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K-BAR ignites agriculture boom beneath Table Rocks

The agriculture arm of the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians has transformed the Rogue River Ranch in a matter of 18 months.

K-BAR Ranches Corp., established in 1976 and acquired by the Cow Creek Band in 2001, purchased the 1,700-acre cattle ranch at the base of the Table Rocks in May 2013. Since then, Rogue River Ranch has expanded its cattle herd and reached new levels of alfalfa, wheat and corn production.

"There is unbelievable potential for the crops we grow," General Manager Tim Bare told a Chamber of Medford/Jackson County Forum audience Monday at Rogue Valley Country Club. "We think there is tremendous potential for the protein markets. We choose to raise beef because we can grow forage so abundantly here in the mild, temperate climate in Southwestern Oregon.

"I can tell you there are a lot of people who would absolutely love to bring their livestock to this area. The only limiting factor I can see is that we just don't have the vast acreage they have over in Central and Eastern Oregon, but the ground we do have is extremely productive."

Bare said later that K-BAR Ranches Corp. has leased adjoining parcels for farming, pushing the firm's Jackson County operation to nearly 2,000 acres.

After surveying the lay of the land on the mile-and-half-wide, 4-mile long ranch, Bare told the tribe 2013 would be a salvage year, primarily because the watering system was inefficient, using 45 quarter-mile wheel lines. 

"That was the good news," he said. "The bad news was that it was half-enough. It was a daunting task, I was pushed out of my comfort level. You couldn't physically irrigate this ranch with 45 wheel lines."

The irrigation problem was remedied with by the purchase of eight circle pivot units, augmented by 20 wheel lines that weren't sold off.That allows the operation to handle 400 head for finishing at a given moment while running 1,500 head of calves. The finished beef supplies most of the K-BAR Steakhouse at the Seven Feathers Casino.

"When you start selling a product that is worth $2.50 to $3 per pound and it only costs you 30 cents a pound to produce, that's a win-win," Bare said. "So there is tremendous potential."

In 2013, he said, the ranch produced 5 tons of hay to the acre. This year in three cuttings, the yield was 8 tons per acre. Between K-BAR's Douglas County and Rogue Valley holdings, he anticipates 15,000 tons of hay in 2015.

"You can imagine how long it takes to mow your own lawn at home," he said. "Well, our lawn is substantially bigger."

Bare said more automated irrigation is integral to production at the ranch, which has five full-time employees and long-established water rights.

"That is extremely important, no question about it, more so here in Jackson County probably than Douglas," Bare said. "Over in Central Oregon they don't even raise one crop without water. Here with alfalfa and some of the different  crops we grow we can actually get pretty good production, but without water you're pretty challenged. Currently, there is still enough forage still growing in our pastures that we don't have to supplement them and we probably won't have to supplement those cattle until January."

K-BAR just finished planting 400 acres of winter wheat, which will be harvested next July.

"A lot of these fields haven't been farmed for 40 years and the sod was six inches thick," Bare said. "With some of the new varieties that are out, my goal is to produce 200 bushels of wheat here in Southwest Oregon. It is very much going to be a reality, and no, it won't be GMO."

The cattle raised in Jackson County are transported to Crystal Creek Meat in Roseburg for slaughter.

"They are limited to how many animals they can handle," Bare said. "They can only handle about 20 a week. Right now that's enough for the restaurant. As we grow that won't really handle it."

He said K-BAR sometimes uses processing plants in Springfield or in Northern California.

"We took a hard look at maybe opening our own (slaughterhouse) but we haven't decided to go down that road yet."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

The Rogue River Ranch sits at the foot of Lower Table Rock. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell