A couple of recent news items caught our eye to underline the importance of agriculture and natural resources to the mid-valley's economy.

Now, granted, that's not exactly news — but it does seem as if it's easy sometimes to take agriculture for granted as we size up our economic prospects.

Then an event like the Willamette Valley Ag Expo blows back into town to remind us again of the deep agricultural roots that help sustain us in so many ways. This year's edition, the 17th, runs through today at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center in Albany.

The expo is a place for farmers (and the people who depend on farmers for their livelihoods, such as the sellers of implements and other farm goods) to connect so that they can compare notes on the latest trends and techniques to keep their operations running smoothly and efficiently. (Farmers spend a lot of time thinking about how to operate more efficiently, for this simple reason: A more efficient operation puts more money in their pockets.)

Much of the buzz at this year's expo seemed to be about hazelnuts, which are claiming increasing acreage throughout the mid-valley: Estimates are that the valley added some 9,000 acres of filbert orchards just in the year 2016.

Nimble equipment manufacturers have taken notice of the trend and are responding: One vendor at the expo was showing off his latest creation, a multipurpose orchard truck he believes will create greater efficiency (there's that word again) during harvest.

It's not just vendors who have to be nimble: Successful farmers know they have to be flexible and responsive to changing market conditions. And they also tend to be early adopters of technology that helps increase efficiency — there's that word again — and quality of life. The expo is a good place to check out all those trends, and to be reassured about the continuing and enduring contributions that agriculture makes to the mid-valley.

Which brings us to the second news item we noticed this week: An article in the December issue of The Atlantic magazine discusses the promising future of wooden skyscrapers and focuses on Lever Architecture, the Portland firm that's designing tall buildings made of wood, not concrete or steel.

Lever Architecture is based in Albina Yard, a four-story building that's constructed of Douglas fir. The founder of Lever, Thomas Robinson, is at work designing Framework, a 12-story wooden building intended for Portland's Pearl District.

The Atlantic article, by Amanda Kolson Hurley, reports how buildings such as Framework will use glue-laminated timber for their skeletons and cross-laminated timber for their walls and floors.

If that phrase "cross-laminated timber" sounds familiar, it's because Oregon State University researchers have been leading the way in developing the product. It's a massive structural composite panel product, usually consisting of three to nine layers of dimensional timber arranged perpendicular to each other, much like layers of veneer in plywood. It's strong and flexible and resilient to seismic activity. The cross-laminated timber also proved remarkably resistant to fire in tests that Robinson and his team conducted. (Perhaps needless to add, the buildings also offer environmental advantages in terms of reducing carbon footprints.)

Tall wooden buildings have been constructed recently in Sweden, Finland and the United Kingdom. A Canadian firm has plans for a 35-story tower in Paris. (Hurley notes that U.S. building codes generally bar wooden structures more than 85 feet tall, but adds that the federal government is promoting research into building with wood.)

A boom in building with wood would be good news for Oregon, for this reason: We have lots of trees. It would be great to see people out working in the woods again, providing the raw material for the newest trend in architecture — a trend that harkens back to some of our earliest dwellings. (mm)