DNR’s Agriculture Program revenues up

Kids at an Elementary Washington State school

The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) saw the revenue for fiscal year 2011 (July 1, 2010 – June 30, 2011) increase from the previous year for the Agriculture and Grazing Program. Revenue increased for dryland, orchard/vineyard, and grazing categories. Revenue increased 11.8% from the previous year to $13.7 million.

Several factors contributed to the revenue increase

  • Lessees are working with the Department’s Land Managers in implementation of best management and sustainable land management practices.
  • Commodity prices were generally favorable.
  • There was adequate rainfall in the dryland regions to generate higher production per acre than normal.
  • Several orchards and vineyards planted in recent years are maturing and producing higher yields.

Revenue from 85 percent of state trust lands in agriculture and grazing production are Common School Trust Lands, given to the state at statehood in 1889. Income earned from activities on school trust lands helps build public schools statewide—generally providing higher matching funds to poorer school districts, helping to equalize education opportunities.

County Income Also Up Through Leasehold Revenues
Counties in which DNR leases state trust properties saw increased revenue from the Leasehold Excise Tax. Washington does not pay real property tax or property taxes. To address this, the 1976 State Legislature enacted the Leasehold Tax Law (RCW 82.29A) as an excise tax—a way for counties and others that offer public services to state-owned properties fair compensation for those services.

The leasehold tax on DNR’s cash rent leases is collected with rent payments, at 12.84 percent; on crop share leases taxes are collected as an additional amount of the crop, at 8.6 percent. Currently 53 percent goes to the General Fund and 47 percent to the counties in which property is located. The State Treasurer distributes payments to the counties.

Breaking ground—DNR lessee develops irrigated acres near George

After applying fourteen years earlier, in early 2011 an ‘interruptible water service contract’ was granted to DNR by the Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District. This allows for the irrigation of 243.2 acres of state school trust lands west of George. The parcel currently is leased to Robert Escure, who has expressed his enthusiasm for farming additional acres of the land that his family has leased for irrigated agriculture, grazing and wildlife habitat since 1985. The newly irrigated portion will grow high value crops such as potatoes, alfalfa, and corn.

Water will be delivered from a new canal turnout now under construction. Water will flow through one-quarter mile of new pipeline to the parcel. Plans are underway to install one full 125-acre circle and another 90-acre partial circle to be in production this year. This development will increase the annual income from this parcel of State Common School Trust land to help pay for building K-12 schools statewide. DNR looks for opportunities to increase trust income from the lands we manage, while seeking to sustain the health of the natural resources, and encourage informed public involvement in our efforts.

DNR manages nearly 30,000 acres of irrigated state trust lands in the Columbia Basin and throughout southeast Washington. Water is supplied from ground wells, river pump stations, and the Bureau of Reclamation irrigation canal systems.

Income from irrigated state lands alone provides between three and four million dollars annually to Common School and other state trusts.

New initiatives in Agricultural Lands Leasing Program

Vineyard development on state trust lands near Walla Walla

DNR is rolling up its sleeves to refine the management of state trust lands in agriculture production. We want to keep our lessees, trust beneficiaries and the agricultural communities informed about changes in the works.

DNR continues to evaluate its leasing structures—cash rent versus crop share. Based on results of studies performed by Washington State University (WSU) and other states with similar situations with state-owned lands, we are instituting new methods of setting cash rents that will ensure fair market values to help stabilize school trust revenues.

Other DNR efforts will focus on gaining economies of scale through lease consolidation by combining leases that are adjacent or near each other, thereby reducing the total number of leases and administrative duties associated with them. The result will be increased efficiencies and better service for the needs of our lessees in a timely manner.

Lessee put cold wet spring to good use

Wheat harvest on state trust land

The 2011 wheat harvest is behind us!  Now is a great time to reflect on how the unusually cool, wet spring affected the wheat crop, and how DNR depends on its knowledgeable lessees to make decisions that keep state trust lands productive.

