The next election is coming up on Tuesday, November 6, 2018 with vote-by-mail beginning in October.
This year, Friends of Family Farmers has taken positions on three key ballot measures, two statewide and one in Portland. We have provided information on our positions below, and encourage you to vote in the November election and get involved.
No on Measure 103
Ballot Measure 103 is a proposed amendment to Oregon’s Constitution aimed at prohibiting taxes on groceries. But it’s not that simple. Measure 103 comes to us from the grocery industry lobby, which includes huge out-of-state companies like Walmart, Costco, and Kroger. These companies originally set out to block local initiatives against taxes on sugary drinks, but are now trying to lock their low corporate tax rates into Oregon’s Constitution so they can’t ever be changed. But rather than telling voters this, they are pretending there’s a threat of taxes on farmers markets and farm stands to convince voters to support Measure 103. This is incredibly misleading in a state with no sales tax, and the Measure 103 campaign is trying to put farmers’ faces on a measure that would really protect big grocery outlets. Further, Measure 103 is written very broadly and has a wide range of unknown and risky consequences for state funding and tax rates on farms vs. other types of corporations that would be enshrined into the State Constitution. Measure 103 would actually prevent state and local governments from lowering certain taxes and fees for small and mid-sized family farmers who pay higher tax rates than our corporate competitors as it is.
Because Measure 103 is so misleading, and would amend Oregon’s Constitution to permanently lock-in tax exemptions for out-of-state corporations and mega-grocers while claiming to support local farmers, Friends of Family Farmers has joined a coalition of over 175 organizations, small farmers, businesses and community leaders from around the state to oppose Measure 103. Learn more about Measure 103 and add your voice to the growing opposition here. Vote No on Measure 103!
No on Measure 105
Ballot Measure 105 would throw out Oregon’s long-standing anti-racial profiling law, which passed more than 30 years ago with broad bipartisan support. The agenda behind Measure 105 appears to be to encourage the use of scarce local law enforcement resources to enforce harsh, new federal immigration policies and create fear among immigrants and people of color in Oregon. Indeed, the groups behind Measure 105 have been designated as anti-immigrant hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
If Measure 105 passes, we will likely see immigrant families being torn apart, children being detained in jail-like conditions, and long-time Oregon residents being sent to a country they don’t even know because they were brought here as young children years ago. If Measure 105 passes, it could divert local law enforcement resources away from protecting local communities and into aggressive immigration enforcement activities in which immigrants, and people simply perceived to be immigrants, are asked to ‘show me your papers.’
Under Measure 105, local police could stop, detain, or interrogate someone simply because they suspect them to be an undocumented immigrant. This could open the door to serious civil rights violations and more racial profiling of Oregonians. Local police could be asked to use personnel, funds, equipment, and facilities to locate, arrest, and jail people based solely on suspicions about their immigration status. Law abiding immigrants could live in fear of the police and may not report crimes, seek help if they have been victimized, or provide information to the police to help solve cases, for fear that doing so could lead to arrest, deportation, or separation from their families.
And it is the case that many farmers in Oregon – including smaller and labor-intensive organic operations – employ workers both seasonally and year round who are immigrants and people of color who would be negatively impacted by Measure 105. Regardless of their immigration status, our communities, co-workers, and employees should not have to live in fear in Oregon.
Yes on the Portland Clean Energy Fund – Measure 26-201
The Portland Clean Energy Fund is a city initiative that would create a new a tax on the largest retailers in Portland that would, among other actions to address climate change, provide approximately $4 million annually for “regenerative agriculture and green infrastructure projects that result in sequestration of greenhouse gasses and support sustainable local food production.” In addition to being endorsed by Friends of Family Farmers Measure 26-201 is also being supported by the Portland Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition and the Oregon Food Bank, as well as a number of Portland area farms. More information on Measure 26-201 and a full list of endorsing organizations and businesses can be found here.
In addition to taking proactive steps to address climate change, the measure would provide a new source of funding for good projects that promote local food and regenerative agriculture. Portlanders should Vote YES on Measure 26-201!
The Oregon Legislature adjourned its one month ‘short session’ on Saturday, March 3. Because of the fast pace and short duration, there were fewer bills to track than in the longer six-month sessions that occur in odd numbered years. But Friends of Family Farmers nonetheless weighed in on a few key pieces of legislation.
