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Mark McKay Oral History Interview, March 8, 2017

Oregon State University
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00:00:00 - Interview introduction

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Partial Transcript: Okay, we're ready to go.

Segment Synopsis: McKay introduces himself and provides his birth date, the current date and the interview location.

Keywords: Hop farming; Hop farms; Multigenerational farms

Subjects: Agriculture; Family farms; Farming; Hop (plant); Hops; Independence (Or.)

00:00:26 - Family history / Farm operation

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Partial Transcript: So you were born in St. Paul?

Segment Synopsis: McKay discusses growing up on his family’s farm, and how he ended up taking over the farm with his brother after high school. He describes how his father managed the farm while he was growing up, including which crops were grown and why. McKay then recounts how his ancestors immigrated to the United States from Europe and their early efforts in farming. He notes why his father left the hop industry, and how he and his brother expanded the farm to Independence, Oregon.

Keywords: Canning factories; Farming contracts; Hop farming; Hop farms; Insecticide accumulation; Multi-generational family farms; Multi-generational farms

Subjects: Anheuser-Busch Companies; Brotherhood; Canning & preserving; Family business; Family farms; Gold rush; Hops; Immigrants; Immigration; Independence (Or.); Insecticides; Salem (Or.); Sibling relations; Siblings; St. Paul (Or.)

00:09:24 - Childhood in the farming community of St. Paul, OR

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Partial Transcript: So what did- let's back track a little bit to growing up here

Segment Synopsis: McKay describes growing up in the tight-knit community of St. Paul, and how many of his childhood friends also returned to farming in adulthood. He discusses the different extracurricular activities he did in high school, including sports and FFA competitions. He explains why he and his brother took over the farm straight out of high school, and why they chose to buy land outside of their hometown for the hop farm. He notes the excellent terroir in Independence, Oregon.

Keywords: Catholic communities; Family business takeover; Farm stands; Farming contracts; Hop farms; Vegetable farming

Subjects: Agriculture; Agriculture--education; Catholics; College; Competition; Experiential learning; Family business; Future Farmers of America; High school sports; Hops; Specialty crops.; Student-athletes; Summer Jobs; Terroir

00:14:00 - Influences of hop farming / Hop farm mechanization

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Partial Transcript: So did you, having hop farms and hop farmers around you

Segment Synopsis: McKay discusses his awareness of hops while growing up, and the challenges of joining the hop industry. He analyzes his father’s experiences through the period of farm mechanization, and how farming machinery has changed since being introduced in the 1960s. He explains why the costs of starting a hop farm have risen over time, and how that phenomenon is reflected across crop types.

Keywords: Agriculture markets; Craft beer; Farming equipment; Farming expenses; Farming machinery; Home brewing; Hop farming; Hop farms

Subjects: Agriculture; Beer and brewing; Farm mechanization; Hops; Machinery

00:18:02 - Education in hop farming / Expanding the farm

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Partial Transcript: I was, like, wondering who- I wanna ask, like, who was one

Segment Synopsis: McKay recounts the different sources of information they got on hop farming prior to expanding the farm, and how a family friend introduced them to the land in Independence. He describes the area of land they bought in Independence, how that area has been expanded over time, and how they managed through the hop shortages of 2008. He discusses the different challenges of expanding the farm, the growing amount of hop varieties over time, and the difficulty of switching varieties or crops. McKay then explains the current hop varieties they have growing, and the differences in variety flexibility depending on the contracts you have.

Keywords: Family friends; Haunold, Alfred; Hop farming; Hop farms; Hop research; Hop shortages; Hop varieties; Learning by example

Subjects: Brewers; Family farms; Hop (Plant); Hops; Independence (Or.); Oregon State University; Specialty crops; St. Paul (Or.); Supply and demand

00:27:04 - Taking over the farm / Benefits of farming technology

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Partial Transcript: So I guess, was there ever a point where you didn't want to take

Segment Synopsis: McKay explains why he was drawn to returning to the farm, and the challenge of managing land that’s far from home. He discusses the importance of different irrigation methods to the success of hops, both in productivity and in mitigating disease. He notes the different land requirements for various irrigation methods, and how drip irrigation is useful in combination with chemical fertilizers.

