agriculture

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Updated May 11, 2020, 5 p.m. PT:

After weeks of no new cases, at least 34 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Kittitas County. That’s after county health workers tested nearly 170 employees at a food processing plant in Ellensburg to investigate a suspected outbreak.

The plant, owned by Twin City Foods, will remain closed until at least May 19.

Courtesy Liesl Zappler

With spring warming up, Northwest asparagus spears have started to breach the sandy earth at a swift clip.

For the last decade, the Northwest asparagus industry has been challenged by lower-cost imports, labor shortages and increased farming costs. But this year, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the foreign asparagus supply,  increasing sales for the Northwest’s crop. 

Air travel is down, meaning there aren’t as many plane bellies to fill with Peruvian asparagus. Mexican imports are down, too. And cold weather is hurting the crop in Michigan and eastern Canada. 

Anna King / NW News Network

It really frustrates Mark Anderson when he sends a truck to a Northwest port hauling a container of alfalfa or timothy hay and the truck rolls back without an empty shipping container to refill.

Anderson’s hay feeds everything from bunnies to camels to top race horses in 30 different countries.

He puts his compressed hay in containers to protect it. Once at port, the containers are loaded on and off container ships like large blocks of colorful legos. 

Courtesy Washington State Farmers Market Association

Jordan Dyck grows a lot of produce on his three-acre farm in North Idaho.

“We got a lot of lettuce crops, tomatoes,” Dyck sayd. “A lot of root crops. Fair amount of sweet corn.”

Dyck owns Homestead Produce, which is “about a mile north of Three Mile” in Bonners Ferry, he says, referring to a well-known “corner.”

This time of year, when he’s not farming, he’s selling his produce at the Bonners Ferry Farmers Market, which opens Saturday, April 25 — the first to open in the region.

But this year is different.

Anna King / NW News Network

It’s springtime in the Northwest: birds sing, emerald shoots are pushing up from the earth and the irrigation sprinklers tick, tick like clocks — same as always. 

But so much else has changed. 

Still, spring work starts up, ready or not. And Northwest growers are scrambling to figure out how to work around the global coronavirus pandemic and still bring in the coming harvest. 

Farmers wonder: Can they get it done safely?

First Up: Asparagus

Megan Farmer/KUOW

Washington regulators must soon consider rules to limit the use of a controversial pesticide that can cause neurological and health problems, especially in young children. A bill passed by state lawmakers this session didn’t outright ban the pesticide, as health and farmworker activists had proposed. 

 

ANNA KING / NW News Network

Outside Palouse, Washington, it’s mid-autumn and Chad Redman’s combine tractor keeps jamming with rocks it picks up in the field. 

Chad and his father, Jim, tug and ratchet at the combine. But nothing dislodges these rocks from the cutting header. 

“So we’ll have to go back to the pickup,” Jim Redman grumbles.

Racing The Rain

They’re racing the rain, and Chad says they just don’t need an extra challenge.

Nicole Berg

There’s a lot of time to think while sitting behind the wheel of a combine. 

Right now, Northwest wheat farmers are wrapping up their harvest in many areas. But across the country, farmers are losing money on every load of that golden grain. 

“You have to be wired differently to do this work,” says farmer and grain consultant Kevin Duling, of Maupin, Ore. “It’s very frustrating. It’s very stressful.” 

ANNA KING / NW News Network

We roll up a long, gravel road about 20 miles outside Mattawa, a small farming town in central Washington state.

We’re on the King Fuji Ranch where there's four suspected cases of the mumps and over a 100 exposed workers quarantined.

ANNA KING / NW News Network

Asparagus cutters bend deep over their work in the early morning light. Colorful plastic bins stack like giant legos amid the scrubby fields north of Pasco, Washington.

Growers in Washington, California and Michigan raise the majority of the nation’s domestic asparagus -- and Washington’s season is on.

But business in U.S. spears is noticeably dwindling.

That’s because there’s increasing amounts of cheaper asparagus from Peru and Mexico coming in: fresh, canned and frozen. And that’s cutting into profits for U.S. growers.

ANNA KING / NW News Network

Gary Middleton is worried about his cherry and blueberry buds outside of Eltopia, Washington. 

They’re developing late. And it’s gnawing at him.

“Obviously it’s going to move the harvest dates back,” Middleton says. “I would anticipate we’re 7 to 10 days behind a normal harvest.”

A week or so might not seem like a big deal to a non-farmer, but that short window can mean the difference between higher prices for Middleton’s crop, or a potential loss on his harvest.