Here are a few highlights on farm related legislation from the 2018 session we were tracking.
Climate Bills Get Hearings, but Tabled Until 2019
Setting a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sources may not seem like an issue directly impacting farms, but two ‘Clean Energy Jobs’ bills were the biggest pieces of farm-related legislation of the session. Also referred to as ‘cap and invest,’ these bills – SB 1507 and HB 4001 – would have set a ‘cap,’ and a price, on greenhouse gas emissions from large industrial sources. The revenues generated from this would be used to ‘invest’ in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, generate renewable energy, and help communities adapt to climate change.
In the months leading up to the session, Friends of Family Farmers encouraged legislators to add provisions that would explicitly support climate friendly practices on small and mid-sized farms in Oregon. Farmers and ranchers are on the front lines of climate change, directly impacted by extreme weather events, a warming climate, and dwindling water supplies. But as land managers, we can also be part of the solution.
There are many practices on farms and ranches that can help address climate change by sequestering carbon in soils: planting cover crops, restoring pasture and natural areas, organic soil building, lowering soil disturbance through reduced tillage, rotational grazing, and more. But in the past, some types of ‘cap and trade’ approaches have tended to encourage a small number of practices on bigger operations – for example manure digesters on very large dairies. Funds from these types of programs have not always been made available for a wider array of climate friendly practices on smaller and mid-sized farms and ranches. How the program is set up is critically important, and FoFF raised these types of issues for legislators to consider before the session even began.
Ultimately, the two bills that were introduced went a long way towards addressing the issues we had raised before the session. In particular, the bills would have created a Climate Investment Fund, a significant new source of money to support agricultural practices that sequester carbon in soils, protect working and natural lands on farms and ranches, and promote irrigation efficiency. Rural Oregon would have seen a significant percentage of the revenue generated under the program, and agriculture would be exempt from the emissions cap.
While generally supportive of the overall legislation, our suggested amendments included: 1) adding a small or organic farm seat to the Program Advisory Committee charged in the bill with developing many of the program rules; 2) explicitly naming specific farming practices known to build healthy soils to the list of practices supported by the Climate Investment Fund; and, 3) closing a loophole that would allow a handful of the largest dairies in Oregon (those with over approximately 10,000 cows) to be exempt from the greenhouse gas emissions cap and reporting reporting requirements. A small number of extremely large dairies in Oregon are responsible for a significant share of the state’s methane emissions, rivaling the greenhouse gas output of some of Oregon’s largest industrial sources. Oregon should not allow the growing number of ‘mega-dairies’ moving into our state to be exempt from the emissions cap.
Result and Next Steps: While hearings were held on both SB 1507 and HB 4001, and they each passed out of their initial committees, both bills died upon adjournment and did not receive a vote in the full House or Senate.
However, in an end of session budget bill, legislators included $1.4 million for new Oregon Carbon Policy office to further develop the ‘cap and invest’ concept for the 2019 legislative session, and legislative leaders announced the formation of a new ‘carbon reduction’ committee to vet policy proposals between now and 2019.
House Speaker, Tina Kotek said in and end-of-session press release that the new Carbon Policy Office was funded “to study the economic impact of a cap-and-invest program, understand any impacts on traded sector industries, and examine ways to utilize Oregon’s forests and fields to sequester and store carbon.” Senate President Peter Courtney said that “the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction will study ways Oregon can control and reduce its carbon emissions.” Legislation will likely be developed by this committee for action in 2019, and Friends of Family Farmers will continue to be engaged in this process.
Land Use Bad Ideas Stopped
It has become like clockwork that whenever the state Legislature meets, bad land use bills emerge as threats that must be addressed. These bills often create exemptions from land use rules in order to speed a particular type of development or to address local political pressures over how farmland protections are being implemented.
This session, the worst of these bad land use ideas were stopped, but if the past is prologue, they will emerge again in 2019.
Failed land use bad ideas from 2018:
SB 1502 – a bill to effectively eliminate land use rules in 15 of the 18 counties east of the Cascades. This legislation would have allowed commercial or industrial development on agricultural lands outside of urban growth boundaries in many areas east of the Cascades. Introduced by key Senate leaders including Senate President Peter Courtney, the bill was dead on arrival and did not even receive a public hearing.
