Farm to Fork… or Chopsticks? 

I shared previously about visiting a beef farm in Japan. Over the past few days, I’ve enjoyed some great food, visited more farms and warehouses, traveled from the south end of Japan on the Shinkansen, and now I’m in Tokyo as part of the Governor’s Trade Mission. 

Shinkansen – the “bullet train” in Japan

I always look forward to riding the Shinkansen. Comfortable, easy to navigate through the train stations, and it travels 320 km/hour (200 mph) so I can get where I need to go easily and quickly.

I ate at a “Korean BBQ” restaurant. One of my favorites! The table has a grill in the middle, and the meat comes out raw so that you cook it one piece at a time. The pictures below are all Wagyu beef. Presentation is important here in Japan as you can see. 


The next day, I was taken to dinner at a restaurant owned by one of my customers. It’s “French inspired” he says. It was underground, very cozy, and I loved the deer head on the wall! 


This customer was 3rd generation to run his feed business. He began to import feed from other countries 7 years ago (including grass straw from us!), and also added 4 restaurants to their company. Soon he will be adding a cheese-making factory and I’m excited for him and can’t wait to visit it. 

You might be asking why the restaurants and why the cheese factory… that maybe it doesn’t make sense with the animal feed company. Well, he sells feed to local beef and dairy farms and then purchases the beef to use in the restaurants and purchases the cream from the dairy for his cheese factory! Literally “farm to fork” as we would say in America. Although here in Japan, it’s chopsticks! 

After dinner, we visited an amazing place called Wine and Sweets where his cheese was already being used in the best soufflé I’d ever eaten – hand made in front of me by the owner and baked while I was enjoying a Riesling. Yummmm! 


And yes, they have forks as well. Cheers! 

Beef Farming: Japanese Wagyu

I’m no expert in beef farming, or dairy farming for that matter. I’m almost embarrassed to say I visited dairy farms in China, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, and camel dairies in United Arab Emirates before I toured my first American dairy farm (compliments of Van Beek Dairy with my then second grader). It’s funny really – when one farms, non-farmers kind of expect us to know all about ALL farming. When I was on a radio interview once the year I was Farm Mom, the host kept asking me about chickens. I didn’t know the answers and he couldn’t figure out why I didn’t know! I said we farmed grass seed, not chickens, and he just shook his head. So while I don’t know a lot about how beef is raised, I sure am thankful for those ranchers and farmers who do. 

Ever heard of Kobe Beef? You probably have, and you probably know it’s also very expensive in America. Kobe is a “brand” of Wagyu beef from the Kobe area of Japan. Wagyu cattle is the breed of beef cow – like Angus or Hereford. 


I was able to visit a 3rd generation beef farmer, which was exciting because I’m a 3rd generation grass seed farmer. His grandpa started the farm, his dad didn’t want it, so now he is the 34-year-old CEO of the 1000-head Wagyu beef operation. 


You might be asking why we are selling them grass straw from Oregon. The short answer is Japan is an island with a large population where there isn’t a lot of land for pasture for their animals. What isn’t cities in Japan, is mainly mountains. In fact, the farm that I visited was on multiple levels – basically built on the side of a mountain, because the flat ground is needed for rice fields or houses. Because the cattle can’t graze on pasture land, they have to import their feed. Because Oregon’s grass seed farmers can’t burn their fields anymore, many choose to have the straw baled. So, basically we are able to export an un-needed product out of Oregon to Japan where it is needed. And, one of my dad’s favorite lines: We turn Japanese Yen into American Dollars. Boom! 

They also use their domestic rice straw, pictured below, as a fiber source in their diets. It’s so interesting to see different ways farmers bale their feed. The “bale type” is totally based on what it’s being used for, the transportation needed to get to its final location, and the equipment that is available. As you can see here with this bale, it’s loosely baled, which means it came from a local farm with a cost-effective piece of equipment. The weight packed into the bale doesn’t really matter if it’s close by and you don’t have to worry about transportation cost, and warehousing space doesn’t need to be maximized. A lot to think about when talking about food and how it’s produced. 

Japanese rice straw in small, round bales


And if anyone is interested, here is a rice straw field that is ready for harvest. They are waiting for the field to dry out so they can harvest the crop. Sounds like Oregon this summer!

