Page 1

Published in conjunction with the 77th Okanogan County Horticultural Association meeting

A supplement to The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle, Jan. 25, 2012

Page 2 — Agriculture 2012, The Chronicle, Omak, Wash.

Inside Agriculture

Anthony Caria, Omak, empties a sack of Galas into a waiting bin at Azzano Orchards, Omak, during the 2011 harvest in October.

Fruit industry holds its own ...............................................................4 Conservation strives for normalcy ....................................................7 Agri-tourism workshop set ................................................................7 Agriculture can be challenging in Ferry County................................8 Riggan follows ups and downs of orcharding ...................................9 Grower touts herbs’ qualities...........................................................10 Budget problems may overshadow ag issues ................................12 Weed program concentrates on nasty invaders .............................13 County has spurge flax to itself ......................................................13 Exchange goal is to build on seed variety ......................................15

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Horticulture meeting is Jan. 31 Session offers trade show, information, pesticide credits By Dee Camp The Chronicle OKANOGAN – Topics ranging from pest control to immigration will be discussed when the Okanogan County Horticultural

Agriculture © 2012 The OmakOkanogan County Chronicle

Association holds its 77th annual meeting Jan. 31. The meeting runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the fairgrounds Agriplex, 175 Rodeo Trail. Admission is $10, which includes membership in the association, coffee and doughnuts, Secretary Dan McCarthy said. The meeting will draw speakers from all over the state, and includes a trade show. Officers will be elected.

A soup-and-sandwich lunch, catered by the Corner Bistro, Omak, will be available on site for $9. Sessions include: • 9-10 a.m. – Potential new products for fire blight, and how to develop an integrated blight management program. Speaker: Tim Smith, Washington State University Extension for Chelan,

See Meeting Page 3

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Meeting from Page 2 Douglas and Okanogan counties. • 9:30-10 a.m. – The Immigration Act of 2015 – Can you survive until then? Speaker: Dan Fazio, Washington Farm Labor Association. • 10-10:30 a.m. – The fruit industry investing in WSU – What happens next? Speaker: Jay Brunner, WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, Wenatchee. • 10:30-11 a.m. – Enhancing biological control in your orchard. Speaker: Brunner. 11-11:30 a.m. – Sprayer calibration – critical for efficient pest management. Speaker: Kim Blagborn, Turbomist. • 11:30-11:50 a.m. – Okanogan County Horticultural Association business meeting. Noon-1 p.m. – Lunch and trade show; elections and nominations. • 1-1:35 p.m. – Spotted-wing drosophila – not so bad or was 2011 just an odd season? Speaker: Betsy Beers, WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension


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Center, Wenatchee. • 1:35-1:55 p.m. — The Washington State Department of Ecology burn permit program. Speaker: Jay Carmoney, smoke management specialist with Ecology. • 2-2:45 p.m. — Management of weeds in the orchard, new options and suggestions to avoid development of herbicide resistance in common weeds. Speaker: Tim Smith, WSU Extension. • 2:45-3 p.m. – Situation report on 2012 fruit sales. Speaker: Max Riggan, Chelan Fresh. Those attending can earn three state pesticide education recertification credits. The horticultural association and WSU are staging the meeting.

Homobono Avila, Omak, fills a picking bag with Bosc pears at Azzano Orchards near Omak.

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Page 4 — Agriculture 2012, The Chronicle, Omak, Wash.

Fruit industry holds its own Consumer demand increases, despite rocky economy and large tree crops

pears has increased during the last couple of years. “I hope the main reason (for increased demand) is people are eating healthier,” Moser said. It helps to be in the food business, Kelly said. “We just happen to be an item that they (consumers) need to buy,” he said. “I think mainly it’s just supply and demand. World supply has been pretty flat for a number of years,” Jim Divis, manager of Honeycrisp in Brewster, said. The relative weakness of the U.S. dollar against other currencies has had a positive impact on the export market, Divis Kelly said. “The export market has

By Cheryl Schweizer and Dee Camp The Chronicle OKANOGAN – The fruit industry is holding its own, even with a rocky economy and large crops. Nobody quite knows why. “We don’t really have an answer,” Dan Kelly of the Washington Growers Clearing House, Moser Wenatchee, said. Greg Moser, manager at Gold Digger Fruit in Oroville, said demand for apples, cherries and

Cheryl Schweizer/The Chronicle

Anthony Caria, Omak, reaches deep in the tree for a Gala during apple harvest last October at Azzano Orchards, Omak.

