Sisters pioneers honored by OSU

 

Last updated 4/25/2023 at 7:16pm

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Keith and Connie Cyrus (back row, left) were honored as Diamond Pioneers of Oregon agriculture by Oregon State University.

Keith and Connie Cyrus of Cloverdale and Connie Hatfield of Sisters were made permanent members of the Diamond Pioneer Registry at Oregon State University. The College of Agricultural Sciences annually honors people whose lifetime contributions to agriculture, natural resources, and the people of Oregon and/or Oregon State University have been significant. The award publicly recognizes their accomplishments as individuals who have contributed to the well-being of their community, industry, or state.

The recognition for the Keith and Connie Cyrus took place at a noon luncheon April 12, at the Corvallis main campus.

The Registry was established in March, 1983 when the College Of Agricultural Sciences observed its 75th anniversary. Honorees must be at least 75 in age.

Keith Cyrus is a fifth-generation Central Oregon farmer, and his wife, Connie, who grew up on a dairy near Dodson, Oregon, continue to farm in Cloverdale. Keith bought his current farm in 1959 while attending OSU. The two have been farming continuously since their marriage in 1961. Throughout their farming career, Keith and Connie have been very active in their community and have had close ties with OSU. In addition, four children and four grandchildren attended/graduated from OSU.

The Cyrus family is still actively farming, raising hay, cattle, sheep, and since 2016, hemp. As one of the first hemp farmers in the state, they had to figure out how to raise this new crop that hadn't been commercially produced in Oregon since the 1930s. It was a steep learning curve, and they were some of the first to adopt plastic and drip irrigation in Central Oregon, as well as the use of waterwheel planters and mechanical harvesting. At roughly 5,000 pounds per acre, the Cyrus hemp yields are some of the highest in the country.

In the 1970s Keith was the JayCees' Outstanding Young Farmer for the state of Oregon and represented Oregon at the national competition. He was also active in the Farm Bureau and served as president of the Deschutes County Farm Bureau in the 1960s and '70s and more recently was inducted into the Oregon Farm Bureau Hall of Fame.

He was active in the Central Oregon Potato Growers Association and served two terms on the Oregon Potato commission, starting in 1983. Keith also served as president of the local Deschutes Farmers Co-Op, the Three Sisters Irrigation District, the Deschutes County Planning Commission, and Sisters School Board budget committee, among others.

Keith was also active in the Cloverdale Fire District, having helped start it in 1963 and served as both a volunteer and board member until recently.

In addition to raising five children and working full-time on the farm, Connie Cyrus was active in 4-H and served as a parent and a leader for roughly 20 years throughout the 1970s and '80s.

Connie Hatfield, a 2022 Diamond Pioneer, and her late husband, Doc, are known to many in the ranching community as visionaries in the incubation of the natural beef market. They formed and operated Country Natural Beef in 1986 as a cooperative of 14 original Oregon ranch families, and growing to over 100-plus by 2010. The co-op thrives to this day.

She and Doc found a ranch in Brothers just east of Bend. The ranch is in a perpetual trust for use only as agriculture, and is now in the hands of her daughter and son-in-law.

The Hatfields founded Country Natural Beef in response to cattle often tearing up the land. They hoped to assuage conflict between ranchers, bureaucrats, and environmentalists. They hoped to change the negative perception of urban dwellers toward public-land ranching.

They took a chance on something radical for the times, beginning conversations with people outside of the ranching world. The chats began in Sisters with 30 or so ranchers, environmentalists, and federal agency staff sitting in a circle and talking about ways to bring back native grasses, washed-out gullies, and how to revive springs.

Discussions included ways for cattle and wildlife to coexist. Doc and Connie struggled to make a living. They were selling breeding bulls to neighboring ranchers just as poor. Somewhat desperate, the 14 local ranchers formed their marketing co-op to sell their cattle directly to stores, and chose Connie to do the selling.

Grass-fed, natural beef is commonplace. When the Hatfield's started in Brothers, cattle raised without hormones and additives and instead on grass were rare.

The co-op was hard work. Twice a year all the ranchers gathered together, and eventually arrived at consensus. Connie spent many a day in food stores that either shunned meat or were leery about this new method of raising cattle.

She is a recognized pioneer in regenerative farming that is becoming everyday practice to a growing list of Sisters Country agrarians.

 

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