Muckboots in the Capitol Legislative Update – June 30, 2017

The Oregon State Capitol – June 2017

The Oregon Legislature is racing towards its July 10 end date with a flurry of activity. Lawmakers have not yet determined how to fill major budget shortfalls, which has meant proposed cuts to programs like Farm-to-School.

The Legislature is planning to meet through much of the July 4 weekend, and at this point in the session things can literally change by the hour.

In the midst of this, a few key issues remain on the table. We hope you will take a few minutes to contact your State Legislators at this key time:

HB 2038Oregon’s Farm to School Program. This bill had an important hearing in the Ways and Means Education Subcommittee on June 21, and the committee voted to advance it on June 30. While the vote signals a final Farm to School funding bill will pass before the session ends, amendments made in committee would provide only $2.5 million for the program for 2017-19, a little more than half of what was funded during the previous two years. While this would amount to a significant cut to the program, other amendments intended to prevent spending of state dollars on foods that are already federally required to be included in school meals should help spread out whatever funding is available to a wider diversity of Oregon grown and processed products.

Friends of Family Farmers supports fully funding Farm to School with $5.6 million for 2017-19. Things can change quickly in the final days of the Legislature and additional funding could still be added back in.

Please call or email your Legislators today and over the weekend to advocate for fully funding Farm to School with $5.6 million.

HB 2739GE Patent-holder liability.  This bill would protect farmers who have experienced financial losses due to contamination from genetically engineered (GE) crops. It would allow farmers to be compensated by GE crop patent-holders when their products have crossed property lines and caused financial damage. It had a public hearing in the House Rules committee on May 23 but has since stalled out due to pressure from groups closely aligned with the biotech industry like Oregonians for Food and Shelter and the Farm Bureau. Recently, Malheur County farmer Jerry Erstrom called these groups out in the Capital Press for their exaggerations about the bill and unwillingness to take action to protect farmers from multi-national companies that typically own GE patents.

With time running out on the session, the bill is still in play – please call and email your State Legislators today and over the weekend in support of HB 2739 and for holding GE patent-holders accountable when they cause farmers financial harm.

Tax CreditsBeginning farmers or manure digesters? In a session full of budget cuts, tough choices are being made about what kind of tax credits will be available. Tax credits are a way of using public dollars to encourage certain activities. Sometimes they encourage good things, sometimes they don’t.

We came into the 2017 session advocating for HB 2085, a bill to establish a new beginning farmer tax credit in Oregon. This bill would encourage landowners to lease or rent land to beginning farmers and ranchers to help address access to land challenges that many beginning farmers face. Similar tax credit programs exist in Iowa and Nebraska and recently Minnesota created its own beginning farmer tax credit. Unfortunately, it appears this concept is dead for the year, a victim of Oregon’s budget shortfall.

Separately, in part due to the state’s precarious funding situation, we have strongly argued for repealing, and against extending, the controversial manure digester tax credit. This tax credit has cost the state millions in recent years and primarily benefits Oregon’s largest factory-scale dairy operation, Threemile Canyon Farms. Currently, no cap on spending for this tax credit exists and it was extended last year until the end of 2021 with little serious debate. The 70,000-cow Threemile Canyon Farms – a huge corporate operation with out-of-state owners –  and their allies at the Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Dairy Farmers Association recently testified in support of allocating an astonishing $10 million for this tax credit over the next two years. This would establish a cap for the tax credit at more than double the size of it’s current use, with the potential for further transferring tax dollars to huge operations like Threemile at a time when programs that benefit family farmers face cuts. Earlier in the session, these groups fought against and helped kill a proposal (SB 197) to require mega-dairies like Threemile Canyon Farms and the recently approved 30,000-cow Lost Valley Farms to address their air pollution problems.

At this point, the fate of a bill that would have extended the manure digester tax credit until 2024 is unclear, as are various amendments ranging from those to cap costs at or below current levels, to those that would allow the program to grow substantially. Friends of Family Farmers believes the manure digester tax credit, which was originally intended to expire at the end of 2017, should be eliminated until Oregon puts in place a comprehensive air quality program that addresses pollution problems from the state’s largest concentrated animal feeding operations. Any future manure-related tax credits should be used to assist producers that raise animals responsibly on pasture.

Please call and email your State Legislators today and over the weekend to eliminate the costly manure digester tax credit subsidy this year. 

