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Looking for Weeds in an 8ft Tall Crop

25 Jun

One of the crops on our farm is Swiss chard for seed.  This year we are growing a green variety, and it has decided to grow well over 8 feet tall!!  We are also growing a field of radish seed right next door, which in most cases wouldn’t really be a problem.  However, this year we noticed that there were a few stray radish plants in our Swiss chard field.

This becomes an issue of variety purity.  Radish is pollinated by bees, so we have to get the wild (or off type) radish plants out of the Swiss chard before the bees went and hung out on those flowers and then possibly went to our production radish field and pollinated with the wrong variety of pollen.  It’s one of those fun “we love being seed farmers” type of things!

So how does one go and find radish in a field that is…well…quite a few feet taller than I am?!  Farmers are problem solvers, and Matt had an idea that maybe if we got high enough we could have a better vantage point to see down into the stalks of Swiss chard.  This field was planted with alleyways to help us better manage the crop as it grows to full height, so we decided to drive each of those two times to get a good view of the whole field.  So we hooked up the man basket to the loader tractor and headed out to the field.  Once there Matt climbed up into the man basket, I took the wheel of the John Deere, hoisted him up, and we were off.

And it basically went like this… I would drive each alleyway once per side, always too slow or too fast.  While shifting I would (maybe) make Matt’s heart beat a little faster as he “hung on for dear life” (his words not mine).  Then every once and awhile he would holler and point to some area in the field.  I would jump off the tractor into the jungle, instantly engulfed in stalks of chard, while he “navigated” me through the crop to the off type radish so I could pull it out.

Navigating Skills were as follows (at full volume to be heard over the tractor engine mind you):
“LEFT, NO YOUR OTHER LEFT.”
“MAYBE WE SHOULD USE NORTH AND SOUTH AS DIRECTIONS?”
“BRENDA…NORTH IS THE OTHER WAY!” 
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING??” 
“YOU PASSED IT….”
“TURN AROUND.  OK. TURN AROUND AGAIN.”

“DO YOU EVEN SEE IT?” 
“IT’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!”
“HOW DO YOU NOT SEE IT?”

I won’t tell you what my equally witty responses were, if you know me, I’m sure you can make your own assumptions (haha!)

We didn’t find too many, but it was important that we found the few and and got rid of them to keep the purity of the radish variety.  Growing crops for seed can be tricky sometimes, there is a lot of high risk and high reward moments; and also moments that make you stop and think, “So how the heck are we going to do that??”  Like when you’re staring at an 8 foot tall jungle of Swiss chard, knowing that you need to get in there and look for tiny white flowers.

This crop will be ready to harvest later this summer.  The seed is used to grow Swiss chard for mixed green salad mixes.

Water is for Fighting, Part 3, The Ask

28 May

I have been posting a series of blogs the past two days about the Klamath Basin Water crisis. 
Water is for Fighting, Part 1, Background
Water is for Fighting, Part 2, What’s Happening Now

And now, Part 3….from farmer and rancher Ty Kliewer.

My Ask
Our request is simple. We need funding so we still have upright farms and businesses in the basin next year. Like agriculture across the United States, trade wars have been painful here too, albeit the fight was worth picking and winning. Unlike everywhere else in Covid 19 America, our current potentially fatal peril has been brought upon us exclusively by our federal government. When I woke up this morning, May 10, I asked my wife to tell me I’ve just had a really bad dream. She instead reminded me Covid and water shortage is very real. In the long term, Reclamation must recognize that this project is different. The water here doesn’t belong to Reclamation or the Bureau of Indian Affairs, it belongs to the farmers that Reclamation brought here to build this community and help feed our nation. 

There are two critical needs we ask of you and the Trump Administration. First, we need federal funding assistance to keep our farms and businesses upright so we can do business in the Klamath Basin next year. Second, we need the Administration to continue to work with Project irrigators and other affected parties to develop a long-term, science-based solution that properly addresses important tribal and fisheries needs and also recognizes the unique nature of this federal water project, which was developed solely to provide stored water for irrigation of local farm and ranch lands

We have upheld our end of the bargain through generations of both strife and prosperity. It’s Reclamation’s turn to uphold theirs.

The idea for this blog series came from a simple phone call asking for help to get the word out about what is going on down in the Klamath Basin and their water crisis.  I know what it’s like to be in the minority and not feel heard.  I know what it’s like to have someone just say, “No you’re wrong because I said you’re wrong” and not have any chance to stand up to them.  These farmers and ranchers deserve to be heard and they deserve to get what is rightfully their’s.

“It’s not rocket science – a new management paradigm is needed.  The Klamath Basin is at another historic crossroads in its future.  A hopeful vision is that increase knowledge, improved management, and cohesive community action will promote recover of the fishes.  This outcome, which would be a great benefit to the Klamath Basin, could provide a model for the nation.” – Ty Kliewer

My personal ask is that if this speaks to you as an injustice, that you also share this story on your social media accounts, participate in the rally, support these farmers and ranchers.  Because as you can see while you read through this series, it’s not just about one farm or one ranch; it’s about a whole community, a large area of our state that is being effected.  The numbers below aren’t small or insignificant to our state and the health of our economy.

We need to stand together in this state to protect each other.  Not just as farmers but as small town community members.  I want to thank Ty Kliewer for taking the time to sit down to write how this is effecting his livelihood and having the courage to put his story out there for folks to see.  It’s not easy to stand up, but the more we can get our stories heard the better off the future of Oregon agriculture will be!  And hopefully the better off the next generation of farmers in the Klamath Basin will be as well.

Also one more reminder….The Tractor Rally is coming up tomorrow May 29th. You can also check out Shut Down & Fed Up to keep up to date on this a future events.  Here is one of their recent posts, I think it really speaks to the mission of the farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin.

Farming is the ultimate profession of faith, strength, hope and humility.

In truth, we farm because everything that we were, everything that we are, and everything that we will become depends upon it.

We farm for the past:

▪️For those that gave their lives protecting our nation and its land.

▪️For those that believed in the American dream, and built a life from the ground up.

▪️For those that saw a land of opportunity when looking out over miles of fields and streams.

We farm for the present:

▪️For the thousands of acres that were planted and herds that were expanded, under the expectation that this year’s water would be delivered as promised.

▪️For the individuals and organizations dedicating every free (and working) moment to campaigning for our freedom to farm.

▪️For those praying that a lifetime of investing in their livelihood might make it one more day, one more month, one more year.

▪️For the thousands of individuals and businesses that make our farms and ranches successful, and rely on our commodities to support their families and our communities.

We farm for the future:

▪️For the children that dream of running the farm or ranch that their great-great-great-great grandparents took such pride in.

▪️For the parents around the world who pray that they might be able to put safe, affordable, readily-available food on their family’s table.

▪️For the promise that one day, we might all coexist peacefully and productively while respecting our crops, our cultures and our communities.

We farm for you.

#TakingaStandforAg #KeeptheBasinFarming #ACalltoUnity

Thank you!!

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!

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