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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 1, Background

26 May

I have heard time and time again the old saying, Whiskey is for drinking, Water is for fighting.  It’s a saying that before I was farming full time I had a hard time truly grasping the enormity of the power of one simple component.  Water.  For me personally on our farm we don’t fight over water very often.  Mostly it’s in the form of over-regulation and so far, in this area, we have had success in fighting to keep what is “ours”, and while that fight is ongoing, the level at which it’s being taken just a few hours from here is overwhelming.  In the Klamath Basin here in Oregon the story of protecting water for agriculture has been long fought, with difficulty kept, and is slowly being taken away.

This is a huge issue, one with a long history and I’m in no way versed enough to carry the weight of this topic.  So I decided to ask another farmer if I could share an essay that he wrote that encompasses his story.  This was an essay written to David Bernhardt, Secretary of the Department of Interior.  Below is Ty’s letter and in the next three blog posts you will be able to also read his essay that was attached.

Ty Kliewer is a 2nd generation farmer and rancher in the Klamath Basin here in Oregon.  The story is his alone, but as he says in his essay, “Although the story here is mine, there are thousands of them like this around the basin.” 

About Ty:
I am the president of the Klamath Irrigation District board of directors and a family farmer in the Klamath Basin. Although the story here is mine, there are thousands of them like this around the basin. 

My newlywed parents once had two car payments and two jobs to their name, but they wanted to be farmers. When I was growing up, we didn’t have much, but with many years of diligence and struggle – between my parents, my brother and his wife, and me and my wife – we now farm approximately 1,500 acres in the Klamath Irrigation Project. We also run about 200 head of cattle. My wife and I raise purebred beef cattle with the goal of perpetually creating better genetics that will produce more high quality protein with fewer inputs each generation. 

We grow both organic and conventional alfalfa hay and small grains that we have marketed from Fresno California clear north to Seattle, and many points in between. We have sold cattle to buyers in 20 different states. When you’re from southern Oregon, it’s a strange sensation to have your pride and joy living in places like Indiana and Kentucky! 

A great part of our herd descends from my first heifer I purchased in 1993 as a ninth grader. Now, I have my own 13-year old boy who thinks about nothing but farming, and an animal- loving 11-year old daughter. They are poised to be the next generation of American food producers, and that gives me a full heart and deep sense of accomplishment. 

Again, this is my story and there are thousands of others, and trust me, many are far more compelling. Many farmers in the basin are or are descendants of World War I and World War II veterans who won homesteads in the basin, or are descendants of Czechoslovakian immigrants who fled wartime unrest in Europe to find security and prosperity in the Klamath Reclamation Project. 


The Importance of the Klamath Reclamation Project
The core purpose of the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) when it starting building water projects at the beginning of the last century was to bring people to these places in the West to build communities and feed America. Although it has not always been fun or easy, my family and my neighbors have labored, persevered and upheld our end of that bargain. I am sad to say, after generations of effort, today we feel betrayed. Agriculture is the beating economic heart of the Klamath Basin, and although we are admittedly a speck on the map, the scope of what is produced here spreads far and wide. If you have eaten potato chips on the west coast, or In N Out Burger fries, you have probably ate a Klamath potato. If you have had a pizza or a glass of milk on the west coast, you have probably at some point consumed protein that originated in alfalfa fields of the Klamath Basin. A tremendous amount of malting barley used in the west coast’s fabled microbreweries is grown here in the basin. Agriculture, mining, petroleum and timber are the true generators of new wealth. Should our particular wealth generator be shut down, the many new businesses that have opened over the last decade in a recovering Klamath Basin will fail, along with our long term institutions. 

Unique Nature of the Klamath Irrigation Project
The Klamath Project is unique in terms of it is a single use project. Upper Klamath Lake Reservoir was developed with a single purpose- to store and deliver water for agricultural purposes. The right to store that water belongs to Reclamation. However, the right to use that water belongs to the secondary water right holders, the irrigators of the project. In recent decades, the Department of Interior (Interior) appears to have decided to assume tribal trust obligations by divvying up the stored water of Upper Klamath Lake. We are all now caught in a convoluted web which has heaped the costs of those obligations on the backs of the Klamath Basin’s farmers, who innocently answered the call to build this community and help feed our nation. In 2014, the Oregon Amended and Corrected Findings of Fact and Order of Determination reaffirmed that project irrigators hold the primary rights to the waters stored in the reservoir. The Bureau of Indian Affairs should have applied for a right for downriver tribes but failed to do so. Instead of purchasing rights for downriver use, as Reclamation does in many other cases, they instead have just ripped them from their rightful holders with no compensation. The web we find ourselves in today has entangled lots of people who are very confused, scared, and now, very angry. 

