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Mackinzie Ledgerwood (5) was helping her dad, Brock Ledgerwood, check on a cow out in the wheat stubble on Ledgerwood Farms in Pomeroy, Wash.
Photo by Brock Ledgerwood







Looking for solutions 60 years in the past

Is now the time for the federal government to finish the Columbia Basin Project?

June 2018
By Trista Crossley

From the very beginning, concerns about the cost of surface water have dogged the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project and sent invested parties scrambling for funding alternatives. One group of farmers think they’ve found a viable lead by going back more than 60 years—asking the federal government to finish the Columbia Basin Project.

In 1943, Congress authorized the Columbia Basin Project (CBP), which was intended to use Columbia River water to irrigate 1.1 million acres of cropland in central Washington. To date, only 671,000 acres have access to that water with the rest of it relying on deep-water wells that tap the Odessa Aquifer. That aquifer is now running dry, threatening not only irrigated cropland, but towns and residents who rely on it for drinking water. The Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project (OGWRP) hopes to move more than 87,000 acres off those wells to relieve the pressure (see related article on page 22), but there are fears that the project will be too expensive to meet its goal. See more

State funnels funds to irrigation project

Capital budget included $15 million for Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project

June 2018
By Trista Crossley

When the state legislature passed last year’s capital budget in January of this year, it included a $15 million funding boost for the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project (OGWRP).

The funding will be split, with $5 million earmarked for increased delivery capacity in the first distribution system slated for construction, the 47.5. The other $10 million will be used to continue East Low Canal expansion work, specifically the two Kansas Prairie siphons, said Mike Schwisow, director of government relations for the Columbia Basin Development League, a nonprofit group that advocates for development of the Columbia Basin Project. See more

Ecology settles Hangman Creek lawsuit

Agreement likely to bring extra scrutiny to Spokane County growers

May 2018
By Trista Crossley

A recent agreement between the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) and the Spokane Riverkeeper will likely bring a renewed focus on agriculture as a source of nonpoint pollution in the Hangman Creek Watershed in southern Spokane County.

The agreement settles a lawsuit brought by the Spokane Riverkeeper in 2015 that claimed Ecology wasn’t doing enough to clean up the Hangman Creek Watershed fast enough. In 2009, Ecology published a report setting total maximum daily loads for the watershed to bring it into compliance with the state’s water quality standards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed off on the report and Ecology’s plan to address the watershed’s problems. The lawsuit claimed that Ecology couldn’t provide reasonable assurances that it could meet the standard in the clean-up plan.

“There’s certainly been some work done in the watershed,” said Chad Atkins, Ecology’s acting watershed unit supervisor for the Hangman Creek Watershed. “But some of that work takes a long time to see in terms of water quality benefits in-stream. It takes time for trees to grow; vegetation to get established; and some tillage practice improvements to show up in the water column. It’s also fair to say that progress has been slow to date. This provides an opportunity to work with our partners and make some additional progress.” See more

AMMO: Counting on crop insurance

Ag economist Art Barnaby emphasizes importance of harvest price option

April 2018
By Trista Crossley

While Dr. Art Barnaby, an ag economist from Kansas State University, addressed a wide variety of topics related to crop insurance at the second of 2018’s Agricultural Marketing and Management seminars, it was the potential impact of losing the harvest price option (HPO) that he wanted to drive home.

“If that option is taken out of insurance, it affects this part of the country because they are settling their claims based off Portland prices, and you can’t effectively do that with hedging on the board. There’s not enough of a relationship between those two numbers,” he said in an interview after his presentation. “These guys are farmers, and they are all well aware of how these things work, so it’s a pretty easy group to explain to why the harvest price option is important to them. I wish it were that easy to explain to the policymakers who are talking about removing it.” See more

Taking the helm

New FSA state executive director brings passion for agriculture to the job

February 2018
By Trista Crossley

Brian Dansel has had a lot of titles in the past eight years: Ferry County commissioner, state senator, special assistant to the U.S. secretary of agriculture. In November 2017, he added one more: state executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA).

