home, hungry and exhausted, but apparently happy to return to two families — and a cat buddy — that missed her so much. Rusty quickly ran to her and rubbed heads with Bobbi, both of them purring.

We wish Bobbi could talk. We wish we had a tracking device or camera on her, to find out what she did for so many days. We wonder if she accidentally climbed into one of the many construction vehicles that had been on our street April 15, or whether she got locked accidentally in someone's garage, or if someone stole her or whether she had decided to go for one last big adventure by herself.

We just don't know. In a city where there are so many other cats on the streets, perhaps no one even noticed this bobtailed skinny tabby with the big heart as she wandered in search of her home.

All we know is Bobbi is home — and it's good to have her back.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tips for hanging flower baskets

As an usually warm heat wave is predicted for the West later this week, people who may have already put up their hanging flower baskets may wonder what is the best way to care for them.

Capital Press reporter Cookson Beecher bought some baskets herself a few days ago and realized other people might also appreciate the tips she was receiving from Cheryl Loeb at Summersun Nursery and Landscaping at Mount Vernon, Wash.

Using her new small camcorder, Beecher taped some of the tips — and we've now posted the video on YouTube.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Disaster statistics — do the media ever get them right?

When the media provides numbers in headlines and stories, reporters often don’t give much thought to how their audiences will react. It’s not that they don’t care. Often, journalists are just trying to get the latest, best, most accurate number they can under sometimes very trying conditions.

But how will audiences react?

Will the audience react the same way to two deaths in a local town from a traffic accident, as they would to hearing a few dozen people were killed in another part of the country from a tornado?

At what point do hundreds and then thousands of deaths — whether by war, nature or some other tragedy — mean nothing anymore because the audience is numbed to the statistics and they lose their relevance or impact?

In the case of fatalities after a horrible tragedy, sometimes numbers can be more easily accessed than others. If the tragedy is a traffic accident, a confined explosion in a certain location, or some other situation where there was a small, defined area and possibly a certain amount of known victims that were present, then getting numbers is easier and probably more reasonably accurate.

But then there are more challenging examples of what the media must face. Nature causes huge storms that impact greater geographical areas and extraordinary damage: that makes it very difficult to monitor the actual numbers of dead, as well as deal with estimates of missing and dead.

After all, if a whole family — or community, or several cities in several countries, such as after the Asian tsunami — are wiped out, who’s left to even report the missing or dead?

There are also the challenges of dealing with physical debris, general chaos, incredible bureaucracy or even political interference. Deliberate or not, this can cripple a country or city in crisis, and make it almost impossible for the journalists to report facts to the world — or make an audience care about the victims.

As they try to keep up with the number, unfortunately the media become almost a machine churning out updates from one disaster and then rushing off to the next horrible event before ever finally concluding what exact human toll was extracted from the first tragedy.

The last two weeks show several examples of this. While tens of thousands of people are dead and missing from cyclone Nargis, Myanmar’s government has refused to allow aid workers in to help more than 1.5 million people who survived the storm — but now face starvation or diseases.

Each day the number of dead rises by the thousands, but it is clear that probably the true number of dead will never be known because of the physical condition of the mess left behind, but also the political conditions of the country. Military generals do not want the world to know what really is happening there, and many more lives will be needlessly lost to protect military power that existed for more than four decades in one of the poorest nations of the world.

The propaganda from Myanmar’s generals has been despicable as they claim to have the situation under control — when clearly that is not the case — and they take credit for any emergency supplies that have been allowed into the country.

How long will the media try to cover this story when it is so difficult to do so?

Meanwhile, China begins to add up the thousands of dead that are emerging from a powerful 7.9 magnitude earthquake there. Known as a secretive nation itself, China has been forced to be more open than usual with the extent of its disaster mainly because of the upcoming Beijing Olympics in August.

China has always played the propaganda game well on the international stage, but faces much pressure to open itself up to foreign news coverage. Even the official Xinhua news agency in China has surprised the international community with it been quicker and more open in revealing the extent of the earthquake damage and deaths.

But again the media must wonder: How quickly and accurately will officials know the number of dead? And how much of those real statistics will be revealed to the national and international journalists so they can inform the public?

And by the time those numbers do come out, will the media and public even care — or will there be another tragedy — local, national or international — that will divert their attention?

Sadly, too quickly forgotten will be the family of rice farmers wiped out in Myanmar, or the children buried by a school that collapsed over them in China. No one will ever have the real numbers of those who died or provide the respect deserved of those people who are now just another distorted statistic in newspapers and history books.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Remember when channels were only UHV and VHF?

We have created a new YouTube channel for posting videos created by Capital Press staff (and perhaps even freelancers).

Up to this point, the members of our staff you have been experimenting with video have all created their own channels to get videos online to our readers could see them. But moving forward, to try to keep the videos together, we opted to create a channel we could give all of our staff access to for posting purposes.

So, check out our channel below, which features our more recent videos.

Ag in the West social media watch

Capital Press videos on YouTube

Our most popular videos