Cropping Systems Field Day in Douglas County

Rochelle Wickwire, a Washington State Department of Natural Resource (DNR) summer intern, and I had the opportunity to attend the 2016 Cropping Systems Field Day in Douglas County on May 24. This field day was sponsored by Washington State University, USDA-Agricultural Research Service and Central Washington Grain Growers. This is the second year that I’ve attended the tour and it was exciting to see what our lessees are participating in and the variety of farm practices being implemented.

Tom Poole

The 2016 Cropping Systems Field Day began with a stop at the farm of Tom Poole. Photo: Cindy Preston/DNR.

The first stop of the day was at Tom Poole’s farm north of Mansfield. Mr. Poole presented the topic of winter canola as a rotation crop. Douglas County producers are expanding their planting of canola as a rotational crop. He also discussed sunflowers and how they fit as a rotational oilseed crop for the Douglas County area. The use of canola as a cover crop is also increasing on state lands along with experiments using different cover crops planted with direct seed methods.

Douglas Poole

Douglas Poole describes cover crops used on his ranch.

At the next stop Douglas Poole discussed the topic of spring forage triticale and 2015 and 2016 cover crop endeavors on his ranch. Multiple farmers in Douglas, Lincoln and Okanogan counties have participated in cover crop trials with Leslie Michel of the Okanogan Conservation District.

Ian Burke, WSU associate professor

Ian Burke, a WSU associate professor, describes weed management. Photo Cindy Preston/DNR.

After lunch the group looked at some winter peas at a site north of Waterville and heard Howard Nelson from Central Washington Grain Growers discuss what he likes about this crop.

At the last stop of the day, Dr. Ian Burke presented the topic of chem-fallow and weed management. The field day also included a presentation and discussion about upcoming herbicide trials planned for the area.

If you have the opportunity to attend one of these field days you will find that it is educational and well worth your time.

by Cindy Preston, Natural Resources Specialist, Agriculture Leasing Unit, DNR Southeast Region

Leasing Washington State Trust Lands

DNR-managed trust land

This DNR-managed trust land parcel in Kittitas County has multiple leases for different uses.

There’s more to state trust lands managed by Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) than leasing for grazing, irrigated and dryland agricultural activities. Trust lands are used for a wide variety of other revenue-producing purposes authorized through special use and commercial leases. For instance, the parcel pictured here, in Kittitas County, is leased for use as a communication site, grazing land and wind power generation.

Special events uses also are possible to authorize on trust land. DNR considers a wide variety of proposals for the use of state land, provided the use is in the best interest of the trust’s beneficiaries.

If you would like to explore opportunities to lease state lands or have questions about use authorization, contact a DNR Region office to speak with your local DNR land manager.

Find more information, including an online lease opportunity viewer, on the DNR Leasing State Trust Lands for Agriculture and Grazing web page.

by Chad Unland, Manager, Agriculture Administration Unit, DNR Southeast Region

Central Washington University Students Dig into Agricultural Marketing for State Trust Lands

DNR’s Agriculture and Water Program recently partnered with the Central Washington University (CWU) College of Business Department of Management and Marketing to offer senior marketing students the opportunity to focus research on state trust agriculture lands as part of their senior capstone coursework. Under the guidance of Jeff Stinson, Ph.D., CWU students Rachael Wescott and Patrick Croghan explored their research questions through an internship with DNR’s Agriculture Program. Here’s what they thought of their experiences with us.

My Experience as an Intern

While researching the scope and scale of the wine industry in Washington state I was impressed with production volume, a continuous upward trend of total wineries in the state, and how the industry was able to grow even during the recession of 2008. These items were particularly motivating from a strictly business standpoint, but also illustrate how the state economy and thousands of workers now depend on the wine industry for income.

grapes on vie

Photo provided by Patrick Croghan.

Upon being bestowed with the honor of joining the DNR’s Southeast Region in an internship capacity I was able to execute the old adage that “seeing is believing”. Resident agriculture experts whisked me around the southeastern corner of the state to view hundreds if not thousands of acres under vine. The scope and scale was far beyond what pictures and web research could ever truly illustrate. In a sense this was disappointing to me. Keeping up with the Jones’ is the model for most to thrive in a DNR vineyard lease situation. The truth in this requires only a quick look at how much of the local wine industry is concentrated in the top five businesses. While the big five produce more than a million cases per year, the rest of the industry is at 380,000 or less per year. My dreams of a collective of smaller wineries sharing resources to acquire large vineyard properties on lease truly is a challenge in the first place and most wineries in that situation don’t even want that type of growth according to my research. Large wine grape growers who then sell their product are much easier to deal with for the little guy (or girl) looking to expand.

