Once they were dynamic young leaders of Merced County agriculture. Peter Koch was president of the county Farm Bureau, and he and his wife, Rochelle, founded and funded the Valley Land Alliance to "save farmland." VLA's main purpose these days is the constant promotion in its newsletter of a small number of farmer members. All references to the Koch family, however, have been expunged from its website since they sold their palatial residence, orchards and cow pens and left for the bucolic Willamette Valley in Oregon.
As we admire their latest agricultural venture, we can only say: "Skal, Dudes!"
Silverton, Mt. Angel & Scotts Mills
Hemp: Old crop for a new age
Hemp farmers Rochelle and Peter Koch are about to harvest their first crop.
From the road, it looks like just another crop. Take a step into the field and you know what it is, or rather, what it’s a close kin to.
It smells like marijuana but it’s not.
Peter and Rochelle Koch, both 55, recently planted 21 acres of hemp on their farm off the South Abiqua.
“It’s going to save the world,” Peter said enthusiastically of his new crop. “Anything you can make with plastic, you can make with hemp.”
Peter said there about 40 permits for farmers to grow hemp in Oregon, including two other growers in Silverton.
With 20 years of farming organic almonds and pomegranates in California under their belts, the Kochs moved to Silverton in July 2014 looking to grow something new. They left California due to the continuing water crisis.
Both Peter and Rochelle said it’s been exciting and fun to learn about the new crop, adding it’s been a big learning process. They also grow wheat.
“The more I get to know the plant, the more intrigued I am,” Peter said.
Marijuana and hemp are different subspecies of the cannabis plant that over the thousands of years the plant has been cultivated, have developed different traits. These traits have been isolated and bred separately making two distinct species each with its own unique properties.
The marijuana plant has been grown for its high Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, the psychoactive compound, paying special attention to the flowering parts of the plant.
The hemp plant, however, is grown for industrial use and is generally allowed to grow taller and leggier with the field consisting mostly of males without flowering capabilities. Most importantly, it lacks the THC of its cousin.
Instead hemp has a chemical called Cannabidiol (CBD) which can be used medicinally to treat a host of illnesses from Alzheimer’s to cancer. It’s grow cycle is about 120 days.
The Kochs have divided their acreage. The 14-acre portion for fiber is growing wild and almost entirely unirrigated with a mixture of tall and short plants, due to the different places the seeds originate from. Some of the difficulties the Kochs have faced in getting their new crop started was obtaining seeds and farming advice because although hemp was once a staple crop in the United States it has been illegal since 1952, Rochelle said.
“The Constitution was written on hemp paper,” Peter said. “The flag was made out of hemp.”
Now those old farming traditions have been virtually lost and the Kochs and other new hemp farmers in Bend and Monmouth must look to other countries for farming advice.
“We’re reading stuff that’s coming from Canada and Slovakia,” Rochelle said.
Keeping up with ever-changing growing regulations also has been a challenge. Later in the growing season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will choose two cross sections of 30 samples in the Koch’s field to test for THC.
“They’re fine tuning the rules all the time,” Rochelle said. “The THC has to be 0.3 and below.”
Next to the field of fiber plants the Kochs have seven irrigated acres of squat green plants destined for CBD oil use. These are the plants they are most excited about.
“They’re using CBDs for medicinal uses,” Rochelle said. “One particular strain called Charlotte’s Web has helped with epilepsy.”
The Kochs have used the oil at home for backaches after a hard day of farming and have been amazed by the affects.
“My mother, who is 87, has arthritis,” Peter said. She found CBD cream worked well.
“She said it worked quicker than Tylenol and lasted longer,” Peter said.
Although their first year as hemp farmers has been a little rocky, the Kochs are excited about harvest.
“It’s the wave of the future,” Rochelle said.
By Ron Goble
Few businesses connected to the dairy industry were not adversely affected by the long stretch of low milk prices that hammered dairy producers nationwide. Calf and heifer ranches were no exception. They fought their own economic battles during the worst economic downturn ever seen in dairying.