Japanese rice field

  Farming around the world is pretty amazing. And while there will always be similarities among the way different farmers in different countries farm, we all make decisions based on the resources or constraints we deal with. So basically, whether I’m in America or in Japan, whether it’s Angus or Wagyu… BEEF, its what’s for dinner.

From Farm to the Far East. Literally. 

I started this blog with this theme in mind: “From the truck shop to the Far East… Loving on Oregon’s Ag.” For the next 7 days, these words couldn’t be more true. I’m just arriving to Japan, and from visiting beef farms to dairy farms to warehouses to ports to attending the Governor’s Reception in Tokyo to meeting with the ATO at the US Embassy, this trip will be an accumulation of so many things I’m proud to be a part of – and I’m excited to share it with anyone reading.

International travel is exhausting, but I’m learning to appreciate what I get to see in this world. Our farm was able to bring in 102 6th grade students from Memorial Middle School just this Tuesday and I was able to have a discussion about Trade on a local level, on a domestic (US) level, and on an international level. I’m not sure how much the sixth-graders wanted to hear that, but I don’t think it’s ever too early to teach the effect and importance of America’s agriculture on the rest of the world. Take a look at the Adopt A Farmer program – it’s a great program to be a part of and oh so needed in today’s society of trying to bridge the urban-rural divide. It was very cool and timely to talk about something I would literally be doing that next day. We talked about what happens to our crops in Oregon after they leave the field – and what is involved when selling internationally, including different currency, exchange rates, cultures, language, and time zones. Enjoy pictures from the field trip and hope you stay tuned for more blogs later this week and next about my trip! 

Port Crisis? Still. Not. Over.

Are you incredulous by this title, that we are still talking about this? You thought this was over, contract was signed? If you know me, or are an importer or exporter, or have trucks at the ports – then you know the day-in, day-out problems we are still having and knows that this crisis is far from over.

On February 20th, most of the US let out a collective sigh of relief – from the White House down to the lowly grass straw shipper. A contract had been signed! What we learned quickly is that this was a tentative agreement, needing to be ratified by both the PMA and the ILWU. Us shippers learned immediately that our constant state of chaos changed – but did not get any better. Wait times at ports for our trucks still exist to this day, congestion at the terminals is extreme, and communication from the ship lines to exporters and importers remain a “best guess.”

Approximately 90 leaders of the ILWU from the entire West Coast will met in a “Caucus” next week to review the contract. Should they decide to recommend that the contract be agreed upon, it will be submitted to the ILWU Rank and File for a 90 days review. And then a vote by secret ballot.

And then the following Journal of Commerce article comes out last night. I read this morning, and can’t do much except shake my head.

Militant ILWU faction calls for contract to be rejected

A group that calls itself the Transport Workers Solidarity Committee will sponsor a rally at 7 p.m. Pacific time on March 31 outside of the international headquarters of the ILWU on Franklin Street in San Francisco. According to a flyer distributed by the committee, six active or retired ILWU members will address the rally.

The committee spares no words in saying that it does not support the tentative coastwide agreement that was reached on Feb. 20 by the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association. “Left unchecked, it will gut the ILWU’s coastwide power and bury the last militant union in the U.S.,” the flyer states.

The tentative five-year contract maintains full employer-paid medical benefits. Longshoremen will retire with a pension that tops out at $88,800 a year. Hourly wage increases are more generous than in other contracts dating back to the 1980s. According to the PMA, full-time longshoremen last year earned on average $147,000. The hourly wage in the last year of the contract will increase to $42.18, but many longshoremen work in jobs that pay skill or overtime differentials that increase the base wage by 15 to 30 percent.

Citing the ILWU’s “proud history of class struggle and the fight for democratic principles codified in the Ten Guiding Principles,” the solidarity committee accused the ILWU leadership of flouting those principles, “using top-down control to direct longshore workers to cross picket lines and keep contract negotiations secret.” The ILWU headquarters declined to comment on the flyer.

The flyer plays loose with certain facts. It accuses the PMA of providing JOC.com with a copy of the contract. While the JOC in fact received a copy of the tentative contract, it was not provided by the PMA or any of its members.

The committee charges that the tentative contract gives employers “a free hand to automate without counter demands of shorter shifts tied to wage increases.”  In fact, the 2002 coastwide contract gave employers the right to utilize computers and information technology at their discretion, and the 2008 contract gave employers the right to introduce automated cargo-handling equipment.

The lengthy and contentious negotiations did include demands by ILWU locals for extra manning in Northern California and a guarantee of 10 hours of pay for eight hours of work for ILWU mechanics in Southern California, but those demands were turned down in the negotiation process.

