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New lease on life for orchard

Earlier this year, it seemed there was no future for the filbert orchard at Keizer Rapids Park. That has changed, as a new lease was signed recently for the farming of the crop. (KEIZERTIMES file/Craig Murphy)
Earlier this year, it seemed there was no future for the filbert orchard at Keizer Rapids Park. That has changed, as a new lease was signed recently for the farming of the crop. (KEIZERTIMES file/Craig Murphy)

Of the Keizertimes

There is a future again for the filbert orchard at Keizer Rapids Park.

After Tony Weathers was granted a release from his contract to harvest the orchards in June, there was considerable question if another farm would take his place, especially given the desire to not use chemicals necessary to fight off the blight impacting the trees.

Kevin Schurter with Schurter Enterprises LLC submitted a proposal in July to do the harvesting, with the proposal accepted the following month. It was only a short-term lease, spanning from Aug. 20 to Nov. 30.

A Request for Proposals was run in mid-October for the city-owned orchard, resulting in two proposals. The one selected was from Schurter Enterprises.

Keizer City Councilors approved the contract without comment during the consent calendar portion of the Dec. 7 council meeting.

Rental income received from Schurter will be used for city park operations, including maintenance of the filbert orchard.

According to the contract, the lease terminates when all crops are removed from the property, or no later than Nov. 30, 2017. The rent paid to the city will be 10 percent of the net proceeds from the farming of the crops grown on the property.

When Weathers asked to be released from his contract in the spring, a key issue was the use of chemicals on the property. Weathers and Willamette Mission Farm, Inc. signed a five-year contract with the city in March 2012 to lease the filbert orchards at $10,000 a year, with Weathers keeping all the profits made by harvesting the filberts. Weathers was spraying pesticides on the orchards three times a year.

However, after the Big Toy site was moved to the orchards, concerns were expressed about the possibility pesticides from the spraying could spread to the play structure, which was completed in June.

“My concern is my ass being sued,” Weathers said in the spring. “My concern is someone using the toy when the park is closed, get flu and found out I sprayed. I have too much to lose. I informed the city I would like to get out of the lease.”

The contract signed with Schurter this month thus reflects the concern, as section 9 deals with chemicals and fertilizers.

“The only chemicals and fertilizers to be used by tenant are fuel and oil contained in equipment and mobile servicing vehicles and Glyphosphate (Roundup) applied to the ground,” the contract reads. “Tenant shall not, without landlord’s prior written consent, use any other fertilizers or chemicals.”

A concern about not using chemicals on the property is the deteriorating health of the trees, as the chemicals were being used to stave off the blight of the trees as long as possible.

“The parties acknowledge that without use of chemicals and fertilizers, the trees will suffer and the life of the trees will be shortened,” the contract reads in part. “Tenant is not liable for the death of the trees, but shall promptly remove dead trees within 30 days after completion of harvest.”

Schurter referenced the health of the trees when he submitted his original proposal last summer.

“Because of the poor health of the trees, Schurter Enterprises LLC will not be liable for the death of the trees,” Schurter wrote at the time. “The non-use of chemicals will speed up the death of the trees, but it is hard to say exactly how long they will last. Hazelnut trees of that variety and age suffer from Eastern Filbert Blight, and spraying and pruning is the only effective way to combat it. Pruning will hold it at bay, but they will eventually succumb.”

Mayor Cathy Clark expressed surprise last summer someone else had stepped forward to replace Weathers.

“It did seem like it was done,” Clark said.

Schurter explained at the time why he submitted his proposal.

“I thought it would be a shame that the crop would fall and rot on the ground,” he said. “I figured it’s not a bad idea to at least harvest it and farm it. Even if (the trees) are going to die, at least you can get something out of it. The city benefits with a percentage of the sales and, even more, it will look good. The orchards will be mowed and dead trees will be cut out.”