Texas Agriculture October 16, 2015 : Page 14

O CTOBER 16, 2015 The spirit of agriculture stretches across the nation. And the world… By Julie Tomascik & Ed Wolff No matter the region, weather or circumstances, agriculture finds a way to survive. And thrive. It’s the spirit of farmers and ranchers. It holds true in the Lone Star State. And in the Pacific Northwest, where the Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) state board of directors visited in September. Despite many challenges, agricul-tural enterprises flourish in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. That’s what the Texas leaders learned as part of TFB’s Global Ag-ricultural Education Tour—a way for Texas growers to see agriculture around the world and across the na-tion. “It’s a big world out there, and you can learn a lot from other growers,” said Dale Murden, a Rio Grande Val-ley farmer and TFB District 13 state director. Labor, water, regulations and pest and disease issues. Visiting other re-gions offers an insight into concerns. Ones that are often similar to those Texans face. “It’s important that we have a broad-based understanding of agri-culture all over the United States and the world,” said Dan Smith, a South Plains farmer and TFB District 2 state director. “It shows us the dif-ferent types of agriculture and the different ways things are done.” That’s diversity at its finest. A creative formula to make agriculture productive and efficient. To adapt in Survive and Thrive 14

Survive and Thrive

Julie Tomascik & Ed Wolff

The spirit of agriculture stretches across the nation. And the world…

No matter the region, weather or circumstances, agriculture finds a way to survive. And thrive. It’s the spirit of farmers and ranchers.

It holds true in the Lone Star State. And in the Pacific Northwest, where the Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) state board of directors visited in September.

Despite many challenges, agricultural enterprises flourish in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

That’s what the Texas leaders learned as part of TFB’s Global Agricultural Education Tour—a way for Texas growers to see agriculture around the world and across the nation.

“It’s a big world out there, and you can learn a lot from other growers,” said Dale Murden, a Rio Grande Valley farmer and TFB District 13 state director.

Labor, water, regulations and pest and disease issues. Visiting other regions offers an insight into concerns. Ones that are often similar to those Texans face.

“It’s important that we have a broad-based understanding of agriculture all over the United States and the world,” said Dan Smith, a South Plains farmer and TFB District 2 state director. “It shows us the different types of agriculture and the different ways things are done.”

That’s diversity at its finest. A creative formula to make agriculture productive and efficient. To adapt in the face of uncertainty. And make the most of the land.

But one critical factor, regardless of the level of diversity, is water.

Giving life to agriculture

Irrigation is a common practice, because water is a rare nutrient in the region.

The eastern sides of Oregon and Washington only receive between three to nine inches of rain a year. A far cry from the coastal climate and thick rainforests on the other side of the Cascade Mountains.

“I think we all didn’t realize there was so much desert country, Mediterranean country. Water is a huge issue in parts of Oregon, Washington and Idaho,” said Dave Edmiston, a Central Texas rancher and TFB District 7 state director. “They have great volcanic type soils. They’re just missing that one thing—water.”

Since moisture doesn’t often come from the sky, farmers and ranchers tap into the water infrastructure. Like the Grand Coulee Dam, which is the largest of the 274 hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River system. By itself, it helps irrigate more than 600,000 acres.

It’s a benefit to agriculture and local economies that took eight years to build. The first farms drew irrigation water from it in 1952. And now it supplies power to 11 western states, making it the largest hydropower producer in the U.S.

“The tour guide tells us that the reason the dam was built was to provide irrigation water, and you can tell driving these highways that it’s what has brought this part of the country to life,” said Bob Reed, a Southeast Texas farmer and TFB District 11 state director.

Without irrigation, the region’s agricultural productivity would falter.

“You get a little bit away from the basin and it is a totally dry desert,” said Ben Wible, a North Texas farmer and rancher and TFB District 4 state director. “If it wasn’t for the Snake River and the Columbia River, there would be 1.5 million acres less of production.”

A look at crops, aquaculture

The water is used to grow crops like Timothy hay, trees and the pride of Washington agriculture—apples.

Texas leaders toured area farms to get an in-depth look at the region’s agriculture.

In Ellensburg, Wash., Anderson Hay and Grain grows Timothy hay and alfalfa. But their operation is a bit different than most Texas hay farms.

“Anderson Hay gives a whole different perspective to the term ‘hay operation,’ ” said Ronnie Muennink, a Medina Valley hay producer and TFB District 10 state director. “We’re used to these small operations at home where we bale our own hay and sell to a few customers. This company here is growing hay in four states and sending it to several countries, including China and Japan.”

About 90 percent of their hay is exported to the Middle and Far East. The bales are compressed and placed in containers for shipping.

Another visit took them to Bushue Farm in Boring, Ore. Barry Bushue, farmer and president of Oregon Farm Bureau, taught high school in Australia before coming back to the farm in 1988.

He grows strawberries and flowers in May and June; peppers, tomatoes, beans and peas in July and August; and pumpkins in September and October. Some of the produce is taken to a local farmers market, while the rest is sold off the farm.

Bushue uses the farm visits as an educational opportunity and even welcomes school tours.

But specialty crops weren’t the only farm visits. A poplar tree plantation in Oregon was also a stop on the six-day trip.

