agriculture | KUOW News and Information

agriculture

On a clear, cold winter evening, the sun begins to set at Lost Lake Farm near Jewell, Iowa, and Kevin Dietzel calls his 15 dairy cows to come home.

"Come on!" he hollers in a singsong voice. "Come on!"

Brown Swiss cows and black Normandy cows trot across the frozen field and, in groups of four, are ushered into the small milking parlor.

WSU President Commits To Diversity

Feb 15, 2017

Washington State University President Kirk Schulz packed an auditorium Wednesday at his first State of the University address. He highlighted the university's accomplishments since his presidency began last June.

During winter’s coldest months, snow can protect winter wheat like a blanket on a bed. But if it hangs around too long it can cause problems.

President Donald Trump signed executive orders to increase immigration enforcement officers, deport individuals living in the country illegally and build a wall along the border with Mexico. All while Northwest farmers say they can’t hire enough people to pick fruit or work in packing houses.

Genetically engineered crops are nothing new. But emerging technology that allows scientists to alter plants more precisely and cheaply is taking genetically engineered plants from the field to the kitchen.

The first version of the Arctic Apple, a genetically modified Golden Delicious, is headed for test markets in the Midwest in February, according to the company that produced it. It is the first genetically engineered apple, altered so that when it is cut, it doesn't turn brown from oxidation.

Third-generation Arlington farmer Andrew Albert. Albert planted winter wheat around a power box that was meant to serve the housing development.
KUOW Photo/Posey Gruener

Farm becomes subdivision. It's an old story, and one that Arlington hay farmer Andrew Albert has seen a lot.

"Happens all the time. Land is farmed for generations, then one generation ends, the other takes over, and they have different ideas, and it's no longer a farm," Albert said.

The recent testy back-and-forth between President Donald Trump and Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto -- could end in real cash losses for agriculture in the Northwest.

Most farmers in rural eastern Washington state say they only hire legal workers. But there’s a polite fiction of living and working there. Federal immigration officers raid farms and ranches here. And people get deported.

Colin Curwen-McAdams opens the door to his greenhouse in Mt. Vernon, Washington, and a rush of warm air hits our faces.

“Basically, it’s summer all year long here,” he jokes.

This is the greenhouse where Curwen-McAdams, a PhD student at Washington State University, and WSU professor Steven Jones developed a new species, which they call Salish Blue. It’s a cross between wheat and its wild cousin, wheat grass. Their goal was to make something that’s like wheat but grows back year after year.

The inauguration of Donald Trump and the next session of Congress mark the end of the Trans-Pacific Partnership for the United States. The trade deal proved to be a divisive issue during the presidential election -- and not just among politicians.

Two closely-tied agriculture exporters in the Northwest, beef producers and hay farmers, will be affected by the end of  TPP in very different ways.

This photo was taken by an undocumented immigrant featured in a KUOW story in July 2014. It was the last photo he took of America before turning around and walking into Mexico.
Courtesy Jorge Lerma

Build a wall.

Increase deportations.

End protections for young people known as "Dreamers."

The Port of Portland is suing agriculture giant Monsanto Corp. for widespread PCB contamination on port property, the Port announced Thursday.

The lawsuit doesn’t state a dollar amount, but wants the company to pay for its portion of the clean up in the Columbia and Willamette rivers.

“The damages for the Port of Portland range anywhere between tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in total PCB clean-up costs,” said John Fiske, a California-based attorney representing the Port of Portland.

Low temperatures, snow drifts, and northeasterly winds east of the Cascades are making things difficult for Northwest ranchers and dairy owners. They are struggling to keep their animals hydrated, fed and warm.

It's a continuing paradox of the meat industry. Every year, more restaurants and food companies announce that they will sell only meat produced with minimal or no use of antibiotics. And every year, despite those pledges, more antibiotics are administered to the nation's swine, cattle and poultry.

Patricia Aguilar, 21, began working at DeRuyter Brothers Dairy in central Washington nearly three years ago. She worked at the dairy's milking parlor, which she says handles about 3000 cows three times each day, seven days a week. Aguilar was one of four dairy workers responsible for pushing and guiding the cows into the parlor, connecting the animals to milking machines, wiping them and the machinery down, and cleaning towels and milk tanks.

The day after Donald Trump swept to victory, the head of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Zippy Duvall, released a videotaped statement aimed at the President-elect and other political leaders in Washington.

"Rural America turned out and made their voice heard in this election," he said. "Now it's time for our elected leaders to support rural America."