HB 3249Agricultural Heritage Program set up – This bill establishes a program that could be used in future years to fund grants for conservation management planning, working lands easements and farm succession trainings in Oregon. The bill passed through the Ways and Means Natural Resources Subcommittee on June 28, signaling its likely passage before the session ends. The bill provides $190,000 for establishing an ‘Agricultural Heritage Commission’ and creating rules to help oversee a grant program. It does not appear to fund any grants in the 2017-19 biennium.

We have had mixed feelings about this bill since the session began. It emerged from a ‘work group’ selected by the Governor in 2016 that includes organizations that have opposed similar farm conservation funding proposals in the past, as well as land trust groups that we have worked with before.

On the one hand, we generally support the types of grants HB 3249 talks about and we advocated for their creation back in the 2015 legislative session. On the other hand, we oppose the creation of the ‘Agricultural Heritage Commission’ the bill also sets up. This commission, a new permanent entity that will likely end up costing the state money whether grants are being issued or not, may have been a compromise aimed at securing support from groups who have opposed similar farmland conservation efforts in the past. These groups appear to be suspicious of allowing the grant program to be managed by Oregon’s Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB), even though OWEB has provided grants for salmon and watershed protection on farms and ranches for years.

In our view, the new Commission is a costly and extraneous layer of bureaucracy that, just to maintain itself, could end up siphoning money away from future funding that may become available for grants. Further, the makeup of the Commission will have a major influence on grant funding priorities, which makes us concerned that it may not address key issues that many who have supported this bill believe are important, including helping new and beginning farmers with access to affordable land.

We would have preferred this new program to be established as a pilot project while making grant funding available immediately. Instead, it puts off grant funding for future years while the Commission is named and sorts outs its priorities.

Nonetheless, the bill is likely to pass in its current form. Once it passes, it will be necessary to keep an eye on how the Commission members are named, what priorities they set for funding, and how grant funds are ultimately spent if or when they become available.

Oregon Pasture Network – Update on Farm Visits and Things to Come – June 2017

Lindsay Trant with an Alpine goat at Willow-Witt Ranch in Ashland, OR.

For those of you who don’t know me yet, I’m Lindsay and I’m the Program Coordinator for the Oregon Pasture Network (OPN). I have recently started full-time with Friends of Family Farmers and have been busy getting the ball rolling with OPN after a long, wet spring.

From the left: OPN Advisory Committee member Gus Liszka of Naked Acres Farm and David Morgan of Froggy Bottom Farm in Beavercreek, Oregon.

These farm and ranch visits have not only been fun, but they have been informative for everyone involved. It is not only a chance for OPN applicants to pick the brains of our Advisory Committee members, it is also a chance for the Committee members and me to learn a thing or two as well. Even our most experienced Committee members are able to learn from visiting pasture in different parts of Oregon and seeing how other producers have dealt with their individual challenges. A significant theme throughout our visits is that no two pastures are the same. Each region of Oregon has its own specific climate and different types of forage that succeed in that climate. Our Network is greatly enhanced and expanded through these visits.

Be sure to look for these “Proud Member” signs where you purchase your meat, dairy, or other animal products!

As the current round of farm visits winds down, we can shift our focus to the other projects in store for OPN. In early June, we sent out “Proud Member” signs to our current Partners so that they would be more identifiable at farmers markets and farm stands. We also had a lot of fun throwing a Square Dance and Benefit at the ZCBJ Hall in Scio, featuring the Slippery Slope String Band and Caller Woody Lane—thank you to everyone who came out to support OPN!

In the coming months, we will be launching additional marketing and networking tools to support our OPN Pasture Partners such as a members-only OPN listserv, a first-of-its-kind statewide pasture-raised product directory, and scheduling pasture walks for our Partners to ask questions and share knowledge amongst each other. There is a lot to do with OPN, and I am excited for every step and look forward to meeting more pasture-based livestock producers all across Oregon. If you are a pasture-based producer in Oregon and are interested in joining OPN, apply today! Our application can be found here and questions can be sent to opn @ friendsoffamilyfarmers.org or you can call us at (503) 581-7124.

Thanks to everyone who joined us in Scio and danced their support for the Oregon Pasture Network!

 

 

 

Muckboots in the Capitol – Oregon Legislative Update – June 2017

Farmers, ranchers, chefs, farmers’ market representatives, local food supporters and school kids rallying on the Capitol steps at the April 2017 Family Farms Mean Business Day at the Oregon Capitol

The 2017 Oregon Legislative session is nearing its end, required to finish business by early July. But with little more than a month left to work, and in a session that has been dominated by the specter of a budget shortfall of over $1 billion, there is still no agreement on state funding and many important pieces of legislation.

As a result of the state’s current budget scenario, many good programs and policy ideas are facing significant cuts or elimination. Meanwhile, fierce debates rage over whether to raise taxes, curb spending – or both – to make up the budget shortfall the state is facing. It is unclear whether these issues will be sorted out by early July, or whether a ‘special session’ to sort them out will be needed later in the year.

In the midst of this, a few key issues remain on the table and your support is critical to helping make sure they move forward. We hope you will take a few minutes to contact your State Legislators at this key time to support the following bills:

Oregon’s Farm to School Program gets healthy local farm products into school meal programs across the state.

HB 2038 – Full funding ($5.6 million) for Oregon’s Farm to School Program. This bill passed the House Agriculture Committee way back on April 4, but still awaits action in the Ways and Means committee. Ways and Means will determine whether and how much funding will be available for this program over the next two years. Though popular, Farm to School is in jeopardy this year – Governor Kate Brown proposed no funding for it in her budget, and Legislators are also considering substantial cuts or no funding at all.

Please contact your Legislators today to advocate for fully funding Farm to School at current levels with $5.6 million.

Genetically engineered canola is not welcome in some parts of Oregon, where it can cross pollinate with and contaminate valuable seed crops, putting many farms at risk.

HB 2739 – This bill would protect farmers who have experienced financial losses due to contamination from genetically engineered (GE) crops. It would allow farmers to be compensated by GE crop patent-holders when their products have crossed property lines and caused financial damage. It was advanced by the House Judiciary Committee in mid-April, and had a public hearing in the House Rules committee on May 23. Read FoFF’s testimony in support of HB 2739 to the Rules Committee here.

With time running out on the session, now is a critical time to contact your State Legislators in support of HB 2739 and holding GE patent-holders accountable when they cause farmers financial harm. One other piece of information on this bill: it would cost the state no money.

The average age of farmers in Oregon is now nearly 60 years old. We must take steps to ensure the next generation of farmers has access to land.

HB 2085 – This bill would establish a new beginning farmer tax credit in Oregon to encourage landowners to lease or rent land to beginning farmers and ranchers. In the House Revenue Committee, HB 2085 has not yet received a hearing and is at risk of falling to the wayside as the state grapples with how to make up for a nearly $1.4 billion funding gap. Similar tax credit programs aimed at helping beginning farmers and ranchers with access to land already exist in Iowa and Nebraska. And with news that Minnesota has just created a similar beginning farmer tax credit, it is a reminder that it is not too late for the Oregon Legislature to act on HB 2085.

The Joint Committee on Tax Credits began meeting on June 2, so now is a critical time to contact your State Legislators in support of HB 2085 to create a beginning farmer tax credit in Oregon.

OSU Statewide Public Service Programs like Extension and Agricultural Experiment Stations support farms of all types.

SB 805/SB 5524 – These bills would provide funding ($9.4 million) to maintain current service levels for the Oregon Statewide Public Service Programs, including Extension and Agricultural Research. In 2015, the Oregon Legislature made significant new investments in these programs, which has led to new work in support of small farms, on-farm conservation, and more. However, Oregon’s budget crisis has put the 2015 investments at risk. SB 805 passed its original committee earlier in the session and funding decisions are now taking place in the Joint Ways and Means Committee. Read Friends of Family Farmers’ April 17 testimony in support of continued service level funding for OSU Extension and Agricultural Research Programs.

Please contact your State Legislators today to support funding necessary to maintain current service levels ($9.4 million) for the OSU Statewide Public Service Programs.

FoFF Testifies at the Oregon Board of Agriculture

A meeting of the Oregon Board of Agriculture in 2016.

On May 11, FoFF presented a series of updates on our legislative work to the Oregon Board of Agriculture, which advises the Oregon Department of Agriculture on policy issues. We were invited to be on a panel to talk about current legislative issues with several other agriculture organizations. Our presentation included details about not only the bills above, but other legislation we’ve worked on this year that either died earlier in the session (like overdue air quality rules for large concentrated animal feeding operations), or have moved forward (like new rules for farm direct egg sales and commercial cider production on farm land). Read our May 11 Board of Agriculture testimony to learn more about the status of all of the bills we’ve worked on this session.

The next meetings of the Oregon Board of Agriculture will take place September 19-21 in Klamath Falls, and November 28-30 in Portland.