Anna King | KNKX

Anna King

Richland Correspondent

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.

The South Sound was her girlhood backyard and she knows its rocky beaches, mountain trails and cities well. She left the west side to attend Washington State University and spent an additional two years studying language and culture in Italy.

While not on the job, Anna enjoys trail running, clam digging, hiking and wine tasting with friends. She's most at peace on top a Northwest mountain with her husband Andy Plymale and their muddy Aussie-dog Poa.

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Goose Gap Farm was one of several large swaths of farmland sold in a major auction in the bankruptcy of Easterday Farms and Easterday Ranches.
Anna King / Northwest Public Broadcasting file

A federal bankruptcy judge in Yakima approved the nearly $210 million sale of a prime swath of southeast Washington farmland to The Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints on Wednesday.

Alan Schreiber inspects his broken irrigation pump. It's only working at 30 percent capacity in 117 heat.
Anna King / Northwest News Network

Record heat across the Northwest is taking a toll on agriculture – both the crops and the workers who harvest them. 

Central Washington farmer Alan Schreiber is worried about his fields.

Wheat at the farm of Nicole Berg in Washington's Horse Heaven Hills shows signs of a drought in May 2021, with a damaged curled head.
Anna King / Northwest News Network

Northwest farmers are pouring on the water to moisten soils ahead of the triple-digit temperatures and possible record highs expected this weekend.

Verdant fields dot the basalt benches above the Columbia River near Goose Gap Farm, an Easterday property that's about to be auctioned off in a bankruptcy stemming from a swindle of 225,000 cattle.
Anna King / Northwest News Network

The agricultural arm of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints — Farmland Reserve, Inc. — has agreed to pay about $210 million for a major swath of southeastern Washington farm ground.

Editor’s Note: Anna King knew John Zachara, he was a friend and colleague of her husband at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. 

John Zachara was a brilliant geoscientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. And he had a dry sense of humor. 

In the mountains of British Columbia a decade ago, Zachara was really getting bugged by horse-flies. 

Nearly 12,000 acres of Easterday family farmland in Benton County will likely sell for more than its $210 million asking price, according to court documents and sources with knowledge of the deal.

Two big players are vying for the sweeping property near the Columbia River: Farmland Reserve’s AgriNorthwest, which is backed by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates’ Cottonwood Ag Management. 

Nicole Berg's stunted wheat field is so short and sparse she doesn't think the combine can even reach the wheat without, as she puts it, eating rocks.

"Combines don't like dirt and rocks," Berg says, standing amid the damaged rows. "They get indigestion."

Berg is a dryland wheat farmer in the sweeping Horse Heaven Hills of southeastern Washington state. She shows off one head of half-turned golden wheat amid a sea of them. Besides being too short, the plant's kernels didn't fill out properly.

Sometimes I feel as low as this cold-early-morning snail on the Richland river path. 

June 3 marks a year since COVID-19 blasted through my immune system. I have never figured out how I got it. And my recovery has come in fits and starts. But mostly it’s just been incredibly, snail-slow. 

Nicole Berg wades into her stunted wheat field. 

It’s so short and sparse, she doesn’t think the combine can even reach the wheat without eating rocks. 

“Combines don’t like dirt and rocks,” Berg says. “They get indigestion.” 

Berg is a dryland wheat farmer in the sweeping Horse Heaven Hills of south-eastern Washington. She shows off one head of half-turned golden wheat amid a sea of them. Besides being too short, the plant’s kernels didn’t fill out properly. 

Jazz Halfmoon, 38, remembers playing the educational video game Oregon Trail as a reward for doing well in class. "It was on a super-old computer," she says. "The green screen was like the only color."

She says it was really exciting, and the kids would often clamor and fight over who could play the game at their school on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, in northeast Oregon.

Redtail hawks glide off telephone poles sailing above verdant fields that scoop downward along a basalt slope to the bending Columbia River. 

This unique swath of ground is about to get a new owner; the roughly 12,000 Easterday family acres in Benton County are to be auctioned off starting in mid-June. 

Vanessa Delgado’s dad didn’t want to take a whole unpaid day off of work to get a vaccine appointment.

She’s working on her doctorate in Irvine, Calif., but helped her father, Victor Delgado, get a vaccine close to his home in Benton County, Wash.

You can drive an hour on the highway and still be in central Oregon’s Crook County. 

Perhaps, then, it’s easier to understand why patrolling the vast remote region is difficult.

