Commissioners put name behind olives

Board becomes co-applicant for grant to help local farmer

DALLAS — Polk County will be a co-applicant on a grant submission to the Oregon Water Resources Department that leaders hope could provide an innovative solution to farming on land difficult to irrigate.

Bogdan Caceu, the owner of the farm, La Creole Orchards located south of Dallas, is seeking funding to place an above-ground storage tank to hold water drawn from three wells on the property.

He said the volume of water — about one to two gallons per minute from two wells, and three to four gallons per minute on the third — isn’t adequate for the orchard.

Those sources could work if the water is drawn and stored before it is needed, though, he said. Caceu has a pilot project tank on the property holding 35,000 gallons, but needs much more to expand his orchard.

La Creole Orchards’ crop is a bit unusual for Oregon: olives. Caceu uses the olives to make extra-virgin olive oil and wants to expand to a commercial operation.

“The water needs of the orchard are such that they will increase each year. As the trees get bigger, they need more water,” he said during a presentation for the Polk County Board of Commissioners on March 14.

Caceu applied for the grant last year and didn’t make the cut, but was given some advice for improvement from agency staff.

“They were very kind to issue a two-page summary. They gave me feedback on the strengths and concerns of last year’s application,” Caceu said. “I was able to pay close attention to the concerns they had.”

If successful, the grant would add another container — this one holding nearly half a million gallons. He said it would take about a third of the land needed to build an irrigation pond and could capture rain water.

“I’m basing this proposed water storage tank on the actual water needs and the actual available water,” Caceu said.

Commissioner Craig Pope, who has been working with Caceu for almost a year, said the project could provide options for agriculture on less-than-ideal land.

“It’s a very progressive operation. I’m fascinated with the storage system, because we have a lot of potential for these, what I would call secondary lands, to be opportunities for high-value crops, but they don’t have any options for water,” he said. “They don’t build ponds on hillsides, generally. This system is very efficient, and I’m quite fascinated with seeing others use this going forward.”

La Creole Orchards is a small operation, but Caceu, who also is the executive director Olive Growers of Oregon, a nonprofit growers’ association, said the new industry shows promise.

“We believe there is a lot of potential — reduced yields compared to what is in California, but very high quality product,” Caceu said.

The board voted to become a co-applicant, but will bear no financial responsibility for the necessary “matching funds” for the grant. Caceu said the farm would cover that requirement.

“I think this is a low-risk opportunity for us to be engaged in an application which might help make this move forward, which in turn will help other property owners with their chances to get some grant money,” Pope said.

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