At Boardman Tree Farm, eight acres are harvested in a day, totaling about 2,000 acres annually. The trees are 100 feet tall and have an 18-inch diameter when harvested.

“The difference is they’re growing it (trees) in a shorter period of time, so it’s a quicker return on their money,” said Larry Joiner, an East Texas rancher and TFB District 9 state director. “It’s 10 to 12 years here, and it’s 20-25 years with the pine trees (at home).”

During the peak season, about 250 workers are needed—more than 10 times the workforce employed throughout the rest of the year.

The farm is 23,000 contiguous acres with a sawmill in the center. And they draw irrigation from the Columbia River.

A visit to the Wheat Marketing Center in Portland, Ore. was also part of the trip.

The group had a chance to see firsthand the science and research that goes into their kernels once it leaves their farms.

“It was interesting to see how they are blending our hard red winter wheat with soft wheat to make a better product and sell around the world,” said Robert Gordon, a Texas Panhandle farmer and TFB District 1 state director.

TFB leaders also visited Cave B Estate Winery while in Washington. The vineyard only gets three to five inches of rain annually. But a 1,000-foot well on the property alleviates the lack of rainfall.

Without the well, “the vineyard wouldn’t be here,” said Zack Yanta, a South Texas farmer and rancher and TFB District 12 state director. “It would be just rocks and sagebrush.”

But one thing that will grow in Washington is apples. The climate and soil fertility make the area suitable for the fruit.

“Obviously, we’re not comparing apples to oranges on this trip, but for me it’s really fascinating,” Murden, a citrus grower, said. “We were at the packing shed earlier. Whether I was running grapefruit in that shed or oranges, it’s the same concept. But what he’s doing here on apples is a lot different than what I do with oranges and grapefruit in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Murden, along with the other state directors, was able to tour the orchard and packing shed.

At Stemilt Growers, they pack 8.5 million boxes of apples each year—52 percent of that is produced on the farm and the remaining 48 percent comes from privately owned orchards.

Before the apples reach the packing shed, they must be picked.

The fruit is first picked from the bottom of the tree. Platforms come through later and pick the apples from the top. No ladders are used.

Texas farmers were also immersed in aquaculture—both salt and freshwater.

Along the coast, Taylor Shellfish grows more farm-raised shellfish than anyone in the country. Clams, mussels, oysters and geoduck are their specialties.

“Aquaculture has been real impressive to me. A lot of things we do in production agriculture as far as livestock and production of livestock goes hand-in-hand with aquaculture,” said Michael White, Rolling Plains farmer and rancher and TFB District 3 state director. “They’re using breeding techniques and things we see in livestock production, also. That’s truly amazing to me.”

Farther inland, freshwater farmers take advantage of natural springs to grow trout, tilapia and white sturgeon.

“The thing that I enjoy is seeing some different agriculture than what we get to see on a daily basis,” Reed said. “Lot of times you think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but these guys up here face challenges just like we do.”

Regulations hold back agriculture

One of those challenges is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

A visit to Liberty Dairy in Sunnyside, Wash., was eye-opening. The dairy just settled a lawsuit sparked by the EPA.

It was the first time a federal court ruled manure from a livestock facility should be regulated as a solid waste.

The settlement was painful. But survivable.

“They added a more sophisticated way of separating the solids from the liquid manure,” said Russell Boening, a South Texas farmer, rancher, dairyman and TFB president.

The solids run through a centrifuge and are used as compost. The dairy then sells the compost.

“EPA came to this dairy. And whether it’s my dairy that’s a smaller dairy or whether it’s a dairy that’s in the northern part of Texas that are of a very similar size to these, it’s good to know how they dealt with it and some of the things they did to adjust,” Boening said.

Those regulations unite farmers and ranchers. No matter how far their farms and ranches may be from each other.

“When we start talking about government regulations, we’re all in this boat together, whether we’re citrus, dairy or row crops,” said Val Stephens, a West Texas cotton farmer and TFB District 6 state director. “So we have to have a united front when we go to Washington, D.C. to talk to our congressmen and senators, particularly when dealing with the numerous agencies that look after agriculture.”

A united voice for agriculture. Common struggles and a passion for the land. It was a theme that held true for the entire TFB state board of directors.

“We face similar issues—some we have control over and some we don’t,” said Mark Chamblee, an East Texas nurseryman and TFB District 5 state director. “We get to meet farmers who grow different commodities because of their climate characteristics. We get to talk with them about issues, and we find common ground. All of that serves as information and connections when we talk to Congress about those issues and potential legislation impacting agriculture.”

That’s why the Global Agricultural Education Tours are beneficial. Relationships are built. Additional knowledge is learned. And an appreciation for diverse agriculture is deepened.

Agriculture brings together farmers, ranchers

That diversity and farmers’ and ranchers’ resilience has propelled agriculture forward in the Pacific Northwest.

“Their troubles are just like my troubles, just in a different way and a different form,” said Neil Walter, a Central Texas farmer and TFB District 8 state director.

Although their farms are thousands of miles away from each other, Texans found kindred spirits in the growers of the Pacific Northwest. A bond only those who work the land can understand.

Read the full article at http://texasagriculture.texasfarmbureau.org/article/Survive+and+Thrive/2296105/276607/article.html.

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