Writings and observations

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From a November 21 article by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

carlson
NW Reading

The distinct sound of gobbling turkeys in Oregon has generally grown silent for nearly 20 years. What was once a thriving agricultural industry left the state– a rarity among Oregon’s diverse list of commodities. While there are a few locally-grown birds sold to niche market consumers this year, most Oregonians will sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner featuring a turkey produced in California, Utah, or Minnesota.

“At one time, Oregon was a large producer of turkeys, probably producing up to 30 percent of the West Coast supply from the Willamette and Yamhill valleys,” says recently retired Oregon Department of Agriculture Assistant Director Dalton Hobbs. “Due to consolidation of the turkey processing industry and a few other factors that hit during the early 1990s, all that commercial production has gone away.”

Back in the mid-1980s, Oregon produced about 2.5 million turkeys and had a strong, viable industry. The state’s climate was amenable to turkey production and suited growers and the local processors. Turkeys were part of Oregon’s diverse agricultural product mix. Now there are only a handful of small-scale producers who specialize in organic, pasture raised, or so-called “heritage” turkeys– birds produced through natural mating, not through artificial insemination as is the case with commercial turkeys.

Many factors led to the demise of Oregon’s turkey industry in the early 1990s. But the bottom line is that it’s cheaper to grow turkeys in California, Utah, the Midwest, or in the southeast US and ship them to Oregon for sale than it is to actually grow them locally. Turkeys are generally raised where the feed is produced. The closer the turkeys are, the lower the production cost. Unfortunately, Oregon is rather distant from the feed sources of soybeans and dry corn.

That wasn’t much of a problem prior to 1993, when Oregon still produced a few million turkeys. That’s a far cry from the present day turkey production of Minnesota (47 million), North Carolina (30 million), Arkansas (28 million), and even California (15 million). Still, Oregon had enough critical mass to sustain the turkey industry and offer consumers an Oregon-grown product.

Then, a series of events eroded the industry.

The Oregon Turkey Growers Association, a local cooperative with membership in the national marketing cooperative Norbest, went through several managers at a time when continuity might have helped, according to Jim Hermes, poultry specialist with Oregon State University Extension. With several states producing turkeys under the Norbest label, Oregon growers had to settle for the national price on turkeys. Being far from feed sources, growers in other member states enjoyed a competitive price advantage. At about the same time, a batch of contaminated turkeys was shipped from Oregon to Utah– something that hit the news headlines at an inopportune time. For all intents and purposes, that was the final straw for Oregon’s turkey industry.

“The most visible problem was the recall of some 70,000 turkeys just prior to Thanksgiving 1992,” says Hermes. “The industry just couldn’t recoup from that event.”

Yamhill County, with about 85 percent of the state’s turkey production, shouldered the brunt of the loss. However, just as the entire state absorbed the loss of the entire turkey industry, Yamhill County was able to fill the vacuum through such successful commodities as nursery crops.

“Towards the end of the industry, there were about 25 turkey growers with 10 of them primarily responsible for most of the state’s production,” says Hermes. “Today, some of those same growers are producing fryer chickens inside the same facilities that were producing turkeys. Others have modified their buildings to store grass straw or some other commodities.”

Today’s consumers who prefer to buy a local product do have the option of purchasing from small scale producers. These customers reserve a bird in the spring by pre-ordering even before the turkey is raised. By the time holiday season rolls around, the turkey has been fully grown and slaughtered, and is ready for the dinner table.

The return of a large scale turkey industry in Oregon is unlikely, according to Hermes.

“There have been some inquiries into having breeder flocks of turkeys in the state to produce hatching eggs,” he says. “Normally when that occurs, there might be a few producers who may want to grow some commercial birds. However, Oregon’s primary problem is that there is no place to process the turkeys. We do not have a slaughter plant. The Oregon Turkey Growers processing plant in West Salem was sold and today is used for processing and freezing other food products.”

For Oregonians, there has been little impact from the loss of turkey production statewide. There is no shortage of turkeys available year around, let alone during Thanksgiving and Christmas. With the rare exception of those who prefer a fresh vs. a frozen turkey, shoppers don’t seem to care if the bird comes from California or North Carolina. Even when Oregon produced turkeys, most headed out-of-state anyway.

