Statement on ODA Director Katy Coba’s Appointment to Head Oregon’s Dept. of Administrative Services

The Oregon Board of Agriculture was treated to lunch at the Threemile Canyon Farms/RD Offutt facility in Boardman, September 2015 just after Threemile General Manager Marty Myers was appointed to the Board.
The Oregon Board of Agriculture and ODA staff were treated to lunch by Threemile Canyon Farms & their parent company RD Offutt in September 2015, shortly after the controversial appointment of Threemile’s General Manager Marty Myers to the Board.

Statement on Appointment of Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba to Lead the Oregon Department of Administrative Services from Ivan Maluski, Policy Director, Friends of Family Farmers

“We wish Katy Coba the best in her new role with the Department of Administrative Services. Her long background in state government should serve her well. But we also believe that a change in leadership at the Oregon Department of Agriculture is needed and hope that Governor Brown will use this opportunity to proactively shift the agency in a direction that better represents the strong commitment that Oregonians have to supporting sustainable, family-scale farms and agriculture.”

“Over the last several years at ODA, we’ve seen a growing shift towards promoting large, corporate, factory-scale farming operations in Oregon even as the state has been losing small and mid-sized family farms in large numbers. We’ve also seen an unwillingness by ODA to support common-sense state-level regulations to protect Oregon farmers from the significant economic risks and harms associated with poorly regulated genetically engineered crops. Whether it’s the growth of factory farms or the agency’s unwillingness to regulate genetically engineered crops to protect at-risk farmers, all too often ODA has stood with out-of-state agri-business interests.”

“In recent years, the ODA has also embarked on controversial efforts to open the long-standing Willamette Valley Protected District’s world-class seed producing region to genetically engineered canola, putting hundreds of family farms that are part of our valuable seed, fresh market vegetable and organic industries at risk. Friends of Family Farmers and a number of family-owned Oregon seed companies were forced to sue the agency over its 2012 decision to use a ‘temporary’ rule for such a significant decision, with the Oregon Court of Appeals calling the ODA’s justification ‘legally incorrect’ and ‘unreasonable.’”

“While we have not always agreed with Coba’s decisions or the stances of the Oregon Department of Agriculture during her tenure, we’ve appreciated being able to raise issues of importance to sustainable, family-scale farmers in Oregon and wish her well in this new position. We look forward to engaging Governor Brown and her staff as they search for a new Director for the Oregon Department of Agriculture and believe this appointment presents a key opportunity for the Governor to leave a legacy that reflects the importance of supporting sustainable, small and mid-sized family-scale farms and agriculture in our state.”

FSMA Update – FDA finalizes Food Safety Modernization Act rules

In late 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized the long-awaited Food Safety Modernization Act ‘Produce Rule,’ which sets sweeping new standards for growing, packing, harvesting and holding produce for human consumption.

20150610_085130_resizedFriends of Family Farmers joined sustainable and family farm advocates from across the nation to submit comments and provide feedback on the proposed rules during comment periods in 2014 and in face-to-face meetings with FDA staff in 2015. Our message was clear: smaller farms either need to be exempt from onerous new requirements under the rules, or must be able to comply without facing unreasonable costs. The farmers we work with already strive to provide the highest quality, healthiest produce available, and any requirements in the new Produce Rule should be based in science and not put responsible farmers at risk of going out of business.

The Produce Rule is wide ranging, and covers the use of manure and compost on farms; water quality for both irrigation and produce washing; farmworker hygiene; and other possible causes of food-borne illness. While we and others raised many concerns during early comment periods, we did see areas of overall improvement in the final rules. For a detailed analysis of what’s in the final rule, check out the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s blog post on the topic. Additionally, the Oregon State University Small Farms Program has put together a run down of key pieces of information in both the Produce Rule and the related ‘Preventative Controls’ rule, which applies to food processing facilities.

While the rules were finalized late last year, many provisions will take time to go into effect, and some farms are exempt all together. So, here’s some things you need to know in the near term:

When do the regulations go into effect? The earliest deadlines for compliance with the Produce Rule are in January 2018, and this deadline applies only to the very largest farms. For farms classified as ‘small businesses’ – meaning they gross less than $500,000 per year on a rolling three year average – compliance begins in January 2019. Additionally, farms of this size can secure a ‘qualified exemption’ if more than 50% of their sales are direct-to-consumer or to restaurants and retail establishments within the same state and not more than 275 miles from the farm. Compliance begins in January 2020 for farms that gross less than $250,000 per year from produce sales on a rolling three year average – these are ‘very small businesses’ as defined by FDA. Farms that gross under $25,000 per year are exempt completely. A full list of exemptions and ‘qualified exemptions’ from FDA, including what crops are covered, can be found here. 

How do farms get prepared for compliance? FDA is still working out the finer points of how farms can comply with certain provisions, and will be working with the Oregon Department of Agriculture on many details. FDA or ODA will likely be putting out more information on compliance as it is developed, but in the meantime, FDA is asking for farmers to submit specific questions or suggestions to their FSMA ‘Technical Assistance Network’ here.