In possibly the most bitter comment in this short commentary, the flyer said the tentative agreement “follows on the tail of the concessionary grain contracts at EGT and the Northwest Grain agreements.” Some forces within the union are still livid over grain contracts in 2012-13 that were negotiated by the ILWU and grain terminals in the Pacific Northwest. The international grain companies that negotiated those contracts are not members of the PMA and the grain contracts are separate from the coastwide contract.

Since the ILWU has nowhere near the leverage over the international grain companies that it has over shipping lines, the grain contracts are considered more employer-friendly in that they make it virtually impossible for the ILWU to engage in work slowdowns that give union negotiators huge leverage in contract negotiations as well as in the handling of health, safety or work-rule claims during the life of the contract.

Jurisdiction was a sticking point in the negotiations that went on for nine months and led to massive delays up and down the coast. The tentative contract grants jurisdiction to the ILWU to inspect and repair most chassis before they leave the marine terminals, even though PMA-member shipping lines no longer own the chassis.

The tentative contract will also establish a three-member panel in each of the port regions to adjudicate the health and safety and work-rule disagreements that arise frequently on the waterfront. Instead of having just one local arbitrator in Seattle-Tacoma, Portland, Oakland and Los Angeles-Long Beach as is now the case, each panel will include a member nominated by the ILWU, one by the PMA and a third who is a member of either the Federal Mediation and Conciliation service or the American Arbitration Association.

AgTC: Statement of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition

To anyone reading this blog, this is a fantastic statement by the AgTC to explain the current situation between the ILWU/PMA, the struggles that Agriculture has and will continue to have, and the outlook of the West Coast ports depending on how these negotiations go. -Shelly

AgTC: Statement of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition
Initiation of Federal Mediation of West Coast Port Contract Dispute

January 6, 2015

Contact: Peter Friedmann, Executive Director, executivedirector@agtrans.org

Abigail Struxness, Program Manager, abigail@agtrans.org

202-783-3333

www.agtrans.org

The AgTC appreciates that the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services has now undertaken to help the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU- representing the longshore workers) and Pacific Maritime Association (PMA- representing the marine terminal employers) resolve differences. FMCS Press Release. This is an essential step, as the injury caused by port labor slowdowns, walk-offs and disruption has rendered West Coast ports dysfunctional. Months ago exporters and importers asked the White House to get involved. The result of the West Coast port disruption over the past 6 months has been hundreds of millions of dollars of lost sales, cargo damage, and lost customers to US agriculture, manufacturers, farmers, and retailers, not to mention lay-offs in each of these sectors. This disruption and injury continues today.

The AgTC seeks from this Mediation, not just any new contract between the ILWU and PMA. While that would provide temporary relief, it would not lead to improvements in port operations that are essential to meet the challenges facing west coast ports and the importers and exporters dependent upon them. The AgTC presented to the President of the ILWU and the PMA a comprehensive list of what’s at stake for West Coast ports, as negotiations began last year. Those challenges are still very much in play as the Mediation begins. Open Letter to the ILWU and PMA.

The Agriculture Transportation Coalition’s membership includes companies that represent virtually all agriculture and forest products exported from the United States, as well as imports of these products. These products are grown, raised, processed, packaged and shipped from all regions of the U.S. to markets worldwide, where they typically face competition from similar products sourced elsewhere. The AgTC was founded on the following principle: “There’s nothing that we produce in agriculture and forest products in this country, that cannot be sourced somewhere else in the world. If we cannot deliver affordably and dependably, those foreign customers will find alternative sourcing, and it may never come back to the US suppliers.”US agriculture requires efficient West Coast ports if we are to compete with agriculture producers in Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Chile, etc. in selling to the Asia markets. When US marine terminals are shuttered, and when lack of automation (which is standard at world-class ports outside the US) renders our terminals slower and undependable, then agriculture, which depends upon these ports for access to world markets, suffers great and permanent loss.

