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Low log prices spur interest in alternative uses

Baker City company turning logging waste into firewood, and other viable options might include making landscaping mulch

From left, Lane Perry of Elkhorn Biomass in Baker City, Chuck Gambil of Forest Capital and Rick Wagner, biomass coordinator with the Oregon Department of Forestry, talked about the potential market for bundles of firewood split and wrapped at Elkhorn Biomass.
The depressed economy and nationwide housing slump have driven log prices down by as much as 50 percent, hurting forest landowners and slashing revenues available for projects designed to improve forest health and reduce the risk of wildfires.

“We are seeing some of the lowest log prices we have seen in many years,” said Bob Parker, forestry agent with the Oregon State University Extension Service in Baker County.

As an example, Parker said 18-inch diameter ponderosa pine logs sold to Boise Cascade in La Grande this time last year brought $550 to $650 per 1,000 board-feet, depending on grade.

Today, similar logs are worth $300 to $350  per 1,000 board-feet — and buyers are scarce.

Local firm touts benefits of modern breeding for cattle

Gregg Miles says artificial insemination is cheaper, and can produce better calves

Gregg Miles of North Powder had a booth at Saturday’s Cattleman’s Workshop in La Grande, where he touted the benefits of artificial insemination for cattle breeding. (Baker City Herald/Ed Merriman)
As ranchers attending the annual Cattleman’s Workshop Saturday passed by trade show booths lining the walls at the Blue Mountain Conference Center in La Grande, Gregg Miles of Miles Breeding Service in North Powder preached the benefits of artificial insemination, compared to running sire bulls.

The first benefit Miles mentioned to those who paused at the booth he and his father, Myron Miles, set up as two of the sponsors of the workshop is the ability to quickly improve herd genetics and the calf crop by impregnating cows with semen from top bulls costing as much as $100,000.

Most ranchers can’t afford to buy such bulls as herd sires.

Gregg Miles cited published research showing that AI, using top-rated bulls, costs about $40 to produce a calf, while the average cost using bulls that aren’t quite as highly rated ranges from $13 to $20 per calf.

Speakers see bright future for ranchers

Don Killingsworth was one of the speakers at Saturday’s Cattlemen’s Workshop in La Grande. (Baker City Herald/Ed Merriman)
A panel of nationally renowned speakers drew a record crowd of 350 ranchers from across Oregon, Idaho and Washington to the fifth-annual Cattleman’s Workshop Saturday in La Grande.

“This workshop has grown every year, but this is by far the largest crowd we’ve ever had,” said Ron Rowan, an organizer of the Cattleman’s Workshop who works as the marketing manager at Beef Northwest Feeders headquartered in North Powder.

“I think we had 250 last year, and this year we had about 350,” Rowan said. “This workshop is gaining a reputation as one of the best. We have nationally recognized speakers, and people in the cattle business recognize they can come to La Grande and not have to go all over the country to hear these guys.

“People are seeing that they can come here and get value to take home to their ranches,” Rowan said.

Several speakers talked about the benefits of cross-breeding programs, including recommendations on what breeds of bulls and cows add the most value to calf crops.

Chamber honors the best of 2008

Tom Brock, right, accepted the Man of the Year award from last year’s co-recipient, Gregg Hinrichsen, far left, and Debi Bainter of the Baker County Chamber of Commerce. (Baker City Herald/Ed Merriman)
Tom Brock was named man of the Year and Kathleen Chaves was named woman of the year during the Baker County Chamber of Commerce awards banquet held Saturday evening at the events center.

“Not many in Baker County know of Tom and his amazing capacity to give. Tom is just a quiet volunteer; he is a silent volunteer,” said Ginger Savage of the Baker 5J School Board in a nominating letter.

She described Brock as “one of those volunteers that is working to keep kids out of the News of Record section of the newspaper” by helping keep kids off drugs and alcohol.

“Tom works with kids who do not go out for football, basketball or scouts,” she said. “Tom doesn’t give up on them and he gives them a reason to go to school.”

One of the things Tom does is helps kids build wheelchair ramps and do home improvement projects for low-income residents of Baker County through the Baker Middle School Builders Club he founded five years ago, according to a nominating letter from Shandra Lee.

Potato growers lock in higher price

Rising production costs hurt Baker County potato growers last year. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins)
Contract prices for Baker County potatoes nearly doubled for the 2009 crop, a boon for farmers who watched soaring production costs take a bite out of their profits in 2008.

Most of the county’s 2008 potato crop was grown under contracts paying growers $5.75 per hundredweight (cwt) delivered.

But after enduring rising costs for fuel, fertilizer, labor and other production costs last year, growers negotiated a higher contract price of $10.08 for their 2009 spud crop, said Cory Parsons, Oregon State University Extension agent for Baker County.

Parsons said potato contracts are negotiated nearly a year before potatoes are harvested, so growers know what they’ll receive before the crop is planted.

That provides farmers some security and avoids the uncertainty of selling on the open market.

Ranchers to gather in La Grande Saturday

Raising cattle, like these on the Forsea Ranch near Richland, is the topic of Saturday’s workshop. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins)
Speakers from throughout the United States will be featured at the fifth-annual Cattlemen’s Workshop which starts at 9 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, at the Blue Mountain Conference Center in La Grande.

