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FRED Talk in the Field

18 Jun

Oregon Farm Bureau has been reaching out to members to do FRED talks. FRED stands for Farming and Ranching Every Day.

I had the opportunity to chat with Anne Marie Moss with the Oregon Farm Bureau about all sorts of things ranging from Covid 19, to grass seed, to blogging all while out in a grass seed field on a beautiful sunny Oregon day!

Click here to watch my FRED talk!

Personally my biggest takeaway is, when choosing a “tripod” for your phone while on zoom, a spray boom that slowly goes down while you’re talking is not recommended. Mostly because by the end of the conversation you will basically be doing a squat and your legs will be sore. 😂 #hindsight2020

But seriously, I really appreciate all the work that Oregon Farm Bureau has done to be creative and help still keep us farming and rolling along. You can see all their other FRED Talks here. And also Like them on Facebook to stay up to date about farming and ranching in Oregon.

Water is for Fighting, Part 2, What’s Happening Now

27 May

Yesterday I had a guest post from Ty Kliewer.  Ty is a farmer and rancher from the Klamath Basin here in Oregon and he, along with many other farmers in that area are fighting for their livelihoods, for their way of life, for their farms and ranches.  You can read all about the background on this issue from his perspective here, “Water is for Fighting, Part 1, Background“.

But there is more of the story.  Here is what is happening right now as they continue in their growing season and some of the very real consequences that could come from decisions that are made.  You’re going to see that it’s not just about one farm or one ranch, it’s about an entire community and ecosystem.  Here is another piece of Ty’s story from the Klamath Basin.

This Year will be Worse than 2001
This year’s situation is cataclysmically worse than 2001. That year, we learned on April 9 we were told there would be no water from Upper Klamath Lake before the irrigation season started. We did not spend any money planting and preparing to harvest that fall. This year, we have just enough water to create sharp division within our community, as there will be a handful of “haves”, and a vast majority of “have nots”. 

Built to Farm, The Klamath Lake Project

We typically need about 350,000 acre feet to fully serve the needs of Klamath Project irrigators. . We are given an April 1 allocation each year that is supposed to be the bare minimum supply. Our number this year was 140,000 acre feet, or 40 percent of what we need. In every preceding year, this allocation has been a worst-case scenario and fortunately, improved as time and hydrology played out. 

We are farmers, and figuring out how to do what we can with what we have and hopefully survive is how we roll. Following the April 1 allocation announcement, conservative plans were made so we could do the most good with a very limited resource. Planting, staffing, fertilizing, etc. ensued. Then, on May 9 we learned that our allocation had suddenly been reduced to approximately 80,000 acre-feet, or 23% of what we need, and that 25,000 acre-feet had already been used. This means, from my best guess, our district is going to be out of water in the very near future, likely in the coming days or weeks. We have millions of dollars in the ground, and unless it rains a lot, most of our crops will never germinate, much less make a harvestable crop. 

Losses don’t stop at the farm. No crops mean no need for labor, processing and packaging, which deeply impacts our strong and sizeable Hispanic community. Virtually no water means no need for parts, tractors and irrigation supplies. Farmers and their employees buy inputs, clothes, food, and many other things that are the basis of the basin economy. When farmland dries out, so do all these businesses. If the critical mass of our local agricultural industry is broken and our input providers are forced out of business, our community is doomed. 

The Unraveling
My biggest fear is the “unraveling” that will almost certainly occur to our community, starting very soon. When I graduated from Oregon State University in 2001, I knew returning home was going to mean a far more difficult path than if I would have followed several other opportunities that I had. 

All it takes for evil to prevail is for good to do nothing. Stepping back and looking at things from the outside, it would appear that Upper Klamath Lake rights now belongs to the downriver tribes in California, in a stark contrast to both Reclamation’s core purpose and Oregon state water law. This, despite Section 8 of the Reclamation Act, which states that Reclamation must comply with, and is also in conflict with Reclamation’s core concept of creating communities and food production in the West. 