Tomorrow I will post the second piece of the story, Water is for Fighting, Part 2, What’s Happening Now.

Also I want folks to be aware that there is a tractor rally happening around this very issue coming up May 29th.  See the flyer below for more information.  Also check out their Facebook page, Shut Down & Fed Up for more updates as the event draws closer.

The Good, The Bad, and The Farmer

9 Apr

Covid-19.  Where do I even start? This virus has obviously taken over everyone’s life in ways that we could never have imagined and still don’t know the extent of yet. Whether you have it, are scared of it, are quarantining because of it, have lost your job, closed your business doors, or are still working in new ways and maybe harder than ever; we are all being effected in all the ways possible. For my family it’s no different. The other day I was talking to my mom and she said, “our family is like the good, the bad and the farmer!” I couldn’t agree more, told her that I was going to steal that, so here we go…

The Good

This is my brother Kyle.  I lovingly would refer to him as the nerdy one in our family.  As it turns out, he is The Good.  He is working with his 3D printers (has even bought more to help) and is making face masks for first responders and medical professionals who are lacking PPE to deal with Covid-19.  He’s been working on this for a few weeks and has made and delivered over 1000 to folks in his community!  He says that in these strange times he has seen no slow down for help with PPE supplies, so he has no intention of slowing down either!

Here’s the story that was on the front page of the Statesman Journal this week. Silverton-area man makes masks for healthcare workers with 3D printer

The Bad

As many of you who know me may have heard, my sister contracted Covid-19.  She is recovering at this point but this I would say is probably The Bad.  She also started a blog to discuss in real person terms her symptoms and her journey as it is all unfolding.  You can find her blog here:  Spreading Sunshine Blog

I have to say that experiencing this with her personal narration has been scary with all the unknowns, but also super interesting.  We are so lucky that she was healthy to start with.  We are lucky that she is in recovery, and now we just pray the rest of her family is spared.

The Farmer

While the first thing my mom actually said was, “…the good, the bad and…well I guess you would be The Ugly….but that doesn’t seem like it fits (thanks mom hahaha!) So maybe you should be The Farmer!”  As The Farmer I am still chugging along.  The crops don’t know about Covid-19, so they are growing and waking up as spring is moving right along.  We have been busy making sure that we are prepared, and that we can continue to work through this uncertainty.  I think the biggest factor for us is this new kind of unknown.  We face unknowns through farming all the time.  The weather, pricing, markets, these are all factors that in a normal year we face head on.  At this point in the year we have put a lot of money onto our crops, crop tools have been paid for, labor has been paid for, repairs, maintainence, supplies, all money going out the door to cultivate a healthy crop to harvest this summer.   Every year we do this while not knowing yields or prices for many of our crops, the uncertainty at this point in the year is a very real thing for us.

But this year it feels different, probably because it is different.  In my lifetime I have never had to add “worldwide pandemic” to the list of factors that may or may not effect our pricing, our shipping, our exporting, etc.  So in this uncharted territory we are controlling what we can, finding protections where we can, and we are taking care of our land and our crops the best we know how.  We are also social distancing when at work as much as possible and doing all the things that the rest of the world is doing to flatten the curve.

At home our family is safe and we are lucky to have enough amazing help that I can still farm, our kids can still be at home and we can still move along with our lives in somewhat normal fashion.  I don’t have quite as much time on the farm as I have picked up this whole teaching gig on the side (haha). Yes, the homeschooling situation is interesting, overwhelming and crazy all at once.  Luckily Matt takes up plenty of slack at the farm. I have offered a few times to let me head to the farm so he can log on to school with the kids but he strangely hasn’t taken me up on it yet. In short I truly have nothing to complain about in this department, we are (mostly) embracing our new schedules and still looking forward to summer break!!

I know that this time is hard for everyone.  I wish I had more answers.  I wish I understood more about this virus so I could find those answers.  But instead I’m going to continue on with what I do know.  I know how to grow crops and love on my family.  I know how to work hard and prioritize.  And all that I don’t know, like how to teach kinder, I will just keep going back to that hard work part and chipping away at it.

So there you have it, The Good, The Bad and The Farmer all wrapped up in one family in one wild time in history.

How are you all being affected? How has life changed or shifted? Please feel free to comment below.


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