Author: Oregon Aglink (page 1 of 5)

More Choices Than Chance

By Mallory Phelan

 Half of the top eight deadliest professions in the United States? Logging, fishing, truck driving, and farming/ranching – ranking 1, 2, 7, and 8 respectively. I love to pore over statistics, but that one from the 2016 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries by the US Department of Labor is easily my least favorite of them all. 

Have you ever had one of those stories that gets stuck in your throat? For many in agriculture and similar industries, it’s a story that is one of those deadly statistics. That painful story is the human connection to the myriad of statistics we have relating to safety in this industry. Growing up, I remember my dad teaching me how to drive a tractor and to be safe above all else. We were never to be in too big of a hurry to sacrifice our safety. Now working in agriculture, I certainly have heard a fair share of stories – everything from close calls of broken bones to lost limbs to fatal accidents. 

One Saturday evening this spring, news of a farm accident in my hometown knocked the wind out of me. Kirk Burkholder, a friend and fellow participant in Class 2 of REAL Oregon, lost his life in a forklift accident – now a void left in the lives of so many friends and family.

We know that agriculture, forestry, and the transportation to get product to market comes with an element of danger. The very elements and means that make production possible are often the source of the most risk: machinery, animals, asphyxiation, falls, entanglements, electrocution, heatstroke – the list goes on. Moving parts, long hours, time-sensitive and sometimes repetitive work, weather, age, sleep, mental health, and more all play a part in safety on the job. While the danger is clearly present, there are choices to make (often over and over again) when it comes to safety. 

Most people are guilty of unsafe choices like taking a shortcut to get something done or operating machinery on too few hours of sleep, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look to identify areas to improve safety on our operations so everyone makes it home each day. Just because you’ve always done it one way and never had a problem, doesn’t mean that will always be the case. Safety is not where you want to play the odds.

On your operation, do you spend time on safety improvements like you do planning your crop rotation, fertilizing, planting, spraying, or even budgeting? Creating a culture of safety can not only save your operation from becoming a statistic, but it improves morale and saves money in the long run.

One of the best parts of cultivating a culture of safety on your operation is that it can be rooted in choice. Just like solving the dozens of problems a day on the farm, you can identify safety hazards and choose to focus your energy, time, and resources where it’s most needed. For example, knowing that in 2016, two out of every five workplace deaths were transportation related – a majority of which were farmers and truck drivers – might make you decide to implement the use walkie talkies instead of cell phones for employees moving equipment down a road.

We all wish that stuck-in-your-throat story we know first-hand wasn’t true and unfortunately, these dangers in the natural resource industry work are not news. As harvest ramps up, slows down, and ends, I hope you spend more time than you did last year, last month, and last week choosing to be safe. It’s a choice we all make every time we are out on a farm, ranch, boat, or truck – for ourselves, our families, and those who are no longer with us.

Flipping the Script on Safety

By Allison Cloo

How did Anissa Branch and her son Dylan know that the safety culture had changed at Riddell Farms?

Instead of avoiding the meetings, employees started asking if they could attend.

The farm grows turf and forage grass seed, specialty seeds, cover crops, and hazelnuts on 4,700 acres around Monmouth. That means a lot of equipment and people on the road between the central farmhouse office and fields in all directions. Employees from all parts of the farm gather in a circle of chairs for a monthly safety meeting and staff lunch on the ground floor of the stucco farmhouse on Riddell Road.

The sandwiches are a draw, but the atmosphere is obviously part of the appeal. While a few employees are comfortably lounging on a couch and one rests his shoulder against the doorframe, others are leaned forward in their chairs. Everyone is engaged in the agenda, offering their thoughts and nodding along with reminders about seatbelt usage and updates on harvest procedures. When someone
mentions their mild knee injury, it’s the other employees who speak up about jumping down from tractors and other vehicles. One shakes their finger gently, and they all agree: “We don’t do that anymore!”

The Former Normal

“Safety in the past was common sense mostly,” says Anissa Branch. “Thanks to my father’s charm we had a great relationship with our OSHA inspector, but for the most part, we discouraged outside
regulations and believed they were adversarial to us.”

Things were changing with safety and OSHA, especially as the farm grew slowly over the years from five full-time employees to over twenty.

“Being a small farm was no longer a free pass from the regulations and safety requirements,” says Branch, “Our long-term employees were fairly safe but we didn’t have specific operating procedures or rules for new employees. We were also not training consistently. I am actually surprised there were not more safety issues. I knew we had been lucky”


Pulling Together

An early attempt to enlist Kirk Lloyd of Lloyd’s Northwest LLC made for more regular meetings but no shift in the safety culture on the farm.

Around that time, two things happened: Branch began serving her term as president of Oregon Aglink and OSHA established its requirement of safety meetings for farms with fewer than ten full-time employees. With the combined efforts of Branch, Lloyd, and former Oregon Aglink executive director Geoff Horning, the first safety pod was formed. With Pearmine Farms, O. M. Cook Farms, and Wigrich Farms, the crew at Riddell Farms started a new routine.

Instead of conducting monthly meetings independently, the farms went through a quarterly cycle with a safety inspection one month, a farm meeting the next month, and a group meeting with participants from all the pod farms in the third month.

“We learned so much from each other—much more than just safety,” says Branch. By pooling their experiences, the near-miss or accident at one small farm could educate employees at all of the farms involved. Moreover, the pod meetings became a space for sharing other procedures and resources.

“It was so beneficial to hear other ideas and not live in our own bubble,” Branch emphasizes, “This all led to us being more proactive about what we specifically envisioned for our farm.”

“Our farm has never looked better or been more efficient”

Over five years in the program, there were some shifts in personnel. New staff at Oregon Aglink and Lloyd Northwest stepped in to help run meetings at the same time as Anissa Branch’s son Dylan was hired to run the day to day operations of the farm and the number of employees rose to over twenty. A new safety coordinator is now appointed every six months to run meetings and adopt a special project, whether it’s mapping fire extinguisher locations or checking every tire on the farm. With time, regular
meetings at Riddell Farms felt routine and were as well-attended as the group meetings with multiple farms.

The most important shift? Employees were accountable to each other, and suggestions started coming from the bottom instead of the top.

“Our employees are now constantly thinking of new ideas on how to be safer and more efficient,” says Branch. “It’s a daily task, not just one that we think about once a month. We strive to have a continuous process of improvement that flows into all aspects of the operation.”

The benefits go beyond saving money on claims, she adds. The changes have brought “happier employees who feel valued, a more clean and organized work environment, cost savings because everyone is doing things the safe way which almost always is the best and most efficient way. Even if a safety measure takes a couple extra seconds, in the long run it saves down-time and money from accidents.”

Training as Incentive

Organization and efficiency are enviable goals on their own, but at Riddell Farms the shared trainings and refresher courses feel like treats instead of mandatory tasks for many of the employees. In fact, training is the biggest recommendation offered by Branch as a way of building skills and a sense of teamwork.

“Learning is challenging and can be fun” says Branch. “We brought a welding instructor in for a half day to refresh everyone on basic welding and safety in welding. We have a fire extinguisher company come in once a year before harvest to do a quick training. We also did a first aid/CPR course last year and now everyone on our farm is CPR certified for three years.”

“All of these are team building as well as enforcing our safety culture and spicing work up, which translates to better teamwork and productivity.”

The training brings everyone together on the same page—from the employee who has worked there for twenty-nine years to one who has only been at Riddell Farms for six months and may not have built up the same breadth of skills. The trainings also present an opportunity for staff to help each other, ask questions, and share knowledge.

Calling In, Not Calling Out

The sense of pride evident in the outward appearance of the farm is also evident during the safety meeting when everyone agrees that jumping off of vehicles is not something “we” do anymore.

Corrections are made as a matter of calling people back into the group as opposed to singling someone out for their mistakes or bad behavior.

When asked what safety problems might arise and how they would be handled, employees had several suggestions. If, for instance, “an employee sees another employee using a hand grinder or loading chemicals and they aren’t wearing [personal protective equipment]” the old response might have been to avoid saying anything “or worse, shame them a bit.”

Now, Riddell Farms has flipped the script.

“If someone sees [an employee not wearing personal protective equipment], they will hold them accountable in a way that says we care about you and your safety so please wear your PPE.” Another employee agrees, “Our safety culture and general farm culture is one that really strives to build people up, and if we see or hear about another employee not using positive reinforcement of our culture, it will be addressed immediately.”

Reaping the Rewards

As the farm looks ahead toward the 2019 harvest, Dylan Branch taps his clipboard and talks about the potential safety issues ahead. One employee recently had a problem with her blood sugar dropping, and
a few fellow employees had noticed her drowsiness. This leads to a conversation about fatigue and checking in with each other.

The summer months will be busy, of course, but the farm has already planned a mid-harvest safety meeting where everyone can regroup, report on their work, and recalibrate as necessary.

There are unavoidable hazards with farming in general and harvest in particular, but the attitude here is one of being proactive rather than reactive. Preparation and accident prevention can’t get in the way of
the actual business of farming, but Riddell Farms sees a way to manage that balance to everyone’s benefit.

The More Things Change…

By Megan Thompson


Change is inevitable and full of emotions. Change is good. Change is scary. Change is exciting.

Oregon Aglink, like most of us, continues to change and evolve. In the last two years, we have seen staff transitions along with the standard ebb and flow of board members and executive committee. Staff leadership transitioned from Geoff Horning to current executive director Mallory Phelan. Other staff changes have also occurred bring new perspective and positive change to the organization. The collaboration with Allison, Cate and Leah means a stream of ideas and energy dedicated to the mission of promoting agriculture in Oregon.

Faces have come and gone over the fifty plus years since Oregon Aglink was originally founded as the Agribusiness Council of Oregon, but the vision and mission of the organization has been constant in many ways.

While the original spirit continues to guide us, the executive committee and board of directors have been working to update the language of the vision and mission statement to better align with where Oregon Aglink is now and will be in years to come. In 2016, ABC changed its name to Oregon Aglink to reflect the value of the organization as linking urban and rural Oregon through shared interests in agriculture. In the same way, this refreshed language in vision and mission statements will be true to the core values established by Marion T. Weatherford in 1966.

This is also a year of physical changes for the Oregon Aglink office.

After decades located in Portland and the metro area, the staff will be moving operations southward to the 45th Parallel Building in North Salem. This move offers many benefits: more centrally located in the Willamette Valley, closer to several partner organizations, a fresh and public-facing location, and large cost benefit. Once the move is complete please take a minute to stop by and check out the new space!

As much as agriculture seems grounded in tradition and prides itself on ties to the past, farms and ranches throughout Oregon are familiar with change.

Growers and processors are constantly changing to keep up with markets, weather, family needs or partner transitions. Operations have condensed, expanded, and relocated. Your grandfather’s sheep farm might be your daughter’s hazelnut farm in ten more years. Some changes are simplistic, like just changing the variety you are growing or the dealer you use. Some changes can be far more complicated due to new equipment needs, infrastructure, and shifts in marketing or regulations.

As an industry, we are constantly evaluating our operations for opportunities to do “better” for our families and our neighbors. Oregon Aglink is no different. I believe the upcoming changes are exciting and setting us on a path to get even better at our work.


Annual Meeting and NW Ag Show

Familiar Faces, New Setting at Annual Membership Meeting

In 2019 the Oregon Aglink Annual Membership Meeting relocated from its recent home in Wilsonville to a new spot: the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem at the revamped Northwest Ag Show, produced by EO Media. Members from all around the state were invited to attend the annual meeting on Thursday in between visiting vendor booths and attending seminars.

The annual membership meeting this year included an Oregon Aglink financial report from treasurer Fred Geschwill and executive director Mallory Phelan offered a review of the year’s fundraising and outreach. President Pamela Lucht shared the names of board members elected for the upcoming year by the general membership. Members enjoyed a lunch bar catered by Better than Mama’s, courtesy of lunch sponsors Rabo Agrifinance and Papé Machinery.


Guest Speaker seeks a “Win-Win-Win” for Oregon Agriculture

Solid attendance at the membership-only Annual Meeting turned into a packed house when the doors opened to allow in other NW Ag Show attendees to hear Chad Higgins present on “Farms of the Future: Practical Tech for Oregon Ag.”

An associate professor at Oregon State University, Higgins co-founded the NEWAg lab devoted to studying the “Nexus of Energy Water and Agriculture.” From monitoring microclimates in vineyards to using artificial intelligence in irrigation, the NEWAg lab and Higgins find places where data and technology exist already or can be developed to help agriculture. Among the central questions they ask of any technology, Higgins says they always pursue the practicality angle for farmers: “How do you make it cheap? How do you make it rugged and repairable?”

