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The partial federal shutdown put in jeopardy an annual harvest of scionwood — twigs used by researchers to grow new trees — at the U.S. Department of Agriculture orchards off of Peoria Road.

Joseph Postman, curator of the orchards at the USDA Germplasm Repository, had orders from across the country for nearly 1,000 cuttings of pear trees.

The five workers scheduled to help him with the task, however, had been furloughed.

And the clock was ticking. By early February or even sooner, it would be too late.

“I was feeling a little frantic about getting the samples before the buds start to push. It’s been a rather warm winter,” said Postman, who is an excepted federal employee and continues to work.

On Tuesday through Thursday, however, volunteers with the Oregon Home Orchard Society stepped up to harvest the scionwood.

“We’ve probably got about 16 people here from Portland to Springfield,” Postman said on Thursday morning.

In three days, the volunteers accomplished a task that would take Postman himself about a month.

“Who else is going to do it if there are no employees here because some idiot shut the government down?” asked Joanie Cooper of Molalla, president of the Oregon Home Orchard Society.

“These aren’t here for a lark,” she added.

The USDA orchards off of Peoria Road are like a library of fruit. There are pears from France, Japan, exotic hybrids, heirloom varieties from the United States and more.

“Just go down the rows. It’s like taking a trip around the world,” Postman said.

To some, a collection of tree branches might not seem like much. But those clippings are critical to businesses and the food security of the nation, Postman said.

Pears grown from Alaska to Florida can often be traced back to the 25-acre Peoria Road orchards, which sits on property owned by Oregon State University.

The scionwood is used not only by the tree fruit industry, but by brewers such as 2 Towns Ciderhouse, a Corvallis-area company that’s grown into a national powerhouse. Many orders in recent years have been from cider makers, Postman said.

And some cuttings are sent to a USDA lab that tests plant species coming into the United States for viruses.

Among the volunteers at the orchards on Thursday was Pete Scott, former dean of science and industry at Linn-Benton Community College.

“This is extremely important to provide this service,” Scott said, as he clipped twigs off of a Coscia tree, an Italian variety of pear.

“Are you going to need help shipping these?” Scott asked.

“It depends on if they open the government. At least they’ll be safe in the cooler,” Postman responded.

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Kyle Odegard can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.

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