The route of the “Shut Down and Fed Up” tractor convoy will kick off at 10 a.m. in Merrill on Friday morning and culminate in an afternoon tractor rally with various speakers, including U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), as confirmed by his Washington, D.C., spokesperson.
Upwards of 1,000 vehicles are anticipated to roll from Merrill on Highway 39, on to downtown Klamath Falls and then to a field in Midland, whether they are tractors, pickups, or other vehicles. Participants are anticipated to travel from Medford, Redmond, the Central Valley in California, and will also include farm bureau representatives and members of Timber Unity.
The convoy is expected to roll through downtown Klamath Falls between 11 a.m. and noon. The rally is anticipated to start around 1 p.m., in a field in Midland located south of Klamath Falls.
Tulelake farmer and an event organizer Scott Seus said those interested in joining the event can find a place to merge or join the back of the convoy.
Participants are encouraged to arrive in Merrill before 10 a.m. due to the high volume of attendees and vehicles.
Organizers have been in touch with law enforcement about the convoy and rally.
“In every one of our meetings that (organizers) have had, public safety and the safety of the participants have been the No. 1 concern of everybody at the table,” Seus said.
“This may be civil disobedience, it may be rallying for a cause but at the end of the day ... we’ve got the community at heart here,” he added.
Seus said the event is a way organizers can allow irrigators to release “pent up” anger and aggression felt by many in the Klamath Project. This water year, irrigators face an early shutoff of irrigation water after many had already planted crops. Seus and organizers want to give people a place to "express themselves and feel like they have one another’s backs.”
“2001 was disaster management handled up front,” Seus said. “2020 is a situation of trying to make the best case scenario out of biological opinions, out of a poor winter, and out of storage regimes that don’t allow for any carry-over.”
Convoy and rally organizers are trying to attract attention from President Donald Trump to the pending early end to the 2020 irrigation season by or before July 1 due to competing interests for water.
“I hope that we have his attention, and if we don’t, I hope that we gain it,” Seus said.
“I would hope that his administration would try to find ways to find lasting solutions.”
Bureau of Reclamation, which determines water allocation for the Klamath Project according to the biological opinion, alerted irrigators in April that they would receive 140,000 acre feet of water for farming. Many planted crops accordingly, knowing their water usage would be much lower than half of a full 350,000 acre allocation.
After Natural Resources Conservation Service released the dry May 1 forecast, with many crops in the ground, it became clear that that amount would likely be reduced to 80,000 acre feet. Of the 80,000 acre feet, 55,000 acre feet was left as of May 10. That amount of irrigation water is slated to run out on or around July 1.
“We thought we had a known quantity of water — that number changed,” Seus said. “We’re all in shock over here trying to figure out how to deal with it.
“This community is in freefall right now with the pending crisis that we have that in … less than a month, we’re going to run out of water.
“At every moment, we are trying to deal with this crisis and how to avert in any way, shape or form,” he added.
Seus said the tractor convoy and rally is also meant to offer spectators a chance to show their support for agriculture and for the local community.
“Everybody is welcome,” Seus said.
Participants of the convoy are encouraged to bring their children along for the ride, though those driving vehicles, including tractors, must be at least 16.
“We want everybody to be aware of our safety rules for participating,” he added.
“It’s social disobedience but it’s not supposed to be disruptive to everyday life for everybody.”
When asked if participants will be encouraged to wear masks at the events, Seus said participants are encouraged to take precautions they deem necessary.
Hand-washing stations and restrooms will be set up at the rally, which will take place in Midland. Crosses will be placed in the field to represent farms lost.
“We’re going to try to adhere to as much of the social distancing standards as we can,” Seus said.
“We’ve done as much as we can do to address that,” he added. “This is a time for unity and we should all be there together with a common cause and sometimes that defies what social distancing means.”