In the case of “agrivoltaics”—or solar panels installed above and along cultivated land—the technology may also prove to be profitable for farmers in Oregon and elsewhere. At Oregon State University, some unexpectedly lush grass under solar panels installed in a sheep pasture prompted Higgins to record data on temperature, plant growth, and moisture under the panels and in a control plot under direct sunlight.

The data showed a positive feedback loop between the plant matter and electricity production. The shade slowed evaporation and prompted the grass to grow more slowly but ultimately more productively than the control plot. In turn, the solar panels above grass converted light into electricity more efficiently than if they were stationed on hotter rooftops, gravel, or pavement.

In Higgins view, that’s a “win-win-win”: crop productivity is up, captured electricity is up, and potential profits are up for whoever is selling either product. Unlike previous schemes where solar panels replace farm land, this model shows an alternative route where farmers keep their soil in production even as it serves an additional purpose of harvesting sunlight.

According to Higgins, not every farmed acre would need to host solar panels, which fits with the fact that not every crop would thrive with this model. However, based on the wattage produced with this method, using agrivoltaics on 0.5% of cropland would offset Oregon’s energy demand.

Beyond waiting on USDA funding cycles to experiment with other crops like berries and barley, Higgins acknowledges there are other barriers such as permits, zoning, material shortages of steel, and even social resistance. For example, “sustainability” can be a sensitive topic for many in agriculture, calling up a mindset that may prioritize conservation at the expense of production. Recent years have shown farmers and ranchers warming to the term though, looking at sustainability as something they already do: operations must be economically sustainable to stay in business, and must take care of their soil to pass it on to the next generation. In coming years, agrivoltaics may be part of that solution.


Oregon Aglink at the NW AG Show

For three days, attendees could stop the Oregon Aglink booth at the NW Ag Show to learn more about our programs, pick up some news stickers or Landmark of Quality pins. Two survey questions were posted on easels at either side of the booth, asking how farmers and ranchers connect with Oregonians.

The biggest takeaway? Producers are reaching out online and in person, but there’s always progress to be made! Oregon Aglink hopes to keep helping make those connections in the decades to come.

A (Hemp) Sign of the Times

Whether you call them Road Crop Signs or Crop ID signs, the white and green signs posted along roads and highways across Oregon are part of Oregon Aglink’s oldest continual outreach and education efforts.

One of the most popular sign varieties in recent years? Industrial Hemp.

As many farms seek to diversify with hemp, we reached out to a recent sign customer to learn more about how they are embracing the crop.

South of Oregon City, Craig Collins and his son Sean have expanded on past experience with research and crop consulting to start a new venture: 100% Oreganic Grown.

The label covers a variety of services that may expand in years to come. In addition to organic certification for hemp grown around Oregon, the business is growing its own production field of hemp that doubles as a research farm.

Most other hemp producers are dealing with the challenges of growing from seed, a method with some drawbacks of genetic inconsistency and producing male plants that have to be rogued out. Oreganic Grown, on the other hand, works with tissue-culture plants. According to Sean, the tissue-culture plants have some distinct advantages: “it’s genetically identical, guaranteed female, and clean plant material that’s not infested with disease or insects.”

That consistency matters when you consider the research at the property, says Sean, “we’re going to be looking at different kinds of fertilizers and doing efficacy testing on some of the biocontrol products that are out there for insect and disease control.” A consistent product means an easier time isolating the variables during trials. “The difference between two samples will be the fertilizer,” for example, “and not the plant itself.”

“We also are selling in a limited amount the tissue culture varieties that we’ve developed,” says Sean, “Next year we’ll be able to meet a higher demand, but that will go up when we have a larger tissue culture lab.”

So how did fifty years of work with crops more familiar to Oregon expand into an interest in hemp three years ago? It’s all a matter of keeping a finger on the pulse of an industry.

The experience with research had given them the opportunity to work with different companies that create products for controlling insects and diseases. The next step was figuring out where those products might need to be applied next. In Craig’s words: “The writing was on the wall that hemp was going to become a major crop in the US agricultural industry. We knew a lot of our clients were going to want to try those products on hemp.”