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Fruit from Page 4 remained pretty stable and strong,” he said. “With the weaker dollar, export guys are looking to buy,” Divis said. Asian countries, especially along the Pacific Rim, remain among the best customers, Kelly said. That includes China, which is the largest apple producer in the world and the major competitor for Washington fruit. “People are thinking the Chinese market may be more of an


opportunity than a problem,” Divis said. The 2010 apple harvest was the largest in state history, at 109.3 million 40-pound boxes, Growers Clearing House Manager Kirk Mayer said. The 2011 crop looking like the third-largest ever, at 105.1 million boxes. The 2008 crop was No. 2 at 108.3 million boxes. “We’ve also had the highest price structure, too. But just because we’ve had the highest prices doesn’t mean we’re making a

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Maria Cruz of Brewster pulls Honeycrisp apples off the packing line at Honeybear Orchards, Brewster.



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Page 6 â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Agriculture 2012, The Chronicle, Omak, Wash.

Washington apple crop history Fresh crop, carloads (a carload equals 1,000 40-pound boxes)

Season 2000-01 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12

Ana Sanchez, Brewster, fills a bag with Red Delicious apples at the Gebbers Farms packing facility, Brewster.

Wenatchee* 38,397 32,193 31,332 29,462 38,399 40,988 34,843 35,880 37,155 34,566 34,317 34,900

Yakima 59,946 52,662 57,429 50,410 66,558 59,921 64,483 62,855 71,146 68,144 74,994 70,219

* Includes Okanogan County

State 98,343 84,815 88,761 79,872 104,957 100,909 99,326 98,735 108,301 102,710 109,311 105,119

â&#x20AC;&#x201D;Washington Growers Clearing House

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Fruit from Page 5 killing,â&#x20AC;? Kelly said. Higher fuel prices have had a direct impact, but higher oil and gas prices also raise the cost of fertilizer and every other product used in the orchard, he said. Divis and Moser said a lot of land is being gobbled up by developers. Last year, Okanogan County actually had a net increase in planted tree fruit last year, Okanogan County Horticultural Association Secretary Dan McCarthy said. Orchard acres increased from 23,061 acres to 24,305 acres, for a 1,244-acre gain, he said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The guys that made it through the first wave of hard times (in the

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late 1990s) are investing in their orchards now,â&#x20AC;? Divis said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;There are a lot of young trees in the ground, and itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s all high-density stuff.â&#x20AC;? The 2011 cherry market was larger than anticipated, but it was sold at a profit, which proves it can be done, Moser said. Cherry growers have planted new varieties that mature earlier and later than the traditional early July, which has helped spread the risk throughout the summer, Moser said. There are many places in the U.S. that arenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t used to having the opportunity to buy cherries all summer, Divis said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;There is growth potential there, within the U.S.,â&#x20AC;? he said. The anticipated size of both the

cherry and apple crops will continue to increase because of more cherry acreage and highdensity apple orchards, Moser said. They will be incremental increases, but they will be increases, he said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re definitely on a trend line up,â&#x20AC;? he said. When those plantings mature, â&#x20AC;&#x153;then weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll see how good we are,â&#x20AC;? Divis said. The great challenge of the next few years will be labor, Kelly said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Labor costs just keep getting higher and higher. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s our No. 1 issue right now and I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t see it changing,â&#x20AC;? he said. Some companies are experimenting with mechanical fruit harvesters, but they are a long way away from practical use, Kelly said.

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Conservation strives for normalcy Budget cuts mean smaller staff, though projects continue By Sheila Corson The Chronicle OKANOGAN – While tightening its belt, the Okanogan Conservation District also is working on some new programs. Funding has been cut by 15-20 percent in the last few years, Director Craig Nelson said. This year, that meant one staff member will be hired even though two left. “We’re trying to provide services as normal,” Nelson said. One such service is an energyefficient irrigation rebate program with the Bonneville Power Administration. The district works with the county utilities to upgrade or replace irrigation systems so farmers can get better efficiency, save water and get money back on the costs. The program began last summer, Nelson said, and 10 have gotten help while about 30 have been working on it.

“ We’re trying to provide services as normal. Director Craig Nelson

” The program should continue through 2012 and beyond, if funding continues. Another program with Bonneville is helping irrigators replace fish screens on river pumps. The Colville Confederated Tribes and Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board also are helping to put in properly sized screens. Nelson said about 80 screens have been identified as not meeting

code, and about 24 have been replaced in the last year and a half. For more than a decade, the office has worked with livestock owners to reduce impact to surface water, and so far 50-60 have been helped, Nelson said. This past year, conservation education in schools has had an even higher emphasis, Nelson said. For 2012, that also means the agency will host the May Envirothon camp, in which

students will learn about conservation and other environmental topics. The camp will be at Lake Wenatchee since all local camps were booked, Nelson said. About 80 students typically attend from across the state. New for 2012, is working with the city of Tonasket to clean up Bonaparte Creek along the edge of town. Several abandoned or city lots have become the site of garbage dumping, so fencing could be installed to prevent that in the future. Nelson said the agency usually fences out livestock, but in this case, it would be fencing out humans. The creek contains salmon and other important species. Funding for the Omak and the district has put any work with Aston Island on the back burner. The district had looked at the site along the Okanogan River as a possible clean-up site for a trail

and park. Nelson said with the city undergoing a major sewer system upgrade, the park isn’t on the priority list. Funding for programs depends on grant funding from many sources. The district which funding it will receive as grants become available throughout the year. “It’s a waiting game,” Nelson said.

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Agri-tourism workshop set The Chronicle OKANOGAN – “Breaking Ground,” a six-week agri-tourism training session, starts Feb. 16. The Washington State University Extension sessions run until March 31 in the Grainger Administration Building, 123 N. Fifth Ave. Agri-tourism can include lodging, tours, horseback riding, hunting and fishing, bird watching, festivals, wineries, wagon rides, demonstrations, U-pick products, fruit stands, and other activities. Participants will learn about resources, skills and aptitudes necessary for agri-tourism; how to develop products and services, and market the farm and its products; how to make the business profitable; risks and regulations, and integrating agri-tourism into the farmer’s business and life. Sessions are planned for 4:30-9 p.m. Feb. 16, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 25, 6-9 p.m. March 1, 15 and 22, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 31. The cost is $75 per person. Registration is through the Extension office, 509-422-7248 or

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Page 8 — Agriculture 2012, The Chronicle, Omak, Wash.

Agriculture can be challenging in Ferry County “

By Zachary Van Brunt The Chronicle INCHELIUM – Ranchers in Ferry County say their terrain and location provide both advantages and unique challenges. The county is geographically separated from the state’s main cattle markets. The closest is Davenport, which can require several hours and a trip across the Keller Ferry. “There’s a lot of cost involved shipping from here,” Curlew rancher Doug Grumbach said. “The distance kind of hurts us a little bit.” “We’re a little isolated from markets like Davenport,” Inchelium rancher Lee Jacobsen said. “It’s a challenge, that’s for sure. We’ve been here for a while now, and it’s getting to be a lot of things against you, it seems.” Both Grumbach and Jacobsen raise cattle, alfalfa and alfalfa/grass hay, and grain. And while distance and travel can be a problem for ranchers and farmers, Inchelium rancher Luanne Finley said they could also be considered positives. With only two major highways and three major rivers through the county, it leaves a lot of free range. “Cattle people don’t have to worry

There’s a lot of cost involved shipping from here. Rancher Doug Grumbach

” about state highways too much,” she said. “Ranges are wide open.” “We still have a lot of open space is this county, which is nice for running cattle,” fourth-generation rancher Grumbach said. Long winters mean most of Ferry County’s growers – dry-land farmers, usually – are pretty weather dependent, Finley said. “Long winters require more hay, so you’ve got to produce more to live in this area,” Grumbach said. And most ranchers do produce their own hay – as well as some grain – to feed to livestock. Often they sell the surplus to neighbors and beyond. “We’ve sold hay to people over in Nespelem, and there’s a fellow who lives over in Omak that’s planning on picking it up this weekend,” former Inchelium rancher and current hay

kid, everybody was raising cattle.” Jacobsen said agricultural interest has waned over the past few decades, and many herds of cattle have disappeared. “There’s just not a lot of young people in it anymore, which is kind of sad,” Putnam said. “There’s a lot of ground just sitting that used to be worked by the big family farms around us. There’s just a couple left in our neighborhood.” His family has lived on the ranch since the early 1930s.

