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‘Good water year’ forecasted for irrigation district

The annual Farm Fair is an enlightening event, bringing good news on the water front and featuring discussions in genetic engineering
General Editor
   Feb. 13, 2002 -- The water outlook is good for the coming season, North Unit Irrigation Manager Chuck Schonneker told a crowd of growers at the Jefferson County Farm Fair Feb. 7.
   "It looks like we'll have a pretty good water year -- a lot better than last year," Schonneker said, as rain poured down outside the meeting room.
   He noted last year was a bad one water-wise for farmers because the snowpack was only 51 percent of normal, and North Unit's Wickiup Reservoir depends on inflows of water from melting snow to help fill it up.
   But he had good news for this year and said, "The snowpack today is 148 percent of normal, and I think we'll have a sufficient water supply."
   Schonneker did not announce exact water allotment amounts at the Farm Fair, but said the North Unit Board of Directors would make allotment decisions and an announcement in March.
   He said the 200,000-acre-foot capacity reservoir currently contains 147,000 acre feet of water, and may not fill completely but the supply will be sufficient for irrigators.
   Observing it was still snowing in the Wickiup area, Schonneker said, "The snow at Wickiup is just frosting on the cake. We've had 13 inches of moisture since October 2001. There's a phenomenal amount of snow up there."
   While overall attendance was down for the two-day event, at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, the speakers drew better than normal audiences, according to Crop Extension Agent Marvin Butler.
   Besides Schonneker's report, some of the most popular talks were Terri Lomax's presentation on genetic engineering, an update on the Klamath Basin Water Situation by Klamath Irrigation Board Chair Dave Cacka, and pesticide recertification sessions.
   Lomax, a OSU biotechnology specialist, spoke on "What biotech Can Do for Central Oregon," with a Power Point presentation packed with facts and figures.
   She said the practice has been used for a decade in the U.S., and currently 25 percent of the corn, 70 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the cotton grown is genetically engineered (genes altered to produce combinations that don't occur in nature).
   "Seventy percent of the food on our store shelves has some genetic engineering," she said, because of the corn oil, soybean oil and other ingredients it contains.
   "If you drink diet soda, you're consuming genetically engineered Nutrasweet," Lomax said, adding, "Many pharmaceuticals are also made with genetically engineered ingredients."
   While some consumers are concerned about genetic engineering, Lomax said the new method has the advantage of reducing the use of pesticides.
   As an example, she noted, "Cotton is the most heavily sprayed crop, bar none. "But 70 percent of the cotton in the U.S. will (soon) be genetically engineered, reducing the amount of pesticide, which saves the farmers money."
   "Sweet corn that comes from Florida in the winter is sprayed 12 to 30 times before you get it. What's worse?" Lomax asked.
   Crops are genetically engineered to resist problem insects or diseases. So instead of repeated spraying with chemicals, the plant itself is resistant to problems, such as corn root worm.
   Last year, 5.5 million farmers in 13 countries grew generically engineered crops. Siting examples, Lomax said 68 percent of the crops in the U.S., 22 percent in Argentina, 6 percent in Canada and 3 percent in China were genetically engineered.
   China is exploding with genetic engineering research and has already put a salt-tolerant gene in rice to produce a rice that can be irrigated with salt water.
   Some of the more bizarre experiments have captured headlines, including tomatoes with jellyfish genes to give them longer shelf-life, and goats with spider web genes which give milk that can be spun into fibers stronger than Kevlar.
   Admitting that genetic engineering has raised complex ethical and social issues, Lomax said public concerns center around health issues, while scientists believe the plants are safe healthwise. Scientist's concerns center more around management issues, such as pollen drift, the creation of super weeds, resistant insects, and the reduction of biodiversity.