Some calf ranches went out of business, while others were able to keep their heads above the financial flood waters.
Some producers feeling the economic squeeze, brought their calves home to the dairy in an effort to curtail expenses. Others saw the economics differently and – for the first time – made the decision to use the services of a calf ranch for the same reason.
Following are several personal stories told by those calf and heifer ranch operators caught in this economic tsunami.
Nicholas Calf Ranch
Rochelle and Peter Koch, owners of Nicholas Calf Ranch, Winton, Calif., started raising bull calves in Oregon in 1990. Three years later they moved their operation to Central California where they “didn’t have to fight the constant mud and the rain.”
They converted their bull calf operation to raising dairy heifers only – from day-old to 120 days.
Rochelle said they survived the 2009 downturn that has devastated many operators in the dairy industry.
“We had one dairy out of the dozens we serve, take their calves home to raise on their own,” said Rochelle. “Two other dairy clients went bankrupt and are no longer in business.
“Actually, we’ve filled those vacancies with dairies that had never used calf ranches before. When their bankers and financial consultants came to evaluate their operations they recommended using a calf ranch to raise their calves because when all is said and done, it was more economical to have us raise them.”
Rochelle indicated that when the hard times started, they sent a letter to their dairy clients asking if the producers wanted them to reduce the extent of their services to cut costs.
“I believe we can’t cut what we feed because it would only result in sick calves,” she said. “The lower quality ration would mean we would have a higher medicine cost and result in a poor quality heifer. We asked if they wanted us to stop pulling blood samples daily. Overwhelmingly, they wanted us to protect the health and well being of their animals. The calf is their future.”
So, Nicholas Calf Ranch continues to keep a veterinarian and nutritionist on staff, while maintaining the calf ration at a high quality level.
“Since we purchase all our feed from outside farms, we try to buy for next year. Although the futures market can be frustrating at times, whenever feed costs go down we can save our dairymen some money and drop our prices,” she said. “We had two price cuts in the past two years. Every little bit helps if we can make it more economical for our clients...”
The Price of Dirt -- Part 4, The Williamson Act
...Rochelle Koch, Amsterdam – wife of the county Farm Bureau president told the board that the Williamson Act was about saving ag land. “The ag community worked very diligent to protect our ag land … We are considered wackos because we are passionate about it,” she said. Koch got lost trying to read an article from the Modesto Bee. The rest of her testimony was pretty bizarre: dairies a nightmare but still top commodity; the Bee article lists the employers, how many; “we’re the economic engine;” “California is where we produce this ag land. There are four tools to save farmland – general plan (weak, unenforced), Williamson Act, easements, and lawsuits (we don’t like to go there, there’s no money anyway). Please consider option two.”
The idea that California produces ag land is not quite as idiotic as it sounds, although the federal government’s irrigation projects have had the greatest impact of opening up alkali flats to farming. By rain level, the San Joaquin Valley is a desert. Without irrigation, most of it is seasonal grazing land, good for elk, antelope, coyotes and roadrunners. But to imply that somehow “we,” the farmers themselves, without state and federal taxpayers behind them, “produce” farmland is absurd – typical brainless Valley farmer propaganda, of the sort that, despite backing from international PR firms and water districts from Southern California, has failed this summer to convince the federal government to suspend the Endangered Species Act restrictions on Delta pumping.
Koch’s husband, Peter, is president of the Merced Farm Bureau. He is a Canadian, not an American citizen. Several years ago, they built a palatial estate on their calf ranch and, at the same time as President Koch was inveighing in the farm bureau newsletter about the drought, they built a swimming pool. For years, they have gone annually toBornholm, Denmark, a Baltic island, to commune with Koch’s Danish ancestors. Bornholm is a long way from laid-off county workers losing their homes and many of the 35-percent of county residents on some form of public assistance losing that assistance. This year, the Koch’s are reportedly selling eggs purported to be organic in the Merced farmers’ market. They have a certain liberal style, but the good taste to recognize the desperate condition of many residents of the county is not in them...