For our US exporters and importers, continuing West Coast port disruption and inefficiencies, unless rectified, are already leading to two very bad results – neither in the interests of US exporters, importers or the US economy as a whole. Unfortunately, both have been very much in evidence and accelerating over the past year:

  1. Supply chain managers are forced to divert cargo to East and Gulf US ports and/or to Canadian ports (more detail provided in the Open Letter.) Much of this diversion is now permanent and will not come back to the West Coast ports even after the current dispute is resolved.
  2. Foreign customers are forced to shift their purchases of hay, apples, cotton, lumber, citrus, meat, dairy, almonds, etc., to suppliers of the same products located in other countries.  This too has been occurring with increasing frequency, and are often permanent. For example, when the west coast ports were shut down 12 years ago, Japan candy producers were forced to shift purchases of almonds from California growers, to Turkey, and some of that business still has not, and likely will never come back to the US.

So we hope the  ILWU  is not entering this mediation with the objectives of increasing cost of  port labor (already the highest in the world; according to published contract terms, ILWU workers make an average of $147,000/year, with full medical – no copay, no deductible, no limit, plus pension, etc.), preventing full automation of the terminals, maintaining antiquated practices such as the hiring hall and closing terminals during lunch hours (long discarded in all other industries), and now expanding these costs and inefficiencies to chassis maintenance and repair.

If the ILWU is successful in achieving these objectives during the current mediation, they will be successful in accelerating the diversion of cargo away from the US west coast ports, forcing foreign customers to stop buying from US farmers, growers, packers and food processors, driving cargo away from US west coast ports, and ultimately denying their own children the good jobs at the terminals.

One of the key issues that will be subject to the current mediation relates to jurisdiction over the chassis (these are the trailers on which the ocean cargo containers are placed) maintenance and repair.  This critical function simply cannot be handled in the same way that West Coast port operations have been handled over the years.

Following is a current, quite alarming report about chassis maintenance:

“Our company is one of many exporters trucking products to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on a daily basis.  We have dealt with numerous issues pertaining to the current labor slowdown by the ILWU, costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sales and time wasted.  One recent problem we are experiencing is not only appalling, but amounts to outright theft.  We’d like to share our story.

About a year ago, we began making plans to start managing our own chassis program for our trucking operation, as we knew shipping lines would soon be getting out of the chassis business.  For years we had been reliant on equipment that was provided by the shipping lines as part of our service contract.  While the allure of a “free” chassis was appealing, in reality, we were spending approximately $70,000 per year on tire repair of port chassis.  As any trucking operation knows, the tires on port chassis are generally in poor condition, as each operator nurses the tires along just enough to get the container delivered, leaving any lasting problem to the next lucky recipient of that particular chassis.

In order to begin our chassis management program, we experimented with purchasing our own new chassis, as well as entering into a long term leasing agreement with one of the larger port chassis providers, in order to determine which type of equipment best suited our operation.  The equipment we purchased was in excellent condition, as everything was brand new.  In general, the leased port chassis were in good condition, except of course, for the tires.  Over the next few months we began replacing the “junk” recapped port chassis tires with other tires that while were not new, were in much better condition.  There was a great deal of expense incurred to conduct this project, however, we believed it would benefit us in the long run.  Sure enough, once this tire replacement program was complete, we saw a nearly 90% reduction in our tire repair costs.

Two weeks ago, one of our truck drivers was leaving a terminal in Los Angeles after picking up an empty container.  He was stopped at the exit gate by a terminal worker and told that his chassis needs to be inspected for safety purposes.  This particular chassis was one of the leased units we did not own, but have thoroughly maintained.  It also recently completed its annual inspection by the California Highway Patrol, and passed without incident.  However, on this day, it was deemed unsafe by this particular terminal worker and received an “OUT OF SERVICE” tag.  Our driver was instructed to report to the maintenance shop to receive replacement tires before being allowed to leave the terminal.  The maintenance shop, at their own pace, removed our tires, and replaced them with…you guessed it…”junk” recaps-the same type and quality we had spent months, and tens of thousands of dollars to replace.  In effect, they stole our tires from us.  Two days later, that same chassis had two blowouts, from tires that were replaced by the terminal.  So much for safety.

I wish we could report this as an isolated incident, however, in the last two weeks, this situation has repeated itself on numerous occasions.  At this rate, the terminal will have undone in weeks what it took us months to accomplish.  This is just one of many similar costly stories that goes unreported during this contract negotiation period.  Our industry cannot continue to operate this way.  Changed is needed…soon.”

Day 29… and counting.

Day 29 of port issues: slow-downs, lack in port production, ILWU walk-offs, truck congestion, and all-over harm to business, agriculture and the economy. The long term repercussions of this are yet to be seen.

