Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, November 24, 2017, Page 3, Image 3

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    November 24, 2017
New Oregon instream
water rights worry irrigators
protested water
rights cases
also revived
Capital Press
Organic hydroponics
likely to provoke
legal challenge
Critics argue
soil-free systems
cannot be organic
under law
Capital Press
Hydroponic growers won’t
be prohibited from getting
their crops certified as or-
ganic, but the controversy
over soil-free organic farm-
ing is unlikely to end.
The National Organ-
ic Standards Board, which
advises USDA on organic
policy, recently voted 8-7
against banning hydroponic
methods from organic pro-
duction after years of debate.
Nonetheless, the Cornu-
copia Institute, an organic
industry watchdog group,
and other critics believe that
hydroponic production is
contrary to the Organic Food
Production Act, a federal
law that created national or-
ganic standards.
Under that statute, farms
must be operated under an
organic plan “designed to
foster soil fertility” through
crop rotation, cover crops
and the spreading of manure
and compost.
Other provisions of the
law also emphasize soil fer-
tility, health and preserva-
In the Cornucopia Insti-
tute’s view, this language
clearly bars organic certi-
fication of soil-less hydro-
ponic production, in which
crops are grown in an inert
medium such as coconut
husks or perlite and irri-
gated with nutrient-infused
“It’s likely to result in a
legal challenge. You sue the
federal government when
its actions conflict with the
law,” said Mark Kastel, the
group’s co-founder and se-
nior farm policy analyst.
“The law requires build-
ing soil fertility, but how can
that be accomplished with-
out soil?” Kastel said.
Apart from the philo-
sophical reasons, critics see
hydroponics as posing an
economic threat to tradition-
al organic farmers.
Highly mechanized hy-
droponic greenhouses are
tremendously productive,
reducing the per-unit cost of
production, Kastel said.
These massive operations
are cornering the market for
popular produce crops, such
as peppers, tomatoes and cu-
cumbers, he said.
“That’s not farming, it’s
something else,” said Kastel.
“It’s an industrial process for
growing our food.”
Hydroponic production
has long been controversial
in the organic industry and
some organic certifiers don’t
accept the method.
Although OFPA was en-
acted in 1990, it was more
than a decade before USDA’s
regulations implementing
the law became effective.
During the interim, the
National Organic Standards
Board issued a recommen-
dation to allow labeling of
crops grown in soil-free me-
dia as organic as long as they
followed all other organic
However, that recommen-
dation did not have the effect
of law.
Since the National Or-
ganic Program regulations
became effective in 2002,
the legality of hydroponic
production being included
in organics has been fiercely
In 2010, the board issued
a recommendation against
allowing hydroponic pro-
duction in organic systems,
but USDA didn’t take action
on it.
The hydroponic ques-
tion continued to divide the
NOSB and a special task
force convened to ponder the
matter, ultimately leading
to a vote on prohibiting the
practice during the board’s
autumn meeting in Novem-
Kastel believes that
USDA has “stacked” the
board with members sympa-
thetic to major organic pro-
ducers and manufacturers,
resulting in the vote against
banning hydroponics.
Capital Press was unable
to reach representatives of
the USDA or the Coalition
for Sustainable Organics,
which advocates for hydro-
ponic growers.
In submitted testimony,
the hydroponic company
Plenty Ag argued the soil-
less method diversifies the
organic industry and allows
U.S. producers to compete
against foreign imports.
Organic food is growing in
popularity but organic acreage
in the U.S. is not keeping up,
so high-yielding hydroponic
systems can fill that gap, the
company said.
Unlike regular farms,
which require three years to
convert to organic produc-
tion, hydroponic systems are
considered organic immedi-
ately as long as they only use
organic inputs.
“We’re able to deploy
an organic field-scale farm
within months, which means
we’re able to scale U.S. or-
ganic production capacity
fast enough to meet growing
demand,” according to Plen-
ty Ag.
Associated Press File
Spring chinook salmon congregate in a spawning channel in the upper reaches of the McKenzie
River east of Springfield, Ore. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to seek new
instream water rights intended to protect flows for fish.
instream water rights will
complicate certain processes
— changing points of diver-
sion, making water transfers
and replacing intakes — due
to the involvement of state
“It would increase the
bureaucratic protocol we’d
have to go through,” said
Curtis Martin, a rancher near
North Powder, Ore., and
water resources committee
chairman of the Oregon Cat-
tlemen’s Association.
When a state agency leas-
es existing water rights and
devotes the water to instream
flows, it can adversely affect
junior irrigators, said Richard
Kosesan, lobbyist for Water
For Life, a nonprofit repre-
senting irrigators.
Junior irrigators are often
dependent on return flows
of water from growers with
senior water rights, he said.
If all that water remains in-
stream, however, the junior
irrigators don’t benefit from
the return flows.
The re-activation of ap-
plications from 20 years
ago could also be problem-
atic for irrigators.
If state agencies succeed
in obtaining those water
rights, they’d have priority
dates in the 1990s. In other
words, they’d be senior to
water rights obtained since
ODFW’s water rights appli-
cations from the 1990s were
protested by groups and in-
dividuals, but the agency has
resolved all but 61 of them.
