Joe Casale of Aurora and Neal Reiling of Wilsonville earn the Diamond Pioneer Agricultural Achievement Award

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Aurora farmer Joe Casale, shown here at his home just south of the Willamette River, knows hes going to be missed next summer when his retirement kicks in for good. What to do with his time remains the question.It’s finally time for Joe Casale to think about planning those vacations he’s put off over the years. But first, there’s still work to be finished.

An Aurora fixture for decades now, Casale has been farming his plot just south of the Willamette River for 40 years. So it’s understandable that retirement is something of a novelty at this point.

“We were a small farm for a long time,” he said, recounting his own parents’ start in 1933. “And when I got in there we grew. We used to farm more land in the past; we had a couple hundred acres at one time. But a few years ago, not that many, we had about 150, and then we went down from that. But it’s been a good ride.”

But before he can sink into the pleasures of retirement there’s the slight matter of his aching knees. So what to do now? On March 1 at 9 a.m. the family plans to close down the farm for the last time after holding a final auction of their remaining equipment. And that date is fast approaching.

“I’m not 100 percent sure,” said Casale, 78. “And that’s what my wife asked me. I’m getting things ready for the auction sale, and then the next thing in line is tomorrow I go to an orthopedic surgeon to get my knees checked out from years of slogging in the mud. I’ve got to get that out of the way and then I can line up trips.”

It’s been a long journey from the fields of Parkrose in Northeast Portland, where he grew up farming alongside his parents. That’s where Casale was first introduced to Oregon State University’s Extension Service, which works with farmers all over the state to research the latest methods and technology in agriculture.

Thus it is fitting that Casale was recently presented with the university’s Diamond Pioneer Agricultural Achievement Award at an awards dinner held in November on the OSU campus in Corvallis. From those early years working alongside Extension agents from Multnomah County to the 21st century and modern efforts at pest control, he has been at the forefront of Oregon agriculture.

“I was pleased to receive that,” Casale said. “Over the time the whole family, not just me, we’ve worked with the Extension to help them with agriculture and it helps us also. There’s a lot of learning to it, and I felt it was a privilege to work with those people.”

The Diamond Pioneer award is given to Oregon farmers who are 75 years of age or older and who have contributed to Extension and the wider agricultural community through education and public outreach.

Those things take different forms for each Diamond Pioneer. In Casale’s case, they often took the form of assisting the university in researching pest or weed control.

“Say there’s a new herbicide out or something and it gets tested on your farm,” he said. “Sometimes they’d test something and it wasn’t registered (with the FDA) and they’d come and pull plants out. If the weed control was proven and it got registered for use, well, then we, plus others, benefited and we were in on the ground first in knowing about it.”

He’s not even the first member of his family to receive the Diamond Pioneer award.

“I sort of expected it because my mother (Jennie Casale) had been presented with that when she was 75,” Casale said. “So that was for stuff she did with Extension Service and farm stuff. She was ahead of me.”

Grass seed, an Oregon staple

Retired Donald grass seed farmer Neal Reiling can share a similar story when it comes to OSU’s Extension Service. Reiling also received a Diamond Pioneer Agricultural Achievement Award in November for his years of contribution to research into one of Oregon’s staple crops, grass and grass seed in all the myriad varieties.

“My claim was I worked really close with OSU when we were trying to figure out what practices we could use to take the place of fire,” said Reiling, who now lives in Wilsonville. “Fire was a tool that we used to kill insects and diseases and weeds and that was taken away from us and we had to figure out what to do.”

Reiling was one of a number of farmers enlisted by the Extension Service in Marion County to help find a solution.

“I worked with OSU for a number of years on large plots, 2 to 3 acres to a plot, all treated differently. It would take a whole afternoon with a combine to process those plots and I was glad to do it.”

Field burning was first restricted by the state after a 21-car pileup on Interstate 5 near Albany killed seven people in 1988. The crash was blamed on smoke from nearby burning fields, and a 1991 bill reduced the amount of acreage that could be burned.

In 2009, the Legislature moved to outlaw field burning altogether.

In response, farmers, including Reiling, turned to other techniques and tools.

“We found things we could pump onto it — pesticides,” he said bluntly. “They took the place of fire. Then I bought a square that was controlled with a computer so I could get it on accurately. We were using ounces to acres with some pesticides.”

Grass farmers also found a new outlet for their products.

“We started baling all the straw, instead,” Reiling said. “Now most of that stuff that you see in bales goes to Japan. They feed cattle with it, and a cow is a ruminant that has more than one stomach and it needs roughage to make the stomach work, and that’s all they use it for. They mix it with alfalfa and soybean meal and all the good stuff so the cow can live on it.”

Reiling, 75, is as local as local gets. He was born in Hubbard and grew up just outside Donald, where he went to school. He graduated from North Marion High School and went on to earn a college degree from OSU in 1960. He and his family have remained staunch Beavers ever since. It also makes the Diamond Pioneer award that much more worthwhile.

“My wife and I graduated from OSU in ‘60,” he said, saving the kicker for last. “Then our three children all went to OSU. And they all married Oregon Staters.”

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