The challenges ahead for Oregon’s hemp industry may be the source of opportunity for businesses like Oreganic Grown. Connections made via previous consulting means a chance to explore better mechanization for hemp harvest. The bottleneck with processing presents a similar challenge for farms that have already invested in the crop, and businesses with early investments in processing facilities are ahead of the game as others catch up.

Along with the previously mentioned drawbacks of starting from seed, which tissue-culture could address, Sean and Craig agree that there will be challenges with pest management at some point. “So far it hasn’t been a major problem,” says Sean, “but a lot of growers are planting hemp on the same land several years in a row and that’s where you get diseases and pests building up.” That’s why well-researched pest controls and possibly future residue testing will be valuable services for companies like Oreganic Grown to offer.

Many farmers in Oregon have already welcomed industrial hemp as a way to diversify. With the help of forward-thinking companies, the industry will be prepared to face any of the technical difficulties that come along with innovation.


Perennial Partners: Adopt a Farmer All-Stars

By Allison Cloo

Now in its eighth year, Adopt a Farmer has broadened its reach at the same time as it broadens the horizons of students who may have never visited a working farm or ranch.

As we celebrate growth and plan for more, looking to some of the longest-running school matches reminds us that returning volunteers deserve as much fanfare as the newcomers.

Moly McCargar at Pearmine Farms

Pearmine Farms was one of three operations that piloted the program during the 2011-2012 school year. In the next school year, the number had grown to nine, with three of those operations—Pugh Seed Farms, Victor Point Farms, and Gray Farms—falling into a rhythm that has brought them back year after year. While the number of matches has hovered between forty and fifty for the last couple years as some farms take breaks and new ones get involved, the continued participation of long-running matches is an important measure of success.

The farmers themselves speak highly of their experiences.

“I feel like I’m the winner in this relationship,” says Skip Gray of Gray Farms near Albany. “The school and teacher I work with are amazing. She has absolute control of her classroom yet has a lot of fun with her students.”

Gray has been paired with Michelle Heuberger of St. Mary’s School since his first year. It’s a smaller group of students—usually twenty to thirty students in one class period—and the size means they frequently end up driving together on the bus while Gray navigates and then brings students out into the field to see work underway.

Other school-farm matches come with a bigger crop of students each year. Twice a year at Pearmine Farms in Gervais, Molly McCargar spreads out the 180 students from Rachel Carson Environmental Middle School over four days of field trips at a time in fall and then spring. This is how a very large group is broken down in to forty-five students, and that number gets even smaller when students are split into groups to rotate through “stations” on the farm.

“It can be anything as simple as climbing in an out of tractors, combines, and other big equipment to giving them a chance to experience jobs like moving irrigation pipe or just digging in the soil,” says McCargar, who has become adept at breaking down big farm jobs into hands-on activities that make farming real to the students. “Maybe head out to the fields and learn to scout for pests, how to identify them, what actions you might need to take or not. Take soil samples, talk about soil health, different soils and how all of this plays a part in production.”

Inviting along guest speakers can spread the work around and expose students to other professions involved in farming. “There are so many jobs connected to agriculture,” says McCargar, “it’s important for kids to see and understand they can have a future in agriculture, even if it’s not as a farmer”

Jesse Rue at Victor Point Farms

At Victor Point Farms in Silverton, a group of anywhere from 145 to 190 students comes during one big field trip, but is split into five groups to rotate through stations that vary from year to year. Co-owner Jesse Rue has run an equipment station for several years, with students climbing in and out of cabs while they match different vehicles and implements to their functions on a worksheet. His brother and Victor Point co-owner Lucas almost always runs a station about soil profiles, drainage, and erosion. Depending on who else they can arrange to be present, the students might talk with a field rep about precision agriculture or tour neighboring Ioka Farms’ grass seed cleaner in a bus.

Even with smaller groups, like the thirty students from St. Paul Parish School in Eugene who drive to Pugh Seed Farm in Shedd, having guest speakers helps students understand how farming takes so many different skills. Owner Denver Pugh might not even be able to keep the field trip all to himself if he tried: “I have a warehouse manager, Allen, who completely embraced the fall tours and sets up diagrams and demonstrations for the students.”

In spring, when students return for a special second trip to see the fields in bloom, Pugh may invite an agronomist or his bee keeper to explain their roles in keeping the crops productive.