That sounds really vague, what can I be doing now? If you believe your farm qualifies as a ‘small business’, ‘very small business’, or may even be exempt, begin documenting that now and keep good records. The FDA is ultimately going to need you to show them documentation dating back to 2016 to demonstrate how the rule will affect you.

In Oregon, the Oregon Department of Agriculture Food Safety Division ultimately expects there to be ‘thousands’ of farms in the state that have never previously experienced the level of inspection that FSMA will bring. In addition to documenting gross income to assess how the rules apply, many farmers who irrigate will have to test water for pathogens and may have to add filtration systems if their water quality is compromised.

Through our involvement in the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Task Force, Friends of Family Farmers is in a unique position to help provide feedback to ODA on how they approach their responsibilities for FSMA inspections, enforcement, etc. If you have any questions you’d like us to convey to ODA, please email our Policy Director, Ivan Maluski ivan@friendsoffamilyfarmers.org or give us a call.

2015 – The Year in Review

2015 – A Year of Progress and Change for Friends of Family Farmers

We rang in 2015 moving at full speed and our strong and successful advocacy on behalf of Oregon’s socially responsible family farmers continued all year long, with growth in policy advocacy, program development, and community events.

As the 2015 Oregon Legislative Session began, we moved our new office to downtown Salem, just blocks from the State Capitol and state administrative office buildings to allow for more frequent visits to key legislators and decision-makers.

Over 150 farmers, ranchers, and local food advocates on the State Capitol Steps in March 2015, raising our voices on behalf of Oregon’s family farmers.
Over 150 farmers, ranchers, and local food advocates on the State Capitol Steps in March 2015, raising our voices on behalf of Oregon’s family farmers.

On March 30th, we hosted our most successful Family Farmer and Rancher Day at the State Capitol yet, advancing key food and farm priorities to our elected decision-makers and demonstrating the power of the local farm and food movement. We rallied on the Capitol steps and met with nearly all of Oregon’s 90 legislators over the course of the day.

This event was key in helping pass new legislation to support Oregon’s family farmers and a strong local food system. We tracked dozens of bills in Salem in 2015, winning key victories in expanding access to Oregon’s beginning farmer loan program (Aggie Bonds), limiting legal liability for farms engaging in value-added agri-tourism activities, making historic investments in Extension and Agricultural Research programs, and expanding Oregon’s Farm to School program.

We also testified and rallied the public around the growing threats from irresponsible antibiotic use on factory farms, the need for safeguards for farmers threatened with contamination from genetically engineered crops, efforts to promote urban agriculture, and the need for reform of Oregon’s Board of Agriculture.

Over the course of 2015, nearly 1500 FoFF supporters called and sent letters to the Governor and your state legislators throughout the year.

In 2015, we continued our six-year run of monthly InFARMation (and Beer!) educational events in Portland, reaching hundreds of urban residents to talk about how they can support socially responsible family farmers and ranchers in Oregon. We brought several of these events to Bend as well.

FoFF's first Fill Your Pantry - Portland 2015
FoFF’s first Fill Your Pantry – Portland 2015

We also launched our first ever Portland Fill Your Pantry event, featuring 14 local farms who sold over 1,711 pounds of winter squash, 1,380 pounds of grains and beans, 3,851 pounds of storage veggies, and 840 pounds of pasture-raised meats. More than 160 customers made nearly $24,000 in advance bulk purchases from sustainable producers.

Finally, a summary of our 2015 wouldn’t be complete without mention of new staff joining our team.

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FoFF staffers in the field – summer 2015

Sarah Peters joined us as our new Executive Director. Kelly Crane came on board in a new position of Rural Organizer. We also hired a new Next Generation Program Organizer Molly Notarianni and Office Manager Katie Engelman.

Ivan Maluski remains on staff as our Policy Director and Erinn Criswell transitioned into our new Urban Organizer position to round out our new team. 

Looking ahead to 2016, we are organizing another round of our farmer listening sessions, starting in the mid-Willamette Valley this year, and visiting all corners of the state early next year. Be sure to check our website for dates in your neck of the woods!

While we expect the short Legislative session in February 2016 to be less action-packed than 2015’s six-month session, we are poised to advocate for small and mid-sized farmers as the Legislature considers what bills to pass.

Our Urban Outreach program is also busy planning events in Bend, Eugene, Salem, McMinnville, and more in 2016. The Next Generation program is covering a lot of territory as well, with events and trainings for new and young farmers around the state, and a launch of our redesigned Oregon Land Link database, iFarm, scheduled for early April.

We look forward to continuing to expand access to and opportunities for local, socially responsible agriculture in Oregon!

Governor Kate Brown to Appoint Mega-Factory Farm Operator to Oregon’s Board of Agriculture

Governor Kate Brown Turns Back on Family Farms, Plans Appointment for Representative of Massive, Polluting Factory Farm to Oregon’s Board of Agriculture

Take Action Today! Click Here to Email the Governor!

Friends of Family Farmers, Oregon’s largest sustainable agriculture organization, received confirmation this week of Governor Kate Brown’s intent to appoint the general manager of Oregon’s largest factory farm to Oregon’s Board of Agriculture. Through this appointment, Governor Brown is showing significant disregard for small and mid-sized family farms that make up the vast majority of Oregon’s agricultural community.

Threemile aerial view 2014
Threemile Canyon Farms near Boardman, Oregon houses over 50,000 dairy cows in ¼ mile long buildings, making it Oregon’s largest factory farm operation, and possibly the state’s largest source of agricultural air pollution

Marty Myers, Brown’s pick, is the general manager of Threemile Canyon Farms, a factory-scale dairy operation with corporate headquarters in North Dakota. Threemile houses over 50,000 dairy cows in confinement in Eastern Oregon, but has state-issued permits to expand to over 90,000 dairy cows. The factory farm, located near Boardman, produces twice the biological waste of a city the size of Salem, is one of the nation’s largest factory dairy operations, and likely Oregon’s single largest source of agricultural air pollution.

“This pick for Oregon’s Board of Agriculture is a slap in the face to family farmers across Oregon and is a statement that, when given a choice, Governor Kate Brown and Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba will stand with corporate agribusiness, not Oregon family farmers.” said Ivan Maluski, Friends of Family Farmers’ Policy Director. “Not only is Threemile Canyon Farms a huge source of air pollution, but many family-scale dairies have gone out of business since Threemile set up their factory farm in our state.”

In contrast to the vast majority of farms in Oregon, nearly 85% of which are family owned and operated, Threemile Canyon Farms is owned by an out-of-state corporation, R.D. Offutt. Also in contrast to more typical Oregon farming operations, open manure cesspools at Threemile exceed 40 acres in size and release up to 2850 tons of ammonia gas each year. A US Forest Service study in 2005 found these manure cesspools were a contributing source to acid rain and haze in the Columbia River Gorge.[1]

Additionally, the factory dairy at Threemile is a major source of methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas. After years of polluting unabated, a taxpayer-subsidized methane digester was recently added (with current tax credits paying on average $130 per cow) that captures methane from fewer than half of the more than 50,000 manure producing cows on site. In addition, odors from the factory dairy operation have made life difficult for long-time rural eastern Oregon residents who live nearby.

“The appointment of Marty Myers of Threemile Canyon Farms to the Oregon Board of Agriculture is concerning for a number of reasons,” said Jeanette Logan an eastern Oregon wheat farmer and former neighbor to the operation. “Mr. Myers represents one of the biggest, if the not the biggest, industrial scale farming operations in the state. It is of great concern that he will represent the perspective of huge-scale corporate farms rather than the family farms that make up the backbone of Oregon agriculture.”

In Oregon, the Threemile mega-dairy has been at the forefront of a troubling trend in the industrialization of agriculture and the loss of the family farm. According to Oregon’s Employment Department, between 2002 and 2007, at a time when Threemile was expanding, Oregon lost an average of 9 dairy farms each month and nearly half of our dairy farms shut down, while cow numbers increased.[2]

In making the appointment of Myers to the Board of Agriculture, Governor Brown dismissed Oregon dairy producer Jon Bansen, who also applied for the position. Bansen, owner of Double J Jerseys in Monmouth Oregon, raises 300 dairy cows on pasture and produces organic milk for the cooperative Organic Valley. Myers, whose role with Threemile Canyon Farms is one of corporate executive, lives in the Portland area and is not involved in the day-to-day dirty-work at the sprawling operation, while Bansen lives and works on his farm with his family. Letters of support for Bansen were submitted to the Governor by Friends of Family Farmers, Oregon Tilth, Oregon Rural Action, Organically Grown Company, Organic Valley, and others.

The Board of Agriculture directly advises Oregon’s Department of Agriculture on a wide range of policy issues and budget priorities. However, unlike many other boards and commissions, the Board of Agriculture is currently exempt from oversight by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. In addition, its members are selected by the Governor, but are not confirmed by the Oregon Senate, which raises significant questions about transparency and conflicts of interest. In 2015, Friends of Family Farmers sought legislation (HB 2595) to bring common sense reforms to the Board of Agriculture, but the bill did not pass.

Information about Jon Bansen and Double J Dairy can be found at http://www.organicvalley.coop/who-is-your-farmer/northwest/jon-bansen/

[1] Associated Press; July 30, 2005; Coal plant, daily blamed for rising Gorge pollution [sic] – http://tdn.com/business/local/coal-plant-daily-blamed-for-rising-gorge-pollution/article_f1c4e955-492d-5758-a283-39c9f6c26262.html

[2] Oregon Employment Department; August 15, 2013 – https://www.qualityinfo.org/-/oregon-dairy-industry-seeing-milk-prices-rise-aga-1

Take Action!

Contact Governor Kate Brown:

Send an email via FoFF’s comment form

OR

Phone: 503-378-4582
Public comment page: http://www.oregon.gov/gov/Pages/share-your-opinion.aspx