“Prices are coming back up, and a guy can maybe break even,” Grumbach said. “But you can’t just up and walk away from it when you’ve got that much land. The options are pretty slim with what you can do with that land.” Other people, like Finley and her husband, Chuck, have a cheerier picture for the future. “I like to be optimistic. I think that the cattle market is going to stay strong in the next couple of years,” she said.

grower Fred Putnam said. Putnam, who works alongside his brother and 94-year-old World War II veteran father, recently sold all their cattle and now focuses on hay, grain, timber and a few wild turkeys on the family’s 1,900-acre ranch. “For us, we’re able to use the land and provide feed for our neighbors’ horses,” he said. And while ranchers are farmers are sticking to their roots, they fear trying times ahead. “Agriculture is changing more to larger corporations,” Putnam, a retired refrigerator repairman, said. “There’s certainly a lot fewer ranchers, and that’s the big thing that Dad has noticed. When I was a

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Agriculture 2012, The Chronicle, Omak, Wash. — Page 9

Riggan follows the ups and downs of orcharding

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BREWSTER – Roy D. “Spider” Riggan Jr. is a living witness to the tides of economic history. The Riggan family orchard started in 1950, Riggan, 81, said. Riggan opened his own fruit processing facility, Apple House, in 1966. The orchard is still in production and the warehouse is still in operation, run Riggan by Riggan’s son, Cory, and nephews, Mac and Tom Riggan and Mac and Cass Gebbers. Spider Riggan, his sons and nephews are in the fruit business now because of hard times in Arkansas back in the 1930s. They’ve experienced hard times, even after World War II, Riggan’s wife, Ethel, said. “Most people grew corn for meal, and of course everybody had a garden,” Spider Riggan said. Times were so hard most people still used horses for transportation. “I remember when I saw my first car. It was a convertible,” Riggan said. He was 5 years old. Those were the days that breadwinners and then entire families pulled up stakes and headed out to anywhere there might be a job. Roy Riggan Sr. headed west in 1936, looking for work in the Pacific Northwest lumber industry. Upon arrival, he heard workers were needed in the fruit country of North Central Washington. “Dad hauled apples from the field with a team and slip,” Riggan said. He went back to Arkansas, but members of the Riggan family started coming west to stay. They weren’t alone. Many existing orchards are owned by the descendents of workers who hit the migrant trail in the 1930s, Riggan said Spider Riggan first came west in 1945, working at the Jim Wade orchard near Malott. “That was when they had German prisoners (of war) up there, picking fruit,” Riggan said. Orchards were dominated by Red and Golden Delicious, Riggan said. Even through Washington was one of the biggest fruit producers in the world, it was a


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Page 10 — Agriculture 2012, The Chronicle, Omak, Wash.

Grower touts herbs’ health qualities Twisp business offers medicinal, culinary and aromatic plants

fragrant. Each one features a special focal point – a doctor’s bed and chair, a cooking stove and a bathtub. Two gazebos offer a shady spot to enjoy the outdoors. Kinzle offers a dozen herb vinegars, three teas and six seasoning varieties along with the fresh herbs. Her popular popcorn seasoning is being marketed to movie theaters now. Her products come without sugar or salt (except for the Cajun seasoning), and are grown using organic practices. “It’s nice to be able to offer people nice, healthy food,” she said. “Everything is as natural as

By Sheila Corson The Chronicle TWISP – The herbs that saved her life in Germany as a child are now a business and passion for Hanna Kinzle at her Inner City Herb Garden. Kinzle, 64, was born a few years after World War II ended, when good food was hard to come by. Kinzle Because of their lack of nutrition, her family struggled to keep their new baby healthy. Doctors told her parents Kinzle would die as an infant. A naturopathic doctor was able to use medicinal herbs to cure her. Ever since then, the family has made, canned, cooked and otherwise used herbs to keep healthy. Kinzle’s family immigrated to the U.S. when she was a child and brought their skills in cooking with them. She first got into herbs as a business in 1980, shortly after moving to the Methow Valley. In 1990, she made the business her

possible.” She also has 22 trees – several of them fruit – on her two city lots at 218 Glover St. Her garden is “companion planted,” meaning the herbs are paired with fruits or vegetables that grow well together. Some plants will not grow well next to certain plants, but flourish next to others. “They like being with their friends,” Kinzle said. She offers consultations for other gardeners interested in the practice. The garden also hosts some