Dansel grew up in Republic, Wash., where he still lives with his wife and son. His first foray into public service, prompted by a property rights issue, happened in 2010 when he was elected as a Ferry County commissioner.

“I got into public service because I did not like the Growth Management Act, and I wanted to make some changes,” he explained. “I never felt really super political. I was a more of a mind-my-own-business type of person, but when other people stuck their nose in my business, then it was time to get involved.”

Dansel moved on to the state legislature in 2013, becoming a senator for the 7th District. While in the Senate, he was an advocate of agriculture, serving on both the Senate Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Agriculture Committee. In January 2017, Dansel resigned his Senate seat to take a position as a special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture as part of the Trump Administration’s initial “beachhead” team. He said he spent much of his time in Washington, D.C., focusing on rural infrastructure. See more

Drowning in water issues

Convention breakout session puts Snake River dams, other water concerns in spotlight

January 2018
By Trista Crossley

While breakout sessions at the annual grain growers convention cover a myriad of topics, farmers can usually count on at least one session being focused on water. This year, the 2017 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention in November put the Snake River dams at the center of that current.

Todd Myers, director for the Washington Policy Center’s Center for the Environment, gave a breakout session titled, “Dams and Wells: The Future of Water and Farmers.” As Myers said, breaching the Snake River dams is a topic that never goes away. A 2016 federal court ruling directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to look at scenarios to protect salmon and steelhead, including tearing down four dams on the lower Snake River, despite the fact that fish counts are slowly increasing.

While some irrigation and flood control is provided by the dams, they are used mostly for navigation and to generate electricity. Myers said that most parties recognize there are economic problems involved in tearing down the dams. See more

Weed concerns

A year after leases terminated, Benton County DNR land is sitting idle

December 2017
By Trista Crossley

In the year since several Benton County farmers had their leases terminated early by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), little progress has been made in turning the land to a “higher and better use.”

According to Katie Mink, assistant region manager for DNR’s southeast region, the project was put out for auction in April of this year, but received no qualified bids. DNR has been reaching out to parties who had expressed interest in the project but didn’t submit a bid in an effort to understand those parties’ concerns. In most cases, Mink said, the cost of the project was the primary obstacle. DNR estimates that the cost for installing the pipeline and related on-farm infrastructure to be upwards of $17 million.

“We are in conversations with a few parties who have expressed interest in working with us to make this project happen in a manner that is beneficial to both them and the school trust,” Mink said.

At this time, DNR hasn’t set another auction date. See more

A harvest of a different sort

November 2017
By Trista Crossley

Mike Poulson is a familiar face in Eastern Washington agricultural circles, but the crops he harvests don’t come from seeds. Instead, Poulson gathers information, passing the concerns and worries of farmers to his boss, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).

Poulson, the agriculture and natural resource policy director for McMorris Rodgers, hasn’t always been in the business of politics. His father, a veteran, moved the family to a Columbia Basin farm when Poulson was 14, and he grew up like every farm kid, helping out before and after school. He attended Washington State University before returning to the farm full time.

“My second grade teacher thought I should be in math or physics,” Poulson recalled. “I told her I wanted to be a farmer, and that never changed. When you grow up on a farm and your dad farms, then there’s a strong likelihood you’ll end up farming. I’ve heard people say that farming is a way of life, and I guess that’s true.” See more

Different sides, same struggles

Tour gets legislators out of Olympia and onto the farm

November 2017
By Trista Crossley

There aren’t many places in Eastern Washington that can compare to the climate (30” to 35” of rain) and the range of crops (80 different ones) that are grown in the Skagit Valley, but the struggles farmers face are the same on both sides of the state.

In September, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) participated in a legislative ag tour that brought elected officials and aides out of their offices and onto the farm to help them understand the real-world impacts of legislation. A team of WAWG officers and staff participated in the tour along with representatives from the potato, shellfish, dairy and wine industries; Washington Friends of Farms and Forests (WFFF); and the Western Washington Agricultural Association, among others. Despite a long day that began with a 5 a.m. flight, the WAWG representatives returned home having found solid common ground with western Washington farmers.