Let me clarify. It’s been 29 business days that we have struggled with this. November 3rd was a harsh reality when the first notification from my truck dispatch alerts me to issues. This was the email we received at 7:59am on November 3rd:

“We have been shorted almost all of our labor to work the yard today. The Union Hall has reported that they had “no man power” to fill the requested labor. We will be running at 25% capacity at best today. I would expect turn times to be in the 1-2 hour and if not longer. We would suggest holding off on any cargo that can be delayed until later in the week. We can’t stress enough that today will be extremely slow.”

We had NO idea that this was just the beginning of the chaos that would ensue and still continuing through today.

US Containers_Long Beach

Some background: The contract between the ILWU and the PMA has been negotiated since July 1, 2014. The previous contract expired on June 30, 2014 and both parties began the negotiating process for the new contract in May 2014. I probably don’t have to do the math for you, but we are in our 8th month of negotiations. It’s almost humorous. It is in fact beyond reason that two entities cannot come to an agreement in 8 months. It is beyond reason that because of these failing negotiations, that small business, agriculture commodities and West Coast state’s economies are hurting. It is beyond reason that our government is yet to step in and go up the chain of command and demand the President of the United States to order a Federal Mediator. The last we heard from the White House was mid-November when POTUS said he is “confident the two can come to an agreement.” Well Mr. President, it’s been 8 months. At what point do you step in? How long will you allow our PUBLIC PORTS to be inefficient, costly and unreliable?

Let’s look at what they may be negotiating. From multiple sources, it seems there are 2 items that are at the table: 1) Benefits. Specifically who pays the “Cadillac Tax.” 2) Automation.

1) The Affordable Health Care Act’s “Cadillac Tax” on generous medical plans is projected to cost the industry $150 million a year, according to Mr. James McKenna, CEO and Chairman of the Pacific Maritime Association. Employers (meaning the terminals and shipping lines, but ultimately us all as increases in costs always get passed on…) pay the entire cost of premiums for ILWU medical insurance. According to the PMA website: “The ILWU benefits package includes fully paid health care for workers, retirees and their families with no premiums, no in-network deductibles and 100 percent coverage of basic hospital, medical and surgical benefits. Prescription drugs are covered for $1 per prescription; dental and vision care are provided to workers, retirees and their families at little or no cost.” Employers say that plan is generous enough and, furthermore, they can’t afford to pick up any more expenses in that area. The ILWU does not want to pay for the additional costs. Frankly, I would argue that any red-blooded American would agree with the employers here! According to my source on Capital Hill, the PMA has already given into the ILWU’s demand of paying for the Cadillac Tax. Unbelievable to me. Completely unbelievable. Yet if this is true, then my guess is the ILWU saw the green light and went after more…

2) Automation. At first glance, more automation equals less jobs. Right? Here’s what I don’t understand. ILWU’s rallying call is “An injury to one is an injury to all.” So, the ILWU wants less technology, less automation. But what if it makes things safer? Would you accept it then? Or would you be so stubborn and immovable that you simply won’t listen to the word. If the long-term effect of no automation is business moving away from your ports that you work at, then you’ll lose your jobs anyway. I’ve read many articles and watched video’s of ILWU’s own spokespeople claim that “the boss’s” only focus is profit. See one here. Here’s a newsflash: business needs to make money in order to continue year after year. It’s called profit – and profit isn’t a bad thing. It keeps YOU getting that paycheck. You should be helping your boss make a profit – not be against the idea.

Maybe you noticed the email from above and it’s time-stamp: 7:59am on a Monday morning. Do I think it’s coincidence that this start of a slow-down happened at 7:59am on a Monday morning? About 3 weeks before Black Friday? Almost 2 months before Christmas? Absolutely not. The ILWU is very smart, very powerful, and very strategic. If they were to strike, the President could enact the Taft-Hartley Act. They didn’t. They began a long and calculated work slow-down as a negotiation tactic. And it appears to be working. Eventually they will get their way – and I would prefer it to be tomorrow, not next month.

So, you might be one thinking I am pro-PMA and anti-ILWU. I’m not. PMA? You’ve failed too.

PMA 2013 Annual Report

PMA 2013 Annual Report

President McKenna, I’ve read your 82-page Pacific Maritime Association 2013 Annual Report. You outlined these guiding principles last March when talking about the upcoming contract negotiations:

1) Given the tremendous economic impact (West Coast ports support more than 9 million U.S. jobs) of our industry across the nation, we will act with an awareness that these talks have ripples beyond the docks.