Denver Pugh at Pugh Seed Farms

Pugh has dialed in the routine of the field trips and what works best for his students and him, including when it comes to class visits. “Because I’ve done this a number of years now, it’s gotten way easier speaking to the students in the class. Way less intimidating now than when I first started.”

Skip Gray is another farmer who makes sure that class visits are part of the contact he has with students. Part of it is greeting them on their own territory and bringing the farm into the school environment. “It’s also way easier for those who make arrangements for field trips,” he says, “Since I’m merely a guest speaker and my visit to school doesn’t necessitate transportation and supervision.”

There are always challenges to work around—rain can lead to some muddy field trips, and snow days at the schools have forced a rescheduled visit or two—but the Oregon Aglink staff, teachers, and farmers are always finding ways to make it work and reasons for participants to come back year after year.

The farmers all have a similar story about why they stay involved. Take Denver Pugh, for example: “It still is totally worth it. It gives me a chance to show others what an actual working farm is like. Many kids these days don’t get these opportunities, and if I can show them what all it takes to run a farm and how important we are to the health of our society, then I’m all for it.”

Jesse Rue knows his favorite part right away: “Just seeing the kids’ reaction outside of the classroom is rewarding when they get to be on a farm and see firsthand what we do.”

Skip Gray at Gray Farms

Skip Gray also comes back to the curiosity and imagination he finds with a new group of middle school students each year. “At their age, there is so much variation in physical development and maturity, so getting out on the farm or even having laughs in the classroom while we talk farming is really fun for me.”

For the farmers and ranchers who feel like they might not have enough to share to hold the interest of a classroom during one trip, let alone two or three, Molly McCargar has encouraging words: “If someone thinks it’ll only take one trip to share their farming operation, they aren’t giving themselves enough credit for everything it takes to farm.”

What about the farmers and ranchers who worry about getting bored with the same material? Well, McCargar has an answer for that too: “If there’s anything consistent in agriculture, it’s that every year nothing ever stays the same.”

Luckily for Adopt a Farmer, it’s clear that the value of these farmers and their experience stays consistent for every new student who comes through the program.

Passionate About Growing

By Megan Thompson

As I thought about what to write about for my first AgLink column and how I want to define the year ahead, I kept coming back to the phrase “Passionate about Growing.” This line resonated with me and the way I describe both Oregon agriculture and Oregon Aglink in particular.


Oregon agriculture grows such a diverse number of commodities and crops throughout a state with its fair share of different climates. Wherever you are–mountains, desert, Columbia Gorge, valleys or coast– and whatever title you use to describe yourself–farmer, grower, rancher, forester, fisherman–you are passionate about growing your products.


Like all industries, agriculture has its share of challenges ahead (political, social, and climate to name a few), but I feel by working together and tapping into our shared passion that we can get through issues in spite of our smaller differences. Even if the network of agriculture is small percentage of the Oregon population, this community is developing a strong and very passionate voice.

We all must find opportunities to share our story, and Oregon Aglink helps this voice through networking and education.

The Adopt a Farmer program continues to grow and propel the mission of Aglink of “growing Oregon agriculture through education and promotion.” With nearly fifty farm to classroom matches helping reach thousands of hundreds of sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students, the program helps educate Oregon youth about how passionate farmers are about growing food and fiber. The farms and ranches in this program are directly working toward the vision of Aglink. You can learn more about some of them in this issue’s feature article.

This promotion of agriculture also comes through loud and clear as our board and members continue to be passionate about the crops they grow. Maintaining a lively and vibrant group of producers and processors over the years has been essential to keeping Oregon Aglink a relevant force in our state’s agricultural industry.

Over the last year, the Oregon Aglink executive committee has reviewed its strategic plan, added staff, and made some changes with relocating events such the Annual Meeting and the Denim and Diamonds auction and dinner. The work put in on paper and around conference tables can yield real-world and long-term results! With those successes squared away, I feel that Oregon Aglink is poised in such an amazing place for this year of continued “growing.”

Finally, the last way I viewed “Passionate about Growing” was looking internally:

How can I make a difference and continue to improve? If it’s a question you ask yourself, too, let’s plan together: set goals, get involved, seek out continual learning and networking. Everyone has different skills, strengths that can help continue the forward message of Oregon agriculture.

There are so many different organizations all passionate about growing Oregon agriculture. Find one or more that you believe in and get involved. Every little bit helps.

