agriculture | KUOW News and Information

agriculture

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.


The Northwest apple harvest is just underway and pickers are wading into the lush orchards. And so far things look dramatically better than last year.

Organic blueberries are really hard to grow west of the Cascades -- too many bugs and too much disease. And east of the mountains, growers must battle the desert. But one company growing blueberries in south central Washington state may have a solution.

Giant tents.

Legal marijuana sales exceeded $1.3 billion in Washington state in fiscal year 2017.
KUOW Photo/Bond Huberman

The moratorium on marijuana businesses in unincorporated parts of King County is just about over. The King County Council voted last night to lift the four month ban.

Council members also considered a move to allow retail pot stores in neighborhood business zones. People like Linda Mango asked policy makers to approve of that legislation.

If you're a taxpayer, you're in on this system.

We — the U.S. taxpayers — help subsidize farmers by paying part of the premiums on their crop insurance. This helps ensure that farmers don't go belly up, and it also protects against food shortages.

Over orchards and vineyards across the Northwest, European starlings are eating fruit to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. And when the traditional methods of keeping the birds away -- like scarecrows, pyrotechnics and netting -- don’t work, it’s time to call Falcon Force.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture says it found no evidence of chemical drift after responding to an exposure complaint from a former member of the state’s Board of Forestry.

The agency opened an investigation after Peter Hayes of Washington County forest company Hyla Woods complained he and workers were exposed to weed killer sprayed on a nearby tree farm operated by Stimson Lumber.

Vegetation samples on Hyla Woods property taken by state investigators showed no evidence that chemicals had drifted from Stimson’s tree farm, which is more than a half-mile away.

An Oregon judge has ordered more than $50,000 in fines and a one-year license suspension for a pesticide spraying company that violated worker protection laws and later disregarded an order to stop spraying.

Administrative Law Judge Jennifer Rackstraw ordered the Department of Agriculture to issue fines of $43,500 to Applebee Aviation and $10,000 to its owner, Mike Applebee, for 16 violations of state law.

The start of this year’s cherry season in May is the earliest growers have ever seen in Central Washington. Yakima Valley grower Mark Roy said the harvest usually runs from June 20 to July 20.

Nothing Says 'Hip' Like Ancient Wheat

Jun 27, 2016

Forget bold stripes and mule flats — could the next big fad be super-old wheat?

Consumer interest in healthy grains could sow the seeds for some long-forgotten bread wheats to make a comeback, according to an opinion article released Monday in Trends in Plant Science — presumably the Vogue of botany.

The limbs of Central Washington’s cherry trees are heavy with ripe fruit. In Moxee, crews are scrambling to bring in a harvest while the skies are clear and the weather is dry.

Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation corn and soybean farmer. He and his dad run a small farm about 30 miles from Topeka, Kan.

Beekeepers Feel The Sting Of Stolen Hives

Jun 6, 2016

Between December and March, beekeepers send millions of hives to California to pollinate almond trees. Not all of the hives make it back home.

"The number of beehive thefts is increasing," explains Jay Freeman, a detective with the Butte County Sheriff's Office.

In California, 1,734 hives were stolen during peak almond pollination season in 2016. In Butte County alone, the number of stolen hives jumped from 200 in 2015 to 400 this year, according to Freeman.

Oregon Kills 4 Wolves After Confirming Livestock Attacks

Mar 31, 2016

Oregon wildlife officials killed four wolves in northeastern Oregon Thursday after determining they are responsible for killing too many livestock.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife said Thursday that information transmitted from collared wolves in the Imnaha pack allowed the agency to confirm that four pack members have been chronically preying on livestock.

In Northwest farm country, tiny blueberry buds are already starting to plump up. But cold snaps could kill them. To save more of those fruit-bearing buds, blueberry farmers are currently waging an epic battle against frost.

April 1 is, on average, generally considered the date of the peak snowpack in the Northwest. And around now, is when many irrigation districts begin filling their canals to get ready for watering season.

There are grounds for optimism as well as caution.

The price of quinoa tripled from 2006 to 2013 as America and Europe discovered this new superfood. That led to scary media reports that the people who grew it in the high Andes mountains of Bolivia and Peru could no longer afford to eat it. And while, as we reported, groups working on the ground tried to spread the word that your love of quinoa was actually helping Andean farmers, that was still anecdote rather than evidence.

