Editorial: As Blossom arrives, consider the value of local agriculture

April 14, 2012

As if on cue, the orchard fans fired up on Friday morning.

Did you the whirring out of Pine Grove and Odell?

Farmers speaking at a Thursday night agriculture-meets-art event (details, page A1) talked of the noise and odors of farming, factors which lead to misunderstandings between visitors, as well as locals, when farmers, in the interest of protecting and nurturing their fledgling fruit, spray their crops or turn on the fans.

That's all that noise and fuss coming from those orchards with their beautiful blossoms. Airplanes spray in the low-wind "wee hours" of the morning, and the orchard fans kick on when temperatures dip into freezing this time of year, as they did Friday morning. The fans distribute warm air, to insulate and protect the tender buds on the verge of becoming fruit.

Agriculture is the leading employer and biggest part of the local economy.

Thursday's forum was an outreach of the "Reflections on a Way of Life" exhibit at Columbia Center for the Arts, which at its essence celebrates the tradition of farming east of the Cascades.

The exhibit features plenty of pretty images of groves of trees, historic barns and bucolic farm scenes, courtesy of local and visiting artists who spent time on century farms, and documented what they saw.

The artists also documented another side of farm life: men and women pruning, spraying, picking and sorting fruit - the hard work of this venerable industry.

"Farming is a long-term investment, and it's so long, we're still waiting for the return," said Jennifer Euwer, a Parkdale orchardist.

Think of that this weekend and the next two weekends as you travel around Hood River County, admiring the blossoms and attending events at local businesses and farms.

Bees, climate and humans combine to coach delicious and nutritious produce from the soil of Hood River County.

Farmers are gaining a greater understanding of the pressures on bees that are causing colony stress on the pollinating insects.

Farmers are also taking greater and greater pains to practice pest control that reduces harm to the land, flora and fauna as well as humans, and to the beneficial insects in the environment. These measures include replacing pesticides with pheromones to defeat the damaging codling moth: it amounts to fooling the male and female codlings into not mating with each other, so they don't produce the eggs that destroy the fruit from within.

Often what is being sprayed in the orchards are products that are non-toxic but beneficial to the fruit such as boron, mineral oil and copper.

Farmers are taking better and better care of the soils, through irrigation and crop management practices that discourage erosion and enhance soil health and balance.

In light of all this, the community of neighbors, visitors and consumers can learn to accommodate the tractor that slows traffic for a few minutes, or the sprayers in the orchards, or the airplanes or orchard fans that keep pests down and temperatures up.

Another way the public can help is to consult with OSU Extension about trees for home planting that are alternatives to pears, apple and cherries, which harbor those codling moths, and to encourage nurseries to stock and market trees that won't harbor pests that can infest commercial orchards.

Whether residential or commercial, these fruit trees must remain pest-free, to avoid risk of pest infestation to the orchards upon which our economy depends.

In this way, helping farmers begins at home.

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