“When I look around the state, we grow different crops and our farming practices are different, but the frustrations and issues we face are similar,” said WAWG Vice President Marci Green. See more

Under cover

RMA adds triticale, uninsured third-party damage to crop insurance

August/September 2017
By Trista Crossley

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) has rolled out two new types of coverage for the 2018 crop year that will have some farmers sighing in relief: coverage for triticale and relief from uninsured, third-party damage.


Sales closing date for fall- and spring-planted triticale for the 2018 crop year is Sept. 30. The new coverage is a result of a private development under the Federal Crop Insurance Act’s 508(h) process and is available in select counties in seven states across the nation. In Washington state, coverage is available in Adams, Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Douglas, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Klickitat, Lincoln, Okanogan, Skagit, Spokane, Walla Walla, Whitman and Yakima counties. Counties not currently covered will not be eligible to be covered under written agreement, said Ben Thiel, director of RMA’s Spokane Regional Office, which covers Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. See more

Changes proposed for pesticide rules

WSDA hoping to consolidate and simplify some regulations

June 2017
By Trista Crossley

Editor’s note: Throughout this article, we use the term “pesticide” to include herbicides.

Although proposed changes to the state’s use-restricted pesticide rules will be available for public comment later this summer, the overall goal of consolidating and simplifying the state’s use-restricted pesticide rules remains elusive.

In 2015, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) formed an industry stakeholder workgroup that included representation from the wheat, potato, wine and juice grape sectors; pesticide dealers and aerial applicators to review the regulations and provide input on simplifying them. According to Joel Kangiser, policy assistant in WSDA’s Pesticide Management Division, despite the good-faith efforts of the workgroup, consensus on several major issues remained out of reach. See more

Progress Report

Construction in central Washington irrigation project continues to advance

June 2017
By Trista Crossley

While irrigators in the Odessa Subarea aren’t quite ready to cap off their irrigation wells yet, progress in the latest expansion of the 82-year-old Columbia Basin Project continues on schedule and under budget.

Mike Schwisow, director of government relations for the Columbia Basin Development League, a nonprofit group that advocates for development of the Columbia Basin Project, said there’s about a year of work left on the East Low Canal, which is the backbone of the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program (OGWRP). The East Low Canal will bring Columbia River water from Banks Lake to approximately 87,700 acres in central Washington, replacing irrigation wells that currently rely on the declining Odessa Aquifer. The construction is being overseen by the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District (ECBID) and has been primarily funded by a 2013 $26 million Washington State Department of Ecology grant. Initial estimates by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) put the cost of the completed canal work at more than $58 million; actual costs are less than half that at just more than $28 million. See more

Getting to know Hilary Franz

Fires, rural economies top new commissioner's list of priorities

April 2017

In November, Hilary Franz was elected as the next commissioner of public lands. Previously, she served as the executive director of Futurewise, a statewide environmental conservation organization. She has also served as a Bainbridge Island City councilmember and on numerous conservation, management and economic development boards. She was appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire to the Washington state’s Climate Action Team IWG on the State Environmental Policy Act. As a lawyer, she has represented local governments, nonprofit organizations and citizen groups on land use and environmental law issues. Franz graduated from Smith College and the Northeastern University School of Law. The new commissioner agreed to answer some questions from Wheat Life regarding her new position and priorities and how the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages leases on state lands. See more

Forecasting ag policy, yield factors

April 2017
By Trista Crossley

This winter, two topics have dominated many of Eastern Washington’s news outlets. First, of course, was the weather (Wind! Cold! Snow! More snow! More wind!), and second was the election and what it might mean for agriculture. Both of those topics came together in February thanks to the Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization.

Whether the weather

Dr. Elwynn Taylor, an Extension agronomist and climatologist from Iowa State University, tackled how growing conditions affect yields, and the importance of plotting yield data to understand volatility for crop insurance purposes.

Taylor recommended growers view a climate graph of their nearest city at that shows average temperatures and precipitation by month. Using graphs from Spokane, Pullman and Connell, he pointed out the on-average 25 degree difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures at those locations. See more