Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, August 12, 2022, Page 11, Image 11

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    Friday, August 12, 2022 11
H-2A: Two other Oregon farms also face federal complaints
Continued from Page 1
him for whistleblowing and
making a wage claim.
The plaintiff sought more
than $28,000 in economic
damages from Siri and Son
Farms, based on missing 18
weeks of wages due to being
His attorneys said the
plaintiff was also entitled to
noneconomic damages under
Oregon law, in an amount to
be proven at trial, while fed-
eral case law suggested he
may be awarded “compensa-
tion for mental anguish and
Siri and Son Farms char-
acterized the events lead-
ing up to the lawsuit much
The farm said that weather
conditions had delayed the
harvest season, which hadn’t
yet begun when the plain-
tiff originally asked for a job.
Because he returned “eager
to start work,” the farm
instead hired him as a weeder
— a position that pays about
$2.30 less than harvest work,
according to the farm.
switched to irrigation work
based on his previous expe-
rience, which paid the same
hourly rate, but he “turned
out to be a difficult employee
and coworker,” the farm said
in a court document.
Aside from his “hostile
and abusive” treatment of
other employees, the plain-
tiff also “responded angrily
and made hostile gestures” to
a supervisor who asked why
he wasn’t working, the doc-
ument said.
After receiving a writ-
ten warning notice about
his behavior, the plaintiff
“stormed off” and quit his
job while vowing to com-
plain to state regulators, the
farm said.
Though the plaintiff
agreed an hourly wage of
$12.70, the farm ended up
paying him $15 per hour “in
an effort to de-escalate the
situation,” which ultimately
proved futile, the document
The jury sided with Siri
and Son Farms in this case,
but another lawsuit that
claims it unlawfully favored
H-2A workers remains
Court documents indicate
the farm reached a settlement
with the plaintiff earlier this
year. A federal judge hasn’t
yet closed the case, however,
and will hold a status hearing
next month.
Two other Oregon farms
also face federal complaints
alleging H-2A violations.
Coleman Farms in Mar-
ion County is defending
against a lawsuit originally
filed by nine farmwork-
ers who claim they were
denied job offers or received
lower wages than foreign
One of the farmworkers
dropped all his claims after a
July settlement conference,
while another plaintiff dis-
missed some of her claims.
Attorneys for two other
farmworkers have with-
drawn from the case after
their clients died.
Last month, Cal Farms,
which grows vegetables in
several locations in Ore-
gon, requested a jury trial in
a lawsuit brought by a farm-
worker earlier this year.
In its answer to the com-
plaint, the company denied
violating working arrange-
ments with the plaintiff or
denying him employment
opportunities after hiring
H-2A workers.
Advocates for North-
west farm employers say
the number of lawsuits over
H-2A workers has risen in
recent years, along with the
program’s popularity, which
has grown due to labor
Attorneys for farm-
workers say they’re legiti-
mately fighting back against
unlawful discrimination and
deny targeting the program
because foreign guestwork-
ers are harder to unionize.
Weather: Unusual spring weather was statewide
Continued from Page 1
he said. “The weather was
the primary factor. We just
didn’t have enough good-
weather windows to get any
work done.”
The weather eventually
dried out, but it was fol-
lowed by a heat wave in late
July that shrank raspberries
in Whatcom County and
stressed unirrigated crops,
the USDA reported.
The heat is likely to lin-
ger, too. The federal Cli-
mate Prediction Center says
the odds favor above-normal
temperatures for the region
through October.
Klesick said he’s hoping
for an extended summer so
fall vegetables can be har-
vested as late as November.
“Everyone would benefit
from have a longer harvest
season,” he said.
Don Jenkins/Capital Press
Lewis County berry grower Mike Peroni says labor was
hard to find.
Don Jenkins/Capital Press
Estabon Andres picks raspberries in southwest Washington. Farmers face a tight la-
bor market.
Statewide phenomenon
The unusual spring
weather was statewide. In
central Washington, Doug-
las County orchardist April
Clayton said cherry orchards
that normally yield 7 to 9
tons an acre will yield 3 to 4
tons an acre.
“We’re hoping that even
though we don’t have the
volume we normally do, the
prices will increase to match
the demand in the market, so
we’ll have to see about that,”
she said.