Adopt A Beehive — Save A Beekeeper?

Mar 29, 2016

Beekeeper Nick French never knows what he'll find when he opens up his hives for the first spring inspections. Of the 40 hives he manages in Parker, Colo., French loses about one-quarter of his colonies every year.

"I work all summer long to raise healthy bees, but there are no guarantees they'll make it through the winter," says French, founder of Frangiosa Farm.

When it comes to milk production, Gigi the cow is queen.

"She's the diva of all divas," says Robert Behnke, a Brooklyn, Wis., dairy farmer and Gigi's owner.

And she's earned that diva status: Earlier this year, she produced more milk in one year than any other cow had done before — just shy of 75,000 pounds of milk, roughly equivalent to 8,700 gallons. That's triple the national average for a dairy cow to produce in a year.

Carolina Chelele is a contestant on a popular reality TV show. It's not about dating, housewives or survival. It's about ... farming. Specifically, farming by females.

The stretch of public land where Angie Ketscher grazes her cattle is so expansive she’s never seen the whole of it.

Neither has its owner, the Bureau of Land Management.

Ketscher’s ranch is one of four that turn their cattle out to feed on this nearly 300,000 acre parcel of the sagebrush sea.

Standing on a ridge above her ranch, Ketscher pointed across a narrow, treeless valley. Her permit begins on the other side and runs to three separate mountains in the far distance. By horseback, it would take three days to cover that distance.

In Northwest farm-country, tiny blueberry buds are already starting to plump up. But cold snaps could kill them. And that’s a bummer for your morning smoothie. Now, Northwest scientists are trying to help farmers by studying how low blueberries can go.

Opponents of genetically engineered crops in Oregon want state lawmakers to allow local governments to ban those crops. The measure under consideration would reverse a bill approved during a special session less than three years ago.

While Harney County residents are asking armed protesters to leave, many locals are sympathetic to their issues. Economists say the root may lie in the west’s rural economy.

Harney County is sparsely populated, with 7,000 residents living on 10,000 square miles of land. That used to mean a healthy timber industry.

But Josh Lehner with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis says since 1978 Harney County has lost 99 percent of its wood product jobs, “All those manufacturing jobs are gone," he said.

Ammon Bundy, center, one of the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, walks off after speaking with reporters during a news conference at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, near Burns, Ore.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Bill Radke speaks with Oregonian reporter Les Zaits about armed protesters occupying a federal building in rural Oregon. The issue: management of public land in the rural northwest. 

David Hyde also speaks with reporter Anna King about the tension over public land management in rural Washington. King says people in rural Washington sympathize with the complaints from the self-styled militia in Oregon, but they don't agree with the tactics. 

If you go by their declarations and promises, meat producers are drastically cutting back on the use of antibiotics to treat their poultry, pigs and cattle. Over the past year, one big food company after another has announced plans to stop using these drugs.

But if you go by the government's data on drugs sold to livestock producers, it's a different story.

Andrew Ide grapples with flooding on his farm in Snohomish.
Courtesy of Micha Ide

Farmer Micha Ide had to canoe off her property for this interview – that’s how bad the flooding was.

Ide was at her neighbor’s house when she spoke with KUOW’s Bill Radke. Her goats and sheep were there too, and would be until waters from the Snohomish River recede.

Winemaker Charles Smith
Courtesy of Charles Smith Wines

Ross Reynolds interviews Charles Smith, one of Washington state’s winemaking stars. He managed rock bands in Denmark before moving to Walla Walla, Washington in 1999. Despite knowing little about making wine, he’s gone on to become successful, even being named Wine Enthusiast magazine's wine maker of the year last year. 

In America, our food options are remarkably unaffected by the changing seasons. We just keep eating salad greens and tomatoes without regard to the onset of winter.

In most of the country, there's little chance that the greens we eat in the late fall and winter are locally grown.

But if there were greenhouses nearby, they could be. And in a small but growing number of places, local greenhouses are there.

Take Lower Makefield Township, Pa., right across the Delaware River from Trenton, N.J.

Farmers challenging a Southern Oregon county’s voter-approved ban on genetically engineered crops have agreed to settle. If approved by the court, Oregon’s first countywide ban will have cleared a final legal hurdle.

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