While Oregon never likes to see the loss of an industry, the demise of the state’s turkey production can serve as a valuable lesson.

“With this inexorable trend towards consolidation in agriculture, our growers need to understand that the ways of the past may not be the ways of the future,” says ODA’s Hobbs. “We need to be nimble, creative, and proactive in our production strategies and offering a product that fills a need.”

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

At first glance there could not be two more different people than Frank Church and former President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Surprisingly, though, there were more similarities than one would think.

Both men were terrifically ambitious; both had talented wives who played crucial roles in their success; both could be excellent “stump” speakers; both loved publicity as much as they loved being senators; both relished the give and take of politics; both authored legislation that has touched for the better the lives of millions of Americans past, present and in the future.

Most interesting though is both first came to the Senate courtesy of a missing ballot box in a key county controlled by friends of theirs.

Robert Caro, in his massive yet to be completed five volume biographies of Johnson documents with a story teller’s flair how Johnson finally got to the U.S. Senate by an 87 vote margin over former Texas Governor Coke Stevenson. The key to that “victory” was ballot box 13 in Duval county controlled by one man, George Parr, a Johnson supporter and a true loyalist who was well rewarded for his loyalty.

There’s even a picture of the wayward ballot box sitting on top of the hood of a car with several deputy sheriffs, as well as cronies of Parr’s, one with his foot on the bumper, posing for posterity before the box went into the mists of history.

Less well known is Idaho’s remarkably similar story. Seven years after Johnson took his Senate seat courtesy of a missing ballot box, in August of 1956, young Frank Church defeated former U.S. Senator Glen Taylor in the Democratic primary by 170 votes.

The winner would be up against the already dying and somewhat disgraced Senator Herman Welker, one of the few supporters for the red-baiting activities of Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy.

Idaho’s usually Republican leaning business establishment, including the state’s dominant paper, The Idaho Statesman, was beginning to recognize the damage being done by “Little Joe from Idaho’s” support for McCarthy. Behind the scenes Church’s friend and campaign manager, Carl Burke, was thought to have enlisted some key establishment support for Church’s bid.

For years afterwards Taylor maintained the nomination had been stolen, and wouldn’t you know it, a key ballot box could no longer be found. The county was Elmore and the finger of allegation has long pointed at veteran State Senator Bob Wetherell, the “Duke” of Elmore county and the counterpart to George Parr, the Duke of Duval county. By all accounts Wetherell’s influence included dominating the Courthouse.

Stories are mixed, facts are few but the consensus is there were more Democratic votes in a key precinct than there were registered voters. When Taylor drilled down on the vote in the key precinct it did indeed appear to have delivered an excessive number of votes for the young Boise attorney. The ballot box that should have been part of any mandatory recount, however, had “disappeared.”

Rumor had the box being tossed in the Anderson Ranch reservoir by the county sheriff on orders of “Duke” Wetherell , where it lies to this day.

Taylor filed a complaint with the Senate which conducted a cursory investigation. During his single term in the Senate (1944-1950) he had not endeared himself to his colleagues. Thus, there was little interest in seeing the flamboyant Taylor¸ who had run for the vice presidency on the Progressive ticket with Henry Wallace in 1948, resume his old seat.

Taylor, at his own expense, went door-to-door in the key precinct in Mountain Home getting affidavits from voters saying who they had voted for, and buttressing his circumstantial case that Church could not possibly have gotten the margin out of the precinct initially reported.

Of course with the key box missing for any recount he could not prove his case and the complaint was dismissed. The cloud over Church taking the seat he won that November was removed.

No one has ever speculated,¸ alleged or charged that the Senator himself had any knowledge of this “favor” being done for him by the Duke of Elmore though Taylor surely must have wondered. If any one might know it would be Carl Burke, but if there is a secret here, he took it to the grave. Garry Wenske, guardian of the Church legacy as curator of the Church papers at Boise State dismisses the speculation out-of-hand as baseless.

Perhaps, but the missing ballot box has a long and infamous history in many states, not just Texas, and maybe even in Idaho. The real conclusion should be that while politics can bring tainted births there can still be much good for society despite the origins of the politician.

Chris Carlson is a former staffer for Governor Cecil Andrus, and a writer now living at Medimont.

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