The upside of the wet
spring was in the small num-
ber of irrigators whose water
rights have been curtailed
by the state Department of
Ecology. The agency has
curtailed only nine irrigators
statewide. All draw from the
Nooksack River in What-
com County in the north-
west corner of the state.
As a comparison, during
the severe drought of 2015,
Ecology curtailed 883 irri-
gators’ water rights.
Too much water
But farmers had to deal
with too much water in some
places. In Lewis County
in southwest Washington,
farmer Dave Fenn said rye
grass flourished in his barley
fields. In some places, the
grass was so thick that his
fields only produced silage,
rather than a barley crop.
“It was so wet and cold
for so long, the grass grew
better than the barley did,”
he said.
In Pacific County on the
coast, the weather delayed
Don Jenkins/Capital Press
Lewis County, Wash., farmer Dave Fenn mows a field
of rye grass. Because of the wet and spring, grass out-
paced barley.
bees from pollinating cran-
berry bogs, Long Beach
Peninsula grower Malcolm
McPhail said. The continu-
ous rain also caused excess
vine growth, shielding the
berries from the sun.
McPhail said he expects
harvest to start in Septem-
ber at least a week later than
usual, meaning the farm will
still be working in bogs in
If berries aren’t big
enough by then to meet
industry standards, they
will be screened out with
the leaves, he said. “We’re
going to lose small ber-
ries that are perfectly good
Farther north along the
coast, Grays Harbor County
farmer Jay Gordon said he
finished planting corn June
21. “We’ve never planted
that late, ever,” said Gordon,
who grows sweet and feed
On the progress of
the crop, he said in mid-
July that the “corn looks
good for the first week of
It may not be possible to
push back the harvest dates
to accommodate the plant-
ing dates. Gordon said he
inherited a piece of wis-
dom about farming in West-
ern Washington: Harvest by
Columbus Day, which is tra-
ditionally Oct. 12, because
the Columbus Day Storm
was on Columbus Day.
“We lost the time. We
can’t get it back,” he said.
The wet spring made
Lewis County farmer Mike
Peroni forgo planting sweet
corn. The crop is secondary
to berries, but does create
buzz for the small farm, he
said. “People like corn. It’s
the herald of high summer.”
In some parts of Western
Washington, the weather has
Skagit County dairy
farmer Jason Vander Kooy
said that by the time he got
the last of his corn in, the
rain stopped. The exposed
ground dried up and needed
“We’ve done a 360
in the weather,” he said.
“All that spring water has
In early July, Western
Washington crops “looked
great with the recent sum-
mer weather,” the USDA
reported. “Once the weather
broke, we made a lot of
hay,” said Albert, in Sno-
homish County.
Spiraling input prices
Albert said he could have
applied more fertilizer, but
had not wanted to spend the
money and gamble on the
weather. “All the inputs on
the farm are off the chart,”
he said.
Fertilizer prices world-
wide surged by 80% in 2021
and by another 30% by the
spring of 2022, according to
the World Bank. Meanwhile,
diesel prices also roughly
On-highway diesel in
the Northwest peaked at
$6.15 a gallon in late June.
It was $3.56 a gallon a year
ago and $2.77 at the start of
2021, according to the fed-
eral Energy Information
are exempt from paying
the state’s 49.4 cent-a-gal-
lon fuel tax on diesel used
in food production. Still,
the higher price is a huge
The USDA recently
reported that Washington
Grays Harbor County, Wash., farmer Jay Gordon
farmers cut back on total
expenses in 2021 compared
to 2020, but didn’t spend
any less on fuel.
“I put off filling some
fuel tanks as long as I could.
Finally, I had to bite the bul-
let,” said McPhail, the cran-
berry grower.
He said he paid about
$3,800 for 280 gallons of
gasoline and 440 gallons of
diesel. “We’ll fill the tanks
again before harvest,” he
Gordon cited as his big-
gest challenge “finding
enough money to pay the
diesel bill.”
But it isn’t just diesel.
“We’re feeling the effects
of inflation. Everything is
going up,” he said.
Plastic to wrap bales is
going up. If birds peck holes
in the plastic, the holes need
to be taped over. “The price
of tape has gone up,” Gor-
don said.
Albert ranked fertil-
izer and diesel costs high
on his list of challenges.
After that, he said, there are
supply-chain disruptions.
“We’ve had a heck of a time
getting parts and services,”
he said.