It’s Not Just Tomayto-Tomahto

By Mallory Phelan 

Prior to working at Oregon Aglink, I took a one way flight to Peru. I worked in a hostel before finding a job teaching English at a local school. Having studied abroad in Mexico and been three credits shy of a second major in Spanish, I felt decently comfortable with communicating in Spanish.

While my verb conjugations could always use some work, I felt confident in my vocabulary until I asked a man at the market where the aguacates were – his expression and lack of response made me question my pronunciation. I started to describe the black outer layer, soft green inside with a pit and he said palta! Come to find out, some countries in South America use the word palta instead of aguacate for avocado.

If you’ve ever traveled to another English-speaking country, you understand this concept of the same language using different words depending on the country such as the Brits saying “rubbish” for trash or Aussies saying “brekky” for breakfast. You’ve probably even known of American English words that change depending on what part of our country you are from. Is a carbonated fountain drink a pop, soda, soda pop, or Coke? The first time I visited Kentucky, a server asked me what kind of Coke I wanted. Only seeing regular or diet on the menu, I didn’t even realize Coke was being used as the overarching term for all the flavors offered.

When we look at our relationships with friends and family, the use of certain language becomes our own sub-dialect of sorts. Whether it’s inside jokes with your friends or the way you and your partner can communicate unlike any others, our word choice matters.

We’re fairly good at deciphering what those close to us say and mean. Do you remember any words your kids used growing up that only you understood or maybe were slightly incorrect? A little girl I babysat called a popsicle, poppy-sicky-doo. Ultimately, we invest time and show compassion in understanding those we care about.

Consider the disconnect between farming, ranching, fishing, and forestry with those who consume the products produced by those industries. While consumers and producers sometimes use words like sustainability and diversity with different intentions, there are other words those of us working in these industries use that are unfamiliar to the general public. It’s something that happens in the Adopt a Farmer program. We remind farmers and ranchers to explain terms such as variable rate application or that artificial intelligence isn’t the only thing AI stands for – even seemingly simple words like perennial or concepts such as cover crops are unknown to most people. It’s not only middle school students we work with, but sometimes their chaperones and teachers are unfamiliar with common industry vernacular.

Our use of these words common to us, but uncommon to the general public, can hinder our communication and understanding of how farms, ranches, fisheries, and forests operate. This isn’t unique to agriculture – many other science-based industries have to learn to do this including medicine, technology, neuroscience, and more.

It benefits all of us to learn to speak with words digestible to consumers today.

Committing ourselves to knowing what consumers understand and how we can better explain our industry takes time and to do it well, compassion – just like we extend to our family and friends. Instead of defense, let’s play offense by engaging in conversations now, including our very best listening, to understand better language to use and find areas of common ground with those who do not understand what farmers, ranchers, fishers, and foresters do.

Beyond the Bystander Effect

By Mallory Phelan

Having just wrapped up the biggest giving season of the year, we have probably all seen the ads and posts soliciting donations for humanitarian aid work in another country or a crowd-funding campaign for someone on social media. With the 24-hour news cycle and collective knowledge of humanity at our fingertips, there is never a shortage of demands on our attention and hearts.

Have you ever felt bad but kept scrolling? Thought about getting your credit card but changed the channel? I know that I have.

Of course the crisis of a natural disaster or a family’s GoFundMe account is worthy of our attention, but our funds, time, and emotional bandwidth are limited. We have to pick and choose our causes, and sometimes that is made easier when we can assume “someone else will do it.” The assumption that someone else will is the very basis for the social psychological phenomenon called the bystander effect: individuals are less likely to offer help when others are present, a diffusion of responsibility, which can result in apathy.

I’m fascinated by what makes people commit to a cause, act upon their conviction, and the tipping point of when taking action matters to them personally. It’s easy to join in on collective input like cheering at a sporting event. There can be 20,000 people in an arena and the roar of the crowd builds upon the involvement of others. As an industry, it’s so easy to cheer on one another in our own industry functions such as Denim & Diamonds, Oregon Seed League, or the Oregon Women for Ag auction. It’s trickier to get more of the hundreds of people at those social and networking events to show up at the Capitol to testify, participate in Adopt a Farmer, or even sit on commissions and association boards.