Ron Rowan, beef marketing manager for Beef Northwest feeders headquartered in North Powder, said the workshop has become one of the larger and more popular venues for renowned speakers to share their expertise in the cattle business.

This year will be another “must see” event if you are involved in the cattle business, Rowan said.

“We’re expecting more than 300 ranchers,” he said.

The theme for this year’s free workshop is “Opportunities in a Changing Beef Industry.”

Rowan expects ranchers from Northeastern Oregon and across the Pacific Northwest will attend Saturday to keep abreast of changes in the cattle industry.

Rowan said cattlemen will profit from the speakers’ expertise, and will have a unique chance to listen and interact with some of the industry’s well-known experts.

Tommy Beall, former director of market research for Cattle-Fax, will lead the discussion on cattle marketing trends and keys to success in the current economic climate. Beall helped create the “Cattlemen’s College” program that Cattle Fax has hosted for several decades.  He is a former executive at ContiBeef and owns a beef and cattle consulting firm in Colorado.

Holiday sales worth smiling about for some local merchants

Store owners attribute strong sales numbers to several factors, including cooporation among merchants and shoppers choosing to stay close to home

The Christmas season proves to be fruitful for Audrey Hindman, owner of Aud’s and Ends beauty salon, with increased sales of products she offers at the Baker City shop. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins)
Two weeks of snowstorms, icy roads and renewed community support for local merchants turned gloomy expectations into a rosy Christmas sales season for many Baker City businesses.

“We advertised a Christmas sale and we had a really good turnout,” said Shirley Hayes, a bookkeeper at D&B Supply. “We’re excited. We did better than we ever have.”

“I think with all the concerns about the economy, people were looking for bargains,” Hayes said. “We had a lot of merchandise discounted 20 percent and more, so it made it easy for people shopping for Christmas to get something nice, inexpensively.”

She said the arctic weather that arrived the second week of December helped make the Christmas sale such a big success that D&B sold out of some cold weather gear.

“The cold weather really brought people out,” Hayes said. “Before that, it was rather slow. After it snowed and got cold, sales picked up.”

Cold weather gear also flew off the racks at Flagstaff Sports and Kicks Sports Wear, both on Main Street.

 Ryan Chaves, an owner of Kicks Sports Wear, said Christmas sales were better than he expected.

He attributes this largely to residents shopping locally, partly out of a sense of community support fostered by the “Shop Local” campaign, and partly due to periodic closures of Interstate 84 and other roads.

OTEC looks to YouTube to promote its programs

Baker City Herald/John Collins
Say, Steve Schauer, didn’t I see you on TV the other day?

Schauer, member services manager for the Oregon Trail Electric Consumers Cooperative, hasn’t really made any recent television appearances — at least of the traditional variety.

But four spots — three in which he was a star — have found their way to the Web site YouTube and are posted on the OTEC Web site, www.otecc.com.

While Schauer is featured prominently — he’s the only human in a spot called “Cattle Fountain” — the real star might be a horse that belongs to Pat and John Leonard.

As Schauer is busy at the Leonards’ ranch telling his YouTube audience about an OTEC rebate program for helping them buy a product called the cattle fountain, which helps water livestock during the winter months without having to use electricity to  heat the trough, the Leonards’ horse is stealing the scene, sniffing something unseen in Schauer’s pocket.

What the audience doesn’t see, said Michael Howe, OTEC’s communication specialist, is the two takes that OTEC couldn’t use. In both of those takes, the horse tried to nibble Schauer’s ear.

Despite struggles, building owner remains optimistic

Bob Butler has had mixed success renting his Main Street building

Bob Butler has had mixed success with renting space in his building on Main Street. (Baker City Herald/Kathy Orr)
Bob Butler was 12 when he fell in love with the smell of fresh cut pines, piles of sawdust and logs piled high around Baker City’s sawmill.

Butler, who’s now 39, remembers Baker City as a magical place where log trucks shared the wide streets with cars and bicycles.

He was in awe of downtown’s tall buildings made of brick and of stone quarried at Pleasant Valley.

Butler recalls how the ranch hands wearing cowboy hats and boots, and loggers in their steel-toed boots and hacked off pants held up with suspenders seemed larger than life as they climbed in and out of the pickup trucks, shopped in downtown stores, ate in downtown restaurants and exchanged stories of their day felling logs, breaking horses and mending fences.

Want to see some elk? Climb aboard the wagon

Alice Trindle, holding antler, shares facts about elk with the Davis family from Utah — from left, Dalton, Miranda, Brooklyn, Lisa and Ethan. (Baker City Herald/KathyOrr)
Alice Trindle has seen thousands of elk, but her voice is full of awe when she spots the five bulls wading across the snowy meadow.

“Oh, wow,” she says.

As she watches, the bulls emerge from the forest to join a herd of 150 Rocky Mountain elk already gathered at the Anthony Creek feed site west of North Powder.

These five look like they just awakened after a night of indulgence — they walk slowly, and one has frayed orange baling twine wrapped around his antlers like a wild party favor.

“He got into somebody’s haystack,” says Susan Triplett.

Triplett and Trindle, who own T&T Wildlife Tours, have for the past 18 winters offered horse-drawn rides at this feed site run by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

ODFW runs 10 feed sites along the base of the Elkhorn Mountains, a program, started in 1971, designed to keep hungry elk away from ranchers’ haystacks.

The Anthony Creek site is the only place where the public can see the elk up close and personal.

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