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Over 70 Years of Representing the Farmers and Ranchers of Klamath Project

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A Conversation with Bill Gasser

May 16, 2024

 

From producers to politicians, Klamath Agriculture is teeming with leaders. Yet, amidst this bustling landscape, some unsung heroes quietly ensure the wheels keep turning, water keeps flowing, and crops keep growing. Basin Fertilizer & Chemical Co. is one such business with a team doing just that – a beacon of support for the people behind the people, making things happen.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Bill Gasser, co-manager, crop consultant, and longest-tenured employee of Basin Fertilizer & Chemical Co. (BFC). We discussed the company’s history, his role, and his views on the current water situation in the Klamath Basin. Bill is one of twelve business partners in BFC.

BRIAN: Thank you, Bill, for taking the time to speak with me about BFC. Can you tell us your background, title, and what you do for BFC?

BILL: My main titles are co-manager & crop consultant, as well as being an owner with an “A” list of other owners. With these “titles,” I, like many others from this company, wear many hats daily.

My priorities are to first take care of the team here at Basin Fertilizer, which allows us to serve our grower/customer base in the best ways possible. With a great team, great things can and will happen. It’s a challenge at times, but one I love. I am a crop advisor, which I have done since 1983.

I couldn’t imagine a better life than being outdoors, providing for the world’s food needs, and doing it beside the ones that are your friends and family.

BRIAN: How long have you been with Basin Fertilizer?

BILL: I started working for Basin Fertilizer in February 1979 as a part-time employee, doing whatever was asked of me. The chores were varied and numerous, but I enjoyed being around the employees. The best day came when I was asked to start “checking” fields for the owners. I was given my own bug net and a vehicle to drive. I was still very young, but I never realized what that would mean for my future. It’s been phenomenal 45+ years!

BRIAN: What did you do before your time at Basin Fertilizer?

BILL: Before my career started at Basin Fertilizer, I began as a “very poor” weeder on my grandpa’s potato fields. From there, I worked for an onion grower irrigating in the Tulelake Refuge. That was a job that I definitely did not enjoy, but it taught me, again, the value of hard work. From there, I went to work for a couple of growers from Merrill. That was amazing as they trusted me as a 16-year-old to do all my tasks unsupervised… no micromanagement. That still sticks with me today, as all my former bosses were that way. If you earn it, you will be rewarded. After these young adult-building experiences, I briefly studied at three colleges.  Before too long, my brother and brother-in-law encouraged me to get a degree in agriculture.  I am still amazed and grateful that they saw a quality in me that told them I would be a good fit at BFC.

BRIAN: Tell me about BFC. How does BFC serve local agriculture and what has been your most significant success?

BILL: Basin Fertilizer serves the farmers and ranchers of Southern Oregon and Northern California. Our highly qualified crop advisors collaborate with growers to provide custom soil and plant health. We customize our fertilizer blend recommendations from a soil sample to develop plans that are both as economical as possible while maximizing productivity. The BFC lot crew, drivers, applicators, and office staff are some of most capable and efficient workers in the industry.   BFC systems only work because of our employees.

My most significant success is that I have been able to help out growers for 45 years, and those years have all been fulfilling and enjoyable.

Our passion is:  Healthy Soils, Healthy Crops, Healthy Communities.

BRIAN: What is something Basin Fertilizer does for the agricultural community that most people do not know about?

BILL: Basin Fertilizer supports our rural communities generously.  We support many schools and their activities, including FBLA, Robotics, and various athletics.  BFC is most active with our local FFA programs.  We sponsor FFA awards and buy animals at numerous auctions.  One of our advisors and a BFC retiree sit on the local FFA Advisory Board.  We have often given tours to students from various high schools and Klamath Community College.  We’ve partnered with local FFA programs for fabrication projects and hosted the 2022 Oregon State Soils Competition. Basin Fertilizer received a Distinguished Service Award from Oregon FFA in March 2024.

BRIAN: What was your company’s biggest success in 2023?

BILL: In 2023, we finally completed a rail expansion that had been in the works for three years. We expanded our three-car siding to a 10-car siding. Receiving liquid and dry fertilizer by rail is the most economical method of delivery, allowing BFC to support the growers of the Klamath Basin and beyond by having a reliable and economical source of fertilizer.

BRIAN: What is your main priority to accomplish in 2024?