I am fearful for what the future holds. Our “B” districts, which comprise about a third of the Klamath Project, are going to come to the realization that under the status quo, they will go without water two-thirds of the time. One district in particular, Shasta View – established in large part by the descendants of the aforementioned Czech immigrants- pay their power and assessment on the same bill. They have approximately $150 per acre in liability on land that two thirds of the time will receive no water. At some point, they will come to the realization that what they have worked for generations to accomplish really has a negative value. I repeat negative value. They will then realize they are trapped, and their families’ efforts of the last 100 years have proven worthless. At that point, their district will logically figure out how to dissolve, and then their Reclamation operation and maintenance costs will be heaped on the surviving districts, which also face grave water uncertainty. I fear this will ultimately lead to the collapse of those districts, as well. We estimate that the current market value of the farmland in the Klamath Project alone (without considering improvements) is approximately 1 billion dollars. This is the property tax base that helps pay for our schools, our law enforcement, and our roads. It generates a large portion of the revenue that feeds the business community of the Klamath Basin. If all this withers and turns to dust in the next couple years, where does that leave the tens of thousands of others in our community as current reality becomes the status quo? When 200,000 acres of formerly irrigated lake bottom becomes a dust bowl on every breezy day, who in their right mind would want to live here anyway? 

Wildlife will also Suffer
The Klamath Basin is also home to many more wildlife species than suckers and salmon, who often get most of the publicity. In 2001, we turned our cows out on our dry hay fields, which are usually our revenue generators, to try and hang on to what we had. We had to haul water to the cows every couple days. I had many opportunities that year to see mule deer, which are normally exceedingly adverse to human interaction. We had a very skinny doe and her two little fawns that moved in with our cows. When we watered them, she would charge to the trough right along with the cows, not in the least bit worried that she was coming face to face with a human. The ponds and canals she and hundreds of other wildlife species had depended on were dry, and she didn’t have another water source for miles. One of the most chilling things I have ever experienced was a common occurrence that spring: a silent late night with no croaking frogs, since the ditches were dry and they had all died. 

The Klamath Basin landscape changed drastically in 2001, but the migratory waterfowl did not get the memo. This year will be no different. Thousands of ducks, plovers, and many other species will again arrive to build nests and lay eggs this year, only to face the same detrimental fate as the farmers of the Basin. 

What makes things worse, only adding to my anguish 20 years later, is that the federal government continues to keep Upper Klamath Lake at unnaturally high levels. I believe this has occurred now for 28 years. For the past 20 years, unnaturally high amounts of stored Upper Klamath Lake water have been sent downstream to flow to the Pacific Ocean. We have yet to see conclusive scientific findings that demonstrate this is actually helping fish. So, the myth that this is helping salmon persists. 

If either of these actions had helped the species, I could kind of understand the wake of devastation they have left on my community and ecological system I deeply and fervently love. However, that’s not the case. Both the suckers and salmon are far worse off than they were 20 years ago. I will let you arrive at your own conclusions as to how this makes us feel. 

Tomorrow will be the final blog on this Klamath Basin water issue.  “Water if for Fighting, Part 3, The Ask”

I will say again that any support you could show would be greatly appreciated.  Like their Facebook page, Shut Down & Fed Up and plan to attend the rally being held May 29th!

My Journey to Find 98 Chlorpyrifos Alternatives; The Unexpected Rabbit Hole

9 Mar

Those who know me know that I’m a proud citizen advocate.  As a mom to three children and 3rd generation farmer, showing up in Salem is one of the only ways to protect my family from the onslaught of mandates and taxes considered by our state legislature.  I consider it part of running my farm; showing up to speak out about the impacts of bad legislation is one of the ways that I help ensure that my family can continue to farm in the future.

The 2020 short session was no exception.  A bill to ban chlorpyrifos, an insecticide that is used in Oregon on a number of specialty crops, was introduced this session.  I, along with many other farmers and agriculturalists, showed up to testify against the pesticide ban in House Bill 4109

During the public hearing in the Senate Environment Committee, Senator Floyd Prozanski asked a number of questions to the panelists, including me.  Many of those questions stemmed from a letter that was submitted into testimony.

“I’m just trying to figure out, as you can imagine we get a lot of information….there is a letter here that’s signed by many people with PhDs, MS, etc., and they are talking about alternatives and it does note that there are 98 safer insecticides for turf/lawn or grass seed pests….I’m just wondering if the Extension service, are they working with you all on this and giving you some of these other potential options, and have they been tried and they just don’t work?”