Labor costs are also
minimum wage automati-
cally adjusts each year for
inflation and is now $14.49
an hour. The minimum wage
for H-2A workers also rises
extremely difficult for us,”
said Peroni, the Lewis
“We’re competing with
much higher wages in our
area than we have experi-
enced before.”
Vander Kooy, in Skagit
County, said it’s hard to sin-
gle out one expense. “To
me, it’s the overall planting
costs,” he said.
Milk checks were up for
awhile, but then they went
down, he said. “I think
we’re still making a little bit
of money, but it’s close to
break even.”
Dillon: ‘It’s the toughest political climate I’ve ever seen for farmers and ranchers’
Continued from Page 1
collegiality among the elected lead-
ers, even if they were from a differ-
ent party.”
When the state Legislature was
more evenly divided between con-
servative and liberal lawmakers,
compromise was typically necessary
to get anything done, he said.
Now that the House and Sen-
ate are dominated by left-leaning
super-majorities, though, there’s
no longer much incentive to reach
across the aisle.
For agriculture, that’s translated
into a steeply mounting regulatory
burden, he said. “It’s the toughest
political climate I’ve ever seen for
farmers and ranchers.”
The Oregon Farm Bureau will
surely encounter numerous import-
ant problems in the years to come,
but Dillon advises its members to
focus on those that most endanger
their livelihoods.
“Is this something that will
impact my ability to be farming or
ranching next year?” Dillon said.
“Does it affect my ability to keep
Dillon isn’t entirely pessimistic
about the prospects for agriculture
and natural resource industries in the
political arena, however.
If people realize the state’s policies
aren’t improving their lives or resolv-
ing serious problems, they’ll likely
make their dissatisfaction known at
the ballot box, he said.
“I do believe there’s a potential for
the pendulum to move back toward
the middle,” Dillon said. “At some
point, voters will make a decision to
try something different.”
In the meantime, the staff and
members of the Farm Bureau are
capable of defending against damag-
ing laws and regulations, as they’ve
proven in the past, he said.
“Countless times, we’ve stopped
bad legislation or bad rules, or at least
made them less harmful,” Dillon said.
The Farm Bureau is also better
equipped to fight such battles due to
the reliable coalition it’s built with
other crop, livestock and irrigator
groups, he said.
Agriculture and natural resource
advocates have set aside their differ-
ences to cooperate on common inter-
ests, amplifying their influence over
the years, Dillon said.
“They’re more cohesive now than
they have been at other times,” he
said. “I’m proud to see that happen.”
Beyond the Farm Bureau’s state-
level successes, Dillon is encouraged
by the group’s victories at the national
scale during his tenure.
For example, the organization pre-
vailed against the U.S. Department
of Labor’s “hot goods” tactics during
the Obama administration.
The federal agency accused farm-
ers of underpaying alleged “ghost
workers” who weren’t represented in
employment records.
If pickers harvested more fruit
per hour than the agency believed
reasonable, it assumed they’d been
helped by unauthorized “ghost work-
ers” receiving less than the minimum
Crops grown by targeted farmers
were declared “hot goods” by the fed-
eral agency, blocking the perishable
fruits from sale unless the employers
paid hefty settlements.
The Oregon Farm Bureau repre-
sented farmers in federal court, ulti-
mately recovering those financial
payments and exposing the “ghost
worker” charges as baseless, Dillon
The agency was unable to find
the vast majority of 1,000 “ghost
workers” supposedly identified by
its hourly harvest formula, which
farmers claimed was arbitrarily and
inaccurately calculated.
“The precedent was super
important for anyone who has
labor,” he said. “There was a lot of
interest nationally in what was hap-
pening. We weren’t just carrying the
torch for Oregon producers. It had a
lot of importance to the broader ag
The episode taught a valuable
lesson to overzealous, “out-of-con-
trol” federal employees, Dillon said.
“We see what you’re doing and there
are mechanisms for us to correct
what you’re doing. And you really
shouldn’t do it again.”
Though he doesn’t come from an
agricultural background, Dillon said
he felt a kinship with farmers and
ranchers while working as a staffer
in the 1990s for U.S. Sen. Bob Pack-
wood, R-Ore.
He was eager to build on those
relationships upon accepting a job as
the Oregon Farm Bureau’s commu-
nications director, which led to his
hiring for the top position in 2002.
“I felt a connection with produc-
ers,” Dillon said. “They’re very prag-
matic and want to get stuff done.”