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Spring 2014


Sharing nature’s bounty Page 12

The yak pack: hairy herd’s meat extremely lean — and tasty, too Page 4

Quinoa shows promise as northwest crop Page 18

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Northwest Farm and Ranch | Spring 2014

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Farm and Ranch Northwest

The yak pack

Hairy herd’s meat extremely lean — and tasty, too | 4

Organic milk

WSU study shows higher levels of healthy fatty acids | 6

The big picture

Northwest Farm and Ranch is published quarterly by the Lewiston Tribune and Moscow-Pullman Daily News and printed at the Tribune Publishing Co. Inc.’s printing facility at 505 Capital St. in Lewiston. To advertise in Northwest Farm and Ranch, contact the Moscow-Pullman Daily News advertising department at 208.882.5561 or Brid Alford at balford@, or the Lewiston Tribune advertising department at 208.848.2216 or Advertising Director Kim Burner at Editorial suggestions and ideas can be sent to Lee Rozen at or Doug Bauer at

As industry and economy change, so does technology use | 8

A brighter future WSU scientists lead project to sequence Rosaceae genome | 14 On the cover: Sharing nature’s bounty | 12


| Friday, February 28, 2014 | 3

Beef — It’s the business to be in

Price per pound on the rise, adding to strength of livestock market By Kerri Sandaine for Northwest Farm and Ranch

LEWISTON, Idaho — It’s a good time to be a cattle rancher. The market is strong and prices are going in the right direction, said Clay Bickford, president of the Lewiston Livestock Market. “Demand is high,” Bickford said. “At this price level, everyone would like to own a cow.” At a recent sale, Bickford saw the highest price he’s ever seen. A herd of 500pound steers was sold for $2.15 per pound. “The only way the market could be any stronger is if grain prices were lower,” Bickford said. Most of the farm bill goes to subsidies that don’t help the cattle market, “but it’s still damn good and nothing to sneeze at.” Bickford, 53, said the government is subsidizing ethanol plants, which has driven up the price of corn. The price of corn has a lot to do with the price of cattle because corn makes up about 60 percent of the grain used for feed, according to the longtime livestock marketer. Average prices are up 20 to 25 percent

from last year, Bickford said. An 800pound steer is now going in the mid-toupper $1.50s per pound. Last winter, the market fell between January and February due to the price of feed going up. Prices in 2013 for the same size steer was about $1.20 a pound. Five years ago, the high was at $1.15 to $1.20 per pound. Favorable market conditions are caused by several factors. For example, beef remains a popular menu item, but urban sprawl has decreased the supply of cattle, he said. As a result, feedlot owners from as far away as Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado and the Dakotas are buying cattle at the annual sale conducted in mid-February in Lewiston. The Lewiston Livestock Market, owned by Bickford and Tony Suebert, was founded in 1982 when Twin City Sales Yard and Spencer Livestock Commission merged. The sale ring is located at 3200 E. Main St., Lewiston. Kerry Sandaine may be contacted at or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.

The yak pack

4 | Friday, February 28, 2014 |

Northwest Farm and Ranch | Spring 2014


A herd of yaks, owned and raised by Jim Pope Sr., graze near Peola Road in Clarkston.

Kyle Mills

Hairy herd’s meat extremely lean — and tasty, too By Ralph Bartholdt for Northwest Farm and Ranch

CLARKSTON, Wash. — On 120 acres of angled, treeless land above this town, birds glide on wings that flap like sails. Jim Pope leans into the stout blast that seems to buck across the wide-

open land with a loud, moaning song. “It’s a little gusty today,� he yells. The weather is just right for his livestock. Pope raises yaks, a Tibetan herd animal that lives in the wild at elevations exceeding 14,000 feet in country similar to his Clarkston Heights acreage. There are few trees where yaks live on high prairies, where they feed mostly on grass. Pope, a former commercial helicopter pilot who operated an aerial


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At one time he had 40 animals at the operation he calls Pope Field Yaks, where he raises the animals for breeding and meat. The sale of animals, usually in small groups to ranchers, and butchering has trimmed Pope’s herd to 25 yaks. In their native Tibet, Pope said, wild yaks were domesticated several hundred years ago. Wild populations still exist, but most yaks are the peoplefriendly kind used as pack animals by Tibetans, who value their meat, milk

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transport service that included a lot of agricultural work, said he got into yaks on a fluke. “I did some spraying for a guy who offered me three of them for payment,� Pope said. He accepted. “I’ve always been involved with animals,� he said. Since acquiring three of the beefylooking, long-haired Asian natives 15 years ago, Pope’s yak herd has grown substantially.

Spring 2014 | Northwest Farm and Ranch marily on grass and don’t require grain. Research has shown that yaks eat 7 pounds of forage per day compared to 25 pounds for commercial cattle, and require less acreage to raise. In pens, the Asian breed shuns fences preferring to stay away from them. Cattle often rub against posts and wire, damaging enclosures. In addition, the animals’ resilience is legendary. They are known to ranchers for their good health. “I’ve never had a vet bill,” Pope said. The laundry list of attributes comes with a caveat. It takes about eight years for a bull to reach maturity, so ranchers can wait a while before getting the most return on their meat animals, he said. On the other hand, the animals with the handlebar horns, buffalo hump shoulders and horselike tails can start breeding as 2-yearolds and they can live to be 25. Yak ranchers comb the animals’ hair in the spring to collect the strands of underfur, which once it is cleaned may sell for $16 an ounce, Pope said. On the barren, windy slopes of Clarkston Heights, Pope’s animals gather in a big group, as is their custom.

| Friday, February 28, 2014 | 5

“They like to stay close together,” Pope said, attributing the herding habit to instinctive selfpreservation. When confronted by strangers or dogs, the animals face the potential threat. “Like musk oxen,” he said. In his more than a decade of raising yaks, Pope has become fond of the exotics. There was a time, he said, when his grandchildren had names for each animal in the herd, and the calves, he said, are especially easy to grow attached to. “They follow you around like dogs,” he said. In the Himalayas, yaks are used as pack animals, known to quietly carry as much as 300 pounds through steep rocky terrain. “They are more sure-footed than mules,” Pope said. And they prefer wind and cold weather to the alternative, so they are at home in cold, windy climates. There is another thing: You won’t hear a yak bawl or moo. “They just grunt a little,” Pope said. Ralph Bartholdt can be contacted at or (208) 848-2275.