HB 4075 – This bill would have rezoned 1700 acres of exclusive farm use (EFU) land in Washington County from rural reserve to urban reserve, thus opening it for future development. The areas impacted include some of the best farmland in the region, and this bill would have overturned a major land use compromise from a few years earlier intended to keep these lands rural. The bill did receive a public hearing, but died swiftly early in the session.
-7 Amendment to HB 4060 – The ‘dash 7’ amendment to a transportation bill would have dramatically reduced the ability of local communities to stop new aggregate (gravel) mines proposed in agricultural areas. Many farming areas in the Willamette Valley, particularly those near river bottoms, are at potential risk from proposals to mine aggregate. Aside from the direct loss of farmland from the mining itself, neighboring farms can be harmed by mining-related impacts to water quantity, water quality, dust falling on sensitive crops, and other issues. Thankfully, this amendment did not advance. You can read FoFF’s testimony in opposition to the -7 amendment to HB 4060 here.
The Oregon Legislature meets from February 5 through early March this year. They are considering two major bills (SB 1507 and HB 4001) to cap greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sources, while creating a fund to address the impacts of climate change and support climate friendly farming practices. You might have heard these bills referred to as ‘Clean Energy Jobs’ or ‘Cap and Invest.’
While the amount of money available is unknown at this stage, the bills have the potential to support a wide range of activities and practices on farms that sequester carbon in soils, reduce energy use, encourage irrigation efficiency, and protect both working land and natural areas on farms and ranches. Farmers are not only on the front lines of experiencing climate change impacts like extreme weather and uncertain water supplies, as land managers we can also be part of the solution.
HB 4001 and SB 1507 had public hearings in Salem on February 7 before a joint meeting of the Senate and House Environment Committees. FoFF was there to speak up for smaller and mid-sized family farmers and ranchers. We are generally supportive of these bills but also have some concerns we hope can be addressed through amendments. You can read our 3-page testimony here.
These bills are a step in the right direction and acknowledge the important role that farms and ranches can play in addressing climate change. But they are facing strong opposition. We need you to raise your voice and help us ensure that small and mid-sized farms are able to access the programs the bill will ultimately set up.
Unfortunately, the bills do contain a loophole that would allow a handful of Oregon’s largest mega-dairies to be exempt from any requirement to reduce, or even report, their annual methane emissions, continuing Oregon’s lax oversight even as the number of these large factory farm operations continues to grow. More than half of Oregon’s dairy cows are located at two of the largest mega-dairies in the country near Boardman, Oregon.
I am writing to show my support for the Legislature passing either SB 1507 or HB 4001 this session. But I believe these bills should be strengthened for the benefit of Oregon’s small and mid-sized family farmers and ranchers.
These bills will create a fund that can be used to address the harmful impacts of climate change in both rural and urban communities, and to assist farms and ranches in adopting practices that sequester carbon in soils, reduce energy use, encourage irrigation efficiency, and protect both working lands and natural areas on farms and ranches.
A few examples of Oregon specific practices that help sequester carbon in soils include: growing organically, cover crops and crop rotations, organic no-till practices, conventional no-till, conservation tillage, perennial pasture establishment, and rotational grazing of livestock. These practices should be identified in the bills to ensure they are supported in future years.
Unfortunately, the bills contain a loophole that would allow a handful of Oregon’s largest mega-dairies to be exempt from any requirement to reduce, or even report, their annual methane emissions. Oregon cannot continue to ignore the climate and other harmful impacts of the growing number of mega-dairies moving to our state. This loophole in the bills should be closed.
Our next Fill Your Pantry Community Bulk Buying Event will be held December 3, 2017 in Portland. For this one-day event, we will offer a very wide assortment of products from which area households can truly stock their pantries for the winter.
If your farm or ranch would like to be a vendor at this year’s Portland Fill Your Pantry, you can find our Application Form here. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. Please review the criteria we will be using to determine which farms and ranches will be chosen to participate below.
