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AgWatch | Fairs fight for funding; pink mold makes a move

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Ribbons and trophies at county fairs across the state are purchased with money received by the state's Fair Fund, which was not included in the proposed House budget in Olympia released last month. Blaine Lee of Quincy guides his pig during FFA Swine Fitting and Showing at the 2016 NCW Fair. Lee was awarded Champion Showman and was also the champion of the FFA Round Robin.

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Local fairs: Show us the money

The state’s Fair Fund, a $4 million pocket of money distributed to 66 agricultural fairs including North Central Washington Fair in Waterville and the Chelan County Fair in Cashmere, is nowhere to be found in the proposed House budget, creating a fair amount of concern.

The Washington State Grange and Washington State Fairs Association are encouraging members to contact lawmakers to plead the case for leaving the fund intact.

Tell them how important your fair is to your Grange and the community,” is the message on the Grange website.

We know participation in fairs helps build strong character, but not all legislators do,” is the message on the state Fairs website.

The message encourages members to contact 4-H or FFA exhibitors, past and present, and ask them to write testimonials about the benefits of their fair experience.

The Fair Fund has been $4 million per biennium since 1998. The amount was included in both the Governor’s budget and the Senate budget.

The Chelan County Fair receives about $30,000 a year from the fund, according to Director Karen Welch. The funds are used to pay premium monies to the exhibitors and purchase ribbons and trophies and, in some years, to make small improvements.

The NCW Fair received $36,343 from the fund last year, which was used to support 4-H and FFA programs.

It’s about 10 percent of our budget,” Interim Manager Ed Daling said. “It would be a big hit. The fair would go on, but we would have to dramatically cut back.”

Daling said he isn’t sure why the Fair Fund would be on the chopping block.

I understand what they’re going through with school funding, but the economy is pretty strong and revenues have increased. That we would be targeted came as a surprise,” he said. 

Mold makes its move

Pink snow mold has been found for the first time this year in wheat fields in southeastern Washington.

Washington State University plant pathologist Tim Murray met with 20 growers in Prescott to address concerns in late March, according to a WSU news release. Murray identified lesions on leaves and some underground crown decay during a tour of fields. He advised growers to wait for a few weeks of warm weather before deciding whether reseeding is necessary.

The pink fungus attacks perennial plants and overwintering crops and is more typical in higher elevations where the ground is covered by snow for 100 days or more — as in some areas in north central Washington.

In the Prosser area, snow covered the ground for about 70 days. Murray said a warm November and longer than normal snow cover in the area led to the growth of the mold, called Microdochium nivale.

Eco-answers for bugs in the home garden

Bob Gillespie, who teaches agriculture, natural resources and biology at Wenatchee Valley College, is presenting “Integrated Pest Management for Homeowners and Gardeners” at the Columbia Basin Eco-Gardening Symposium in Moses Lake on April 22. Gillespie studies native bee species at work in orchards

Other presentations include: “Friends, Foe or Escargot” by Edward Bechinski of University of Idaho; “Square Foot Gardening” by Susan Gray, a Master Gardener from Kennewick; and “Basic Principles of Drip Irrigation and Its Application” by Robert Mittelstadt, general manager of Clearwater Supply Inc. in Othello.

The event, sponsored by the Grant County Conservation District and WSU Grant-Adams Master Gardener Program, is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 22 at the Technical Skills Center, 900 E. Yonezawa Boulevard, Moses Lake. Admission is free. Register online at columbiabasincds.org or call 509-765-9618.

Trump’s spud stance

Washington state’s potato farmers are keeping a close eye on the Trump administration’s stance on trade agreements.

From our perspective, having access to Latin American and the Pacific Rim is critical to the health of our family farms,” Washington State Potato Commission Director of Government Affairs Matt Harris said in an April 3 Crosscut article by Taryn Phaneuf.

The trade organization supported the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership that would have reduced tariffs and encouraged trade, but the U.S. withdrew after the election. President Trump also has threatened to do away with the North American Free Trade Agreement that limits tariffs on products bought and sold between the United States, Canada and Mexico. 

During a trip to Washington, D.C., in February, potato commission members made their case to the state’s Congressional delegation about the consequences of trade disruptions and cautioning against withdrawing from NAFTA. They also encouraged the administration’s plan to create bilateral trade agreements in place of the TPP.

Getting paid for what you pick

A Spokane-based tech company, 2nd Sight Bioscience, is marketing equipment that could help automate the hand-picked harvest of everything from cherries to blueberries and tomatoes.

The FairPick system is an automated harvest weighing/mobile time card system designed to improve labor efficiency by paying pickers by weight and electronically recording the data, including hours worked. 

Other 2nd Sight products include FairTrak, a labor tracking application, and InstaCaliper, an electronic device for counting and measuring nursery stock, with plans in the works to adapt it for rootstock growers. The company is working on a tomato harvesting application and a backpack-style blueberry harvester gentle enough to use for market fruit.

We’re kind of finding these pockets of growers that are interested and then of course the word spreads from there,” said 2nd Sight Director of Business Development Monika Cetnarowski.

Stronger seeds and fruits; building a cyber gene network

Washington State University researchers recently touted projects that eventually will make food more nutritious and make it easier to grow new crops through traditional methods.

The first is a recent advance in figuring out how a plant’s nutrients get from its leaves to “sinks,” which include fruits and seeds used for food and branches processed for biofuels. The discovery could be used to improve plant efficiency and productivity.

If you can increase the sink strength by 5 percent, and you get 5 percent more product, you’d be looking at a multibillion dollar market,” said WSU professor Michael Knoblauch, who has spent 20 years studying how plants work

Another WSU research team has received $895,000 from the National Science Foundation to help build a cyber gene network that could make it easier for breeders to grow new crops through traditional methods.

The team is using data from the national Center for Biotechnology Information, a public repository of genomic information, to create networks that show how each gene interacts with every other gene. The project is a collaboration with Clemson University and Renaissance Computing Institute.

I want to build networks like these as tools for breeders to find traits they’re interested in,” said WSU computational biologist Stephen Ficklin. “Plant breeders can look for the genes known to be associated with good or bad traits and use them to make traditional crosses.”


AgWatch is a collection of agriculture-related news from across the region. If you have an industry-related story idea, call Nevonne McDaniels at 664-7151 or email: mcdaniels@wenatcheeworld.com.

Reach Nevonne McDaniels at 509-664-7151 or .