ANNA KING / NW News Network

Circle irrigation pivot lines fan out in the distance -- dark skeletons against the dirty snow and matching sky.

Ed Schneider has grown french-fry-making spuds here near Pasco, Wash., for 40 years. But this year America’s fries are on the line.

WSU News

People with Celiac disease are a bit closer to enjoying gluten products again.

With the help of genetic modification, a team of Northwest scientists have engineered a unique wheat variety that’s safe for people with gluten sensitivities and allergies.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

Stroll down the wine aisle at your local store and you'll notice just about every bottle lists where the wine grapes were grown. The raw ingredients for beer and whiskey also come from the land, but more often than not, you can't tell where they're from.

That's changing in the Pacific Northwest. Here, some distillers, brewers, farmers and university researchers are exploring if there is a way to highlight and sell the taste of the local "terroir."

File Photo / Washington Apple Commission

With China threatening to slap the United States with tariffs on $3 billion worth of U.S. made products,  one group that is worried is Washington state’s apple farmers.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Nowadays the vast fields of grain in eastern Washington and northeastern Oregon feed the world. But once upon a time—1825 to be exact—the first crop of wheat in the Northwest was planted at Fort Vancouver.

For the rest of the 19th century, many farmers grew wheat, oats, rye and barley west of Cascades. Now, foodies, farmers and others are collaborating to revitalize the historic grain production on the wet side.

Andrea Bixby-Brosi / Washington State University

A fresh agricultural foe has orchardists bulldozing and burning cherry trees across Washington and Oregon.

Anna King / Northwest News Network

Washington is getting less rain than Phoenix, Arizona, state Ecology Danager Maia Bellon said during a press conference in Lacey Friday.

Courtesy of Natural Resources Conservation Service of USDA.

A drive across the Northwest quickly reveals things look really dry everywhere.

Anna Trombley / Washington Department of Ecology

Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared drought today in three regions of the Evergreen state: the Olympic Peninsula, the east side of the Cascade Mountains including Yakima and Wenatchee, and the Walla Walla region. 

Anna King / Northwest News Network

Government agriculture officials will kill up to 5,000 ducks, geese, chickens, pheasants and turkeys due to a bird flu outbreak at a hunting operation Washington's Okanogan county.

Idaho Bill Banning Secret Video Of Farms Moves Ahead

Feb 21, 2014
U.S. Agricultural Research Service

A measure that seeks to bar animal rights activists from making undercover video in Idaho dairies is moving ahead in the state House.

Washington Apple Commission

Washington’s agricultural crops in 2012 are up 6 percent from the year before. A recent USDA report say agricultural products reached nearly $10 billion.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

A malodorous invasive bug has gone from a worry to a certifiable nuisance for some Northwest farmers and gardeners. The name of this insect is a mouthful: the brown marmorated stink bug.

USDA

RICHLAND, Wash. – Many Northwest growers are left out of the partial extension of the U.S. Farm Bill included in this week’s fiscal cliff legislation. The new law largely covers conventional agriculture and not the organics, specialty crops and conservation programs that our region’s farmers are known for.

Wikimedia

It’s not just the so-called "fiscal cliff" that Congress is trying to resolve Monday. A tentative agreement on what’s been dubbed the "dairy cliff" is aimed at avoiding a government-induced spike in the price of milk.

Northwest dairy farmers are paying close attention to those negotiations. Without an extension of the farm bill, a 1949 law will kick in, forcing the government to buy dairy products at hugely inflated prices by today's standards. That would create an artificial dairy shortage.

Lester L / Flickr

Northwest wheat growers are hoping for a swift resolution to a labor dispute that could keep their grain from reaching the world market. Grain terminals remain open in Portland, Vancouver and Seattle, even though the terminals' owners have implemented a contract offer unionized longshoremen rejected.

Most of the wheat that grows on the rolling hills of eastern Washington is bound for the international market. But to get there, the wheat passes through one of a handful of grain terminals in the Northwest.

Anna King / Northwest News Network

Northwest agriculture advocates are more optimistic Congress will take up the issue of immigration after a forum this week in Washington, D.C. The effort is getting support from a surprising mix of organizations.

Courtesy Columbia Grain

 

A possible strike or lock out at Northwest grain terminals would have a profound effect on U.S. wheat exports. 

HispanicFarmerJustice.com

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a long history of discriminating against farmers who are women, Hispanic, Native American and African American. Numerous lawsuits have cost the government several billion dollars. 

The latest legal settlement is for women and Hispanic farmers who can prove they were discriminated against in the 1980s and ‘90s. But some of these farmers say the deal to make amends for discrimination is itself discriminatory.

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