HERMISTON - Local agriculture may be neglected for a few days, but all for a good cause while the 30th annual Farm Fair and Trade Show comes to the Hermiston Community Center.

A group of 44 vendors and local agri-business people set up shop early Wednesday morning, just in time for the doors to open for hundreds of area farmers and community members.

"I'm excited about the turnout," said one of the trade-show's organizers, Phil Hamm. "It's very well attended and we've got the right people here talking about the issues."

Those issues Wednesday included insects in alfalfa and farm programs for livestock producers.

The main stage potato seminar had so many people watching that a handful had to listen to the speakers from the hallway.

Hamm said that all year he and his colleagues talk to leading officials to find out what is going on in each area of agriculture and then they bring those experts in to talk.

"Through that network I know who is doing what," he said.

In addition to being a forum for farmers to learn about important issues, the farm fair is also a place that anyone in the community can come to and learn more about the local economy.

"Over the course of a day we see probably 300 people," said Kathy Ferge, the chamber of commerce committee chairwoman for the Farm Fair. Ferge said that the fair, which runs through Friday, is open to anyone. It's also free, as are most of the seminars being presented.

The livestock session Wednesday featured a proposal from the Oregon State Farm Service Agency aimed at allowing some grazing on Conservation Reserve Program land. CRP land is designated for grass and then left aside so that it can prevent erosion and support wildlife.

Current rules prohibit grazing on CRP land, but a new farm bill would allow grazing as long as it does not interfere with local wildlife nesting periods.

The problem in Umatilla County is that the prime time for grass grazing is also the time when local wildlife is in its nesting period.

Kent Willett of the Umatilla County USDA Service Center gave a presentation to a group of livestock ranchers and community members at the Farm Fair show going over some of the changes that would be made if the proposal goes into effect.

Willett said the new plan would allow land owners to section off their CRP areas into parcels, enabling cattle to graze and the wildlife to nest without the two conflicting with each other.

The plan would require meticulous land management by owners, but experts believe that the plan will make people happy on both sides of the conservation debate.

"We felt we had a win-win situation," said Lois Loop, a conservation program specialist with the Farm Service Agency.

The proposal was drafted by representative from conservation groups and land owners, said Loop. But adoption of the plan is uncertain.

Brook Griffin can be reached at 1-800-522-0255 (ext. 1-309) or by e-mail at bgriffin@eastoregonian.com

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