Olive oil business takes root in Oregon | Capital Press

Olive oil business takes root in Oregon


For The Capital Press

Published: July 14, 2014 4:24PM
Contrary to conventional wisdom, olive trees can be grown in the Roseburg, Ore., area.

GLIDE, Ore. — Any doubts about the ability to grow olives in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and to bottle the oil have been eliminated along with the pits.

An eight-acre olive grove located on the River Ranch a couple miles east of this small rural community produced 720 bottles of olive oil this spring. The oil was pressed from a harvest of 4,470 pounds of olives from the grove last fall. Under the label of Oregon Olive Oil, the product is now for sale at the ranch and on the Internet at the business’ website, www.riverranchoregonoliveoil.com[1]. The dark bottles containing 8.45 ounces of oil sell for $22.50 each.

“It’s Oregon-grown, Oregon-milled, Oregon-bottled and Oregon-sold,” said Mel Otis, owner of River Ranch and its olive operation. “We feel we’re on the way to launching a new industry in Oregon. I don’t expect to become a multimillionaire with this farm, but I want to develop the best olive farm in Oregon.”

Otis is a businessman from Long Beach, California, who now splits his time between that location and Glide.

Despite the possibility of cold weather in the Cascade foothills killing or stunting the trees, Otis had about 7,000 trees planted in August of 2010 on fairly flat land bordered on one side by the North Umpqua River and surrounded by a mix of Douglas fir and madrone trees. Two-thirds of the plantings were of the arbequina variety and the other third were arbosanas. Both are tolerant of cold.

Two years of mild winters benefited the young trees, allowing them to establish a good foundation in the soil. Otis also credits the nearby river for keeping winter temperatures bearable for the trees.

“We have a unique climate here because of the large river expanse that parallels the property,” Otis said. “The river creates air movement and in the wintertime keeps it much, much warmer.

“We were very fortunate to have the micro climate we have here because the olives didn’t suffer the frost damage this past winter that most other places did suffer,” he added.

The poundage total from River Ranch’s harvest last fall was the largest from the handful of olive producers in Oregon, according to Otis. The olives were pressed at Red Ridge Farms near Dayton, Oregon. After the impurities settled, the oil was poured into buckets and returned to River Ranch for bottling.

“It’s tremendously exciting,” Paul Durant, co-owner of Red Ridge Farms, said. “We’re happy to be a part of it. The quality was fantastic.”

The grove’s first harvest in 2012 produced 430 pounds of hand-picked olives. That yielded 80 bottles of oil. According to Otis, taste tasters described the oil as “rich and buttery.”

“Our cold-weather olives have a special gourmet characteristic and difference which we believe sets them apart from Spanish, Italian, European products or a blend of those which they market allegedly as extra-virgin olive oil,” Otis said.

Durant, who has had six olive harvests at Red Ridge Farms and has milled the olives for five other producers, said the cold-tolerant trees don’t yield as much oil per pound of olives as those from warmer climates, but the oil is “special and so unique.”

Durant said Oregon olive producers now face the task of marketing their Oregon product to consumers.

“We’ll have to work to educate consumers on what is a good olive oil and how do you use it,” Durant said. “I think Oregon has a great culinary movement. There are people who are conscious about good food, they’re willing to support good products and they’ll use Oregon oils.

“Like any fledgling industry, you need people with a passion for it, and Mel Otis has that for olives,” he added.

Otis explained that being in the olive business is part of his family’s history. His grandfather had groves on the Peloponnese Peninsula southwest of Athens, Greece, about 150 years ago.

Northwest hay growers doubt acreage report’s accuracy

Published: July 8, 2014 11:46AM

Last changed: July 8, 2014 12:44PM

AR-140709884.jpg&MaxW=600Carol Ryan Dumas/Capital Press
Swathing takes a break in this alfalfa field in Jerome Idaho, on Tuesday morning, July 8. Idaho is down 10,000 in hay acres harvested this year, a surprise to some in the industry.

Harvested hay acres dropped slightly this year in the U.S., but some big increases in Washington and Oregon have growers there surprised and doubtful of USDA’s reported numbers.

While U.S. hay acreage has dropped slightly compared to a year ago, increased acreage reported in individual states last week by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service comes as a big surprise to growers.