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Jim Pope Sr. is working to halter and lead train a 2month-old yak.


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and the animals’ hair for rope. “They provide everything that bovine cattle provide for us,” Pope said. Interest in yaks is growing in the United States, he said, where about 2,000 of the animals exist at farms peppered across the map. Approximately 5,000 exist in North America, he said. Because the meat is extremely lean — as much as 95 percent fat free — and low in cholesterol, it is marketed as healthy alternative to beef. Because of its relative rarity, yak meat, billed as sweet and tender, sells for as much as $20 per pound for steaks and other cuts and $8 per pound for ground burger, Pope said. Animals on the hoof sell for around $1.50 per pound, and weigh in at 700 pounds for a cow and 1,400 pounds for bulls. “The meat is really healthy, and really tasty,” Pope said. Most of the bulls Pope sells are used as breeding animals, although the meat market is picking up, he said. He recently sold seven bulls for meat. “They went to Colorado,” he said. Because the animals are indigenous to the plains, they feed pri-


6 | Friday, February 28, 2014 |

Northwest Farm and Ranch | Spring 2014


Organic whole milk: It does a body good WSU study shows higher levels of healthy fatty acids By Eric Barker for Northwest Farm and Ranch

PULLMAN, Wash. — Researchers at Washington State University found organic whole milk contains far more desirable fatty acids than nonorganic or conventional milk. “Organic milk is 2.5-fold better than conventional milk in terms of its content of health-promoting fatty acids,� said Charles Benbrook, the study’s lead author. That nugget, revealed in a study released late last year, has been slurped up by news outlets around the globe. Benbrook’s career has spanned 30 years and includes hundreds of reports, papers and studies. But this one, published in the journal PLOS ONE, has garnered a response like no other. “It’s been a huge story,� Benbrook said. “That paper got almost as much attention as anything I’ve done in my

whole career.� The story has been reported by the New York Times, Washington Post, NPR and a host of other print and online publications and broadcast television. Why? For one, he said, the work was published in one of the world’s top scientific journals. It also centered on omega-3 fatty acids, something many Americans are trying to add to their diets. To many, it offered tangible proof organic foods are healthier than conventional foods. And lastly, it involved a product familiar to billions of people. “Milk is such an incredibly iconic food,� he said. The study essentially found organic whole milk contains more omega-3 fatty acids and fewer omega-6 fatty acids when compared to conventional milk. Benbrook said the omega-6 type of fatty acid is associated with corn and vegetable oils. Omega-3 is commonly associated with the fatty acids found in fish like salmon and promoted for a wide range of positive


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health effects. Benbrook acknowledged fish is a better source of long-chain fatty acids. He also noted most Americans don’t eat a lot of fish, but they have little trouble meeting the daily recommended levels of milk and other dairy products. “The American population is actually getting more omega-3 by dairy products than by fish and by a wide margin,� he said. “Our study put milk back in play amongst people concerned about fatty acid intake.� In the case of organic milk, the omega-3 fatty acids come from cattle grazing on grass and legumes instead of grains such as corn and soy. Organic dairies are required to graze their cattle on pasture grass for a minimum of 125 days per year. Benbrook said conventional dairies rely much more on corn and other grains to feed their cows. “It all boils down to the role of pasture grasses and forage-based feeds in the ration of the lactating dairy cattle versus how much grain, and in particular corn, (conventional) farmers are feeding their cows,� he said. “Corn


is the building block of omega-6 fatty acids, whereas grass, legumes and pasture hay are the building blocks of omega-3.� Benbrook said overconsumption of omega-6 fatty acids has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. Moreover, he said omega-6 and omega3 fatty acids are converted in the body by the same enzyme that is in limited supply. He said diets with high levels of omega-6 can prevent omega-3 from being used by the body. Some studies have called for people to achieve a better balance of the two types of fatty acids and he said organic milk can help them achieve that goal. “We identified milk as a major part of diet and a major part of fat in diet that actually helps in shifting this balance of omega-6 and omega-3 in a health-promoting direction.� More information on the study is available at Eric Barker may be contacted at ebarker@ or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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| Friday, February 28, 2014 | 7

Nurturing new leaders in agriculture Wheat, grain groups create new scholarship at BYU-I By Mary Stone for Northwest Farm and Ranch

A new scholarship at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg is aimed at ensuring there will be another generation of leaders in Idaho agriculture. The scholarship, recently created by the Idaho Grain Producers Association in partnership with the Idaho Wheat Commission, will benefit students in the agricultural technology and agronomy, crop and soil sciences programs. “I wouldn’t call it a crisis, but as we look into the future I think we want to assure ourselves of homegrown expertise in ag-related fields,” Idaho Grain Producers Association Executive Director Travis Jones said of the motivation for establishing the scholarship. “Our goal is to attract the best and the brightest and support them if they’re interested in this field,” Jones

said. “Idaho agriculture is still the largest industry in our state and this can be a good field for them.” There’s been a small resurgence in interest in agricultural production careers such as agronomy and plant science, Jones said. “We want to make sure we nurture that,” he said. “That’s our future in Idaho agriculture.” A similar scholarship has existed at the University of Idaho, the state’s land-grant university, in Moscow, for more than 30 years, Jones said. The BYU-Idaho scholarship, he said, is being established to support that school’s college of agriculture and reach potential students in other parts of the state. “We recognize in our organizations — both the Idaho Grain Producers Association and the Idaho Wheat Commission — that eastern Idaho has a major stake (in agricultural production),” Jones said. “It’s a very important part of Idaho’s grain production geography. If we’ve got a program at BYUIdaho we want to help keep that going. More is better, in this case.”

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Jones said the initial investment in the scholarship was about $34,000. As an endowed scholarship, the amount awarded to students comes from the interest that accrues on that initial amount. The first funds are scheduled to be awarded for the winter 2015 semester, said Dave Facer, BYU-Idaho manager of corporate and foundation giving. Based on the school’s endowment spending policy, he said, scholarships

probably will be awarded to three students a year, though the amount has not yet been determined. “Our organization will try to add more to the principal over time, just to keep it as robust as possible,” Jones said. “We want to support the future of our industry.” Mary Stone may be contacted at mstone@ or at (208) 848-2244. Follow her on Twitter @MarysSchoolNews.

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8 | Friday, February 28, 2014 |

Northwest Farm and Ranch | Spring 2014


Bigger picture, better growth As the industry and economy change, so does the use of technology By Bill McKee for Northwest Farm and Ranch

COLFAX, Wash. — As technology improves and input costs rise, precision agriculture continues to evolve in the farming industry. Autosteer and autoboom technology are a big draw for many, said Travis Hillman with ATI Solutions, but the real key going forward is in interpreting all the data that technology provides to maximize a grower’s bottom line. As the cost of seed and fertilizer increase, so does the need for precise application.

“It’s all about efficiency. We’re building on that technology in the cab to further that efficiency,� he said. “Maximizing the ground, but not overapplying. Any time you do that, you’re wasting money.� A wide range of information can be collected — from aerial and satellite imaging to soil sampling and mapping — that gives growers increased control over their operation, whether it’s adjusting the amount of fertilizer being put out in the field or remotely monitoring the RPM on a tractor an employ-

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Spring 2014 | Northwest Farm and Ranch Hillman’s own business has evolved to adapt to the changes in the industry. While working for a precision agriculture company in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 2001, he started his own PA company, AG-TEQ. “Early on it was all about the data,” he said. “Collecting data and making adjustments.” As the PA revolution progressed, he said his business became about providing the hardware to the farmers. While some farmers were slow to make the change, during the past several years the interest has increased sharply, said Beau Barker, an installer of PA hardware for ATI. “These products have been out for 15 years, but the interest just hasn’t always been there,” he said. “While there were a few farmers that were running it since that time, within the past couple of years the interest has just exploded across the board.” For Hillman, the technological revolution has come around full circle, with focus now shifting back to where he started — data analysis. “Due to the growth in both the


industry and in our business, we have broken the company up into different divisions to allow for more specialization,” he said. The company now has specialists who handle the hardware installation and providing support in the field, and a professional services department to focus on data analysis and prescription. A recent partnering with Colfax’s Jones Trucking & Implement has also allowed Hillman to extend his business from his original office in The Dalles, Ore., to include offices in Walla Walla and Colfax. Hillman said the changes are designed to provide a wider variety of hardware and services to a wider variety of customers in the region, giving them the opportunity to make better management decisions. “It’s really going to become standard practice to sit down in winter and the offseason and plan out application that best fits needs — whether weather based, soil based or due to changes in the economy.” Bill McKee can be reached at 208-883-4627, or by email to

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It’s all about efficiency. We’re building on that technology in the cab to further that efficiency,” he said. “Maximizing the ground, but not overapplying. Any time you do that, you’re wasting money.” Travis Hillman ATI Solutions


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10 | Friday, February 28, 2014 |

Northwest Farm and Ranch | Spring 2014


Researcher raises acidic soil concerns Ammonium-based fertilizers can lead to bacterial reaction By Elizabeth Rudd for Northwest Farm and Ranch

MOSCOW, Idaho — Regional farmers struggling with crop yield might be fighting with soil that is becoming increasingly acidic from the use of ammonium-based fertilizers. University of Idaho assistant professor Kurt Schroeder said soils have been becoming more and more acidic and it’s primarily because of a bacterial reaction caused by added ammonium. Soil acidification means the earth has a lower pH level and can affect crop production. When a farmer mixes ammonium into the soil as a

Wheat field plots outside Winchester, Idaho, are shown. The fields were applied with various lime treatments for testing. fertilizer, a bacterial process in the soil converts the ammonium to nitrogen, Schroeder

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this transition to nitrates is probably the most critical,” Schroeder said. It’s a process that happens fairly readily in soils in northern Idaho and eastern Washington, he said. Soils in these areas have pH levels of 5 and 6, with some areas getting as low as 4. Schroeder said the problem with low pH levels in the soil is it frees aluminum cations, or positively charged molecules. “It can become toxic to the plant when it becomes freed up in the soil,” Schroeder said of the aluminum. While the plants are able to consume the nitrogen, Schroeder said the aluminum is much harder for them to take up and can cause a clogging effect in the roots. The aluminum toxicity also has an effect on the plant’s health and productivity.