Keywords: Family legacy; Farmlands--Leasing; Growing season; Hop farms; Irrigation methods

Subjects: Agriculture; Crop rotation; Downy mildew; Downy mildew diseases; Drip irrigation; Family farms; Farm labor; Fertilizers; Filtration; Hops; Irrigation; Legacy; Pesticides; Water conservation

00:30:56 - Hop harvest labor

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Partial Transcript: So, changing a little bit to think about labor and who has picked,

Segment Synopsis: McKay recounts the process of building housing for their harvest workers, along with the different labor requirements for various crops. He notes the recent labor shortages, and how he’s mitigated the resulting issues. He describes the time-frame of labor needs, how housing requirements have shifted, and the housing design he wanted to implement. He discusses the different tasks performed by seasonal employees, and the recent challenges with wet weather. He details the variability of weather on the farm, as well as the different tasks done in each season.

Keywords: Farm contracts; H-2A program; H-2A workers; Harvest labor; Hop cultivation; Hop farms; Nursery crops

Subjects: Agriculture; Family farms; Farm labor; Farm laborers; Harvest; Hops; Labor camps; Oregon--Climate; Strawberries

00:37:24 - Support for hop growers / Partnering with craft brewers

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Partial Transcript: So talk about, maybe the- thinking about the growers' association

Segment Synopsis: McKay thinks the farming organizations are helpful because it allows farmers to sit down and discuss their problems. He wasn’t super involved in these groups, but his brother was- president of the Hop Growers of America for three years. Needed someone to stay on the farm managing things while the other went out doing outreach. McKay hopes his children may be involved in farming organizations in the future. It’s a good thing for keeping farmers up to date on disease development, cultivation methods etc. Some farms work directly with craft brewers; the McKay farm works directly with production breweries like ABInBev, Hopsteiner etc. They try to not keep their eggs in one basket. They also have craft brewers tour the farm during the summer; sell green hops to brewers for their summer seasonals.

Contracts with craft brewers are a different model, and can be more difficult than working with big breweries. It’s a challenge of accommodating everyone’s needs because craft brewers need fewer hops than McKay can feasibly grow- takes more labor and time to process small hop loads. They have 600 acres of hops in the ground, so it’s a lot harder to process small bales. Many craft brewers are start-up businesses, so they don’t need very many hops. He can’t overlook craft brewers because their business could grow exponentially, but it’s more difficult to work with them initially.

Keywords: Business growth; Craft brewing; Farm contracts; Farming organizations; Hop Growers of America; Support networks; USA Hops

Subjects: Agriculture; Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association; Beer and brewing; Breweries; Community; Hops; Problem solving; Start-up companies

00:41:16 - Involvement in agrotourism

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Partial Transcript: What about this kind of, I was calling it agrotourism?

Segment Synopsis:
McKay discusses his interactions he and his staff have with tourists during the summer, and the challenge of running tours while also trying to maintain the farm. He describes the effort they put into offering tours for buyers, and the importance of documentation to visitors. He explains how the public interest in agriculture has changed over time, and what his local farming community does to regulate the reputation of the area.

Keywords: Farm operation; Farming communities; Hop farms; Machinery repairs; Record keeping; Safety hazards; Traceability

Subjects: Agriculture; Agrotourism; Documentation; Family farms; Farm management; Farm to table; Harvest; Hazards; Hops; Machinery--Safety regulations; Mint; Tourism

00:49:17 - Observations of small farmers / Use of pesticides

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Partial Transcript: So when we were at the hop convention, we were talking about

Segment Synopsis: McKay discusses the different sources of information new hop farmers use to prepare themselves, as well as his advice for new farmers about finding sales stability. He describes how the hop market shifted during the 20th century to be run by a few larger farms, and the importance of efficiency in farm sustainability. McKay then recounts the different interactions he’s had with the public while traveling, and their response to his use of pesticides. He explains the necessity of pesticides in agriculture today, and how young people misunderstand the challenges of organic farming.

Keywords: Composting; Farming monopoly; Hop farming; Hop farms; Hops--Pests and diseases; Hops--Pricing; Preventative medicine

Subjects: Agricultural extension research; Chemical fertilizers; Compost; Farm mechanization; Food prices; Monopoly; Oregon State University; Organic farming; Pesticides; Sustainability

00:58:49 - Advances in farming technology

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Partial Transcript: What are some of the developments that you've been really

Segment Synopsis: McKay notes the different advancements in crop biotechnology, and how they’ve improved the efficiency of agriculture immensely. He then discusses how he arranges his hop yards, the challenges of using GPS around hop trellises, and the analysis he and his staff do on their fertilizers. He describes the shift in farming technology as production farms have grown, and how these technologies are used for improved precision. He details how these advances change the needs for farm labor over time, and how these technologies can also be used to make repairs to machinery.