The 61 remaining cases
have long been dormant, but
the agency can resolve them
by withdrawing the applica-
tions, settling with the pro-
testers or moving forward
with contested case admin-
istrative proceedings, which
can take from six months to
three years.
“There wasn’t activity on
these for a while and there
have been renewed efforts
to work on them as work
(proceeds) on efforts to im-
plement instream and out-
of-stream needs,” said Rac-
quel Rancier, senior policy
coordinator for the Oregon
Water Resources Depart-
ment, in an email.
The agency plans to re-
solve the disputes over the
next year or two, hopefully
through settlements, said Pa-
kenham Stevenson.
“If we can go from con-
tention to mutual benefit,
that’s where ODFW would
like to work,” she said.
For example, in the Pow-
der-Brownlee basin in North-
east Oregon, irrigators filed
a protest against an instream
water rights application in
the early 1990s.
Rather than go through
the contested case process,
ODFW now aims to strike a
collaborative agreement with
irrigators to conserve water,
said Martin, an area rancher.
Replacing open canals
with pipelines would prevent
water seepage, for example,
creating a more direct bene-
fit for flows than an instream
water right, he said.
In some segments of a
canal, half the water can be
lost to seepage, Martin said.
“We can put that in the pipe-
line and have basically zero
Study shows advantages of locating next fry plant in Idaho
Capital Press
EAGLE, Idaho — Any
processor planning to build a
new frozen fry plant would be
wise to locate it in Idaho, ac-
cording to a recently complet-
ed economics study funded by
the Idaho Potato Commission.
Joe Guenthner, an emeritus
University of Idaho economics
professor, and Amanda Jaeger,
a consultant contracted to help
him, compared costs of build-
ing and operating a fry plant
in eight different locations, as
well as transportation costs
from those locations to major
fry markets.
The list included Idaho,
Washington, North Dakota,
Wisconsin and Maine in the
U.S., and Alberta, Manitoba
and New Brunswick in Can-
The study, which the econ-
omists started in March and
presented to the IPC on Oct.
25, analyzed a hypothetical
plant with a capacity of 50 tons
Courtesy J.R. Simplot, Co.
Workers at the J.R. Simplot potato processing plant in Nampa,
Idaho, sort french fries. An economic study commissioned by
the Idaho Potato Commission has confirmed Idaho would be the
ideal location for frozen fry processors to build their next plant.
per hour of finished product.
The economists determined
Alberta would have the cheap-
est potato processing cost at 27
cents per pound, followed by
Idaho at 27.5 cents and Wash-
ington at 27.8 cents.
Guenthner explained Al-
berta benefits from lower costs
due to a weak currency rela-
tive to the U.S. dollar. Though
Washington can produce raw
potatoes cheaper than Ida-
ho, the Gem State comes out
ahead in the report with its
construction costs, labor costs
and taxes.
However, Guenthner ex-
plained, Idaho’s advantage is
clear when costs of shipping
to the major markets are con-
sidered. The study evaluated
truck and rail freight costs to
21 U.S. destinations and four
destinations in Canada, as well
as truck, rail and boat shipping
to four foreign markets out-
side of Canada. Alberta had a
freight advantage to one major
market, Washington’s costs
were lowest when exporting to
the four foreign markets, and
Idaho had the lowest shipping
costs to 24 markets. “Idaho
can put fries cheaper into Se-
attle than Washington can be-
cause its processing costs are
lower,” Guenthner said.
One processor, McCain
Foods, is already undertak-
ing an Idaho expansion, in-
vesting $200 million to boost
production at its Burley plant.
Guenthner believes the indus-
try is poised for further growth.
“I understand most or all
processing plants in North
America are running at full ca-
pacity, and growth in demand
is coming from overseas,”
Guenthner said. “The industry
is growing, and there will be
expansion somewhere.”
Matthew Weaver/Capital Press
Hydroponic Butter leaf lettuce is grown in a greenhouse in this
Capital Press file photo. An advisory board to the USDA recently
voted against banning hydroponics from organic certification.
Oregon’s fish and wild-
life regulators plan to secure
new instream water rights to
preserve fish habitat, raising
concerns about possible im-
pacts on irrigators.
The new instream water
rights are intended to protect
flows, but the Oregon De-
partment of Fish and Wild-
life is still studying which
river basins to target.
“This is a statewide ap-
proach based on need,” said
Anna Pakenham Stevenson,
ODFW’s water quality and
quantity program manager.
ODFW also plans to re-
vive negotiations over pro-
tested instream water rights
applications the agency filed
roughly two decades ago.
Both plans are potentially
worrisome for farmers, since
new state-owned instream
water rights could lock up
water that could otherwise be
used for irrigation.
While the new instream
water rights would be junior
to those of existing water
rights, they may preclude any
additional irrigation water
rights from being obtained in
affected waterways.
If an instream water right
claims all the unappropriated
water in a stream, “an irriga-
tor would not be able to get a
new water right,” said Mary
Anne Cooper, public policy
counsel for the Oregon Farm
Irrigators also fear that