Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, March 20, 2015, Page 10, Image 10

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March 20, 2015
Farmers say
line must
go around
Capital Press
Oregon’s agricultural technology
startups receive funding focus
EO Media Group
PORTLAND — Oregon’s high-tech
“islands” — Portland, Eugene and Cor-
vallis — are surrounded by agriculture,
and a Portland nonprofit that steers fund-
ing to startup companies believes the
state is uniquely positioned to bridge the
gap between them.
The need to feed, house and clothe
a world population of 9 billion by 2050
will strain global systems of soil, water
and energy, and is among the forces that
have made agricultural technology a hot
investment, said officials with Oregon
BEST. The nonprofit, primarily funded
by state government, will take that mes-
sage to legislators in Salem next week in
advance of the Precision Farming Expo.
Oregon BEST links a network of 250
university faculty members and their re-
search facilities with clean-tech entrepre-
neurs who need help getting a business
off the ground. Increasingly, President
and Executive Director David Kenney
said, the organization finds itself working
with startups that blend technology and
Oregon BEST has invested $780,000
in eight ag tech startups in recent years,
which the companies have used to secure
an additional $3.8 million in funding.
One of the companies funded by Or-
egon BEST is Rogue Rovers, and Ash-
land, Ore., company that is developing
Eric Mortenson/Capital Press
Oregon BEST President David Kenney,
left, and Commercialization Director Ken
Vaughn say ag tech startups have emerged
as a funding focus for the non-profit.
Courtesy of Melissa Brandao
Rogue Rovers CEO and founder Melissa Brandao is developing an electric ATV for
orchard and vineyard use. Her company received startup funding from Oregon BEST.
an electric ATV for use in orchards
and vineyards. The vehicle, called the
FarmDogg, will have options for car-
rying implements and will be capable
of collecting and communicating field
data — and of operating without a driv-
er. Oregon BEST provided a $25,000
commercialization grant to the com-
pany and to the Oregon Institute of
Technology in 2014. Students studying
mechanical engineering, software de-
velopment and robotics are involved in
the project.
Rogue Rovers founder and CEO Me-
lissa Brandao said the team has assem-
bled a prototype and is demonstrating it
to farmers and refining the design. Vehi-
cles will be assembled in Ashland, she
Other companies Oregon BEST
has funded include HoneyComb Corp.,
which makes unmanned drone aircraft
for agricultural use; Walking Point Farms,
which makes biochar seed coatings and
soil amendments; and SupraSensor Tech-
nologies, which developed wireless sen-
sors to monitor nitrate fertilizer levels in
the soil.
Kenney said the message for legisla-
tors is that developing agricultural tech-
nology is a big economic opportunity for
Oregon over the next five to 10 years.
“The goal is to raise awareness to pur-
sue ag as a hub of innovation,” he said.
Ken Vaughn, Oregon BEST’s com-
mercialization director, said several
broader trends are emerging, including
the re-use of ag and forest waste materi-
al. Agricultural and forest residue can be
used for fuel, an Oregon company called
EcNow Tech makes compostable dinner-
ware from bioplastics, and dairies capture
methane gas to produce electricity, he
noted. “It all starts with ag waste or forest
waste,” he said.
Trial lawyers oppose agritourism proposal
bills spark Bill would shield
debate on farms from some
saving time
Capital Press
Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The
twice-a-year ritual of resetting
clocks would come to an end
under two bills introduced in the
Oregon Senate.
A Senate committee held a
brief discussion of the issue last
week, but it did not vote on the
The idea has cropped up in
more than a half-dozen state-
houses, but it’s generated more
talk than action. In Oregon,
there was no sign that lawmak-
ers seemed ready to depart from
the other two states in the Pacific
time zone.
Still, the proposal invited
dozens of emailed comments
from constituents to lawmak-
“A great number of people
have written in saying, ‘We
should just abolish this. We
don’t need to have this archaic
practice any longer,”’ said Sen.
Kim Thatcher of Keizer, a Re-
publican who sponsored one of
the bills on behalf of a constitu-
ent. “There are also a lot of peo-
ple on the other side of the issue
saying, ‘I would miss daylight
savings time.’ “
Time-change lovers say it
would be chaotic for Oregon
to depart from its West Coast
neighbors, with which it shares
the strong economic and cultur-
al ties, making it more difficult
to commute or plan meetings.
SALEM — A proposal to
shield agritourism in Oregon
from some lawsuits has drawn
the ire of trial attorneys, who
claim the legislation would
insulate negligent farmers
from liability.
Under Senate Bill 341,
growers would not be held
legally responsible for deaths
or injuries resulting from the
“inherent risks” of agritour-
ism, including dangers associ-
ated with the land, livestock,
equipment and structures, as
long as they post a warning to
The legislation would not
apply to farmers who fail to
inspect their property and
equipment for hazards or who
exhibit “wanton or willful
disregard” toward visitors or
intentionally harm them.
Friends of Family Farmers
and the Oregon Farm Bureau
claim the bill will encourage
agritourism in Oregon be-
cause currently few compa-
nies are willing to insure such
“If you can get your oper-
ation insured, you might have
to pay a very high price to do
so. This ultimately presents a
real obstacle to success,” said
Ivan Maluski, policy director
of Friends of Family Farmers,
More than 20 states have
enacted similar laws over the
past decade and the proposal
mirrors language already on
the books in Oregon that shel-
ters equine facilities from lia-
bility, supporters argue.