In the small town of Sunderland, Mass., is a 300-year-old, family-run plot of land that fuses fine art and farming.

Mike Wissemann's 8-acre cornfield maze is a feat of ingenuity, with carefully planned and executed stalk-formed replicas of notables such as the Mona Lisa, Albert Einstein and Salvador Dalí.

Many Washington and Idaho wheat farmers are struggling this year because of a weird crop problem. Researchers at the USDA’s Western Wheat Quality Lab at Washington State University in Pullman are looking into it.

By baking cakes, cookies, bread, pancakes, noodles and pasta.

A new audit finds that Klamath irrigators should not have received millions of dollars in taxpayer money. The money was used to pay farmers not to use scarce water supplies from streams and rivers in the Klamath Basin straddling Oregon and California.

Farmers, more than anyone else, manage America's land and water. They grow crops or graze cattle on more than half of the country's land outside of Alaska.

For the last two months, wildlife managers in Washington state have been shooting wolves in the Profanity Peak pack from a helicopter. The director of Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife authorized the killings back in August.

Federal land managers have made little progress in recovering damaged rangelands across the West or clearing the many backlogged acres that have never been studied for ecological health, according to new figures from the Bureau of Land Management.

The new data show the BLM assessed an average of 3.5 million acres per year between 2013 and 2015. At that rate, it would take about 17 years before the agency could finish grading all of its rangeland. It started the process in 1998.

Farmer Paul Sangha checks out blueberry plants on his farm. He is one of about 100 Sikh berry farmers in Whatcom County.
KUOW Photo/Sarah Eden Wallace

Two thirds of the raspberries grown in the U.S. come out of the soil in Whatcom County, Washington.  And chances are, the berries you ate this summer were grown by Sikh farmers there.

Paul Sangha learned the trade from his father. Sangha is one of nearly 100 East Indian Sikhs tilling the soil just south of the Canadian border. They’re adding their own centuries-old traditions of family farming – and transforming the region.

A new report shows that it’s increasingly difficult for young people to get into farming in Oregon.

The study shows that the average farmer in Oregon is 60 years old — that’s the oldest average age for farmers in state history. The report also shows that Oregon land prices are a major hurdle for young people who want to farm.

"A high price of land means that a farmer has an almost insurmountable barrier to buying into a farm business," said Nellie McAdams, program director with Rogue Farm Corps, one of the co-authors of the report.

Farmworker Groups Seek Ban On Pesticide

Sep 21, 2016

Farmworker advocacy groups are pushing for a ban on a pesticide known to damage the nervous system, which they say poses an unacceptable risk to farmworkers and their families.

No chemical used by farmers, it seems, gets more attention than glyphosate, also known by its trade name, Roundup. That's mainly because it is a cornerstone of the shift to genetically modified crops, many of which have been modified to tolerate glyphosate. This, in turn, persuaded farmers to rely on this chemical for easy control of their weeds. (Easy, at least, until weeds evolved to become immune to glyphosate, but that's a different story.)

The German pharmaceutical and chemical giant Bayer says it will buy U.S. seed seller Monsanto for $66 billion in an all-cash deal that will create the world's largest supplier of seeds and agricultural chemicals.

KUOW environment report Ashley Ahearn speaks with Carol Bogezi about how growing up on a farm in Uganda lead her to studying human-carnivore relationships at University of Washington and working with ranchers and wolves in Eastern Washington. Bogezi is the recipient of a $100,000 award for environmental leadership from Seattle’s Bullitt Foundation.

Your Dilapidated Barn Is Super Trendy. Just Ask HGTV

Sep 1, 2016

Larry Gerdes is having his barn taken down and disassembled in Malta Bend, Mo. It's about the size of a three-car garage but stands much taller in a clearing surrounded by 6-foot stalks of corn.

The barn's exterior is graying, part of its roof is missing, and there's a gaping hole looking out from the hayloft. It's about 100 years old, and it's not really useful.

"It's deteriorated and it would cost a lot of money to repair it," Gerdes says. "And it doesn't fit into modern farming. Unless you got two cows to let them loaf inside, nothing fits, and it's just obsolete."

The Sammamish River Valley.
Flickr photo/Keith and Kasia Moore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Seattle Times reporter Lynn Thompson tells KUOW's Kim Malcolm about how farmers and the wine industry are tussling over zoning along a small outpost of agricultural land south of Woodinville.

You can read Thompson's story here.


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