2017 Portland Fill Your Pantry Vendor Criteria
Preference for choosing FYP vendors will be based on a point system consisting or some or all of the following:
You are or have been a financial contributor to FoFF
Number of FoFF events you’ve participated in or volunteered for, such as Rally Day or inFARM speaker
You have a limited number of other marketing channels
FoFF’s need to ensure that we have a well balanced diversity of products and farmers participating
In addition, to participate in Fill Your Pantry as a vendor, you must:
for grains, veggies, fruit, nuts, honey & preserves…
In the last edition of our Corporate Ag Watch blog, we highlighted the plight of Oregon’s small farms in relation to the growth of Big Ag in our state, noting the problematic influence that unlimited corporate money in Oregon politics is having. We dove into the political and lobbying activities of out-of-state owned Threemile Canyon Farms, one of Oregon’s largest corporate agricultural operations.
We got a lot of feedback on that post, as many were surprised to learn about Oregon’s ‘no limits’ campaign finance system, and that we live in a state where large corporations with deep pockets are able to have such a tremendous amount of influence over the political and legislative decision-making process in our state.
In this edition of Corporate Ag Watch we’re going to take a look at the influence that one of the world’s largest multinational agrichemical companies is having here in Oregon: Monsanto. Pesticide maker and biotech crop developer Monsanto is based in Missouri, not Oregon, but they have invested a lot of money here – often through innocuous sounding front groups – to ensure their interests are represented in debates on the regulation of pesticides and genetically engineered crops.
According to publicly available state campaign finance reports, Monsanto has spent nearly $6.4 million on Oregon political campaigns over the past decade. Much of this money – $5.95 million – was spent in 2014 to oppose Ballot Measure 92. Measure 92 was a consumer right-to-know citizen initiative that would have required the labeling of genetically engineered food on store shelves. It ultimately lost by 837 votes out of more than 1.5 million cast.
The second biggest beneficiary of Monsanto political money in our state is the Oregon Farm Bureau Political Action Committee (PAC). The Oregon Farm Bureau PAC has received $133,500 from Monsanto over the past decade, often raised during an annual fundraising golf tournament that the Oregon Farm Bureau uses to raise money for its political activities. The tournament prominently sponsored by Monsanto for many years.
Other major recipients of Monsanto political funds in Oregon include the Oregonians for Food and Shelter PAC ($24,500) and FirstVote PAC ($48,500), which is directed by the staff of Oregonians for Food and Shelter. Oregonians for Food and Shelter is a pesticide advocacy group whose Board of Directors includes representatives of Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, and DuPont, in addition to the Oregon Farm Bureau and a number of large timber companies.
Monsanto has also given a combined $23,500 to two ‘Leadership’ PACs that support Republican candidates for the Oregon Senate and House.
More recently, Monsanto has begun giving to Political Action Committees for candidates directly, but over the years has primarily given to PACs like those controlled by the Oregon Farm Bureau, FirstVote and Oregonians for Food and Shelter. Those groups in turn give directly to candidates’ PACs.
If this all seems confusing, that may be by design. The tangled and sometimes confusing web of Political Action Committees that allow multinational biotech companies to support Oregon political candidates of their liking was covered by the Oregonian in 2013, “GMO companies contribute to lobby groups in Oregon Legislature.”
The innocuous sounding FirstVote PAC seems to be a primary vehicle for big companies to indirectly give to political candidates in Oregon. FirstVote PAC, which many in Oregon have likely never heard of, doesn’t even sound like it works on agricultural issues. Yet it supports many candidates with the money it receives from multinational agribusiness companies.
In addition to receiving $48,500 from Monsanto over the past ten years, FirstVote PAC has also taken $38,000 from Syngenta, another multinational biotech company, $8500 from Dow AgroSciences, and $5000 from DuPont.
As noted above, FirstVote PAC and the Oregon Farm Bureau PAC are two major vehicles that multinational agrichemical companies use as they seek to influence policy and politics in Oregon. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Corporate Ag Watch as we delve deeper into the influence of the agrichemical industry in Oregon.
The 2017 Oregon Legislative Session is over. Adjourning on Friday, July 7 in a flurry of activity, the Legislature’s final actions included some unexpected surprises and good news. But these positive outcomes were tempered by what was overall a very tough session dominated by jostling over scarce funds and massive budget shortfalls, and the continuing inability of the Legislature to stand up to Big Ag interests that fight against common-sense rules to level the playing field for Oregon’s smaller farmers.
