2019 Legislative Session Ends with Progress for Sustainable Agriculture

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

Wins

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

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

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

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

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

Losses

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

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

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

Muckboots in the Capitol: June Legislative Updates

June Updates – Legislature Enters Final Stretch!

Farmers and eaters rallied for good farm and food policies at the Oregon State Capitol in March.

The 2019 Oregon Legislative Session is entering it’s final stretch. Many bills that advanced earlier in the session have been waiting for the powerful Ways and Means Committee to determine whether funding is available. As the Legislature move towards a late-June adjournment, the next few weeks are critical to moving key farm and food bills forward. Contact your State Legislators and urge them to pass the following bills, all of which are awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee:

  • SB 885 – Maintains current cap of 500 acres per year of canola in the Willamette Valley to protect specialty seed growers. 
  • HB 3085 and HB 3090 would create new beginning and small farmer assistance and loan programs 
  • SB 727A would provide funding for Double Up Food Bucks programs at farmers markets and other farm-direct locations statewide to support access to healthy food for low-income Oregonians and direct economic benefits for farmers.
  • HB 2020 to address climate change and support climate-friendly farming practices through a new Climate Investment Fund. 

Read on below for more information and updates on these and other key bills we have working on or tracking this session:

Beginning Farmer Access to Land:

HB 3085 – Creates a new Family Farmer Loan Program to provide low-interest loans to small and mid-sized farmers for land and equipment, including beginning farmers – a public hearing was held March 14 and it passed the House Agriculture and Land Use Committee unanimously on April 9. It is now in the Ways and Means Committee where we need to advocate for funding between now and the end of the session in June.

HB 3090Beginning Farmer Incentive Program to help with student loan debt and tuition assistance – a public hearing was held March 14 and it passed the House Agriculture and Land Use Committee unanimously on April 9. It is now in the Ways and Means Committee where we need to advocate for funding between now and the end of the session in June.

HB 3091 – Fee reduction for the existing Aggie Bonds beginning farmer loan program – a public hearing was held March 14 but the bill died in Committee at the March 29 scheduling deadline. Despite this bill failing, the Aggie Bonds program still exists and may be a good option for low-interest lending if you are a qualifying beginning or expanding small farmer.

The Capital Press article “Three bills propose new farmer loans and incentives” provides an overview of importance of the bills above. In addition, one more beginning farmer land access bill is still in play:

HB 3092 – Creates a new Beginning Farmer Tax Credit to encourage leasing land to beginning farmers and ranchers. In the House Revenue Committee, has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Organic, Farm Direct, Local Food and Specialty Seed Producer Protections

SB 727A – $3 million in funding for Double Up Food Bucks programming at farmers markets and other farm-direct locations – Passed the Senate Human Services Committee March 14; Awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee.

HB 3170 – Provides roughly  $1.5 million in funding to support Farm Direct Nutrition Programs for low-income women with infants and children, and low-income seniors – Passed House Human Services Committee April 1; Awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee.

SB 257 – $30 million in funding for the OSU Statewide Public Service Programs, including Extension and Agricultural Experiment Stations – Passed the Senate Education Committee March 27; Awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee.

SB 885 – Maintains current restrictions on canola production in the Willamette Valley, capped at 500 acres/year and only under permit to protect the region’s specialty vegetable seed industry. A public hearing was held in the Senate Environment Committee on April 2 and it was passed by the committee in a 3-2 vote on April 4. However, it was sent to the Ways and Means Committee where we will need to work to ensure it moves forward. Read more in Capital Press article “Oregon Senate committee passes canola limit bill“.

HB 3219 – Similar to SB 885, but explicitly prohibits the production of herbicide resistant or genetically engineered varieties of canola – Died in Committee at the March 29 scheduling deadline.

SB 449 – Creates standards for ‘farm cafes,’ to allow farmers to offer prepared meals made with products grown or produced on their and other local farms – Died in Committee at the March 29 scheduling deadline.

