Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, March 25, 2022, Page 4, Image 4

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Friday, March 25, 2022
What’s in the $1.5 trillion
omnibus spending
package for agriculture?
Capital Press
— President Biden has
signed into law a massive
spending package, the $1.5
trillion fiscal year 2022
Omnibus Appropriations
The package makes sig-
nificant investments in agri-
culture, food systems and
rural communities.
Here’s what’s included:
• Winegrape smoke
exposure research: The bill
includes $3 million for Ore-
gon State University and
other West Coast universi-
ties to research smoke-im-
pacted grapes.
• Water conservation and
habitat restoration: $100
million is appropriated for
the Watershed and Flood
This money will be used
to replace open irrigation
ditches with pipes. Some
dollars will go toward con-
struction projects in Central
Oregon, including in Tum-
alo Irrigation District and
Central Oregon Irrigation
• Western livestock stud-
ies: The bill includes $3 mil-
lion to establish a Western
Rangeland Precision Live-
stock Center intended to
develop strategies to boost
the health and productiv-
ity of rangeland livestock
and ecosystems. The money
will be split among land-
grant universities in Oregon,
Montana and Wisconsin.
• Sudden oak death and
other agricultural research:
The Agricultural Research
Service received an increase
of $180 million in funding.
Dollars will also go toward
studying sudden oak death
and other pathogens.
• Hemp: $4 million
will go to the Agricul-
tural Research Services for
hemp genetic research and
• Rural housing: The bill
includes $1.45 billion for
rental assistance and $45
million for Rural Housing
Service vouchers to help
rural communities facing
housing crises.
• Rural energy-saving
program: The bill includes
$208 million for energy effi-
ciency upgrades to rural util-
ities and similar companies.
• Pacific shellfish: $2.5
million will fund research to
improve the “productivity,
sustainability and resiliency
of the Pacific shellfish agri-
cultural system.”
• Summer nutrition: The
bill funds the summer nutri-
tion program at $45 million.
• Supplemental Nutri-
tion Assistance Program
(SNAP): SNAP is funded
at $140.4 billion, a 23%
increase over fiscal year
• Summer Food Service
Program (SFSP): The bill
appropriates $581 million
to this program that serves
meals and snacks to chil-
dren and teens in low-in-
come areas.
• Food Corps: The bill
adds $500,000 for Food and
Agriculture Service Learn-
ing, which teaches kids to
“eat healthy.”
Oregon Sens. Ron
Wyden and Jeff Merkley
also secured federal funding
in the bill for nine projects
specific to Oregon. These
• $4.8 million to mod-
ernize the Ochoco Irrigation
• $2.5 million to pipe the
Eastside Lateral Canal for
the East Fork Irrigation Dis-
trict of Hood River County.
• $2 million for the Wal-
lowa Lake Dam Rehabilita-
tion project.
• $750,000 for the
McKay Creek Irrigation
Efficiency Project organized
by the Deschutes River
• $500,000 to construct
a new Community Center
in Detroit. The previous one
was destroyed in the 2020
Labor Day fires.
• $450,000 to restore
the commissary build-
ing on the Warm Springs
West Coast winegrowers move toward
‘no-touch’ mechanized vineyards
Capital Press
— Last week, Alexander
“Alec” Levin, Oregon State
University viticulturist and
assistant professor, planted
a “no-touch” vineyard at a
Southern Oregon research
center. The experimental
1.25-acre plot of Pinot noir
winegrapes will be pruned,
tended and harvested almost
entirely by machines.
Levin said what’s driv-
ing him to experiment is Ore-
gon’s agricultural labor cri-
sis: a short supply of laborers
combined with rising wages
and a pending overtime pay
requirement. Levin said he
expects many growers who
want to stay economically
sustainable will invest in
automation in the future.
“The writing’s kind of on
the wall here,” said Levin.
“As far as I see it, labor is as
much of an existential issue
as something like, say, lack
of water.”
Oregon has a long way to
go in vineyard automation
compared to California.
Levin estimated that half
or less of Oregon’s vineyard
acreage is mechanically har-
vested and even fewer acres
are mechanically pruned. In
contrast, 90% of winegrapes
crushed in the U.S. — the
vast majority from California
— are machine-harvested,
and mechanical pruning is
gaining momentum.
Kaan Kurtural, associate
cooperative extension viti-
culture specialist at the Uni-
A Vmech pruner working in a vineyard. Managers are
looking ways to mechanize their operations, including
developing “no-touch” vineyards.
Sahap Kaan
versity of California-Davis,
said harvest has long been
mechanized in California,
but the “final hurdle” was
automated pruning.
In recent years, Kur-
tural ran experiments in a
40-acre “touchless vineyard”
in the Napa Valley, produc-
ing fine Cabernet Sauvignon
with machines. His experi-
ments involved a mechani-
cal pruner manufactured by
Fresno-based V-mech LLC.
Trials are complete and, he
said, “It’s now the commer-
cial go-to system.”
inquiries about automation
from Oregon vineyardists.
“Growers in Oregon are
asking us our opinions,” he
said. “They’re asking us how
they should plan for this.”
Levin, of OSU, has sim-
ilarly encountered grower
interest in automation.