Because of the state’s unclear budget picture, it was not until the very final days of the session that funding levels for a number of programs were settled on by top legislative leaders. The following is a wrap up on a number of key bills FoFF either worked on or tracked throughout the session, while this Capital Press article covers additional farm related bills.
Farm to School – The Oregon Farm to School program, though it has steadily grown over the years, started out the session facing deep cuts or elimination in the 2017-19 biennium. However, in the final days of the session, Legislators kept funding stable and allocated $4.5 million over the next two years for the popular grant program that gets locally grown and processed foods into school meal programs across Oregon.
Farm Direct Nutrition – In an unexpected turn, the Legislature substantially boosted funding available for Farm Direct Nutrition programs that help low-income seniors and young mothers with children buy food directly from farmers markets and farm stands. At the beginning of the session, food security and farmers market advocates were fighting just to hold on to $300,000 in one-time funding that had been provided in 2015. However, in the final days of the session, Legislators allocated $1.5 million for this important program that directly supports small farms and connects many low-income Oregonians to healthy, farm fresh foods.
On-Farm Cider – Oregon apple and pear growers engaged in the burgeoning ‘hard’ cider industry scored a win this session by passing a bill to treat on-farm cideries the same as vineyards. That means that farms with more than 15 acres of apple or pear orchards will be able to bottle and sell cider on-farm, offer tastings, serve food, and engage in agritourism opportunities new to the cider industry. The bill goes into effect on January 1, 2018.
Farm Direct Eggs – Farm direct egg producers will now be able to legally sell ‘ungraded’ eggs at farmers’ markets, farms stands, through CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture), and at roadside stands. Traditional egg grading requirements are intended for mass production systems that aim at uniformity in size, color and weight of eggs. But these grading requirements have little relevance for farm direct producers that interface with customers directly and often mix and match egg grades, colors and sizes to appeal to customer interest. The new law will make the common practice of selling ‘ungraded’ eggs farm direct fully legal as long as eggs have been candled to inspect for internal flaws. ‘Candling’ is defined in Oregon law as ‘the examination of the interior of eggs by the use of transmitted light used in a partially dark room or place.’
Rules for Genetically Engineered Crops – For the fourth session since 2013, the Oregon Legislature failed to pass bills to prevent problems associated with genetically engineered (GE) crops. Hearings were held in both the House and Senate on bills to restore local control to communities that adopt measures to protect farmers from GE crop contamination. The Legislature banned such local measures back in 2013 in favor of statewide regulations for GE crops as part of a so-called ‘grand bargain’ relating to tax and public employee pension issues. However, statewide regulations for problematic GE crops have yet to be adopted, leaving Oregon farmers unprotected from GE contamination risks. A separate bill that would have held patent holders of GE seeds and traits financially liable if their products were found on nearby land did receive hearings in the House, but did not get to the House or Senate floor for a vote. As in past years, groups with close ties to the biotech and pesticide industries opposed common-sense rules and regulations for GE crops.
Mega-Dairy Air Quality Rules – Legislators failed to advance a long overdue air quality program to address air contaminant emissions from a growing number of exceedingly large ‘mega’ dairies in Oregon. Advocates for small farms and clean air argued that the recent approval of a new 30,000-cow mega-dairy in Morrow County by the Oregon Departments of Environmental Quality and Agriculture necessitated moving forward with the program before air quality in the region worsens and more small dairy farms go out of business. However, even a bill that would have enacted recommendations from a stakeholder task force to create an air quality program for large dairies was opposed by the state’s largest source of dairy related air pollution, the 70,000-cow Threemile Canyon Farms, as well as other industry groups that support continued lax oversight for large corporate farming operations.
Beginning Farmer Tax Credit – A proposal to create a new tax credit for landowners who agree to multi-year leases with beginning farmers did not advance this year. A likely victim of the state’s precarious budget situation, the bill was sent to a committee that never even scheduled a hearing on it. While there generally seems to be agreement in Salem that more needs to be done to help out beginning farmers, new tax credits were not in the cards for this session of tough budgetary decisions. Ultimately, the final tax credit bill of the session phased out a number of existing tax credits, allowing some to expire and capping others, to contain costs. The beginning farmer tax credit concept may have to wait until the state is on better financial footing. This is something we will continue to push for.