BILL: In 2024, BFC will solidify plans to build a new dry fertilizer storage building.  A larger building will allow us to buy and store fertilizer when markets are down. The addition of the rail and dry fertilizer storage building will mean economic advancement and stability for our growers.  It will allow BFC to provide high quality products and services to help growers increase their efficiency leading to greater productivity.

BRIAN: It has already been a busy spring; how has BFC helped producers so far this growing season?

BILL: BFC is working at full capacity right now! Our applicators, drivers, and crew are doing what they do best: getting growers what they need when they need it.  Our crop advisors vetted new products in the winter that growers are benefitting from.  We also purchased various pieces of new equipment to serve growers in an ever-growing radius from our main facility.

BRIAN: In the 40 years BFC has been a staple in local agriculture; how has technology changed the way BFC has operated?

BILL: Very little at BFC is the same as it was 40 years ago! Computerized systems and email communication between BFC and our growers allow for automatic sharing of plans, blends, recommendations, delivery tickets, work order completions, and use reports.  Growers get instantaneous feedback about plans, applications, and invoicing. Our Computerized systems and email communication increases safety for agricultural workers.  Growers know when we’re in the field and when we’re out.

Additionally, some of the other changes include: soil, nematode, tissue sampling as well as grid sampling; automated dry and liquid blending; GPS precision agriculture technology; GPS mapping; cloud-based file sharing & collaboration; and proprietary mobile apps

BRIAN: How has technology changed the way chemicals are applied?

BILL: BFC has adopted software programs that allow our advisors to write specific recommendations for a crop, cross-referencing rates for the target pest. Using the lowest possible rate of crop protection products increases safety for applicators, agricultural workers, and our communities. BFC can spray with large ground rigs, small ground rigs, and drones. All have GPS ability, so the application is uniform. Rate controllers on our sprayers ensure proper coverage with very little overlap, with shutoffs available for boom sections and individual nozzles.

BRIAN: Bill, you mentioned the rail expansion project earlier. Let’s dive more into that recent project. First off, what does this mean for the company?

BILL: The rail project will increase the receiving capacity to feed the new building. The Union Pacific Railroad (UP) delivers cars twice weekly. Before our expansion, we could only unload six dry cars weekly without requesting an emergency delivery. Now, we can unload 20+ cars a week. This takes trucks off the road, helping to reduce our carbon footprint.

BRIAN: How does this project help BFP help producers?

BILL: The rail project, in conjunction with the new building, will help our purchasing power and allow us to take advantage of competitive buying opportunities and store/handle larger volumes or blocks of fertilizer.  Currently, we have very limited space. With enhanced rail & storage capacities, we can offer additional product offerings of new, high-tech fertilizers that will raise healthy, sustainable crops at a competitive price.

BRIAN: What were some of the hurdles the company had to overcome in this project?

BILL: We had two pretty big hurdles to overcome. First, BFC had to work with the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to pipe and cover the ditch, which adjoins two pieces of property that BFC owns. If we could not cover the ditch, the westernmost section of the property would be unusable.

Another big hurdle we had towards making progress on the rail was working with UP. UP is a government-like business with many ongoing technical and engineering requirements.  We revised the plans numerous times and had to wait for permissions at each phase.  The UP and BOR networks of people engaged in our rail expansion were extensive.  We didn’t know how to navigate their systems, so it felt like progress was very slow.  We’re used to making decisions and working quickly at BFC.  It was challenging to be patient.

BRIAN: What is next for this project?

BILL: The rail is in use! It’s performing for BFC and our customers every day.  The rail expansion will be fully utilized when the new dry fertilizer storage building is completed.

BRIAN: With the rail expansion and technology updates, some exciting things are happening at BFC. In your opinion, what do you see as the biggest challenge facing local agriculture today?

BILL: Water!! All growers in the Klamath Basin deserve adequate delivery throughout the growing season.  Some parts of our basin haven’t received water delivery of any kind.  Growers cannot plan or forecast what types of crops to grow or where.  Also, they are often threatened with a shortened water delivery season, so there’s always concern that they won’t be able to finish growing the crop they started in the spring.

BRIAN: What would you like to see changed to help local agriculture and BFC in the future?

BILL: A plan for reliable water for all of the Klamath Basin.  The 1906 Klamath Reclamation Project intended to turn the marshland of Tulelake and surrounding areas into productive land while guaranteeing enough water to support agriculture.


Article by Brian Gailey, KWUA Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Basin Ag News, May 2024

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