Much of the Northwest’s high country is still deep in good snowpack but short on rain this spring. That has dryland wheat farmers and cattle ranchers fretting. Cold, wind and dust are even wreaking havoc with produce farmers in the region.

Washington apple growers are shipping about 20 percent less fruit abroad now compared with this time last year.

The result is a drop to export levels not seen since 2003-2004, according to Washington Apple Commission president Todd Fryhover.  

Updated April 1, 2021, 5:50 p.m. PT:

Washington rancher Cody Easterday pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal district court to defrauding Tyson Foods Inc. and another company out of more than $244 million. Easterday admitted charging the companies for the costs of purchasing and feeding hundreds of thousands of fictitious cattle.

What’s the background on all this Easterday – Tyson “Cattlegate” stuff? See previous coverage from Anna King here.

The Northwest farmers who grow potatoes for your French fries are themselves plenty fried.

The three massive agribusiness companies that make much of the world’s frozen fries, tots and hashbrowns are going to pay Northwest potato farmers less this year. 

“It really is a punch in the gut,” says Adam Weber, a 27-year-old, third-generation grower in Quincy in Washington’s Columbia Basin.

Liberty Orchards Company will stop production of its famous Aplets and Cotlets in June after 101 years of candy making.
Courtesy of Liberty Orchards Company

The company that makes Aplets & Cotlets, the famous jellied fruit candy from central Washington, is calling it quits this June.

Served up for Christmas and family reunions alike, the gelatinous apple and apricot treat studded with walnuts was famous far beyond Washington’s borders.

Cattle rustling is as old as the West. And a recent $225 million alleged cattle heist involving Easterday Ranches and Tyson Fresh Meats in Washington is one of the largest cases in U.S. history.               

And that case, like others nowadays, happened on paper, not on the range.

The starting point of a Northwest-based saga of alleged invented cattle, a multi-million dollar lawsuit and two bankruptcies may lie in a short handwritten list of numbers scrawled on a lined sheet of three-hole punch paper that purports to show Cody Easterday’s annual losses from speculating on the cattle futures market.

Just how do you miss 200,000 phantom cattle over several years? That’s what some people in the Columbia Basin cattle-feeding industry are wondering in an ongoing saga between Tyson Fresh Meats and Easterday Ranches.

“It’s hard to believe,” says Mike DeTray, who runs a 4,000-head operation outside of George, Wash. 

In southeast Washington, the welfare of more than 50,000 head of cattle is worrying Tyson Fresh Meats

Can the herd continue to be fed and cared for while the company set up to guard over them, Easterday Ranches, files for federal bankruptcy?

Updated Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, 5 p.m. PT

The Easterday family spread unfurls across the Columbia Basin — yawning onion farms, massive potato sheds, huge swaths of ground cut into pens for cattle and a fleet of employee vehicles and tractors. 

But the Easterday family has other assets: A million-dollar house in Phoenix and a private plane and hangar. 

The case of so-called modern-day cattle rustling in southeastern Washington is getting more complex by the day. 

Now, Easterday Ranches has filed for bankruptcy in federal court. 

In a deepening cattle war, Easterday Ranches, Inc. has sold its so-called “North Lot” property in Franklin County, Washington, to a beef competitor of Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc.

It’s a modern-day rustling case. 

A major Washington state cattle operator allegedly “fed” more than 200,000 head of cattle that didn’t exist for years. Now Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc is suing. 

Tyson says in a lawsuit filed in Franklin County Superior Court this week that its losses are more than $225 million. The losses are from false cattle sales and feed costs.  

It was kind of like the fair — only not. 

On Monday the Benton County Fairgrounds in Kennewick, Wash., were full of port-a-potties, event tents, people in bright vests directing traffic and hundreds of cars. But it’s bitter winter, not summer. There’s no cotton candy. And the smiles of patrons are briefer, with a solemn edge.

A potato processing plant in the central Washington town of Warden burned down in a dramatic overnight fire Thursday. 

By early Friday morning, emergency responders had evacuated nearly a third of the homes near the plant. Flames were licking a large tank of ammonia, and firefighters feared it might explode. 

“This was a very large fire,” Kyle Foreman with the Grant County Sheriff’s Department said. “Certainly one of the top 10 in my career.”

At the Hanford site in southeastern Washington, along the Columbia River, stew millions of gallons of radioactive sludge cradled in aging underground tanks. Nearly 2,000 capsules filled with cesium and strontium rest unquietly in an old, glowing-blue pool of water. Two more reactors along the Columbia still need to be sealed up and cocooned.

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