2019 Legislative Session Ends with Progress for Sustainable Agriculture

The 2019 Oregon Legislative Session ended with a flurry of activity on Sunday, June 30. The final days of the session were in question after Senate Republicans staged a 9-day walkout that threatened to derail action on more than 150 bills and agency budgets. But with a Constitutional deadline for action looming at midnight on Sunday, the Senate came back into session and rapidly passed nearly all remaining legislation over two days. Here are a few highlights of key wins, losses and surprises for small farms, sustainable agriculture and local food systems from the roller-coaster that was the 2019 Legislative session:

Wins

Farm to School sees big funding increases – Oregon’s popular Farm-to-School bill looked poised to receive $4.65 million, similar to funding levels approved in previous years. But in the final days of the session, an additional $10.35 million was added for a total of $15 million over a two year period. Long-time Farm-to-School champion Representative Brian Clem (D-Salem) spearheaded the funding increase, surprising even advocates for the program. The expansion will dramatically increase the ability for local schools to source products for school meals from local farms around the state. While Farm to School was not a major focus of FoFF’s this year, we have advocated for the program since it was created in 2007.

Double Up Food Bucks gets first-time funding – In the final hours of the session, Oregon Legislators approved $1.5 million in funding for Double Up Food Bucks programming across the state. Double Up Food Bucks programs, often managed by local farmers markets, double the money that Oregonians who are eligible for federal supplemental nutrition assistance programs are able to spend at local farmers markets, or when purchasing directly from farmers. The program is a win for farmers and low-income Oregonians, helping enhance access to healthy, local food. Led by a coalition of farmers market advocates, FoFF made funding Double Up Food Bucks one of the priority issues we highlighted during our March  27 Family Farms Mean Business Day at the Capitol and throughout the session.

Organic Extension Programs funded – For the first time ever, Oregon Legislators dedicated funding for organic Extension programs at OSU. Contained in an end-of-session budget bill was a line-item for $375,000 to the Oregon State University Extension Service ‘for two organic agriculture faculty positions’. FoFF has been part of a coalition of organic advocates supporting increased investments in organic Extension programs during this year’s Legislative session. We co-sponsored an ‘Organic Grows a Better Oregon’ event at the Capitol early in the year, and talked with dozens of legislators about the need for organic funding.

Canola acreage limits pass, protecting seed growers – Another bill that passed on the Legislature’s final day was SB 885, a bill to maintain a 500 acre cap on canola acres allowed inside the Willamette Valley in order to protect the specialty seed industry. FoFF led the fight in 2013 to keep a tight lid on canola in the Willamette Valley, but the limits on acreage expired July 1, 2019. The bill passed this weekend extends these protections for another four years, until 2023. The canola vs. seed issue in the Willamette Valley has recently garnered national attention.

Beginning Farmer bonds approved – The Legislature also approved $5 million in bonds over the next two years to support Oregon’s Beginning and Expanding Farmer Loan Program, also known as Aggie Bonds. While this program has had mixed success in providing low-interest loans to beginning farmers and ranchers since it was created in 2013, the Legislature has ensured the program will be available for at least two more years.

Losses

The climate bill, HB 2020, dies – The Senate Republican walkout was aimed at killing HB 2020, the wide ranging ‘Clean Energy Jobs’ climate bill that would have set a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and a Climate Investment Fund to support investments in climate friendly practices on farms and throughout rural Oregon. Concern over fuel prices was among the reasons that opponents fought the bill, though the Legislature passed a separate bill to provide rebates for agricultural diesel use to ease the transition. FoFF had supported this bill because we saw the Climate Investment Fund as an opportunity for farmers to secure grants for practices that sequester carbon in soil and make irrigation more efficient. Senate Republicans only returned to the Capitol after it was clear HB 2020 was dead.

Mega-dairy reform and moratorium effort stalls – Legislation to put a ‘time-out’ on issuing permits for new mega-dairies (SB 103) died earlier in the session, and even a modest reform bill (SB 876) died as well. The bills were introduced in response to the failure of the Lost Valley mega-dairy, a facility approved for 30,000 cows in 2017 that racked up more than 200 permit violations before it was finally shut down. The inability of the Legislature to address one of the state’s biggest regulatory disasters has raised the question: Is Oregon Paving the Way for More Mega-Dairies?

Beginning and Small Farmer bills secure hearings, but not funding – Early in the session, hearings were held on bills to create new programs to support beginning farmers. Legislation for a Family Farmer Loan Program to provide low-interest state loans for land and equipment (HB 3085), and a bill to create a Beginning Farmer Assistance Program focused on student debt assistance (HB 3090), passed the House Agriculture Committee with unanimous bipartisan support in April. Unfortunately, funding for these new programs was not included in the end-of-session whirlwind of budget bills and other legislation. Legislators also declined to take up a proposed Beginning Farmer Tax Credit (HB 3092) to encourage leasing land to beginning farmers. Despite the inaction this year, groundwork was laid for these ideas in future legislative sessions.

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