Orchards affected by ODOT spray

Pear growers report damage to trees, fruit along four highways

While tourists filled the roads during blossom season, an unexpected challenge to local pear orchards quietly took hold amongst those beautiful blooms, along those same roadsides.

According to Jean Godfrey, executive director of Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers Association, early June brought bad news to a number of pear growers with orchards along highways 35, 281, 282 and 285. Something was damaging the trees.

What began as a single grower phone call to Wilbur-Ellis Branch Manager Bruce Decker soon became a story shared by several orchardists — mysteriously damaged leaves and fruit in pear trees planted along those roadways.

“It really was Bruce Decker who went to investigate after the first call and figured out that the damage he was seeing looked a lot like the results of the roadside herbicide ‘Payload,’” said Godfrey.

“This product has a history attached to it,” Decker said. “It used to be used under a different trade name (Chateau) and had been used in Hood River orchards in the past. Over the course of time, we found out that pears are super-sensitive to it and under certain conditions would show injury.”

That “injury,” Godfrey emphasized, is not a food safety issue. The primary chemical in Payload (Flumioxazin) is routinely used in other food crops but is not approved for use on non-dormant stone fruit trees.

Instead, what is causing concern is the appearance of the affected fruit, which is ripening out with spots and marking.

“This is not fruit that the consumer is going to want to eat,” said Godfrey. “We are not sure if the cannery will take it at all.” That is where the prickly issue of financial losses and liability arises.

In addition to the potential negative affect on sales, Godfrey acknowledges that the trees themselves may defoliate, or worse.

“We still don’t know the full extent of this,” he said.

Decker was instrumental in providing a possible answer to the source of the contamination — and the possibility of reparations for farmers who may see diminished future returns from their crop or wider losses.

“I recognized the type of damage I was seeing and called up ODOT to see what they had been spraying. It was quite evident that the further away from the road you went, the damage became less and less severe,” Decker said.

One of ODOT’s regional maintenance representatives responded promptly to Decker’s call and confirmed a switch to “Payload” for this year’s May 2, 7, 8 and 10 spray program.

While damage varied widely between orchards, in part due to wind or farming practice affects on material distribution, interest in the problem was universal.

“We held a grower meeting with Oregon Department of Agriculture on June 8,” said Godfrey. Of the 70 orchardists in attendance, several had severe damage.

“ODA is now conducting an investigation,” she said. “They have already taken soil, leaf and fruit samples and confirmed that Payload was found.”

There will be another round of testing this week and within the next few months ODA will issue a finding. At that point, if ODOT is found responsible for the incident by ODA, ODOT could either offer reparations to growers or opt to allow growers to file individual suits.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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