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.
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
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.
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.
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 draft legislation recently made public by the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction – Legislative Concept 894 – 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
On Tuesday, April 4, Friends of Family Farmers held our fourth ‘Family Farms Mean Business’ Day at the State Capitol in Salem. The event drew over 100 farmers, ranchers, students and local food supporters to the Capitol building to talk with legislators and rally in support of efforts important to Oregon’s small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers and family-scale sustainable agriculture.
The event included a ‘farmers market’ inside the Capitol in which local producers gave out free samples and talked with legislators about the importance of farm-direct agriculture and strong local food systems.
Morning policy workshops drew dozens of local farmers and farm supporters from across Oregon, with welcome remarks delivered by Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Alexis Taylor.
In the afternoon, event attendees met with Legislators from across Oregon to talk about bills to support beginning farmers, address problems with poorly regulated genetically engineered crops, provide funding for Oregon’s Farm-to-School program and regulate air emissions from the growing number of ‘mega’ dairies coming to Oregon, including a recently approved 30,000-cow confinement dairy operation in eastern Oregon.
We’d like to thank everyone who came to Salem for this great event.
A list of priority bills that Friends of Family Farmers is supporting this year in Salem can be foundhere.
The week of March 6 was a good one for wearing muckboots at the Oregon Capitol. That’s because the Legislature began tackling two major issues having to do with manure: air pollution from large concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and tax credits for manure digesters.
The controversy over these questions goes back more than a decade, but two major issues that are brewing – a proposed 30,000 head mega-dairy in eastern Oregon that will lack any air pollution controls, and a massive state budget shortfall – are causing Legislators to ask tough questions.
On Thursday, March 9, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee heard testimony on SB 197, a bill to create rules to regulate air contaminant emissions from large dairy concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), like the 70,000-cow Threemile Canyon Farms and the proposed 30,000-cow Lost Valley Ranch dairy, both in eastern Oregon. FoFF testified in support of SB 197, as did a group of 27 public health professionals.
Earlier in the week, on March 7, the House Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee heard testimony on HB 2853, a bill to limit a controversial manure digester tax credit to those digesters already in operation as of January 1, 2017. Read FoFF’s testimony in support of HB 2853 and why we have concerns over Oregon’s tax subsidies for manure digesters.
In some ways, these two issues are linked: In 2007, in response to concerns that air pollution from Threemile Canyon Farms was fouling the Columbia River Gorge and the rural communities near them, the Oregon Legislature pass a bill that created a Task Force on Dairy Air Quality to look at potential solutions to the problem. The Task Force met throughout 2008, and produced a final consensus report that called for the creation of an Oregon Dairy Air Emissions Program, a combination of voluntary measures (beginning in 2009) and regulation of large sources of pollution (beginning in 2015).
Agreed to by Threemile Canyon Farms and others in the dairy industry, as well as Friends of Family Farmers and public interest groups that also served on the Task Force, the final proposal was described by all involved as ‘an optimal balance between the need to protect air quality and ensure the viability of Oregon’s dairies.’ The intent of the program was to reduce harmful air emissions and ‘prevent future problems from arising.’ New operations were supposed to comply with the rules upon startup.
But the program was never created. Instead, the state has authorized millions in tax credits, most of which have gone to Threemile Canyon Farms to build a methane digester, something they had been promising for nearly a decade but did not construct until taxpayers were on the hook to pay for it. Now, as a new 30,000-cow mega-dairy seeks approval to operate, Oregon remains woefully unprepared. We have no air quality rules in place and do not even require basic air quality monitoring.
Friends of Family Farmers believes that new, large CAFOs should be required to comply with air quality rules and to pay for air pollution controls (like manure digesters) as a cost of doing business in Oregon, not have state taxpayers cover the cost. The current manure digester tax credit is structured so that it primarily benefits the state’s largest operation, even as small and mid-sized dairy farms in Oregon have been going out of business in large numbers. And, as neighboring states, like California, get tough on air quality from large livestock operations, Oregon’s current manure digester tax credit could be used as a subsidy that in effect encourages new, large operations to come here. Some in the Legislature are pondering the same questions, as this story in the Portland Tribune on the manure digester subsidy reveals.
Contact your Legislatorsand urge them to vote yes on SB 197, and to support ending the manure digester tax credit for new mega-dairies.
Dealing with the Problems caused by poorly regulated GMO crops
On March 16, there were public hearings on two bills dealing with problems associated with poorly regulated genetically engineered crops.
HB 2469 is in the House Agriculture Committee and would allow for local regulation of genetically engineered (GE) crops to protect farmers whose crops may be at risk of contamination due to a lack of state regulatory oversight. This legislation is in response to ongoing state inaction since the passage of a bill in 2013 that declared regulation of GE crops to be under the ‘exclusive regulatory power’ of the state. But the Oregon Department of Agriculture claims to lack any regulatory authority and this has left vulnerable farmers stuck in a regulatory vacuum that primarily benefits GMO crop developers, not most Oregon farmers. Since the state has had over 3 years to address these issues and hasn’t, advocates are pushing for a return to local decision-making on these issues. Read FoFF’s testimony in support of HB 2469 here.
In the House Judiciary Committee, Legislators are considering HB 2739, which would allow farmers who discover the unwanted presence of GE material on their land to seek damages from the patent-holders of these crops. The recent ‘deregulation’ of herbicide-tolerant creeping bentgrass has many farmers concerned, as bentgrass has already proven to have escaped into the wild and can cross with non-GE grass varieties. Oregon and Washington farmers have also seen high profile contamination incidents in recent years with experimental GE wheat and deregulated GE alfalfa hay. HB 2739 strengthens the ability of farmers to hold GE crop patent-holders financially liable for the damage from unwanted presence of their products. Read Friends of Family Farmers testimony in support of HB 2739 here.
We urge you to Contact your Legislators to urge them to vote yes on both HB 2469 and HB 2739 to protect farmers from the problems associated with genetically engineered crops.
Family Farms Mean Business Rally and Day of Action – April 4, 2017
The Family Farms Mean Business day at the State Capitol will include educational farm and food policy workshops, a mid-day rally on the Capitol steps, an indoor ‘farmers market’ to promote the positive impact of direct marketing and small farms, meetings with Legislators, and more.
We will be talking about a number of key issues, including:
1) increasing support for new and beginning farmers
2) addressing economic risks to farmers from poorly regulated genetically engineered crops
3) addressing problems associated with factory farms
4) stopping proposed funding cuts to Farm-to-School
We are asking folks to RSVP in advance if planning to attend workshops and meetings to help us with planning.
Morning policy workshops begin at 9:30 am – Please RSVP (includes continental breakfast and lunch)
Rally on the Oregon Capitol Steps begins at 12:30 – Come one Come all!
Afternoon meetings with your Legislators – Please RSVP