Keywords: Farming technology; GMOs--Resistance; Genetically engineered crops--Resistance; Hop breeding; Hop cultivation

Subjects: Crop yields; Farm mechanization; Genetic engineering; Genetically engineered crops; Global Positioning System; Hazelnuts; Hops; Infrastructure; PRODUCTIVITY; Pesticides; Propaganda

01:09:56 - Future evolution of marijuana farming / Approaches to hop farming

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Partial Transcript: So I'm curious about the future evolution of crops. We were talking about marijuana

Segment Synopsis: McKay reflects on the potential for a growing marijuana industry, and the current limitations to such an industry due to legality. He discusses how the industry could be monopolized by large farms, and how American farms differ from European farms in size because of lack of protection. He notes the attributes required of American farmers in order for them to be successful.

Keywords: Commercial farming; Farm contracts; Farming hobbyists; Hop farming; Marijuana--Restrictions; Marijuana--legalization; Pot farming; Tax revenue

Subjects: Agricultural production; Agriculture; Efficiency; Hobbyists; Hops; Marijuana; Marijuana industry; Marijuana--Social aspects; Prohibition

01:15:08 - Future hopes in farming career

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Partial Transcript: What do you think, if you look in your crystal ball, what do you think the

Segment Synopsis: McKay predicts potential changes in the hop industry going forward, and expresses his hopes for advancements in picking machinery. He reflects of the trend of farmers renting land out to each other, along with the improvements in efficiency for affordability. He notes the challenge of renting farmland for growing hops.

Keywords: Farm machinery; Farmlands--Leasing; Hop farming; Hop farms; Hops--Pricing

Subjects: Agriculture; Efficiency; FINANCIAL RESOURCES; Farm mechanization; Hop pickers; Hops

01:18:05 - Observations of father's farming experience

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Partial Transcript: What were the biggest struggles you saw Grandpa go through

Segment Synopsis: McKay describes the business connections his father had with the local canneries and his good fortune of having low input costs for farming at the time. He notes how improvements in technology have made it easier to grow commodities cheaply in more places, and how that compares to when his father was farming. He then discusses the difficulties of expanding farms away from the center of your business operation, as well as his hopes for farm centralization as his kids take over the business.

Keywords: Commodity crops; Crops--Prices; Farm expansion; Farming technology; Hop farming; Hop farms

Subjects: Agriculture; Canneries; Canning & preservation; Crop yields; Fathers; Hops; Independence (Or.); Role models; St. Paul (Or.)

01:20:35 - Farming challenges over time

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Partial Transcript: So what about things that you want for your kids, for the next generation?

Segment Synopsis: McKay describes the goals he and his brother had when they took over the farm, and how his goals have shifted to spending more time with his family. He discusses the importance of the family unit in agriculture of previous centuries, and how different generations face different challenges in farming.

Keywords: Family bonding; Farm stability; Hop farming; Hop farms; Long-term crops; Motorized transportation; Multi-generational families

Subjects: Agriculture; Competition; Family farms; Hazelnuts; Hops; Parenting; Portland (Or.); Transportation

01:24:59 - Depth of farm community history

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Partial Transcript: What are things that you thought we would talk about in this interview

Segment Synopsis: McKay discusses the depth of his family’s history in agriculture and in the community, and appreciation he has such a long-lasting connection with his neighbors. He reflects on how communities have changed as society gets more globalized. He describes his enjoyment of what he does, and how that makes the winter season challenging. He notes the different places he’s traveled to internationally, as well as his observations of public responses to craft beer today.

Keywords: Agricultural careers; Community history; Craft beer; Family scrapbooks; German hops; Hop farming; Hop farms; Support; Support networks

Subjects: Agriculture; Community; Family History; Family farms; Germany; Globalization; Hops; International travel; Scrapbooks

01:29:20 - Children's future involvement / Concluding thoughts

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Partial Transcript: Well, I wonder for your kids.

Segment Synopsis: McKay describes the different perspectives his children have on farming as a family, and his daughter explains her desire to learn about other aspects of agricultural business before returning to the farm. He compares the opportunities non-farming children have to participate in family businesses, and describes the challenge of maintaining a farm for multiple generations. He emphasizes the importance of flexibility in surviving as markets change, and how having family history in the industry assists with that.

Keywords: College education; Family legacy; Family support; Flexibility; Hop farming; Hop farms; Multigenerational families; Multigenerational farms; Support

Subjects: Agribusiness; Agriculture; College; Exploration; Family History; Family farms; Hops; Independence; Inheritance; Legacy; Specialization; Student-athletes