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Brown’s Fresh Fruit 79 Pogue Rd., Okanogan 509-826-1936

Sheila Corson/The Chronicle

regular job. The garden is 100 feet square at the end of the street. An arbor leads the way in. “It’s kind of like driving into an oasis,” Kinzle said. The house she shares with husband, Ken, is more than 100 years old. They added on to it, keeping the cottage-like style.

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Agriculture 2012, The Chronicle, Omak, Wash. — Page 11

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Hanna’s Herbs in Twisp grows a variety of plants in several beds, including one featuring a bathtub.

Herbs from Page 10 events, and Kinzle said she wants to really highlight her tea line this year with “tea time down at the garden.” Kinzle already sells her

Riggan from Page 9 much smaller industry than it is now. “When we started, Brewster had 500 people,” Riggan said. The Riggan property was the fifth orchard on Brewster Flat, he said. Dr. Harold Stout helped the family buy that first property, mortgaging his home as part of the deal, Riggan said. Small producers and packers dominated. Brewster had four processing facilities with two more in Pateros. Okanogan had three or four, while Omak had three and Oroville as many as 15, he said. In 1965, Riggan decided he needed to start his own warehouse to stay in business, he said. For a year he hauled his fruit to his brand-new facility in Carlton. The first wave of consolidation began when two packing sheds in Brewster merged, leaving an empty brick-and-wood building next to the railroad tracks on Seventh Street. Riggan purchased it in 1966 and named it Apple House. Over time the packing facility expanded, especially after a fire destroyed the building in 1974. “The fire started early in the morning. It was 15 degrees,” Riggan said. Riggan retired in 2007, selling to his sons and nephews. Apple House was fixture on Seventh

Methow Valley blend (elderberry, rose hips and mint) and lavendermint tea, especially at the Methow Valley Farmers Market in season. This season will be a bit different, as Kinzle is working on some different marketing strategies and isn’t sure what that

will mean for the garden. But visitors are welcome to call to schedule a pick-up or drop-off at 509-997-2319. Some products are available locally at Glover Street Market, 124 N. Glover St., and Hank’s Market, 420 E. Methow Valley Highway.

Street until Aug. 3, 2008, when fire struck again. The blaze began about 6 p.m. and destroyed the packing lines and offices. Spider and Ethel Riggan watched from their house on Hospital Way, at the top of the hill. “That was tough deal. I was in that warehouse for 40 years,” he said. Cory Riggan was driving back from Spokane that day. “You could see (smoke form the fire) coming from Wilbur down the Grand Coulee. That was a tough day,” he said.

Apple House kept going, moving its packing line to three different locations in three years, Lotus Fruit (now Honeybear Growers) and Gebbers Farms in Brewster, and Central Ferry Canyon Packing in Pateros, Cory Riggan said. In 2010 the family purchased an existing facility in Pateros from the Chelan Fruit Cooperative. “We’re finally in a place,” Cory Riggan said. The company employs about 150 people year-round and kept most of its workers during the post-fire moves, he said.

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Page 12 — Agriculture 2012, The Chronicle, Omak, Wash.