Pesticide Use Reform – Bills requiring advanced notice of aerial pesticide spraying to help protect farmers and rural residents from pesticide drift and crop damage failed under stiff opposition from the timber industry and agribusiness groups with ties to pesticide manufacturers. Other legislation to protect pollinators by restricting use of neonicotinoid pesticides to licensed applicators failed due to opposition from some ag industry groups. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been linked to bee die-offs in Oregon in recent years.
OSU Statewide Public Service Program Funding – OSU Extension and Agricultural Experiment Stations, which support farmers with research and training needs, are part of the OSU Statewide Public Service Programs. In 2015, these programs received a significant funding boost and new positions, including those supporting small farms and community food systems, were filled. To maintain continuing service levels and staffing for 2017-19, the program needed an additional $9.4 million. In the end, the Legislature provided only $5.6 million. OSU believes that over the next biennium, this shortfall will result in the loss of 17 full-time positions, which could impact OSU Extension programs and Agricultural Experiment Station research important for farmers around the state.
Manure Digester Tax Credit – The manure digester tax credit was first created in 2007 and was intended to encourage diaries to convert manure into energy. It was supposed to expire at the end of 2017. While ostensibly available to dairies of all sizes, the economics and practical considerations for digesters – including that they require lots of animals in confinement to produce enough manure to be even semi-economical – have meant that most of the money for this tax credit has flowed to the state’s largest confinement diary operation, Threemile Canyon Farms. At its peak in 2014 and 2015, this tax credit was costing the state over $4 million/year. In 2016, with little discussion, the Legislature extended it until the end of 2021 with no cost caps and little agency oversight. Because Oregon lacks an air emissions program to address pollution from large dairies (see above), in addition to the state’s massive budget shortfall this year, it seemed possible that this tax credit could be eliminated or substantially reformed. In the end, the Legislature capped the tax credit at $10 million per biennium moving forward and rejected proposals to extend it until 2024. Additionally, it will now be managed by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, rather than the Oregon Department of Energy. It is unclear how this change will impact the administration of the tax credit, but the General Manager of Threemile Canyon Farms, the largest recipient of the tax credit, sits on the Oregon Board of Agriculture, which advises the Oregon Department of Agriculture. While capping the tax credit and declining to extend the sunset date further are good outcomes, it is unfortunate that Oregon will spend up to $5 million annually on this tax credit over the next several years, with much of the money going to help Oregon’s largest dairy operation with manure management. This money would be much better spent investing in beginning farmer programs where there is a well-documented need for greater public support.
Agricultural Heritage Program – In the final days of the session, the Legislature approved a new program aimed at offering grants to help with farm succession planning and farmland protection strategies like working lands easements. This type of funding could potentially be used to help land trusts or Soil and Water Conservation Districts protect farmland at risk of development, and could also potentially help with beginning farmer access to land if funds are targeted to do so. However, the bill passed by the Legislature didn’t actually provide money for grants in the near term. Funding over the next two years will instead go to set up a new permanent ‘Agricultural Heritage Commission’ that will be tasked with developing program rules and priorities and reviewing future grant proposals. Funding for the grants and farmland protection strategies will have to be sought in future years. Because program priorities will be set by the as-of-yet-unnamed Commission, it is not yet clear what projects would be supported if or when money becomes available in the future. If the program priorities are not clear, or the Commission makeup is flawed, future public funds could end being poorly spent.
Now that the 2017 Oregon Legislative Session is over, there will be a number of things to watch and monitor moving forward including:
How will OSU manage a funding shortfall that could lead to the loss of up to 17 positions in the OSU Statewide Public Service Programs?
Who will be appointed to the new Agricultural Heritage Commission and what priorities will they set?
Will Oregon address long-standing tax and pension reform issues over the next two years, or will we come into 2019 with another budget crisis?
How much money will the state spend on the manure digester tax credit in coming years, and who will be the biggest beneficiary?
As a new 30,000 cow mega-dairy grows to full capacity in the coming year, will the Legislature finally act on the need to regulate air emissions from these huge operations?
Will it take another crisis, like the Oregon GE wheat escape in 2013, before the Legislature takes steps to protect farmers whose livelihoods are at risk from GE contamination?
We will be tracking these and other issues in the coming months, but for now, this is the last edition of ‘Muckboots in the Capitol’ until we get closer to the next Legislative Session.
Announcing FoFF’s Corporate Ag Watch Blog
While ‘Muckboots in the Capitol’ will take a hiatus until the next Legislative Session, issues around money and politics that help shape what state policy makers decide aren’t going away. That’s why we are launching our newCorporate Ag Watch Blog to expose the influence that large corporate agri-business interests have at our State Capitol. The first edition is already posted – we hope you enjoy it!
Since 2007, Friends of Family Farmers has provided a unique voice that challenges the influence and power of large corporate agribusiness interests in Oregon. We represent independent small and mid-sized family farmers, not out-of-state corporations or multi-national agribusiness companies. The same can’t be said for a number of other groups that purport to represent family farmers in Oregon. We are launching this blog to highlight the difference and expose the influence that corporate agribusiness interests have in our state.
Oregon agriculture is predominantly made up of small and mid-sized family farms. According to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture, of the approximately 35,500 farms in Oregon, 84% are individually or family owned. In terms of size, 81% of Oregon farms are under 180 acres, with over 61% under 50 acres. Additionally, 87% of Oregon farms have under $100,000 in sales per year. While some family farms may be larger in size or may be incorporated, smaller and mid-sized farms are the backbone of Oregon’s agricultural economy, our local and regional food systems, and many rural communities.
However, corporate agriculture is generally dominated by out-of-state companies whose primary concern seems to only be about profits, not the well-being of small and mid-sized farms. Despite Oregon’s small family farm reputation, large agribusiness companies spend a lot of money on lobbying and political activities here in order to make sure their interests are taken care of by the state’s policymakers.
In our new Corporate Ag Watch blog series, we’ll be digging up and exposing publicly available campaign finance and lobbying information to show how big corporate agribusiness interests seek to influence Oregon politics and policy. Our data sources will include ORESTAR (Oregon’s campaign finance reporting database), lobbying expenditure reports on file with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, and occasional public records requests. We’ll be connecting the dots between lobbying, campaign finance activity and policy outcomes that don’t often get covered in the Oregon press.
Unlimited Corporate Campaign Contributions in Oregon
Did you know that Oregon is one of only six states with no limits on corporate money in politics? This means that corporations can give unlimited money directly to the Political Action Committees that fund candidates and elected officials as they run for office. Twenty two states ban corporate campaign money completely, but Oregon is not one of them.
At the risk of stating the obvious, this means that individual corporations with deep pockets can have a tremendous amount of influence over the political process in Oregon.
For example, let’s take a look at Threemile Canyon Farms LLC, one of Oregon’s largest corporate farming operations and likely the nation’s largest dairy concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) with roughly 70,000 cows near Boardman, Oregon. With all those cows in confinement, Threemile Canyon Farms may be the state’s largest individual source of agricultural air pollution, including haze causing ammonia and methane, a potent climate change inducing gas. Already a huge operation, Threemile Canyon Farms is actually owned by an even bigger company out of North Dakota called R.D. Offutt, which also happens to be the nation’s largest potato producer and a key supplier of McDonald’s french fries.
The face of Oregon’s dairy industry has changed dramatically since Threemile Canyon Farms arrived here, with many small and mid-sized farms going out of business. According to USDA data, in a five year period shortly after Threemile arrived in Oregon in the early 2000s, the state lost nearly half its dairy farms, mostly small and mid-sized operations struggling to compete in a market increasingly dominated by larger and larger confinement dairies. Data from the Oregon Department of Agriculture shows a loss of over 140 permitted dairies in Oregon over the past decade – a nearly 40% decline – even as cow numbers have increased at large operations like Threemile.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Threemile Canyon Farms has been a staunch opponent of new rules to require large factory dairy farms like theirs to control harmful air emissions, and it has also been a shameless advocate for a lucrative tax credit it is the primary beneficiary of. We wrote about both these issues in a recent recap of the 2017 Oregon Legislative Session.