Much of my romance with the wine industry was born from the commonalities shared with the craft beer industry from which much of my previous experience lays. I have always been enamored with the idea that more competition is better for business. While Starbucks and Walmart have business models driven by pushing the competition out, the craft beer and wine industry have geographic needs that demand collaboration. Walla Walla once was an outpost where travelers would stop only \to use the restroom and grab some sweet onions. One or two wineries changed that somewhat, but now as a mecca for superior wine — produced in state with 140 wineries, tasting rooms, and wine bars — Walla Walla is a must-visit for wine enthusiasts. It’s also become a favorite destination weddings and bachelor/bachelorette parties as well as wine tours. Much of this is because of the large spectrum of premium choices in close proximity, not because a single elite winery scored a certain amount of points in Wine Spectator magazine. This development mirrors the rapid expansion of breweries in North Seattle neighborhoods that are adapting quickly to the local tech industry’s continued hiring of new workers who seem to have an insatiable thirst for craft beer.

wine cellar

Photo provided by Patrick Croghan.

What rekindled my romance for the industry is an interview over the phone with a California winemaker. His group has made property acquisitions to create more opportunities, including holdings in the popular Napa Valley as well as acreage in several developing nations. Many winemakers chose not to reply to my appeal for assistance with my student research. While many things may contribute to this non-response, the main hurdle is fear. The small wineries and other groups that did respond to my survey questions about growth expressed apprehension and a desire for “outs” or protection.

Californians and Oregonians from the Willamette Valley also “bucked” at the chance to diversify, often stating how estate-specific they were. In most industries the desire to stand still will eat you alive but there is something to be said for stability. Overly aggressive expansion is clearly filled with pitfalls as well. None the less while many in the wine industry make it big by selling to large groups, it is the smaller groups that see no borders that provide win-win opportunities for DNR leases. Borderless wine grape growers from California also are improving their bottom lines and may be the type of companies with which DNR could develop favorable relationships.

by Patrick J. Croghan, Central Washington University Class of 2016

Digital Marketing for DNR’s Public Land Auctions

As a marketing student at Central Washington University, my internship with Washington Department of Natural Resources has involved researching different marketing methods that would bring more potential lessees to DNR’s Public Land Leasing Auctions. We are particularly interested in promoting the lease auctions to a larger cross section of agriculture businesses. We are researching how best to communicate with these businesses and crea

Rachael Wescott

Rachael Wescott, a CWU student who interned in the DNR Agriculture Lands Program.

te a valuable partnership with them.

In order to expose as many potential lessees to our land as possible we are looking into the opportunity of posting the land auctions on popular farmland leasing websites in order to better increase exposure. I have also been researching different ways that farmers use DNR’s social media, newsletters, and website. This research then goes into how we can change DNR’s use of social media, newsletters and website to most benefit DNR’s clients, our tenants, as you consider participating in the land auctions.

All in all, we want to create valuable communication with our potential lessees and make the process of learning about the land auctions as simple as possible. By streamlining all of our means of communication and creating a reliable presence throughout all of these platforms, we will be able to target our ideal customer more efficiently and effectively.

by Rachael Wescott, DNR Southeast Region Student Marketing Intern

Our Thanks to You, Our Lessees

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would like to express a warm thank you to all the individuals and entities who lease State agricultural lands from the department. Our contractual relationships survive and endure the term of our leases and beyond in many cases.

As each lease approaches its expiration we are required to make a decision: shall we continue leasing with the existing lessee through a process called “Negotiation,” or would the trust benefit more by allowing the lease to go to public auction, where any qualified bidder would have an opportunity to obtain the lease from DNR.

As the agricultural economy remains resilient, more individuals and entities are expressing an interest in leasing State agricultural trust lands. In response, DNR is looking at putting more leases up for public auction. These leases would include irrigated lands, dryland crop lands, and grazing lands. Recently, we’ve held successful auctions in all of these categories, generating additional revenues through bonus bids and higher rates per acre than historically thought possible.

To help meet the demand for more information about leasing State agricultural lands, DNR has rolled out a new email service for those who want to learn about the State land leases coming up for public auction. We envision that this service will enable DNR to more efficiently notify more people about upcoming public auctions. In June, we sent our first email to a large group individuals and entities who had previously expressed interest in being notified of these upcoming opportunities. If you received one of these emails but do not want to receive future e-mails, our email system makes it easy to opt out of future notifications. If you are interested in state trust land leasing opportunities but did not receive this notification in June, or you want to change your email address or other contact information in our database, simply click this link and follow the sign-up instructions.

Again, thank you for choosing to do business with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

By Chad Unland, DNR Natural Resource Specialist, Southeast Region, chad.unland@dnr.wa.gov

The BAER Team Experience after the Carlton Complex Fire

rill erosion

On a slope with rill erosion, the author poses with soil shovel in hand ready to work in the dirt.

Following the devastating Carlton Complex Fire in the summer of 2014, I was surprised and then very honored to be asked to participate in the first-ever multi-jurisdiction assessment team with the United States Forest Service (USFS) Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team.

Since I was born and raised in Okanogan County it meant a lot to me to be part of the team assessing the impacts of the fire. I was amazed by the magnitude of devastation and feel empathy for folks who suffered losses. I reflected on my heritage as I walked over the scorched lands on the same ground where my great-grandfather once traveled as a stagecoach driver from Pateros through Carlton onto Twisp and Winthrop.