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“It’s complicated,” Schroeder said. But he and several scientists at Washington State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Pullman have been working for the past five or six years to learn more about soil acidification and aluminum toxicity. The group of about seven researchers are looking at the effects of soil acidification on the region’s farmers and crops and how to correct the pH levels before they become a serious concern. Schroeder said the occurrence of soil acidification in the region has been known for several decades. UI scientist Robert L. Mahler did a lot of work in the 1980s identifying what the problem is with acidic soil and demonstrated that adding lime, or a calcium carbonate, to the soil in agri- Doug Finkelnburg, a Nez Perce extension educator, is shown applying liquid lime culture fields would improve plant with a modified sprayer. performance and yield. By “liming” their fields, farmers not see a yield increase, which was minum and be more likely to have are able to increase the pH level of unexpected. He said he thinks that plants that suffer from aluminum their soil, returning it to a more neu- not seeing a yield increase is because toxicity, Schroeder said. tral level, Schroeder said. The target of the percentage of aluminum out of “In my mind, there’s still some pH level for most crops and soils all the cations present is low, which is questions with that,” he said. should be about 6. common in prairie soils. The cost of liming is another factor But Schroeder said there was a Soil in forested areas or former- that is holding some farmers back, recent experiment conducted at the ly forested areas have an opposite Schroeder said, adding a farmer isn’t Palouse Conservation Field Station make-up with less cations that can going to spend a lot of money on a that added lime to the soil but did result in a higher percentage of alu- product if they don’t see a benefit.

| Friday, February 28, 2014 | 11

Cost is a hurdle they need to overcome because it’s not a matter of if a farmer needs to lime, it’s when, Schroeder said. That’s why he’s conducting experiments to look at how different quantities and sources and forms of lime — like fine and coarse dry lime and liquid lime — will react in different areas to find the most cost-effective solution for farmers. Schroeder is also looking at how long the liming effect lasts in those locations. “There’s farmers trying it and there have been farmers trying it for years,” he said. Soil acidification is not something scientists have been working with for long, Schroeder said, and farmers who are not concerned with it might not have enough information or just haven’t seen a yield hit to cause alarm to the issue. Researchers are hoping to reverse the problem with liming before it becomes a serious problem. “But who knows how long it will take,” Schroeder said. “It could be 100 years before it’s a serious problem.” Elizabeth Rudd may be contacted at erudd@ or (208) 791-8465. Follow her on Twitter @elizabeth_rudd.

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Sharing nature’s bounty 12 | Friday, February 28, 2014 |

Northwest Farm and Ranch | Spring 2014


Lewiston’s River City Farm sells crops on subscription basis By Joel Mills

for Northwst Farm and Ranch

LEWISTON, Idaho — Keegan Athey has done plenty of rambling around in her 24 years, but the budding businesswoman believes her feet have now landed on firm and fertile ground. “This is it,” Athey said triumphantly while standing on the oddly shaped, slightly undulating three-quarter-acre plot in the Lewiston Orchards that will grow into River City Farm this spring. The farm will raise about 30 varieties of vegetables and fruit, and offer them to locals via crop shares. The shares work on a subscription basis, and 15 full

shares will be available this year, Athey said. A full share, at $550 for the season, should provide enough produce each week for a family of four. Half shares are also for sale at $300. Subscribers can start picking up their shares the last week of May at the farm on Warner Avenue, near the intersection with 15th Street. The service will run 22 weeks, through the end of October. Early season crops should include radishes, peas, greens and kale. The hotter part of the growing season should yield crops like tomatoes, peppers, okra and tomatillos, and the late season should bring melons, squash, pumpkins, potatoes, beets and onions.

Keegan Athey will soon be farming this land along Warner Avenue in Lewiston — with assistance from her dog Tali.

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Athey will plant as many heirloom varieties as possible. She’s also planting “open pollinated” varieties that will allow her to harvest and stockpile

seed for next season, adding to the farm’s sustainability. The recent Colorado State University-Fort Collins grad has lived in Lewiston for six

summers, guiding raft trips for Curt Chang, manager at Oars and Dories. She spent some of her spare time getting her hands dirty in Chang’s garden,

CSAs continue to be a growing segment of the area’s agriculture industry By Terri Harber for Northwest Farm and Ranch

MOSCOW, Idaho — Being a member of a Community Supported Agriculture operation, better known as a CSA, holds a certain foodie cachet in many urban areas. But people in the ag industry see it as a direct marketing method with benefits to providers, consumers and, potentially, society at large. University of Idaho extension has noticed an increase in this type of business activity. Estimates vary regarding the number of active participants, however. Some say the number of CSAs has gone up by as much as a third during the past several years. The last official count by the UI was done in 2007. There were 29 CSAs within a 100-mile radius of the Moscow-Pullman area at that time. A tiny but growing market share for CSAs comes partly from more widespread awareness of what one needs to do to maintain good health. What one eats has a direct bearing on one’s overall physical condition, according to health care providers.

Paul McCawley, the UI’s associate director of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, said the combination of consumers seeking higher-quality foods and the industry’s quest for reducing production costs has stoked interest in this localized way of selling produce and, to lesser extents, meat and dairy products. “It doesn’t make sense to ship products back and forth” because transportation costs keep rising, he said. “There is incentive to reduce costs.” There’s the added benefit of less pollution when fewer resources are used to move food from farms to plates, McCawley said. For consumers a drawback is that CSA members don’t necessarily get the chance to choose what they’re given. One crop might not have reached maturity, so consumers might get something else in its place. It takes some ingenuity to show members they can create delicious meals with types of produce that might seem alien to them — especially if they’ve shopped mostly in grocery stores. Supermarket chains’ practice of importing certain items from across

the globe have made shoppers grow accustomed to some popular produce items almost year round. Marci Miller of Deep Roots Farm ensures their CSA members have access to recipes that incorporate the contents of their seasonal produce items. Fulfilling the CSA memberships takes 30 percent of Deep Roots’ crops and dairy products. In a single calendar year they grow nearly 45 different produce items in more than 120 varieties. “It’s a commitment between consumer and farmer,” Miller said. It also requires the customer to trust the farmer “to provide that weekly box of vegetables.” Miller said she gains satisfaction — and knowledge — as a result of the direct line of communication the CSA allows with the members. They provide not only vegetables and dairy products but have partnered with other local food producers to add coffee and artisan bread to the baskets of the farm’s CSA members, who are supporting a group of “local producers and manufacturers,” she said.

