Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ag Study Mission

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in an Ag Study Mission to the Pacific Northwest with my I-LEAD (Iowa Corn Leadership Enhancement and Development) class.  Myself and 22 others spent 4 days traveling to destinations in the PNW learning about agriculture from a different angle.  We were able to learn about "farming" from a new angle by touring and talking with farmers who raise crops that are different than what we are used to in Iowa.  We managed to find some common ground with them though - no matter what your crop is, you still face a lot of the same challenges.

The first opportunity we had was to visit Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, WA.  We toured their processing facility and were given a presentation on their farms and how the shellfish are harvested.  The process is very labor intensive.  It was very interesting to see how the shellfish (oysters & clams) are processed and to learn that their industry also faces environmental and weather issues as we do with our corn and soybean crops.

 As we passed by, we stopped to admire Mount St. Helen's for a few minutes.

Our first day was rounded out with a tour of the brand new EGT, LLC facility in Longview, WA.  Bungee has partnered with other investment groups to build this state of the art export grain terminal.  This facility was built to move grain from rail to ship in a short amount of time.  It uses new technology and minimal labor.  A facility of this type is very exciting for grain farmers from the Mississppi River on to the west.  We may have the opportunity to rail our Midwestern corn to this facility for export.

Day two began with an Epicurean Excursion in downtown Portland, OR.  We were enlightened by some of the locals as to how they determine where to buy their products from and what their views are of the local market.  Oh, and we got to sample the fares at these establishments (which included a Dutch Taco, breads, coffee and sipping chocolate.)  Our tour guide talked about the F.L.O.S.S. philosophy - Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonable, and Sustainable.  Everyone's definition of "sustainable" is different, but it was interesting to hear what the young urban people thought of the term. 

The next stop was Bonneville Lock and Dam and Bonneville Fish Hatchery.  The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers operates this facility which makes electricity which is sent to different locations on the west coast.  The water rushes through these very large turbines (right) to create power.  They have done a lot to preserve the fish population that comes into the dam area.  There is a fish ladder for the fish to move back upstream (which we were able to view from the viewing windows in the visitor center.)  They also have rerouted some of the fish in order to keep them out of the dam area and risk getting caught in the turbines.

On day 3, our group was welcomed by the people at Yakima Chief - Hop Processing Facility in Sunnyside, WA.  This facility processes hops to be sold to breweries and for natural products.  They process and pelletize the hops to be stored in cold storage until it can be shipped to the brewers to be used in their beers.  The aroma of the hops is something that we will all be able to pick out in the beers that we have the opportunity to come across.

After seeing the hops processing facility, we traveled a few more miles to Sauve Farms to see the hops being grown.  The plants are grown on a large system of wires hooked to anchor poles and led up to the wires by ropes.  This type of farming is also very labor intensive.  The farmers need to keep their fields clean and, as you can see, there isn't much room in the rows to pull much equipment through the rows.  They also have insect issues to deal with as we do.  The farm is set up to handle the hops harvesting process as well.  They have a large machine to extract the hops from the vine and another building set up to dry the hops to the optimum moisture.

The next stop was at a fruit farm near Sunnyside, WA.  This farm raised apples and cherries.  They were in the process of harvesting several different types of cherries while we were there.  It is amazing that cherries can go from their farm to Asian countries in less than 24 hours to be sold at markets.  We learned alot from Mr. Harlington about the varieties of apples and cherries and about the process of growing and harvesting the fruit.

The last part of our day involved attending a dinner with the Washington Ag Forestry group.  They are a group that is very similar to our I-LEAD group.  We had the opportunity to visit with people who have gone through the program as well as supporters of the group.  I think most of our group had the opportunity to have some very interesting and enlightening conversations at the dinner.

Our last day was spent in Seattle, WA.  We made a trip to the Pikes Place Market.  Our group read the book FISH! for our last session, and we were all excited to get to see the Pikes Place Fish Market in action.  The guys there truly know how to make their job fun!  The rest of the market was very interesting also.  They had just about anything you could imagine for sale at the large market.  The gentleman in this photo was demonstrating gardening from the back of his pick up.

The last event of our mission was to tour the Boeing facility.  It was very interesting to see the aircraft being assembled.  They were building 747, 777 and the new 787 aircraft.  The scale of the facility is simply amazing.

We had a very education Ag Study Mission!  I think the group agreed that we found common ground with the different farms that we studied.  The farms in Washington and Oregon that were part of our mission are very labor intensive and yet still deal with many of the same issues that our Midwestern farmers deal with.  The EGT, LLC facility is a great opportunity for us in the near future.  This facility will streamline the flow of grain to the export market.  This was an amazing opportunity to see agriculture from a different perspective.