To represent its interests, Threemile Canyon Farms employs multiple lobbyists, one of the few individual farms in the state that has a lobbyist at all. According to filings with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, Threemile has spent nearly $200,000 on lobbying to influence the outcome of legislation in Salem since 2015. But Threemile also makes significant campaign contributions to Political Action Committees used to help elect and re-elect candidates for public office. According to filings with the Oregon Secretary of State, Threemile has given nearly 30 political candidates and elected office-holders of both parties more than $36,000 dollars combined for election campaigns since early 2016. Most of these contributions have been in $500 or $1000 increments and were primarily given to legislative leadership and legislators who chair key committees that help decide the fate of bills that could impact Threemile’s business interests. But the largest recipient of Threemile’s campaign contributions since early 2016 has been Governor Kate Brown, who has received $9,000 from the company so far.
In 2015, Governor Brown appointed Threemile Canyon Farms’ General Manager to the Oregon Board of Agriculture, a board that advises the Oregon Department of Agriculture on policy, regulatory and budget matters. In 2016, they successfully lobbied to extend a lucrative tax credit for animal manure digesters they benefit from that was set to expire at the end of 2017. With Threemile as the largest recipient of this tax credit, the Legislature’s decision to extend it will direct millions in public funds to their operation in coming years. In the 2017 Oregon Legislative Session, Threemile was also able to block a bill that would have enacted consensus recommendations for the creation of an air emissions program that would address air pollution from the state’s largest dairies.
That’s it for our first edition of Corporate Ag Watch. We hope you enjoyed it. Stay tuned for future posts as we keep digging into the influence of corporate agribusiness in Oregon. If you’ve got any tips or questions you’d like us to look into, just send us an email.
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.
HB 2038 – Oregon’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.
HB 2739 – GE 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.
Tax Credits – Beginning 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.
HB 3249 – Agricultural 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A key deadline at the Oregon Legislature was reached on Tuesday, April 18. For the most part, bills had to either move forward by that date, or they were dead for the session. While a number of pieces of legislation important to small and mid-sized farms and environmentally responsible agriculture moved forward, many died as well. In a recent article, the Salem Statesman Journal noted that political negotiations around raising revenue to address Oregon’s $1.6 billion funding shortfall and a potential transportation bill may be impacting the fate of unrelated bills, quoting FoFF’s Policy Director Ivan Maluski.
Further, in late April, top legislative budget writers proposed a number of steep cuts if new revenue is not found. Under the proposal, Oregon’s Farm-to-School Program would receive no funding at all. Farm-to-School, though a small part of the state’s overall budget, provides and important incentivize for schools across the state to buy local produce to be used in school mean programs, providing kids with locally grown food and farmers with new sales opportunities.
HB 2469/SB 1037 – These bills would have allowed local communities to protect farmers from contamination risks associated with genetically engineered (GE) crops in the face of Oregon’s ongoing failure to adopt needed farmer protections. Both bills received hearings in their House and Senate committees, but no action was ultimately taken. SB 1037 had a public hearing on April 13, with farmers from various parts of southern Oregon and the Willamette Valley testifying in support. Because these bills have died, a voter-passed ban on growing GE crops in Josephine County will not be allowed to go into effect for the time being.
Alive as of April 18:
HB 2038 – This bill would maintain funding levels for Oregon’s nation-leading Farm-to-School Program. It passed its first committee on April 4, and is now awaiting consideration in the Joint Ways and Means committee, which will determine whether and how much funding will be available for this program over the next two years. Read more from the Blue Mountain Eagle and stay tuned for further opportunities to make your voice heard.
HB 2739 – This bill would protect farmers who have experienced unwanted contamination from genetically engineered crops by allowing farmers to sue GE crop patent-holders when their products have crossed property lines and caused financial damage. It was advanced by the House Judiciary Committee on April 18, and moved to the important House Rules committee, where it will require additional public hearings before it can move forward. Read more from the Portland Tribune and stay tuned for further opportunities to take action.
HB 2085 – This bill would establish a beginning farmer tax credit in Oregon to encourage landowners to enter into multi-year land leases with beginning farmers and ranchers. Because this bill is in the House Revenue Committee, it was immune to the April 18 cut-off date for most bills. However, it 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 $1.6 billion funding gap.
This list of bills above is snap-shot of important bills we’ve been involved in this session, and is not a comprehensive list of all legislation important for small and mid-sized farms and healthy local food systems. Stay tuned to our ‘Muckboots in the Capitol’ blog for continued updates on these and other bills throughout the session.