The purpose of his experi-
mental vineyard is to explore
how mechanization can be
most effective in Oregon.
Levin said growers some-
times attempt to mechanize
pruning in older vineyards
that weren’t set up to handle
the equipment. For the high-
est chance of success, Levin
said, young vines should
be planted to accommodate
For example, Levin’s plot
has fewer wires, different
trellising and a higher fruit-
ing wire than what would
be found in a hand-pruned
Inevitably, he said, new
vineyard configurations will
also change inputs and man-
agement. For example, a
sprayer might need to be ori-
ented differently, and vines
might require more fertilizer.
“Any increased input costs
will likely be absorbed by the
huge savings you’ll realize
by mechanizing because the
hand labor is so overwhelm-
ingly the highest proportion
of the per-acre management
cost,” Levin said.
Levin and Kurtural pre-
dict that large Oregon vine-
yards will invest in machines
and smaller vineyards will
hire contractors for mechan-
ical pruning and harvest.
Water storage project will benefit
Columbia Basin farms and fish
Capital Press
DUFUR, Ore. — Under-
ground water storage along
Fifteenmile Creek in Ore-
gon’s Dufur Valley could
provide some much-needed
relief for farms and imper-
iled fish, replenishing dan-
gerously low streamflows
during the region’s hot and
dry summer months.
The Wasco County Soil
and Water Conservation
District is evaluating a pro-
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Based on cost studies
Kurtural has conducted with
other researchers, approxi-
mately 80% of all vineyard
labor costs can be attributed
to pruning and harvesting.
Mechanizing those activi-
ties can save 60% to 80% of
labor costs per acre.
Automating also saves
time. Kurtural estimated it
takes, on average, 40 man-
hours to prune 1 acre by
hand. A machine can prune
the same acre in 45 minutes.
wage rules, he said, have
accelerated adoption of
mechanical pickers and
pruners, making vineyard
automation “an economic
With Oregon also mov-
ing toward overtime pay
for farmworkers, Kurtural
said his office has recently
received a higher volume of
posal that would divert sur-
face water from the creek
when flows are naturally
higher in winter and spring.
Water would be injected into
a deep basalt well and later
returned in-stream when
Tech giant Google, which
operates a massive data cen-
ter in nearby The Dalles,
recently donated $100,000
to help build a small pilot
project 6 miles upstream
from Dufur.
Fifteenmile Creek is a
54-mile-long tributary of
the Columbia River, flow-
ing from the Cascade Range
near Mount Hood to just
below The Dalles Dam. It
includes habitat for sev-
eral fish species, including
Mid-Columbia steelhead,
which are listed as threat-
ened under the Endangered
Species Act.
Nearly three-quarters of
the 373-square-mile water-
shed is also used for agri-
culture, primarily dryland
wheat, irrigated hay fields
and tree fruit orchards.
Shilah Olson, Wasco
SWCD manager, said that
despite irrigators being
within their water rights,
surface flows in Fifteenmile
Creek are over-allocated
during the summer, limiting
allocations while also pos-
ing a threat to steelhead.
“The main thing is lim-
iting their liability under
the ESA,” Olson said, add-
ing that violations of the law
can quickly add up to hefty
Since 2013, some irriga-
tors have voluntarily agreed
to reduce their surface water
pumping from Fifteenmile
Creek when streamflows
drop critically low for fish.
Salmonids, in particular, are
vulnerable when the water
temperature rises above 68
One significant example
saw thousands of juvenile
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Reputed owner(s)
steelhead perish in warm,
shallow water in 2009.
That led to the creation
of the Fifteenmile Action
Plan to Stabilize Tempera-
ture, or FAST. Last year,
16 participants with senior
water rights spanning 770
acres turned off their water
pumps on 21 “alert days,”
saving roughly 6.6 million
gallons of water for fish per
In exchange, the irriga-
tors receive direct payments
through the program from a
variety of sources, includ-
ing the Freshwater Trust
and Oregon Watershed
Enhancement Board.
By 2015, stakehold-
ers began looking at other
options to bolster summer
flows in Fifteenmile Creek.
First, Olson said they hired
an engineering firm to study
building an off-channel res-
ervoir, though it proved too
problematic and expensive.
Irrigators instead shifted
their focus to underground
storage, which appeared to
be a viable alternative given
the basin’s hydrology and
To prove whether the
theory is correct, Olson said
they will develop a small-
scale pilot project on a quar-
ter-acre of private land. The
Wasco SWCD has applied
to divert 1 cubic feet per
second of water from Fif-
teenmile Creek between
December and March, total-
ing 110 acre-feet of storage.
The water would be
placed in an infiltration
basin, allowing it to fil-
ter down through the soil
until it reaches a series of
gravity-fed pipes. The pipes
would send the water to a
sump, which would then
pump it into the basalt well.
Olson said it remains
unclear who will own and
operate the facility. “At the
end of the day, that’s still the
million-dollar question,” she
Once the water is
returned in-stream, it would
not be available for irriga-
tion withdrawals.
“However, it will still
provide a benefit as we hope
to strike an ecological bal-
ance to support aquatic spe-
cies and help irrigators to
continue using their full
water right as long into the
summer as possible,” Olson