Nationwide harvested acreage of all hay at 57.6 million acres is down 611,000 acres from

58.3 million acres in 2013. But acreage is up 160,000 in Washington and 30,000 in Oregon, according to the report.

Those increases seem unrealistice, according to growers in Washington and Oregon who represent their state hay associations.

At 920,000 acres, Washington alfalfa acres are up 60,000 acres, and other hay is up 100,000 acres, USDA reported.

“Flaws in the numbers — that’s my first thought,” said Loren Lentz, president of the Washington State Hay Growers Association, who farms north of Spokane.

“I’m going to guess there’s something wrong. I can’t think where it would have gone in,” he said.

More acres did go into Timothy hay due to demand and price, but fall planting of hay acres in the Columbia basin were more likely to have been down because prices were down through fall, he said.

California buyers did come in through winter and spring and cleared out a lot of Washington’s excess of lower quality Timothy and alfalfa and raised prices, so producers could have planted more in the spring. But that crop won’t produce until next year, and it could even take two years to establish well enough to harvest, he said.

He hasn’t seen any big swings in hay acreage in his northeast area.

Lentz said Washington’s first cutting was some of the best hay in quite a while and prices are good. Washington won’t be competing with California this year on export hay due to California’s short water situation, so things are looking good on that front, he said.

At 1.05 million acres in total, Oregon is down 10,000 acres in alfalfa but up 40,000 acres in other hay, USDA reported.

“That’s a big number. It’s a tough one to believe,” said Greg Mohnen, a Bend, Ore., hay grower and vice president of the Oregon Hay and Forage Association.

He’s heard that growers were increasing acreage because of high hay prices, but he doesn’t know where it would have gone in or what producers would have taken out of production to make room for more hay, he said.

If the acreage numbers are correct, that excess hay will be going to California, he said.

California’s total acreage, at 1.4 million acres, is down 70,000 acres. Alfalfa acres are up 30,000, and other hay is down 100,000 acres, USDA reported.

It’s certainly no surprise that acreage is down, said Spencer Halsey, executive director of California Alfalfa and Forage Association.

He doesn’t know if the association’s members agree with the numbers, but the short water supply is being diverted to more permanent crops or highest value crops, he said.

It’s an interesting situation for hay growers in California because hay prices are high. Water is tight, but if they have the water, they can make more money on hay than some other crops, he said.

Idaho’s hay acreage, at 1.5 million, is down 10,000 acres — 40,000 less in alfalfa and up 30,000 in other hay.

Some of that loss could be in lost seeds and stands in small basins due to drought challenges, but those losses shouldn’t be enough to bring acreage down as much as USDA reported, said Glenn Shewmaker, extension forage specialist with the University of Idaho in Twin Falls.

Due to high prices and lower input costs, alfalfa would bring better returns than most other crops. He doesn’t understand the drop in acreage in Idaho or nationwide, he said.

He would have thought more corn acres would have been converted to alfalfa. Inputs for alfalfa are lower than corn and with current prices, growers could net a couple of hundred dollars more per acre than many other crops, he said, adding USDA’s numbers are suspect.

Hay area harvested

Area all hay 2013 all hay 2014

1,000 acres

Calif. 1,440 1,370

Idaho 1,480 1,470

Ore. 1,020 1050

Wash. 760 920

U.S. 58,257 57,646


Oregon couple process lavender in their still | capitalpress.com

ALBANY, Ore. (AP) — Ric and Gail Blasquez sometimes wonder if their neighbors think they are doing something illegal.

“I think maybe our neighbors believe we are moonshiners,” said Gail.

And, in fact, they are running a still. But it has nothing to do with illegal alcohol. The soldered copper device in their front yard is all aboveboard.

It’s all about lavender.

Ric and Gail distill a good portion of their home-grown lavender into essential oil that they use for a variety of products, from soaps to sprays for linens.

“It’s a peaceful, calming plant,” said Gail of the herb that is the focus of the annual Moonshadow Gypsy Arts & Crafts Lavender Faire. The event will be held in northeast Albany this weekend.

Now in its fifth year, the event brings 1,000 or so people to the property to celebrate lavender. Arts and crafts vendors, music, workshops and demonstrations will be featured.

Extracting the oils adds to its many uses. And the still used to extract the oil from the herb is a piece of art in its own right.

An Arab still, the five-piece device uses technology that dates back a thousand years. More elaborate large modern versions are available for completing the process, but Ric likes the feel of the traditional still.

“It’s old-school,” he said.

The process is powered by steam, so it begins by boiling water in the base of the still. Cut dry lavender blooms are stuffed into the neck and upper portion. Wheat paste applied by hand seals the seams in the neck.

“The modern versions would use rubber gaskets, but this is more fun,” Ric said.

The steam from the boiling water is forced up the cylinder and through the lavender in the upper bell, forcing oil out of the plant and through a tube into a condenser. Cold water is pumped into the condenser and super-heated. The steam is re-condensed into liquid hydrosol (distilled water with fine micro-particulates of oil).

When the temperature in the top tower reaches 60 Celsius, Ric starts the pump. When the temperature reaches 80, typically that means product is coming through the tube.

The essential oil flows to the surface. Ric then adjusts a valve to separate the oil, which escapes through another tube into a container. The hydrosol is released into a second container and used in spritzes and sprays.

“The entire process takes about an hour,” Ric said.

One run produces between a half ounce to an ounce-and-a-half of oil, depending on variety. Gail said the still produces about a quart of oil each year.

“We use the oil for all sorts of products and we sell some of it in bottles,” she said. “It takes about two ounces of oil to make soap.”

The Lavender Faire is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Moonshadow Farm, 34556 Mountain View Place N.E. in Albany.

Ric will be demonstrating lavender oil distilling. It’s a skill he acquired on his own.

The still, he said, “didn’t come with instructions. I was a high school science teacher and even then I had to sit back and take a long look at it. But it’s pretty basic stuff.”

The Blazquez farm harvests 13 varieties of lavender. About a half-acre of the 7-acre farm is devoted to the herb.

Although Ric will be demonstrating this weekend, Gail also is skilled in the distilling process. Both like its ancient roots.

“It gives us a great product,” Ric said. “but I really enjoy the science and art of it.”


Information from: Albany Democrat-Herald, http://www.dhonline.com


Ergot warning issued in Eastern Oregon

The Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center is warning grass seed growers to be alert for ergot.

The alert notes that ergot spore production is coinciding with flowering in perennial ryegrass in the Columbia Basin.

Spores typically are produced ahead of flowering.

“When they coincide, then we have big ergot years,” said Phil Hamm, director of the center and a plant pathologist.

“Chemical protection of flowers during anthesis will be important this year,” the alert states.

Ergot spores replace seeds in infected ryegrass and bluegrass plants, create a honeydew that attracts insects, adds to cleaning costs and can increase disease pressure in subsequent years.

Growers can obtain partial control through use of fungicides, Hamm said.

Hamm said the station is researching additional management techniques, including a method to delay spore production in ergot until after ryegrass fields flower.

Drought at Southern and Eastern Oregon

Officials say irrigators along the South Umpqua River could face restrictions on water supplies as early as this month.

Flows in the river are expected to be below average or well below average this summer, the Roseburg News-Review reported.

The South Umpqua is a tributary of the Umpqua River that relies mainly on rainfall and often runs low in the summer, but restrictions in low-water years typically don’t kick in until August.

The North Umpqua tributary benefits from snowmelt at higher elevations.

Low snowfall and an early melt across the state have raised concern about irrigation supplies.

In the Klamath Basin, a drought has been declared, and some irrigators are facing potential water cutoffs.

In Eastern Oregon, the Vale and Warmsprings irrigation districts, which usually operate independently, said this week they would plan together so they could better conserve water for the summer.

The state’s two U.S. senators have called on the U.S. Agriculture Department to allow emergency grazing of cattle on federal lands in much of the southeastern part of Oregon.

In the Umpqua Basin, rainfall so far this year has also been below overage.

“Anything that shows up in the rain bucket would look good right now, but we’re way behind the curve,” said Dave Williams, watermaster for Douglas County.

Over the past 40 years, the earliest that water rights in the South Umpqua watershed were cut off was on June 20, 1974, on a tributary. The area has seen three July shutoffs in those decades.

“There’s no doubt we’re going to see some effects from low stream levels,” said Tim Bare, manager of the K-Bar Ranches operated by the Umpqua Indian Development Corp. “It’s really hard to know exactly what’s going to happen.”

B. regards

Felix (Kyung) Seo