FAIL

2) With competition for discretionary cargo growing stronger every year, we will endeavor to enable West Coast ports to operate efficiently and productively.

FAIL

3) Knowing that a reliable labor force is essential to our ports’ standing, we will seek to deliver dependable labor on behalf of our members.

FAIL

I agree that these are important. I agree that “reliability, efficiency, and productivity will be the keys to success.” And you also say in your report that “…safety efforts led to the lowest level of injuries ever recorded.” Then what’s wrong? Why can’t you make this contract happen? I have to think that there is something inherently wrong here. Labor unions don’t realize that long-term success of the ports means long-term jobs for them. Employers either aren’t listening to the labor unions, or they don’t know how to communicate with them. Until these under-lying issues are rectified, then investment – and looking at the West Coast port’s future as positive – is futile.

The West Coast ports are the gateway of choice for goods sent to and from Asia. We are the most efficient route. Not considering anything else, the shortest route between Point A and Point B is always a straight line. Now when you bring in other variables, that line (or in our case, shipping route) begins to change. In 2002, there was a 10-day coast-wide port shutdown that sparked concerns. Add to this contentious contract negotiations between the Office Clerical Unit and the Harbor Employers Association in 2012, the ILWU Local 8 and the IBEW skirmish over who plugs in and unplugs reefers a few years back, and other regional grapplings have raised questions to the West Coast’s reliability. Was this enough to move cargo away from the West Coast ports? Yes it has.

East Coast/Gulf Ports showing a large increase over the past 6 years.

East Coast/Gulf Ports showing a large increase over the past 6 years.

Do not invest another dime into technology, into automation, into innovation. Not until you two INCREDIBLY POWERFUL entities can learn to talk to one another.  Here’s some advice: PMA, learn to communicate. ILWU, take some business classes. For the sake of us all.

Why this affects you.

The current port crisis isn’t just an Agriculture issue – this is an Oregon issue, a Pacific Northwest issue, an American issue.

Ag picture

We are a couple decades removed from the general public knowing their local farmer, understanding the farmer’s plight, respecting the neighboring farm, and supporting the farm families. We – the general public – have simply become urbanized, and have lost touch with what happens outside the city borders – people have lost touch with what goes on in rural America, and in doing so, what it takes to provide the food on their table, the textiles that make the clothes they wear and the seed that they use to plant their lawns and gardens. Critics of modern production agriculture are pushing the negative idea that we are all “corporate farms”, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports the vast majority of farms and ranches in the United States are family owned and operated – in fact, 93 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are family owned (http://findourcommonground.com/food-facts/corporate-farms/). There are blogs going around that the wheat we eat is poison. Since when? From the words of my farmer friend Brenda: “I want to tell you a short story about how we check our wheat before harvest to see if it’s ready, and also during harvest to make sure that the moisture is right.  We grab a handful (with our bare hands) and we toss kernels into our mouths and we eat it.  This practice has been done for generations.  My grandpa ate wheat straight from the field, straight from the combine, my dad has, and I do as well.  You would think that if anyone is going to come away from this whole conventional wheat experience with a toxic disease it would be us…but we don’t.  We are all healthy as horses, because what we are growing is safe and healthy.  Now I know as much as anyone that this isn’t scientific, but it does show how much we trust what we are doing out here in the fields.” (For more information on this topic, see: http://nuttygrass.com/ or http://prairiecalifornian.com/truth-toxic-wheat/)

Agriculture is important to us as Oregonians and as Americans. From the words of our Governor Kitzhaber: “Agriculture remains one of Oregon’s economic bright spots, creating about 1 in 10 Oregon jobs, with a $5.4 billion production value equal to roughly 15 percent of the state’s economy. There is tremendous diversity in what we grow, with more than 220 different commodities produced under some of the best growing conditions you’ll ever find. That array of crops, livestock, and fisheries strengthens our agricultural economy, which strengthens all of Oregon. But our agriculture sector is more than numbers, it’s also about what makes this place so special – our open spaces, vistas, greenery, and sustainable natural resources. Those Oregonians who have chosen to raise our food and fiber deserve our gratitude and support, and I ask that all Oregonians join me in thanking them for their incredible contribution to our state.” Well, Governor, you’re welcome.