The arrangement is financially attractive. The producers obtain money up front for business expenses from the membership fee charged to each customer, who, in exchange, is guaranteed a supply of products straight off of a farm or ranch or both. The small — and often relatively new — farms and ranches that make up the area’s roster of CSAs also look to new financing sources, such as, which Miller has used successfully, and Small operators also can seek out grant sources to help pay for expenses. McCawley and Miller both said costs for CSA foods are reasonable because when items are produced locally the lower transportation cost is passed on to the members. Farmers markets provide more variety but the customers pay for that diversity — and the cost to get the produce to the point of sale, Miller added. Terri Harber can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to

Northwest Farm and Ranch | Spring 2014 and that extracurricular activity led to a proposal. “Curt approached me last summer and said, ‘I’ve always wanted someone to garden out here,’ ” Athey said. She was born in Salt Lake City, and spent middle school and high school in Evergreen, Colo. After studying nursing for a semester at Northern Arizona University, Athey taught English in Yangshuo, China, for six months. She caught the river guiding bug upon her return to the states, and took another stab at the nursing degree, this time at the University of Utah. “But I figured out I couldn’t work inside,” she said. The desire to work outside led her to a soil and crop science degree with a minor in organic agriculture at CSU. And after a lifetime spent jumping from one endeavor to another, Athey decided it was time to slow down and tackle a project with passion. Chang’s offer seemed like the perfect fit. “I wanted to be around and raise my kids, in the dirt,” she said of settling down with partner Mike Kittel and starting a family. A $5,000 fundraising campaign on Kickstarter. com exceeded her goal for startup money, and she got a scholarship and grant from an organic dairy in Colorado. She’s pretty much abandoned a search for someone with a double-bottom plow to break up the field, and will instead mow the grass as closely as possible and use a small tractor to till the soil. The farm won’t be certified as organic, but Athey said she will use all-organic methods. She has a web page at rivercityfarm.wordpress. com and a Facebook page for would be customers. Athey said anyone with questions can call her at (720) 3208072. Joel Mills may be contacted at or (208) 848-2266.


| Friday, February 28, 2014 | 13

Research to help growers weather climate change Looking for ways to use warmer winters to offset drier summers By Sunny Browning for Northwest Farm and Ranch

Some people don’t believe in the phrase “climate change,” says Kristy Borelli. But take away the word change, she says, and what is left is climate — something that always exists, no matter what. Borrelli is the extension specialist of the Regional Approaches to Climate Change for Pacific Northwest Agriculture. “What we have is this amazing opportunity to classify our wheat-growing region based under the current conditions,” Borrelli said. “We are looking at models, cropping systems, greenhouse gas emissions, strategies, insects, pests, diseases, social and economic factors, and we have one big project that collects all of them.” Research is finding overall temperatures in the region will increase, up to 7 degrees Centigrade or 14 degrees Fahrenheit, by the end of the century, said Sanford Eigenbrode, Project Director for REACCH. Borrelli said they are also finding that while precipitation is projected to increase in the winter, spring and fall, research is showing precipitation will decrease during the summer months when crops are in their prime growing season. “By the end of the century these projections are pretty dire,” said Eigenbrode. “But this is not all bad news for farmers. The goal is to be able to take advantage of the good climate change opportunities.” REACCH is a fiveyear project funded by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture undertaking research, education and extension to improve long-term profitability and sustainability practices of cereal production in the inland Pacific Northwest, said Borrelli. She said the project has partnerships with the University of Idaho, Washington State

University, Oregon State University and the USDA Agriculture Research Services. The REACCH study area extends through the wheat growing regions of Idaho, Washington and Oregon. The land is broken into agro-ecological zones based on the growing patterns: annual crop, annual crop — fallow transition, grain — fallow, and irrigation. The project brings in data from the USDA to determine how factors in climate, soil and soil depth affect water retention and define how crops can be grown in the area, said Borrelli. The project aims to help cereal production systems in the inland Pacific Northwest to adopt more sustainable agriculture practices while mitigating the effects of climate change by using fertilizer, fuel and pesticides more efficiently and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, said Eigenbrode. Predictions are showing 60 days less of snowfall for most of the region. Researchers are looking at the freeze season to see if farmers could start growing crops earlier in the season before a drought sets in in August, said Borrelli. Eigenbrode said planting profitable winter crops and incorporating crops during the fallow years can help growers be better off as the environment changes. “If growers could plant more winter crops they would be more resilient to warmer summers,” he said. “The crops could mature sooner before the warm temperatures affect growth.” REACCH focuses on helping growers prepare for the future to sustain and enhance their crop season. The research has come up with numerous agriculture management practices that will offer benefits to farmers and the environment, both short term and long term, said Borrelli. These are what Borrelli calls win-win scenarios. Her research has found through these scenarios growers can

reap immediate benefits while affecting climate change further down the line. Those scenarios include the following: n Reduced tillage/ direct seeding: Growers see decreased soil erosion and nutrient runoff, increased soil organic matter improving soil quality, and increased nutrient storage within the next 10 years. Long-term direct seeding will reduce carbon dioxide emissions. n Crop intensification — reduce fallow: Short term, growers are seeing increased farm productivity yielding more food and feed production. Increased soil carbon sequestration noticed long-term. n Crop diversification — legumes: Short term shows improvement in pest control and grass weeds due to having a broadleaf crop in rotation while reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the future. n Crop diversification — oilseeds: Growers see similar short-term benefits as legumes along with improved soil structure and water infiltration from canola’s strong taproot. Long term, growing oilseeds can increase net productivity and can help growers avoid summer heat and drought concerns due to the crop’s short season. n Prescription nitrogen management: This practice reduces nitrogen fertilizer costs, runoff and loss while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and natural gas use in the long-run. n Recycled organic byproducts: Growers increase soil organic matter and improve soil quality while reusing valuable nutrients, leading to a reduction in nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide in the future. “Of course we should always look at conservation practices in general,” Borrelli said. “General things like making sure your spray nozzles are working right. You can save a lot in efficiency that way where you are not wasting water that is spraying out the side or not getting onto