Budget problems may overshadow ag issues Kretz concerned about potential for tax increases to help with budget shortfall By Zachary Van Brunt and Dee Camp The Chronicle OLYMPIA – Legislators from the 7th and 12th districts say they’re concerned about agricultural issues, but concede the state’s budget problems may overshadow bills aimed at helping farmers and ranchers. Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, said he’s concerned the Legislature may try to raise taxes on agricultural businesses as part of the effort to erase a $2 billion revenue shortfall. He said there’s a belief in Olympia that agricultural businesses are in a boon time, thought it’s not necessarily true. “Let’s say the tree fruit guys or the wheat guys have a good year,” but while things may look good on paper, farmers may also have to pay a decade’s worth of debt, upgrade machinery and not necessarily put money into their pockets. “It is doing better than some sectors, but I think it’s a silly, kneejerk reaction to jump on that,” Kretz said. State Rep. Shelly Short, RAddy, said in her position as ranking Republican on the state House Environment Committee, she hopes to provide a microscope for viewing agricultural proposals. “I want to make sure that environmental pieces of legislation go through very rigorous scrutiny,” she said. “I use my position and my relationship with the chair of the committee to work on building light coalitions, and making sure that we’re being reasonable and justified.” Short advocates that agencies should “show their work.” “They have to show us the science that they reviewed, and they have to show us the scientific information they used to justify their decision,” she said. “I just want to bring it down to a level where people can review it, and, frankly, we can watch what they’re doing.” State Sen. Bob Morton, ROrient, served on agriculture committees for years in the House and Senate. The main issue he sees coming for area farmers and ranchers is wolves.



“It’s going to be quite a significant problem in the future,” he said. “We have the gray wolf, we have the timber wolf, we have the black wolf, and the numbers are increasing. “Okanogan County has already had experience with the wolf, and



right now upper Ferry County is having difficult times to know how to handle the wolf problems.” Morton said the state’s new wolf plan does not provide for enough immediate consequences for damage caused by the canines, and that he would like to see swifter



action. “I’m told by ranchers that they are hearing husky voices and howlings at night,” he said. Big felines also are getting Kretz and Morton’s attention. They’re leading the charge for allowing hound hunting for cougars.

Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, RWenatchee, has a number of duties as Senate Republican Caucus chairwoman, but said she’s still keeping an eye out for her district, which includes part of Okanogan County. Rep. Cary Condotta said he’s advocating a training wage bill that would allow small companies to pay limited numbers of workers at the federal minimum wage level for a limited time rather than the state rate, which is the highest in the nation. He’s also working on legislation to help wheat growers stave off attempts to introduce genetically modified wheat. Rep. Mike Armstrong could not be reached for comment.

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Agriculture 2012, The Chronicle, Omak, Wash. — Page 13

Weed program concentrates on nasty invaders By Sheila Corson The Chronicle OKANOGAN – The Okanogan County Noxious Weed Control Program is working on a reduced budget, but is still looking out for two especially nasty invaders. Director Anna Lyon said the office is down to one staff person per day in the winter, with furloughs for everyone. The office is still open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but might be closed when a staffer needs to run an errand. The assessment funding the weed program has not been increased since 1992, so the office has had to make cutbacks to keep up with increasing expenses, Lyon said. The assessment is $4.74 per parcel plus 1 cent per acre. This year the program will be down one seasonal field worker. If grants come in, that position could come back. “We are anticipating grant funding, the question is how much,” Lyon said. State funding depends on the Weed Board and what cuts come down.

Noxious Weed Control Board

Hoary alyssum poses problems. The office also receives funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lyon said the office will get what it needs to fund its crucial programs, such as Class A weed eradication. The two main problem weeds are spurge flax and hoary alyssum. Spurge flax is aggressive, difficult to control and not palatable to livestock. Hoary alyssum is toxic to livestock and can cause death. Animals are known to become

intoxicated after eating the plants. Spurge flax has been showing up more often. It was found in 2010 outside of its regular boundaries in Riverside. Lyon said the office surveyed about 25,000 acres and found plants in isolated pockets. “It might be more widespread than we think it is,” Lyon said. Off-road access is contributing to the spread. For hoary alyssum, one big source of spreading is haying, which can mix the weed in with the hay and the vehicle. The office also will continue offering its pesticide certification classes. The next is March 14 with a lunch offered at a fee. Proceeds will support the Okanogan County Fair.

County has spurge flax to itself By Zachary Van Brunt The Chronicle

“We’re the only known site west of South Dakota, so obviously the only site here in Washington state.” Spurge flax is a Class A noxious weed, meaning state law mandates the plant be eradicated. It’s also extremely difficult to spot, she said. “It takes a very trained eye to look at this plant,” Lyon said. “It’s amazing how much you actually have to see before you notice this

OKANOGAN – Spurge flax, a noxious weed first spotted in Okanogan County five years ago, has spread from a small infestation west of Riverside to contaminations as far north as areas between Tonasket and Loomis. “It’s pretty huge,” Okanogan County Noxious Weed Control Board Manager Anna Lyon said.