Teaching the girls how to de-bud hazelnut trees

Teaching the girls how to de-bud hazelnut trees

What does that mean in a nutshell? JOBS. The opportunity for Oregon’s Agriculture and it’s affect on the economy is exciting – if we can allow it to happen. Oregon agriculture has diversified into markets that are growing very fast… These markets offer the potential to revitalize an industry that is slowly being recognized as having an increasing role in Oregon economic future.* Agriculture… having an increasing role in Oregon’s economic future! More jobs, more revenue!

Okay, so we – Agriculture – we’re kind of a big deal. When we really look at it – Oregon’s Agriculture is NECESSARY for the continued strength of the state.

OR Ag important exports

Excerpt from Oregon Department of Agriculture presentation – click on to be linked to blog “Crisis on West Coast Ports”

But if we can’t get it to market, then what good is any of it?

We are on day 13 of a West Coast Port crisis. The hard-working (when they’re working) members of the ILWU at the West Coast Ports are stuck in a negotiation-tactic filled fight with the PMA (Pacific Maritime Association). Until this is resolved and a contract is finally filed, we are at the mercy of the Big Dogs. Our farm is fighting, our company is fighting, our straw-export industry is fighting, the Christmas Tree industry is fighting, the Washington Apple industry is fighting – we’re ALL fighting to stay alive, to continue business, to continue our ever-so-important relationships with our overseas buyers. Some of us might not survive this, and that is sickening.

Governor Kitzhaber, President Obama, members of Congress – you KNOW how important Agriculture is to this state, this country. Our history is filled with the stories of the American Farmer. At some point along the way, the American Farmer became two antithetical people – the adversary (see above in regards to “corporate farms” and “poisoning food”) but also the romanticized and commercialized icon of America.

God made a farmer_tractor

Think 2013 Dodge Ram’s Super Bowl commercial using Paul Harvey’s “So God made a Farmer.” If you haven’t watched the commercials, or read the entire speech – you should (See below for link). It’s amazing, and makes me tear up every time I read it and watch it – because it’s true. Farmers are special people choosing a lifestyle that’s not easy, bringing their family with them into the field, working long hours – all to get their product to market in order to survive another year.

Their product to market… Again, market. I’ve quoted this before, and I’ll quote it again:

“There is nothing that we produce in this country in agriculture, that cannot be sourced somewhere else in the world. We can grow the best in the world, but if we can’t deliver affordably and dependably, the customer will go somewhere else… and may never come back”.

This state, this country, will have a different landscape if we 1- cannot get our product to market and 2- farmers are regarded as anything but supporters of America and caretakers of the land.

“Opportunities and challenges” is perhaps a cliché, yet it is a phrase that certainly fits Oregon agriculture today. Agriculture holds great potential to contribute to the solution, as long as the entrepreneurs and policy makers who recognize agriculture’s role as an economic engine in the past continue to acknowledge its even greater potential for the future.*

We need the support of our neighbors, our state, and our government to continue to provide food, jobs and revenue for the good of us all.

Watch So God Made a Farmer Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMpZ0TGjbWE

*http://ruralstudies.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/pub/pdf/OregonAgEconomyAnUpdate.pdf

From the White House

“We alerted them that agriculture and forest products, America’s largest and most important export, are in serious peril.”

I’m shocked that this information isn’t on the news – and other than those I’ve talked to about – or maybe some that have read my blog or Facebook posts – the general public has no idea what’s going on. And according to this update, the National Economic Council and the Department of Commerce didn’t know either. I’ve pasted the update from our Executive Director, Peter Friedmann, after he met with some White House leadership. (See end of blog)

Why is this? I’m trying to figure out why the general public doesn’t know or understand. Do I dare believe that the ILWU is so powerful that the media doesn’t dare tick them off? If you want to be shocked about something, read this: http://www.pmanet.org/the-ilwu-workforce. (I’ll be blogging on this subject in the future). In a nutshell: Full-time workers earn an average of $147,000 annually in wages, along with a non-wage benefits package costing more than $82,000 per active worker per year. You better believe they don’t want this information out when they are crying about fair compensation and being blue collar middle-class families. They also don’t want it to get out that they are trying to negotiate to NOT pay the taxes on their Cadillac health care plans. And of course they don’t want automation – to keep our ports competitive – because they want to keep these high paying jobs.