Time and time again this letter was brought up in the committee hearing.  “The letter,” you know the one that has…
 “47 different signers, academics, scientists, from multiple universities here in Oregon.”

And, “It seems to me like we have got a lot of people in the academics as well as in the sciences that are basically saying that there are alternatives.”

Also to another panel, “You may want to look (at the letter) because it’s on OLIS; Jonathan Manton was the submitter.”

And then finally when he voted to move the bill to ban chlorpyrifos after 2021, “It does in fact appear at least from the material that has been provided online that there are alternatives…and I will be supporting a motion.”

Senator Prozanski reading from the letter during public hearing on HB 4109.

While I’m used to the back-and-forth and “he said, she said” that is typical of a public hearing on legislation, this time it didn’t sit right with me.  I felt as though my integrity and that of my industry were being called into question.  So I did just what Senator Prozanski asked us all to do that day in the hearing, and I looked up the letter on OLIS.

I’ll be honest that when this whole thing started, I imagined myself pouring over 98 labels of insecticides–cataloging mode of actions, pests controlled, pests partially controlled, how they would work into our cropping system, etc.  I almost wish that was where this journey landed me. Instead, I ended up down a rabbit hole of zero accountability for what is submitted as testimony by a registered lobbyist.  Where I landed is frustrating, because I take a lot of pride in what I put my name behind, and I was under the (apparently false) assumption that others did too.

So here is my journey, and I’m calling it that because once you’re done reading this I hope you’re as exhausted as I am.

Day 1: Find the Letter & then Find the Alternative Insecticide List
I got “the letter” from the legislative website.  First thing I did was count the signatures and found there were only 45 signers (not 47).  Of those 45, two are repeats, three are spelled incorrectly, and one person I couldn’t verify.  So I re-looked at the letter, now with only 39 verified signatures, and while the attention to detail is obviously not there, I had some additional questions:

  1. Who drafted the letter?
  2. What are the 98 alternative insecticides that are referenced?
  3. Of those alternatives, are the products registered for use in Oregon, by what methods can they be applied, and what pests are they labeled to treat?

Day 2 Who drafted “THE LETTER” and What are the 98 Alternatives?
I started with Senator Prozanski’s office.  I emailed a request for the list of alternatives.  I was emailed back a pdf from an organization that I knew wasn’t connected to “the letter.”  So I wrote back asking more specifically for the list that was continually referred to during committee, the one that lists 98 safer alternatives, specially listed for lawn/turf or grass seed.  I also made a phone call a few days later to follow up.  I still haven’t heard back from the Senator’s office.

Dead End Number 1.

So then I figured it might be safe to assume that the registered lobbyist who submitted the letter as testimony also drafted the letter.  Jonathan Manton, lobbyist for Oregon Organic Coalition, submitted the letter into testimony and was referred to time and time again surrounding the letter.  So I called him and asked.  Nope, he didn’t draft the letter and interestingly enough didn’t even know who wrote the letter.  This seemed strange since he entered it into testimony.  So onto the next question, “Can you send me the list of alternatives that the letter refers to?”  Again, the answer was no.  He told me to check the website that is listed on the letter.  He said he had never seen an actual listAren’t registered lobbyists required to adhere to code of ethics?  Why would a registered lobbyist submit something without verifying if it is even accurate?
Dead End Number 2.

In looking at the letter, it references the Pesticide Research Institute.  So I went to the website: http://pesticideresearch.com/site/evaluator/ and began to look around.  It looked at first as though I would have to get a subscription in order to use the tool that was referenced.  So I clicked on “subscriptions.” But wait…low and behold they aren’t giving out any new subscriptions.  This seemed odd.  I called the office number on the website, but it had been disconnected.  So I called another number that I found and left a message on what sounded like a cell phone.
Dead End Number 3.

Days 3, 4, and 5:
Back to square one and back to “the letter.”  I decided to contact the academics who had signed the letter.  The first call I got back was from a gentleman from Oregon State University (OSU).  He said he did sign the letter, but said he couldn’t speak to alternative options and that he wasn’t familiar with that area of study.  He also didn’t know who wrote the letter.  Wait, you signed a letter but didn’t know anything about the purported list of alternatives and don’t even know the area of study?!  I thought universities had a code of ethics and accountability that professionals adhere to.  Turns out OSU does.

