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Pam Gates addresses the high-export and generational aspects of farming in Helvetia

09.21.09

Mayor Doyle and Beaverton City Councilors
City of Beaverton
P.O. Box 4755
Beaverton, OR 97076-4755

My name is Pam Gates. I live at 27007 NW West Union Road, Hillsboro, OR 97124.

I was alarmed to read Councilor Betty Bode’s comment on August 27, 2009 that, “the activity in the Helvetia Area consisted of hobby and generational farming as opposed to high-produce, high export farming.”

My husband Spencer is a 4th generation farmer on both sides of his family. Both the farm that his mother and his father grew up on are Century Farms. We own Twin Fir Century Farm, LLC which is the farm on Spencer’s mother’s side. This farm began in 1886. That’s 123 years the farm has been owned and operated by the same family and 123 years the farm has provided a livelihood to our family. Our children are the 5th generation to live on our 309 acre farm.

If any other business stays around this long, they are praised. Let me be clear. Farming is a business. Farming is capital intensive, both for the land and the equipment. There is also knowledge that is passed on from one generation to next, just like in any business that has survived for more than one generation. Farming practices are learned over a lifetime. When to plant, when to fertilize, when to harvest is all dependent on the weather not the calendar and these answers can only be passed on from years of experience. Because Farming is both capital and knowledge intensive, it is not an occupation one simply decides to do, it is a legacy that we have been fortunate enough to be part of.

There are about 30 self-supporting, profitable farms, farming over 5000 acres in the Helvetia area. These farms are where we live and work full time. In the Helvetia area,

  • About 4 million pounds of grass seed is grown, 20% is exported outside the U.S. and about 79% is exported out of Oregon.
  • From the grass seed fields, we also make grass straw, 100% is exported outside the U.S.
  • 100% of the 84,000 bushels of wheat we grow is exported outside the U.S.
  • Of the over 535,000 pounds of clover seed we grow, 96% of it is exported outside of Oregon. We even export a small amount to Italy.
  • About 12% of our Nursery stock is exported outside of the U.S. and 50% is exported outside Oregon.
  • 65% of our Hazelnuts are exported outside the U.S. and 33% is exported outside Oregon.

The high production crops we grow are generating dollars that are coming from outside of Oregon and outside of the United States.

As demand for crops change, we can and have changed our crops to meet that demand. We can’t grow all these diverse crops and generate these new dollars to Oregon on poor soils or on hobby farms. Farming is a business.

We support the Metro COO’s recommendation that the foundation agricultural land north of Highway 26 be protected from urban reserves. The farms in Helvetia depend on this land to continue our businesses. A Rural Reserve designation for the land north of Highway 26 is the best way to protect this land and our industry.

Pam Gates


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