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USDA Farm Service Agency committee members tour Yakima Valley farms

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USDA Farm Service Agency's Judy Olson, Bob Nordstrom and Michael Mandere (L-R) talk with Dan Newhouse (center left), owner of Newhouse Farms and director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, about his hop growing operations. The group is standing next to 200-lb. bales of hops.

Members of an appointed state-level committee, which acts on an advisory level to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency, yesterday toured four Yakima farms and visited the Yakama Nation.

Two of the farms visited included Newhouse Farms near Sunnyside and George DeRuyter and Sons Dairy near Outlook.

The committee members, said Chris Bieker, communications public outreach for the USDA, toured the farms to gain a better understanding of agriculture in the Yakima Valley.

"The information (gathered) will help the state committee members, who were appointed January 2010, to make knowledgeable decisions regarding agency programs and appeals," she stated.

The committee members include Chairperson Lennie Davis, a partner in Tom Davis Farms Joint Venture in Coulee City; Larry DeHaan, a dairyman from Lynden; Steve Hair, former president of the Walla Walla Association of Wheat Growers; Grandview orchardist Don Olmstead Jr.; and Limon and Sons Orchard Company's Jesus Limon of East Wenatchee.

The Farm Service Agency facilitates farm income support, disaster assistance and conservation programs to help farmers continue operating through both good and bad years. The agency provides operating loans and offers ownership loans for new and veteran farmers wishing to purchase farms.

The agency, said Bieker, also works with farmers to benefit low-income families through food assistance programs.

Last year, more than $71 million in direct and counter cyclical program funds was paid to farmers to help offset poor market prices. The Farm Service Agency also issued more than $33.4 million in commodity loans and loan deficiency payments, using crops as collateral. Dairies were awarded more than $14.6 million from the Farm Service Agency milk income loss contract program when milk prices fell below a specified level.

More than $86.9 million in funding was invested in conservation and habitat programs, according to Bieker. Those programs include the conservation reserve program, emergency conservation program and biomass crop assistance program.

A tour of Newhouse Farms and the George DeRuyter and Sons Dairy provided the Farm Service Agency committee members a first-hand look at operations at those locations. The group was able to see how hops are harvested, dried and baled for shipment.

At the dairy, the members were able to gain a better understanding of the milking process, as well as how an anaerobic digester operates.

One 200-lb. bale of hops, said Dan Newhouse, owner of Newhouse Farms and director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, said can be used to produce approximately 200 barrels of beer.

When asked how many hop growers are in the Yakima Valley, Newhouse said, "The number has dropped some over the years, but I think there are approximately 15 today."

He said hops must be stored with precision because of the oils in the plant. There have been in the past many warehouses and hop facilities lost to fire caused by spontaneous combustion.

As a result, growers have learned the crop must be dried to a specific temperature. "These hops have been dried to 65 degrees before bagging," said Newhouse.

On the dairy, committee members learned dairy farmers take special care of their herds. Dan DeRuyter provided the committee members a tour of the dairy parlor where his bovines are milked.

"We milk about 3,000 cows in this one barn," he told the committee, stating each cow receives a sanitation treatment and is provided a "let down" time before the milking machines are connected to the teats.

At one time, DeRuyter said, 80 cows can be milked by four milkers. Each cow produces 95-lbs. of milk on a daily average.

Because the cows also produce a lot of waste material, the George DeRuyter Dairy in 2006 installed an anaerobic digester to become more environmentally friendly.

The digester, said DeRuyter, takes in about 160 gallons of manure each day. The manure is treated to a 21-day process in which methane gas is extracted for electricity production and the process eliminates pathogens and bacteria harmful to the environment.

"I tell people the Yakima Valley is the best place in Washington for an anaerobic digester, but I also tell them it is the worst place for an anaerobic digester...this is probably the only one that will be built here because Pacific Power doesn't pay enough for the power generated," he told the committee members. He said because there are so many dairies in the valley, it made sense to have a mechanism in which the manure could benefit the environment.

Not all is at a loss, however. DeRuyter told the committee the water at the end of the process is full of nutritional value and he uses it for growing feed for the dairy. The solids are sold as fertilizer.

In addition to visiting the two Lower Yakima Valley farms, Inaba Farms in Wapato and Barrett Orchards and Fruit Stand near Yakima were also on the list of stops made yesterday.

Bieker said the group toured the facilities to gain an understanding of the variety of crops grown in the Yakima Valley.

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