I contacted all of the verifiable 39 signatories on the letter. Here is a list of the things that I heard over and over again….

  1. I can’t tell you who wrote the letter, maybe….(insert a multitude of names here)
  2. I can’t speak to the alternatives, that’s not my area of expertise.
  3. What is Chlorpyrifos?
  4. Good Luck!

Cue my disbelief….

Here is the list of people that they thought MAY have drafted the letter.  I contacted all of these folks, and their answers follow their names.  None of them had claimed to have seen the list, except number 7.

  1. Lobbyist Jonathan Manton, No
  2. Professor at OSU, No
  3. Oregon League of Conservative Voters, No
  4. Environment Oregon, No
  5. Beyond Toxics, No
  6. Earth Justice, No
  7. Friends of the Earth, YES!!!

Day 6: Call the drafter of “THE LETTER”

After days and days of calling and emailing, I had finally found out who drafted the letter!  The Friends of the Earth.  The gentleman whose contact info I found works out of Washington DC, which makes no real difference beyond the fact that he might not understand what we are working with as far as Pacific Northwest cropping systems and pests here in Oregon.  But not wanting to hit yet another dead end, I called him.  He said that getting the list “should be no problem.  I should have something to you by the end of the day today.”  This was looking promising…

Day 7 & 8: I’m still waiting

Two days later I had heard nothing from ‘Friends of the Earth.’  However, I am still getting calls and emails back from signers of the letter, all more of the same useless information.  So I follow up with Friends of the Earth.  “Oh I meant to get back to you,” he told me.  And he preceded to tell me that they had gotten the list from the website that was in the letter, the Pesticide Research Institute.  He continued on that I would need to get a subscription to the website in order to get the list.  So I followed up, asking if he could just give me a copy of the list that they used, because I’m assuming here that they must have at some point had a list.  He assured me that while he’s sure they had at one time had a list, they no longer do, unfortunately.
Dead End Number 4.

Day 9:  The information you are looking for no longer exists
At this point I knew the Pesticide Research Institute website was no longer taking subscription requests.  But, I had learned a little more about the website just one day before.  Turns out I received a call back from that cell phone number, returning my voice message. The woman introduced herself and said that she was the owner of the website.  She was in the process of shutting it down, however, because she recently bought a small farm and that is taking up more of her time than she thought it would.  Insert ironic jokes here.  Anyway, she said that if someone had a previous login they could maybe, in theory, access the list, but they have been having browser issues so she wasn’t sure that would work.  In August 2020 it would be shut down, however.  I could also pay her to do it possibly in her free time, but again with all the browser issues, she couldn’t guarantee that she could get the information I was asking for.  She also hadn’t updated the website for almost 3 years, so there was no guarantee the information was up-to-date or complete.  Cue my continued disbelief….

Dead End Number 5.

The end of the journey

And here is unfortunately where this journey ends.  “The letter” that had been referenced as fact by Oregon legislators and registered environmental lobbyists, the letter that attested to NINETY EIGHT safer alternatives that were going to save the day for grass seed, proved to be misinformation.  The scientists who signed that letter did not even have access to the list of “98 safer alternatives” for Oregon farmers.  And if I wanted to try to prove this negative, I would be required to pay someone to get out-of-date information from a website that no longer has funding and will soon cease to exist.  I’m just a citizen, isn’t it the lobbyist’s job to provide factual and accurate information?

So here we are…. and my mind keeps going back to that public hearing in the Senate on House Bill 4109.  I was testifying as a farmer who has grown grass seed for over a decade, telling legislators that I don’t have alternatives to control the pests that attack my crops.  And Senator Prozanski is reading us the letter.  He instructs us all to read the letter, and he tells us all that we should follow up.  Well I did, senator.  It took me over a week just to get to where I’m at now, which is still no list, still no answers.  So can we call these safer “alternatives,” if we can’t even get a copy of the list?  Absolutely not. 

What happened to professional integrity?

This journey started out as a fact-finding mission and ended with me questioning the integrity of the legislative process and registered lobbyists who put forward information without regard for the facts.  This isn’t as easy as: “I read this, and PhD’s signed it so it must be true.”  I wish I would have said, when asked about the letter, that I bet none of the signers are farmers.  I bet not one of those PhD’s actually did the research to see if any of those 98 insecticides were labeled for legal use in Oregon.  But how could they?  No one had the data when they were asked to sign the letter.