The formation of the multi-jurisdiction assessment team is the result of a request by the Okanogan Conservation District to Governor Inslee. The team was assigned to conduct a rapid assessment of the fire area to determine whether the after-effects of the fire will pose a threat to life or property or will cause unacceptable degradation of natural or cultural resources.

After President Obama signed the Disaster Declaration on August 11, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began coordinating with the Okanogan Conservation District and USFS to staff this team to complete an assessment on public and private lands.

The BAER team came together in a short amount of time and members included specialists in soils, hydrology and weather, engineering, fisheries, wildlife, range, cultural resources and GIS. The team represented national, state, local agencies and organizations from Washington state and other parts of the west.

sever head cut caused by erosion

The author stands on a Forest Service road looking at a severe head cut caused by erosion in the wake of the Carlton Complex Fire.

The team’s task was to collect and compile data and provide recommendations for emergency stabilization and long-term restoration to minimize impacts on private property and lands managed by Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation, Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service.

This two-week assignment consisted of long and tiring days, a high learning curve, great networking with professional experts, and an opportunity to employ adaptable management. It was awe-inspiring and humbling to experience the power and yet the forgiveness of nature.

The first day consisted of meeting team members, outlining our goals for threats and hazards, emergency rehabilitation treatments, and safety protocols. The next five days were set in the field performing transects and collecting data and validating the intensity of the fire to produce a final burn soil severity map. Actually getting to work in the dirt! The following week consisted of compiling and organizing the information for writing the BAER report. At the time it seemed daunting and an almost overwhelming task under a deadline.

quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) grove

A quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) grove regenerates following rainfall. Photo: Bill Oaks/DNR

Burned Area Reflectance Classification (BARC) and aerial reconnaissance data were combined to develop a preliminary “High”, “Moderate”, and “Low” fire intensity map for the Carlton Complex Fire. BARC imagery depicts the “intensity” or above-ground fire effects for making interpretations of fire impacts on pre-fire vegetation, soil and hydrologic conditions.

I understand now and have been enlightened that there is a difference between fire intensity and severity, learning that fire intensity and soil burn severity are often incorrectly used synonymously.

“Fire intensity relates to the above-ground fire effects generally identified through visual observations of changes in the overstory vegetation and ground fuels (type, amount, arrangement, and moisture content). Soil burn severity is the effect of fire at and below the ground surface, specifically how the fire changes the physical and chemical composition of the soils. While fire intensity is not primarily a reflection of wildfire effects on soils, observed changes from pre- to post-fire vegetation are used as indicators to estimate soil burn severity as a function of watershed response. Fire severity that detrimentally impacts soil conditions leads to further degradation of soil productivity and soil-hydrologic function

Source: Sawtooth National Forest, BAER, Cave Canyon Fire, Soil Resource Assessment, August 26, 2012)

With the loss of both overhead canopy and ground cover, severely burned soils lose their ability to protect the surface and absorb precipitation properly.

 bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata),

Skeletons of bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), an important plant for wildlife and for post-wildfire restoration throughout the West. Photo Bill Oakes/DNR

The results of the assessment helped to identify the severity of the fire and potential post-fire effects to critical values such as human life and safety, property (roads, buildings, municipal, domestic and agricultural water systems, etc.), degradation of natural resources (soil productivity and hydrologic function), habitat for federally listed species, cultural and heritage resources within or in close proximity to burned lands. Hazards that put values at risk include hillslope erosion, flooding, debris flows, and establishment of invasive or noxious plant species. One important outcome was to prioritize locations for aerial seeding treatment.

Grasses growing with some Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) regeneration. Photo: Bob Oakes/DNR

Grasses growing with some bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) regeneration. Photo: Bill Oakes/DNR

It is very difficult to capture the entire process in this article of creating the BAER report and there is much more to explain. It is a complex and interrelated progression that pulled together efficiently and effectively to produce a high quality product. Hopefully, we can take this experience and turn it into positive outcome and provide vision for the future; by having a team in place ready to hit-the-ground-running if anything closely resembles this unfortunate natural disaster occurs again.

I am grateful for this unique opportunity and learned a lot from associated colleagues of the project and ensuing comradery. Their dedication, cooperation and professionalism were inspiring and I am proud to have participated in this first ever inter-agency BAER team. Hopefully, I was able to contribute in small way something positive to the unfortunate people involved in this tragedy, DNR, and the environment.

I fought fires early in my career with both DNR and the USFS but the Carlton Complex was unlike anything I had ever seen. Although some areas looked like the proverbial “bomb struck it”, being able to actually get out in the “dirt” was an exciting adventure. To sum up my interesting experience, it reaffirmed my belief that just like the laws of conservation of energy and matter, the law of life can change form but cannot be extinguished!

Wishing everyone a healthy, productive and prosperous year to come. Happy trails,

Bill Oakes, Agricultural Stewardship, Monitoring and Compliance Specialist, DNR Product Sales & Leasing Division