I feel like I’m beginning to sound like a doomsday-er. I truly don’t intend to! Only two things can happen at this point: the PMA can cave into the demands of the ILWU so that they get back to work and stop their negotiating tactics of port slow downs – this option makes it harder to compete on an international level… Or the situation hurts the economy so badly that our US Congress and/or President Obama needs to step in. It’s a lose-lose situation.

I realize that I need to write some background to the labor/contract dispute. I will try to do that soon. Hope this is enough to start getting the general public some knowledge into their economic limbo. I believe that the newspapers and TV will start covering this by the end of the week if this does not begin to improve. Until then, this is all I’ve got to help – one voice.

AgTC: White House Meeting Update

November 12, 2014

The AgTC and other industry groups met with White House leadership of the Domestic Policy Council, National Economic Council, and Department of Commerce to discuss the crippling port disruption on the West Coast. We alerted them that agriculture and forest products, America’s largest and most important export, are in serious peril.

There were a lot of aspects that the White House was completely unaware of– they didn’t know how much cargo is being left at the docks or is not able to be moved at all. We were very concerned at how little the White House knew about the situation at the West Coast ports and the impact on the nation’s economy. We made sure that they know now.

The White House said they were monitoring the situation, and we strongly emphasized that monitoring is insufficient. We urged the Administration to take firm action such as bringing in a federal mediator, as was the case in previous instances of labor-management disputes. We told them that we are weighing in with our Congressional delegations and that they will be hearing from Members of Congress.

In the meantime, we will continue to reach out to the press, because we believe the White House will respond immediately to the glare that is cast upon the White House by the press inquiries. We need to stimulate more of those press inquiries, and that is what we will continue to do.

Hi my name’s Shelly, and I’m an advocate.

I really wish that my second blog post could have dealt with sunshine and lollipops – maybe some cute kid pictures, some “Hello from the farm Friday” pictures.

Unfortunately, I’m diving head-on into something a little bigger than lollipops…  Oregon’s and America’s economy. Yikes, I know.

Port of Seattle

This is the line of trucks on Wednesday trying to get into the Port of Seattle. Port of Tacoma looks like this too… We are on DAY 5 of not being able to turn in containers into Port of Tacoma. To make a terribly complicated and long story short… we are one step away from the West Coast Ports – including Los Angeles and Long Beach – being completely shut down. 65% of America’s imports come through the Ports of LA and LB. The threat to America’s economy is estimated at $2 BILLION each DAY there is a shut down. Immediate action is necessary at the federal government level. Letters from the largest organizations and businesses in the country are urging President Obama to do something!

So, what can I do? It seems like nothing. But I’m constantly reminded that one person CAN do something – and so I am. I’m spending way too much time of my working day writing my state congress men and women, and our newly re-elected Governor Kitzhaber. I’ve written to Oregon’s representation in the US Congress. I’ve contacted Oregon Trucking Association. Our export groups are writing letters and contacting Congress. It takes hours to do this – hours I need to spend working, to minimizing costs to our business, to help with dispatching trucks and making decisions on what to do in the midst of this crisis, all to try and keep our customer’s schedules on time as much as possible. It currently is impossible to do so – there are millions of dollars of product being imported and exported that are currently sitting on docks on all the West Coast Ports, simply not moving.

My guess is that most of the public doesn’t care – and not in a negative sense! They just don’t know! But, every time something happens in the world of transportation, it will affect the consumer – typically in either higher costs, or product not getting to market. Think of it in terms of your favorite local coffee shop… those coffee beans are sitting in containers in port, or maybe not unloaded off the ship in Seattle. And all of a sudden the costs of those containers sitting at port adds up, and someone has to pay for it! Guess who ends up paying? That’s right – you and I.

And I care deeply for all of the reasons above, but what I most care about is Oregon and it’s wonderful AGRICULTURE. And guess what happens if this problem doesn’t eventually get fixed and fixed quickly… we lose our international customers. Consider the wise statement upon which the Agriculture Transportation Coalition was organized:

“There is nothing that we produce in this country in agriculture, that cannot be sourced somewhere else in the world. We can grow the best in the world, but if we can’t deliver affordably and dependably, the customer will go somewhere else… and may never come back”.

What happens if our customers around the world choose their Agricultural products elsewhere? This home that we call Oregon begins looking a lot different. We as a state can produce the finest agricultural products available – but if we can’t get those products to market, then we all suffer, including our next generation. Here’s my next generation – and this way I can tone this blog down with cute kids picture!

My girls

Here’s hoping that tomorrow is truly a new day for us!