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Page 14 — Agriculture 2012, The Chronicle, Omak, Wash.

Weed from Page 13 plant. It’s a spindly little thing.” Larger clusters of the weed have been spotted as far north as Spectacle Lake during a 2010 survey. A 1,000-acre spread was documented near Beeman Road west of Tonasket. The plant proliferates in alkaline and shrub steppe areas, which is cause for concern, Lyon said. “It sends a very clear message to us that this is something that definitely needs to be taken care of because it can take over rangeland,” she said. And while there haven’t been any sightings in treed areas yet – which Lyon said doesn’t mean the weed isn’t there – there are indications spurge flax would grow quickly in wetland areas as well, she said. Left unchecked, the weed could wreak havoc on all sorts of terrain. “It would impact wildlife by crowding out grasses,” Lyon said. “It would definitely impact range land.” Farmers in the area should be on alert so the weed doesn’t get into and potentially destroy crops. “We haven’t seen it in an alfalfa field, but it does grow right up to the edge of an alfalfa field,” she said. “We’re encouraging everybody to become familiar with it, because we think a lot of the spread we’ve seen is through off-read vehicle use,” she said. The easiest way to identify the weed is to contact the Noxious Weed Control Board for more information. So far, Ferry County has not seen the flax. “There are some concerns,” Ferry County Weed Board Coordinator Mary Fee said. “At this point in time we haven’t seen any. That doesn’t mean it’s not here, but we just haven’t seen any yet.” Lyon said wildfire tenders

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Spurge flax, with a pen showing scale, is invading Okanogan County. traveling back and forth between counties have raised some alarms for the weed spreading. Spurge flax is native to central Europe, and has been spotted mainly in the Midwest, where Lyon thinks it came to the county through infested hay bales. “Nothing really seems to beat this plant,” Lyon said. “It’s incredibly hardy. It produces tons of seed, and it’s really invasive.” In some of its native soils, spurge flax is considered endangered. In the U.S., it proliferates, Lyon said. “Here it seems to thrive quite well,” she said. “They just aren’t native plants here. You can import plants all the time, and they don’t necessarily become invasive. But there are some plants that just take

off, and spurge flax is one of those.” Not much is known about the plant. When first discovered in the county in 2006, it was sent to Washington State University for identification. The university, in turn, sent it to a higher source because nobody in the region was familiar with it. “There are reports that it’s toxic, but we haven’t really been able to determine how it’s toxic yet,” Lyon said.

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Agriculture 2012, The Chronicle, Omak, Wash. — Page 15

Zachary Van Brunt/The Chronicle

Folks chat during the post-seed exchange dinner Jan. 14 at the Community Cultural Center.

Exchange goal is to build on seed variety

you yo you ou.


The Chronicle TONASKET – For three years, the Community Cultural Center has hosted a seed exchange each winter for people to buy, bargain and swap for their upcoming spring plantings. This year’s event was Jan. 14. “The whole idea has been to build up the capacity of seeds that have been grown in the county,” organizer Michael “Skeeter” Pilarski, Tonasket, said. The goal is to have local horticulturists develop a better variety of seeds for Okanogan County. “We want better seeds, more seeds, and less money leaving the county,” he said. “Everybody goes away with seeds. The goal is that more people get this seedcollecting fever.” Although mostly vegetable seeds exchange hands, seeds for herbs and flowers make their way in. Heirloom tomatoes are among the most popular. “Eventually it would be nice to see it go into grains, cover crops, wildflowers and grasses,” Pilarski said. “There’s a lot of room to expand here.” This year more than 50 people turned out for the exchange, with some giving seeds, some selling them and others trading. An organic dinner was served afterward, with many staying after the three-hour exchange. The event is a precursor to the center’s spring plant frenzy, a plant exchange held each spring, he said. Another of the goals for exchange organizers is to see a survey done of gardeners throughout the county. It would be “a plant hardiness zone for Okanogan County that would be really finely detailed,” Pilarski said. “Making something for this county that’s relevant and draws from a wide variety of our growers could end up with a lot useful information.”


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Page 16 — Agriculture 2012, The Chronicle, Omak, Wash.

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Agriculture 2012  

News and reports about agriculture and horticulture in Okanogan County.

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