your crops.” Borelli said farms with higher soil organic matter are less susceptible to yield losses during drought seasons. While wheat is the main crop in the region, REACCH is working to increase the incorporation of legumes and canola into rotations to reap the benefits of having multiple crops. “We are learning these crops are suitable for some parts of the region, even the ones that are currently reliant on wheat fallow systems,” Borrelli said. Researchers are working to prepare growers for warmer, wetter weather with less snowfall and less snowpack. Projections are being made based on the current trends, without considering management changes. REACCH research is showing that by making changes in the agricultural management practices, growers can have more sustainable farms in the future while helping mitigate the challenges in the environment, said Borrelli. “Humans are extremely powerful in controlling the environment and managing it so when we actually do factor in those management variables we are seeing a little more light at the end of the tunnel,” Borrelli said. Eigenbrode said through educators, 20 graduate students and five postdoctoral students, the project is finding a way where actual science can be developed to change complex problems, for example the slowly and inexorably changing climate. “Models are not telling us all is bad, we just have to be smart about it,” Eigenbrode said. “There are clear climate change opportunities. Good science should help farmers take advantage of potential benefits.” Extended information about the REACCH project can be found at Sunny Browning can be reached at (208) 883-4639, or by email to

14 | Friday, February 28, 2014 |


Amit Dhingra, a horticulture professor at Washington State University, has teamed with an international group of scientists to sequence the genome for Golden Delicious apples, sweet cherries, almonds and pears.

Northwest Farm and Ranch | Spring 2014

Mapping a brighter future for crops in Washington WSU scientists lead project to sequence Rosaceae genome By Anthony Kuipers for Northwest Farm and Ranch

PULLMAN, Wash. — Breeding apples and other fruits that are more resistant to disease, more tolerant of changes in the climate and can better survive storage is all the more feasible thanks to an international research project headed up by Washington State University scientists. In 2010, horticulture professor Amit Dhingra joined a team of scientists from Italy, France, New Zealand and Belgium to publish a draft sequence of the Golden Delicious apple genome in Nature Genetics. Three years later, they sequenced three more Rosaceae crop family genomes: the Comice pear, the Stella self-pollinating sweet cherry and two varieties of almonds. These crops were chosen because unlike others that have four pairs of chromosomes — and would be more difficult to

Photo provided by Washington State University

sequence — these apples, cherries, pears and almonds are double haploid organisms with only two pairs. Dhingra said the project’s goals are similar to the goals behind the human genome project completed in 2001. When scientists embarked on sequencing the human genome more than 20 years ago, they hoped it would help them better recognize which traits are susceptible and resistant to disease. Dhingra and his colleagues hope to do the same for crops through cataloging and understanding their genetic makeup. Dhingra said in the future, farmers could potentially use this information to produce healthier, disease-resistant fruits and nuts through either selective breeding practices or through the application of chemical solutions. These methods could eradicate problems like bitter pit and citrus greening from future generation of crops, he said. But the possibilities are not limited to curbing diseases. Dhingra said the genome sequence may

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tion is a multibillion dollar industry in Washington. The state alone produces around 60 percent of the country’s apples. “Our industry should be able to stay globally competitive,” he said. To reach that goal, Dhingra said scientists need input from growers. He encourages farmers to communicate with the university and let them know what traits they want in their crops. “Don’t think we’re separate entities,” Dhingra said. To access the draft sequence, visit For more information about the research, visit genomics.




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Northwest Farm and Ranch | Spring 2014


International border no barrier for rescuers uniting blind cows Pair become BFFs — bovine friends forever By Sue Manning Associated Press

Associated Press

In this image taken Feb. 5 and provided by Farm Sanctuary shelter, blind cows Tricia, left, and Sweety get acquainted at the shelter in Watkins Glen, N.Y. After the shelter tried to find ways to help Tricia, 12, and blind since birth, a Canadian animal welfare group sent Sweety, 8, via special transport. She arrived Feb. 4, and they have become best female friends, playing in the grass, eating in the barn and grooming one another.





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Two blind, aging cows were 350 miles apart, distressed and facing a dark future. What happened next is a love story starring, not cows, but rescuers who worked across international borders for nearly a month to bring the bovines together. It started when Sweety, an 8-year-old Canadian cow with a hoof infection, was rescued from the slaughterhouse by a horse sanctuary in Ontario. Workers at Refuge RR put out the word to the

small legion of folks devoted to saving aging farm animals that she needed a permanent home. Farm Sanctuary in New York is just such a place and they had a 12-year-old Holstein named Tricia, who seemed lonely and anxious after losing her cow companion to cancer a year ago. Cattle are herd animals and she was the only one at the shelter without a partner. “It was exciting to think that by giving Sweety a new life, we might also give Tricia another chance to enjoy her own,” said Susie Coston,

Spring 2014 | Northwest Farm and Ranch


| Friday, February 28, 2014 | 17

Seeds for Success

It was exciting to think that by giving Sweety a new life, we might also give Tricia another chance to enjoy her own.” Susie Coston National shelter director for Farm Sanctuary in New York national shelter director for the sanctuary. Tricia, who was born blind, has been at the Watkins Glen, N.Y., sanctuary since 2008, when she was saved from slaughter. There was red tape galore, medical exams for Sweety, and finally a road trip to pick her up Feb. 4 at a veterinary hospital in Lachute, Quebec. Sweety arrived late that night and had to be given a cloth coat because she had lived in barns her whole life and her fur wasn’t thick enough for the cold. The two cows mooed at each other from separate corrals before they were united the next day.

Nose to nose, Sweety, tall and bony with a white triangle patch on her forehead, bumped into Tricia, shorter and thicker with black-andwhite body swirls. They nuzzled one another. It didn’t take long for them to become BFFs (bovine friends forever), shelter spokeswoman Meredith Turner said. Sweety is still bumping into things, but Tricia often guides her clear of obstacles. They eat and walk together and even bed down in tandem. Love may be blind, Turner said, but for shelter workers, it was a matter of seeing and believing.

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Northwest Farm and Ranch | Spring 2014


Quinoa shows promise as Northwest crop “ But some issues remain in planting of popular grain By Elaine Williams

for Northwest Farm and Ranch

PULLMAN, Wash. — A grain with a name some struggle to pronounce is showing promise as a new crop in the Northwest. Researchers at Washington State University have been experimenting with quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), hoping to develop one or more varieties suitable to cultivate in the Evergreen State or other parts of the Northwest. “Quinoa demand has skyrocketed in the last decade,” said Kevin Murphy, assistant professor of barley and alternative crop breeding at WSU. “Imports have risen from less than $4 million per year to more than $73 million per year since 2007. Many Pacific Northwest farmers are positioned well to help supply this demand.” Among those wanting to know more about the grain are the Organic

Farming Research they’re consumed Foundation, together. WSU and the Before growU.S. Department ers can cash in on of Agriculture. the hype, Murphy, Together they are Walters and their funneling hundreds colleagues will of thousands of dolhave to figure lars into work on out solutions to quinoa by WSU, a few challenges. Oregon State Historically quinoa University, Utah has been grown in State University Bolivia, Peru and and Brigham Young Chile, said Adam University, Murphy Peterson, who’s Kevin Murphy said. pursuing a doctorPart of what ate at WSU in crop Assistant professor of barley and sparked interest in science. alternative crop breeding at WSU quinoa is its nutriThey’ve started tional value, said by choosing varietHannah Walters, a master’s student ies of quinoa from Chile, the warmest at WSU studying crop science. of the three countries, where temperaCompared with other grains, it tures top out at 95 degrees, Peterson has lots of minerals. It’s a complete said. protein, something that isn’t common Peterson and Walters studied plots in plant foods. Beans and rice, for on the Olympic Peninsula, the Palouse, instance, both have protein. But they near Kendrick and near Lewiston. only make a complete protein when Each had advantages and disadvan-

Quinoa demand has skyrocketed in the last decade. ... Many Pacific Northwest farmers are positioned well to help supply this demand.”


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tages, Walters said. “The peninsula is a lot cooler in the summer, which is more optimal for quinoa growth, but you can get early fall rain, which can cause the seed to sprout on the head.” The dry summers on the Palouse are better for harvesting, but the hotter temperatures are an issue, Walters said. Two acres tended by a farmer did better than ones WSU students sowed in more shallow soil. She did an irrigation trial where the quinoa that was watered every other week did just as well as the grain that was watered once a week and better than the crop that got no extra moisture. Irrigation, however, isn’t likely going to be a useful way to mitigate the heat, since almost all large-scale farming on the Palouse is dry land, Walters said. The Kendrick test fared so poorly it won’t be tried again, Walters said. “The plants were quite stunted. Midseason we had some deer come in and eat. ... There was a misunderstanding and a rancher set up his


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electrical fence right through the plot.” The Lewiston trial also failed, Peterson said. The thermometer skyrocketed to 107 degrees. “There was quite a string of really hot days so we didn’t get any seed.” This summer more testing is scheduled, including examining some crosses, Peterson said. “I’m really excited to see what happens.” Finding or creating quinoa varieties that work in the Northwest isn’t the only hurdle to getting the food into production, Murphy said. Quinoa has saponins on the outer seed coat that make it taste bitter, but are also thought to protect quinoa from birds and insects. Typically they’re removed at large-scale rinsing operations in the Andes mountains in South America. “We need entrepreneurs to set up a similar facility in the Pacific Northwest where farmers can send their seed for cleaning and processing,” Murphy said. “Once this is in place, commercial production can begin on an economically viable scale (in this region).” Elaine Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@ or (208) 848-2261.

Hannah Walters is shown in quinoa at the start of the season.

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20 | Friday, February 28, 2014 |

Northwest Farm and Ranch | Spring 2014


Economist challenges idea of aging farmer crisis By David Pitt Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — Agriculture economists have long warned that farmers are getting old and staying on their land longer, delaying the turnover to a younger generation. But an Ohio State University professor argues those fears are overstated and the United States likely will have little problem replacing aging farmers as long as business is good, as it has been for the past decade. Others aren’t so sure, saying while they agree with OSU agriculture economist Carl Zulauf’s assessment that concerns about the unquestionably aging farmer population remain valid and create uncertainty about who will produce the nation’s crops in the future. “I think what he said is absolutely right,” Iowa State University economics professor Mike Duffy said. “I think

the conclusion he’s drawing though is not necessarily the correct one.” Zulauf contends that just like in the 1970s, farm prosperity will draw more young workers into farming. And prosperous the business is: This year, net income from U.S. farms is expected to reach a record $131 billion. Farm wealth has also reached record levels, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with farm asset values rising 7 percent this year to a record $3 trillion. On average, farmers are about 15 years older than the broader U.S. workforce, Zulaf said, but noted in his October report this age difference hasn’t changed since the 1980s and that the average age of farmers is increasing at the same pace as U.S. workers generally. USDA statistics in 2007 showed that for each farmer under 25, there were five who were 75 or older. In Iowa




alone, Duffy said, landowners who were older than 75 owned 28 percent of the state’s farmland in 2007, compared with 24 percent in 2002 and just 12 percent in 1982. Duffy believes it’s essential to pay attention to the transition of farms from one generation to another, saying the catch is enabling those young farmers with programs and policies that help people with few assets and little access to land to get a chance to farm. Land prices throughout the Midwest have soared in the past decade, largely due to strong prices for corn and soybeans, with the average value in the U.S. this year rising 9.4 percent to $2,900 per acre. Iowa’s average farm real estate value increased 20 percent this year to $8,400 an acre. And farm implements, such as tractors, combines and grain bins, are often pricey, with a new combine costing upward of $350,000. “It takes a while to acquire