Chris Herron (Herron Brothers Partnership) leases more than 300 acres of state trust lands in north Franklin County—in addition to his deeded and privately leased property. Mr. Herron stated that the weather was “a blessing in disguise. The wet spring allowed the wheat to mature without drought stress.” However, the harvest had to be pushed back a full two weeks, and conditions were just right for Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus and both Leaf and Striped Rust.

Experience and training helped Mr. Herron anticipate his crop needs. For example, the wet weather pushed nitrogen deeper into the soil profile and seemed to bring out every weed in the county.  Mr. Herron was prepared in advance to apply just the right amount of fertilizer and herbicide in a timely manner to meet crop demands.

Mr. Herron stated that managing a dryland farm is like managing a 5-gallon bucket of water that’s full of holes—the water being your potential income. The one hole you can’t plug is your annual rainfall; you are at the mercy of Mother Nature.  However, when you have a wet year like we had, that hole moves higher up the bucket, leaving you more potential income but also exposing other holes—such as added fertilizer, herbicide, and fungicide costs. Those are holes you can plug, but at a cost.

Mr. Herron’s prime winter wheat ground produced yields in the 63 bushel per acre range, and re-crop spring wheat yields were in the 30+ bushel per acre range. DNR will recognize another record harvest from state trust lands, thanks in part to forward-thinking growers like Mr. Herron.

Photo by Dale Warrner

Journey beneath the earth’s skin

Dig it!The Secrets of Soil Exhibition

There are more living creatures in a shovel-full of soil than human beings on the planet, yet more is known about the dark side of the moon than about soil.

More about this and so many fascinating facts can be found at Dig It! The Secrets of Soil in Spokane from February 4 through September 22, 2012, hosted by the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.

The 5,000-square-foot exhibition reveals the complex world of soil and how this hidden ecosystem supports nearly every form of life on Earth. Dig It! includes interactive displays, hands-on models, videos and soil samples. Visitors will discover a world teeming with life. So many organisms contribute to the health of soil that scientists have not even named them all.

Dig It! shows how every type of soil is unique. Visitors can observe the way water moves through different soils—such as sand, silt, and clay—which can affect minerals and gases and all life that depends on soil.

Dig it! The Secrets of Soil Exhibition

Lynn Bahrych, Commissioner, Washington State Conservation Commission, was on temporary assignment as the Dig It! Project Manager. “Soils impact so much in our daily lives—nutrition, climate, health and environmental issues. This exhibition offers visitors a chance to understand the important connections between soils and our culture.”

This exhibition has something for all ages. There will be school field trips, ‘dirty’ art projects, lectures by learned soil scientists, and movies. A living history day for the whole family is planned for spring, planting a victory garden on the museum campus, Earth Day participation, and more. This summer, teen docents in the galleries will lead even more hands-on fun.

Dig it! The Secrets of Soil Exhibition

After examining soil close up, visitors can step back for the “big picture” with a world map and interactive stations that present connections between soil and global systems. Models demonstrate the roles of soil in commercial and residential construction. An evocative video explains soil as a “secret ingredient” in such household goods as medicines, food, wine, textiles, paint, cosmetics and pottery.

Dig It! was created with the support of the Soil Science Society of America and the Nutrients for Life Foundation, underwritten by The Fertilizer Institute. Locally, a network of sponsors includes the Spokane Conservation District, Washington State Conservation Commission, Natural Resource Conservation Service, State Society of Professional Soil Scientists, and others—enabling the museum to bring this exhibit to the Inland Northwest.

“This is the most ambitious exhibition ever dedicated to soils, a resource as important to life on Earth as water and air,” said Patrick Megonigal, soil scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, in Maryland. Megonigal, the exhibition’s lead curator, will join the February 4 opening activities, along with Barbara Stauffer and Siobhan Starrs, Exhibition Developers from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, from which the exhibition was loaned.

Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture
2316 W First Ave., Spokane
Open 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Excerpted from an article by Rebecca Bishop, Communications & PR Manager, Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture.