On February 6, a first ever ‘Organic Grows a Better Oregon’ event brought organic farmers and organic advocates to the Capitol building in Salem to talk about the positive economic and environmental benefits of organic agriculture on the state.
Roughly 90 organic farmers and industry advocates participated in the event, which included meetings with Legislators, remarks from Governor Kate Brown, and an organic education and awareness luncheon in the main lobby of the Capitol building.
The event was organized by a coalition including including Organic Valley (America’s largest cooperative of organic farmers), Oregon Tilth, the Oregon Organic Coalition, the Organic Trade Association, Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), Hummingbird Wholesale, Mountain Rose Herbs, Friends of Family Farmers, Organically Grown Company, the Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences and the Oregon State University Extension Service.
Oregon is already a leader in the organic sector —with 864 certified organic operations and $350 million in organic farm gate sales. The state is ranked 9th in the nation for organic production, and has received more than $13 million in federally funded organic research in recent years. Oregon’s top organic products are milk, alfalfa, potatoes, cattle and berries, and roughly 1/5 of the dairy farms in Oregon are now organic. There are 176,000 certified organic acres in the state, and 91% of households purchase organic products.
Organic Valley in particular has made significant investments in Oregon, building its first brick-and-mortar processing plant outside of Wisconsin – the McMinnville Creamery – in August of 2017, adding 50 jobs to the state and a $21 million capital investment.
Throughout the day, farmers and advocates took their message to Legislators, asking for the creation of a state-level Organic Advisory Council to advise the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Governor’s office, the Legislature, educational institutions and other state agencies on actions and policies needed to further the organic industry in the state.
Additionally, the group advocated for expanded investments in the state budget for organic agriculture, including at least four full-time positions that would focus on assisting certified and transitioning organic operations with production and supply chain challenges.
Friends of Family Farmers was proud to be part of this first-ever organic focused advocacy event at the State Capitol. We plan to continue our advocacy for more significant state investments in organic agriculture at our March 27 ‘Family Farms Mean Business’ rally day at the State Capitol.
On January 22, the 2019 Oregon Legislative Session began. With our 2018 Farmer and Rancher Listening Session Report and 2019 Policy Agenda recently published, we are tracking a wide array of bills of importance this session. Whether you are a farmer or an eater, if you want to make an impact for family farms and local food systems this session, sign up today to attend our March 27 ‘Family Farms Mean Business’ Day of Action at the Capitol! Here is a brief preview of what to expect this session, and an overview of some of the bills we plan to track or weigh in on:
Farmland Protection and Beginning Farmer Access to Land
HB 2729 – Provides funding for Oregon’s new Agricultural Heritage Program. Aimed at preventing the loss of farmland to non-farm uses, under this program grants would be available for organizations and entities that provide farm-succession planning; for conservation planning and easements that provide longer term protection for farmland; and for technical assistance to help entities like land trusts and Soil and Water Conservation Districts to assist producers in long-term land conservation. Update: A hearing was held on HB 2729 at February 12 – read FoFF’s testimony in support here.
Beginning Farmer Tax Credit – Expected to be introduced soon, this bill would provide a tax credit for landowners who lease or rent land to beginning famers in Oregon. Update: HB 3092 was introduced on Feb. 26 and is awaiting action in the House Revenue Committee.
Small Farm and Beginning Farmer Lending – Bills to facilitate greater participation in Oregon’s existing Aggie Bonds Beginning and Expanding Farmer Loan Program and creating new low-interest lending opportunities for small and mid-sized family farms are also likely to be introduced this session. Update: On Feb. 26, HB 3085was introduced to creates a new Family Farmer Loan Program managed by the state’s economic development agency, Business Oregon, to offer direct loans to family-scale farmers and beginning family farmers for land or equipment. Also introduced was HB 3091 to reduces fees and costs to borrowers using the state’s existing ‘Aggie Bonds’ beginning farmer loan program, which incentivizes private lower interest lending to beginning farmers and ranchers for land and equipment. Finally, a third bill, HB 3090 would establishes a new beginning farmer and rancher incentive program at the Oregon Department of Agriculture focused on issues of student loan and tuition assistance.All three bills are scheduled for a hearing in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources on Thursday March 14.
SB 449– Creates standards for ‘farm cafes,’ allowing farmers and ranchers to offer prepared meals made with products grown or produced on their farms or ranches or from the local agricultural area.
SB 287 – Establishes standards for ‘farm breweries’ to allow for farm-direct sales of beer from Oregon farms. Update: SB 287 passed the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on March 5 and is now headed for a vote in the full Senate.
HB 2790 – Amends rules for what qualifies as an ‘outdoor mass gathering’ on farmland and requires clear and objective standards for permit review of agri-tourism gatherings of 500 individuals or fewer.
Water and Climate
Oregon Climate Action Program – Establishes a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s largest emitters (expect for agriculture and forestry), while creating an ‘allowance’ program intended to generate funding for climate adaptation and other programs. Friends of Family Farmers endorsed a similar bill in 2018, albeit with some concerns, because it would have explicitly created a fund to support water conservation on farms as well as farming practices that sequester carbon in soils. We are still in the process of reviewing the bill under discussion in the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction – HB 2020 – to determine whether small and mid-sized farms will be likely to benefit from the programs the bill establishes.
Factory Farm Reform –The following bills were introduced in response to the much publicized Lost Valley mega-dairy near Boardman, which was approved for 30,000 cows by state regulators in 2017. The facility almost immediately began violating it’s pollution permit and used exemptions to tap restricted groundwater areas. Lost Valley ultimately went bankrupt but is currently still in operation despite having it’s permit revoked last year, revealing the need for a ‘time-out’ on permitting new facilities of this scale until tougher rules are put in place.
SB 103 – Establishes a moratorium on new industrial ‘mega-dairies’ in Oregon until rules for these facilities are strengthened. Requires the adoption of tougher air emissions and water use rules for these facilities, allows stronger local rules, sets up a bonding requirement, and requires studies on the economic impacts of mega-dairies on other dairy farms, and sets up a task force on animal welfare at mega-dairies.
SB 104 – Strengthens the ability of local communities to adopt stronger rules for industrial ‘mega-dairies,’ preventing state agencies from granting permits unless local rules are complied with.
Funding for Statewide Extension and Organic Programs
SB 257 – Provides $30 million in funding for the Oregon State University Statewide Public Service Programs, which would allow for increased staffing and new investments in Extension programs and Agricultural Experiment Stations to support the needs of family farmers and ranchers. Friends of Family Farmers is working to secure greater investments in Organic Extension agents in particular in order to meet the unique needs of the organic farming sector. Update: SB 257 is scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Education on March 18.
Genetic Engineering and Pesticides
HB 2882 – Allow farmers that have been harmed by contamination from genetically engineered crops to sue the patent holders of those crops.
HB 2619 – Prohibits the sale or use of products containing neonicotinoid pesticides in Oregon.
HB 2493 – Prohibits aerial spraying of pesticides to land within the McKenzie River and Santiam River watersheds, which make up much a significant portion of the Willamette Valley.
Farm Direct Agriculture
HB 2837 & SB 727 – These bills would provide financial assistance to recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – sometimes called Food Stamps) for purchasing locally grown fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets, farm share sites and retail outlets. Update: SB 727 had a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Human Services on February 21 – read FoFF’s testimony in support here.