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which began in the early 1990s, to his son by the time Earl Hafner is 70. Already, Jeff Hafner owns the cows, buys all the new equipment and handles the financial books. “We talk about it and he makes all the decisions,” he said of his son, a 20-year Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq. Hafner knows farmers whose children work in other professions and have no interest in farming. “Those are the people that when they die the farm will probably be sold,” he said. For his part, Zulauf is aware of the difficulties in transitions, but is looking to keep the problem in perspective. “I’m not saying in any way, shape or form that this isn’t an issue that we might want to talk about that’s for us to decide, but I do think if you’re going to have these discussion you need to have the data — and not just the data, but the data in context,” he said.


A Fa mily of Farmers

that capital usually by saving or through inheritance,” Zulauf said in an interview. “That doesn’t typically happen until people have passed a fair number of years as a working adult to get to that stage.” A common occurrence is passing on the family farm to the next generation, much like Earl Hafner, 67, is doing with his 2,000-acre farm about 45 miles west of Des Moines. Unlike typical Iowa farms, he and his son, 45-year-old Jeff Hafner, raise a little bit of everything. There’s corn, soybeans, alfalfa, winter wheat, buckwheat and rye. They also sell honey from their own bees, raise pigs under contract for international food company Cargill, pasture 250 cows, keep a flock of 150 chickens, grow tilapia fish in large tanks and have organic basil, lettuce, spinach, kale and other products in an adjacent greenhouse. The goal is to transition ownership of the farm assets,

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Feds accuse 2 brothers of purposely spoiling spuds FARGO, N.D. — Two brothers who operated a North Dakota potato farm are accused in federal court of intentionally spoiling potatoes after the 2006 harvest in order to collect disaster payments. Aaron Johnson, 50, and Derek Johnson, 47, along with their company, Johnson Potato, are charged with conspiracy and making false statements. The government said in documents the Johnsons received more than $800,000 in federal crop disaster payments for which they were not entitled. Alexander Reichert, a lawyer for Aaron Johnson, and U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon declined comment Thursday. Court documents do not list an attorney for Derek Johnson. Authorities said the brothers raised irrigated potatoes near Cooperstown, in central North Dakota, and following the harvest stored the crop in a nearby warehouse rather than selling them. Court documents do not show the

| Friday, February 28, 2014 | 21

amount of potatoes involved or say how much the brothers could have made if they had sold them. The defendants allegedly applied chemicals, including a substance known as “Rid-X” that’s designed to dissolve solid materials in septic systems, and added spoiled and frozen potatoes to their stored crop. That caused the potatoes to rot, investigators said. Investigators said the brothers also used portable heaters to warm the warehouse above 80 degrees and make the potatoes deteriorate faster. Once the potatoes rotted, prosecutors said, the Johnsons reported the loss to their insurance company and said the crop was lost due to naturally caused diseases. The brothers are accused in the course of the alleged scheme of making false statements to law enforcement and agencies within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Federal crop insurance covers setbacks only for a “naturally occurring event” and does not cover losses due to negligence, mismanagement or wrongdoing.


Associated Press


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Trade talks to continue in March Residual pesticides posing a problem for US exports By Shanon Quinn for Northwest Farm & Ranch

Trade and investment talks between the European Union and the United States have the potential to reverse the recent drop in apple and pear exports to the EU, and effectively raise export revenue $33 million per year, according to a letter signed by nine U.S. senators. The talks, which began July 8, concluded a third round Dec. 20 in Washington, D.C., with plans to continue March 10-14 in Brussels. A good deal of publicity has been given to the declining exportation of American apples and pears to the EU, prompting the senators, including Maria Cantwell, Cantwell D-Wash., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to urge U.S. Trade Ambassador Michael residual pesticides. Froman to address the steep decline. The EU sets maximum residue levels The letter says the decline — 73 per- in imported fruits and vegetables lower cent for apples since 2006 and 73 percent than amounts acceptable in the U.S. for pears since 2009 — is connected Although the issues described in the to EU concerns about the presence of letter have been addressed during the

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Crapo talks, no final decisions have been made. Froman has said he’s pleased with the progress already made and optimistic about what the negotiators can accomplish in 2014. The outcome of the talks thus far is

a mutual agreement that the majority of trade decline is due to three problems related to regulation: barriers, expense and duplication. Although regulation is here to stay, negotiators acknowledge one of the major issues — exporters being forced to comply with two sets of regulations (domestic and foreign) — can be solved by bringing them closer in line with each other. This will be addressed in the March continuation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks. A primary problem in U.S. exports is some of the 28 countries in the EU do not permit suppliers to use domestic testing laboratories or product certifiers, but require certification take place in the destination country. This poses additional costs for exporters. The U.S. State Department said that in 2014 T-TIP hopes to achieve economic growth in both the U.S. and EU, elimination of trade tariffs and an increase to the nearly 13 million American and EU jobs involved in transatlantic trade. Shanon Quinn can be reached at (208) 883-4632 or by email at

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Northwest Farm and Ranch - Spring, 2014  
Northwest Farm and Ranch - Spring, 2014  

The quarterly agriculture magazine covering issues from Washington, Idaho and Oregon