Mateusz Perkolski/Capital Press
Peter and Carin Sherman help their children pick out pumpkins at
a farm on Sauvie Island near Portland, Ore. A bill to shield farms
from some liability from agritourism is being considered by Oregon
lalmakers but is opposed by trial lalyers.
By reducing the risk to
insurance providers, the bill
aims to stimulate competition
among companies and drive
down rates for farmers, Ma-
luski said.
The bill marks the “next
step” for agritourism in Ore-
gon after lawmakers passed
legislation in 2011 that allows
such activities on land zoned
for exclusive farm use, he
said during a March 11 infor-
mational meeting on SB 341
before the Senate Judiciary
“There is a history of the
legislature looking at this is-
sue and finding ways to pro-
mote agritourism activities,”
Maluski said.
The Oregon Trial Law-
yers Association, however,
believes SB 341 and other
“immunity bills” force the
victim of negligence to bear
the cost of injuries instead of
the wrongdoer.
“They protect people from
the consequences of their bad
behaviors,” said Derek John-
son, a member of OTLA’s
board of governors.
If insurance rates for agri-
tourism are high, that reflects
a risk that farmers and not the
public should bear, he said.
Trade groups and pro-
fessions frequently believe
they should be immunized
from lawsuits because they
do “good work,” but the civ-
il justice system is meant to
encourage people to behave
responsibly, he said.
If lawmakers wanted to re-
duce fuel use, they would still
not contemplate absolving
owners of hybrid cars from li-
ability for accidents, Johnson
Nor would they protect
farm suppliers who sell de-
fective seeds because they’re
organic, he said.
These examples point to
the “absurdity” of immuni-
ty bills, Johnson said. “They
pervert the incentives to act
Farm structures are sub-
ject to relaxed building codes,
while hay rides and “pumpkin
guns” pose greater dangers
than merely slipping in the
mud, said Arthur Towers, po-
litical director for OTLA.
During a work group con-
vened after a similar bill was
proposed in 2013, a repre-
sentative of the insurance in-
dustry said that rates for agri-
tourism are set nationally and
wouldn’t be affected by an
Oregon bill providing immu-
nity for agritourism, he said.
The work group’s discus-
sions were positive but ulti-
mately did not overcome such
problems, Towers said.
“At the end of the day, we
weren’t able to reach consen-
sus about how to move for-
ward,” he said.
Umatilla County, Ore.,
wants no part of a proposed
transmission line stretching
305 miles from Boardman to
near Boise, which residents say
will interfere with farming and
recreation without offering any
benefit in return.
Or, if there’s no other al-
ternative, the project should at
least follow Interstate 84 which
is already a suitable route, ac-
cording to draft comments by
Umatilla County Commission-
er George Murdock.
The public had until March
19 to weigh in on a draft envi-
ronmental impact statement for
the Boardman to Hemingway
Transmission Line Project,
which would cross five East-
ern Oregon counties to share a
reliable source of electricity be-
tween the Columbia Basin and
southwest Idaho.
Approximately 50 miles of
the project would run through
Umatilla County. More than
20 local farmers and property
owners gathered during a pub-
lic hearing Feb. 17 to speak out
against the line and its devel-
oper, Boise-based Idaho Power
Based on that hearing and
meetings with the Umatilla
County Planning Commission,
Murdock has drafted com-
ments on behalf of the county
which the board of commis-
sioners was to review.
In his comments, Murdock
said the majority of people who
testified at the public hearing
opposed the project.
“They are deeply concerned
that, rather than following exist-
ing corridors, it will disturb some
of the most pristine recreation
land in Umatilla County as well
as high-value farmland,” Mur-
dock told the East Oregonian.
The planning commission
as far back as 2008 had also
expressed its goal is to consoli-
date, not add, power lines. If the
Boardman to Hemingway line
cannot find a route that avoids
Umatilla County, the commis-
sion said it should stick along
I-84 to avoid disrupting farms
— the foundation of the area’s
Released by the Bureau of
Land Management in Decem-
ber, the Boardman to Hem-
ingway draft environmental
impact statement divides the
project into six segments and
analyzes a number of route al-
ternatives. It is not a final deci-
sion-making document.
Segment 1, or the Mor-
row-Umatilla segment, looks
at where the line will connect
at one end near Boardman
and make its way down into
the Treasure Valley. Farm-
ers in particular are worried
about one variation of the
route that would run lines
along the east side of Bomb-
ing Range Road, avoiding
the Naval Weapons Systems
Training Facility but inter-
fering with agricultural land
owned by Hale Companies,
River Point Farms and the
Boardman Tree Farm.
Don Rice, director of oper-
ations at the 24,000-acre tree
farm, said the lines there would
run approximately 16 miles,
taking out at least 30 acres per
mile of irrigated ground.
Kerr Concentrates is
currently seeking
red beet growers in the
Willamette Valley for harvest
the summer of 2015.
Contact Rory Hayden
at 503-587-8327 for more information.