I also wish I had the chance to ask of the legislators, “Do you really think that we like to spray this chemical?”  Time and time again, our own legislators accuse us of just keeping the status quo.  They say we aren’t doing our part to find solutions.  These statements are not only upsetting, but they are hurtful to families across Oregon who work to grow food and fiber for the rest of the world.

I love what I do; I take an immense amount of pride in how we treat our employees and how we raise healthy food.  As the third generation on our farm, I also take pride in my healthy soils.  Those are things that I don’t take lightly.  So it just sucks to sit in committee and have my livelihood and farm practices called into question because of a letter that told legislators the opposite. A letter that at best is not based on fact and at worse is blatantly misleading Oregon lawmakers and members of the public.  A letter that references information that no longer exists (and I’m beginning question whether it ever did).

After being told that I can pay for the possibility of finding that information that should have been made available to the public in the first place, I’m ending this journey.  It’s not fair to me, my industry or the public.  And by no means will I “pay to play” with this NGO that clearly doesn’t value the integrity of the public process like I do.  But then, the viability of my farm is what’s at stake, and what does Friends of the Earth have to lose?

For those policymakers or members of the public who are still reading….

So let me tell you how it works in the real world.  Farmers need crop protection tools that aren’t just simply written down on a nice clean sheet of paper.  We need to legally control the pests attacking our crops; we need investments in research and development to see if alternative insecticide products are safe to use to control the same bugs; and we need investments in the state specialty crop registration process that can take 4-7 years.

We work with our Extension agents regularly.  We work with crop consultants who are always looking for new ways to manage pests.  I know that what I spray as a farmer can be dangerous when used incorrectly.  I KNOW THAT!  I raise my family on my farm.  I would love for an alternative to exist to chlorpyrifos.  Trust me, wearing a respirator isn’t the best thing I do while farming, not by a long shot.  So yes, I would love for a product to come along that is safer to handle.  I even testified that we tried a few other products during the infestation of army worms, and they didn’t work.  Our crops were literally disappearing overnight.

So when I’m told time and time again that I’m not doing enough, I take it personally.  And maybe that’s why I chose this rabbit hole to get sucked into.  Because I was sitting in a public hearing on House Bill 4109, one where farmers showed up to testify in a 2 to 1 ratio and still, still, we are not believed.  In fact, the integrity of our testimony and industry seemed to be called into question and in large part because of “the letter,” referenced by legislators and put forward by a registered lobbyist.

The letter that no one knows who wrote.  The letter that provides a seemingly simple list of alternative insecticides that Oregon growers are able to use without any actual data.  The letter that makes claims that not one single PhD who signed can substantiate.  And they can’t, because not one of them has seen this list.  The letter and list of alternatives that one senator brought up time and time again without even seeing it himself.

Maybe everyone just hoped that no one would look into it.  Maybe the thought was one echoed by one of the very PhD’s that I talked to, “Maybe there isn’t a list.  Maybe it was just put in there to beef up the letter?”  Makes you wonder, huh?

So here’s a plan.  Go out and buy a farm.  Plant the specialty crops that use chlorpyrifos in Oregon today.  Put all your income on the line and pray that mating disruption biopesticides will help with soil pests (spoiler: they won’t).  Pray that you don’t have symphs in your soil (because if you do, you’re screwed).  Pray that your years’ and years’ worth of work and your millions of dollars that you owe to the bank will get paid back.  Hell maybe put that nice neat little letter with ALL those PhD’s signatures on top of the soil, and let the pests read it.  Then you come and tell me how simple it is to just find the list of 98 alternatives that are safer, use those, and everyone wins.  It’s so easy, it’s so simple, if only it were. 

The fourth generation of our family farm.

I didn’t write this to argue the pluses and minuses of having the tool chlorpyrifos.  I am writing this because I hope it comes across how frustrated I am.  If we are at a place in Oregon where people can just submit whatever they wish without data to back it up, then farmers in Oregon are sunk.  If integrity doesn’t matter, then what happened this session will occur in sessions following the 2020 short session.  And I fear that someday this mentality—and the ability to put forward false information as truth—will cost my family our farm.

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