As humans we naturally prioritize, some of us better than others, and we have to. We simply cannot do it all. We’ve got to be careful not put off getting involved because it’s not urgent enough…yet. You’ve probably heard, if you don’t show up, someone else will and you might not like what they think or believe. Every time the Oregon legislature commences, we’re reminded of how important the work we do in between sessions is in engaging with our non-farming and ranching neighbors near and far.

As an organization, we have people show up for us every day – from our board of directors and event volunteers, to our committee members and adopted farmers – we have some of the best in the industry working with us to fulfill our mission of growing Oregon agriculture through education and promotion. We also have committed members whose dues help sustain us monetarily. Without the actions of so many, we would not have the impact we do in the lives of hundreds of students and their perceptions of Oregon agriculture every year.

The saying “many hands make light work” holds true to the work of engaging consumers about how their food and fiber is produced. Whether you make resolutions or not, I challenge you to join me in carrying the season of giving throughout the year and look for ways to join in, give your time and resources in the best way you see fit. It matters that we all show up. The days of “put our heads down and keep on trucking” are gone – the organizations collectively working to create progress in our industry depend on your involvement. The more folks connected to agriculture get involved in engaging with consumers, the better we can minimize the bystander effect and benefit our industry as a whole.


Tax Planning for Farmers: What You Should Know for 2019

By Curtis Sawyer

Tax season is coming up and the new changes could have an effect on your agribusiness and tax planning. The goals of the new tax law were simplification, fairness and a move towards a flatter tax system. American businesses are looking to be more competitive overseas and wanted the reduced tax rates. The final tally on the overall cost of the bill includes collections from increased taxes spurred on by this future economic growth.

There is a lot of give and take in these various new laws. Many of the provisions will benefit organizations that are buying new assets or hiring new people. Here is a high-level overview of some of the changes relevant to agribusiness.

Corporate Tax Rate and C Corp Benefits

The first change is that the corporate tax rate was changed to a permanent, flat 21% rate, down from 35% and there’s the ability to deduct your state taxes. This change might encourage you to look at your business entity as it makes C corporations potentially more beneficial than they would have been a year ago. That’s because before the tax reform, the first $50,000 of profits were taxed at 15% with a graduated rate to 35%. Since there is now a flat rate of 21% for business income, a C corporation may be something to consider.

Section 199A: The Qualified Business Income Deduction

The next change is to the Section 199A or Qualified Business Income Deduction. This is a new 20% deduction of the qualified business income reported by taxpayers who file a Schedule F, C or E. Owners of pass-through entities such as partnerships, LLCs and S corporations can also take advantage of the new deduction. For farmers, this replaces the Domestic Production Activities Deduction (DPAD), which was 9% of the operating farm income deduction. C corporations do not qualify for this because they already have the 21% tax rate.

This change isn’t as simple as it seems on paper. This deduction will expire on December 31, 2025 and this deduction is also taken on the individual tax return, not on your entity and it depends on your taxable income. The deduction is phased out at the married joint filing level of $315,000 and for individuals at $157,500 and will have additional limitations in order to qualify. Knowing what is considered Qualified Business Income can be a complicated discussion and depends on your particular business.

Increase in Depreciation Deductions

Section 179 amount went from $500,000 to $1 million with a phase out limitation now starting and $2.5 million of purchases and bonus depreciation is now allowed on both new and used assets based on the following schedule:

 100% for property placed in service after 9/27/17 and before 1/1/2022
 80% for property placed in service after 12/31/2021 and before 1/1/2024
 60% for property placed in service after 12/31/2023 and before 1/1/2025
 40% for property placed in service after 12/31/2024 and before 1/1/2026
 20% for property placed in service after 12/31/2025 and before 1/1/2027

This change in bonus depreciation from just new assets to new and used assets is important for farming entities. A farm building is a 20-year asset and you can take bonus on anything with a life of 20 years or less. The most extreme example is a building that is either new or a building that you purchased is eligible for bonus depreciation. This change might allow farming businesses to allocate the cost of land purchases to buildings and improvements and elect bonus depreciation for quick recovery of the investment.

Planning Ahead with Aldrich Advisors

Our knowledge of the entire agri-business supply chain from grower to processor to retailer allows us to help our clients achieve their goals. Please contact Aldrich Advisors at 503-585-7774 if you’d like to review these opportunities or discuss other options for tax savings.

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