Climate, Water, Land Use

HB 2020 – Caps industrial greenhouse gas emissions and creates a Climate Investment Fund to support farm practices that sequester carbon in soils and promote irrigation efficiency. This bill passed the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction in mid-May and is now awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee. The bill would set up a Climate Incentives Program that has the potential to provide grants so smaller and mid-sized family farms for climate-friendly practices.

Cows standing in thick manure at the Lost Valley Farm before it was closed by state regulators for more than 200 permit violations and threats to groundwater.

SB 103 – Places a moratorium on issuing permits for new industrial-sized dairies while creating new protections for groundwater from overuse and pollution, new air emissions rules, and protections for small and mid-sized dairy farms – Public hearing held in the Senate Environment Committee on March 21; Died in Committee at the March 27 scheduling deadline.

SB 876 – Creates new permit requirements for large confined animal feeding operations to address issues raised by the failed Lost Valley mega-dairy – A public hearing was held in the Senate Environment Committee on March 21. Two amendments were proposed, including one that strengthened protections for groundwater by preventing new mega-dairies from using an exemption that allows them to access unlimited groundwater in areas where groundwater is otherwise restricted due to supply concerns. The amendments and the bill died in a 2-3 vote in committee on April 9 with Senator Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay/Tillamook) joining the two Republicans on the committee to kill the legislation.

The above two ‘mega-dairy’ bills and our efforts to secure a ‘time-out’ on new mega-dairies in Oregon in response to the regulatory failures that led to the Lost Valley mega-dairy were covered in early April in the Food and Environment Reporting Network article “After mega-dairy was shut down, Oregon lawmakers consider a moratorium on new operations“.

HB 2729 – Provides funding for Oregon’s Agricultural Heritage Program, which is aimed at preventing loss of farmland to non-farm uses and providing grants to assist in farm succession and conservation planning on farms. Passed House Agriculture Committee March 26; Awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee.

HB 2882 – Protects farmers by holding the patent-holders of genetically engineered crops financially accountable when their products cause economic harm to farmers who experience unwanted contamination. Passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on April, moving to the House Rules Committee where further discussions are continuing. A public hearing was held in mid-May on an amendment to the bill that would direct the Oregon Department of Agriculture to set up rules to  prevent GE contamination from occurring.

HB 2619 – Would ban the use of the toxic insecticide chlorpyrifos in Oregon by the end of 2020. California recently passed a similar law and the EPA has proposed ending the use of chlorpyrifos on food crops, a decision recently reversed by the Trump administration. HB 2619 had a public hearing in mid-May and is awaiting action in the House Rules Committee.

2019 Family Farmer and Rancher Day attendees learning about farm and food policy issues before heading to the Capitol to meet with Legislators.

The above list is a snap-shot of many of the bills we are tracking or have weighed in on this session. We will continue to post updates and more information on our Muckboots in the Capitol blog throughout the session, but you can also track the progress of these and other bills through the online Oregon Legislative Information System (OLIS).

Take Action! Willamette Valley Canola Rule and Legislation

Canola’s flowers are pretty, but it endangers the Willamette Valley’s unique vegetable seed industry that farmers and gardeners worldwide depend on.

The harmful risk of unregulated oilseed canola production in the Willamette Valley is once again facing Oregon farmers and food consumers. Current rules that cap annual canola production at 500 acres in the Willamette Valley expire on July 1. Now, both the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Legislature are considering new measures to address the risks from canola production to the region’s world renowned specialty seed industry after July 1.

The Oregon Legislature is considering SB 885 (read FoFF’s testimony here), a bill that would maintain the current 500 acre per year cap. It has passed one key committee and is now awaiting action in the Ways and Means Committee followed by votes in the Senate and House (take action below).

Meanwhile, the ODA has announced a proposed rule to replace current expiring canola restrictions. Unfortunately, ODA’s draft proposal simply falls short of what is necessary to protect the unique attributes of the Willamette Valley’s specialty seed industry. ODA’s proposal includes no acreage cap, doesn’t explicitly prohibit canola production in a proposed Isolation Area, doesn’t prohibit herbicide tolerant or genetically engineered canola varieties, and leaves large parts of the Willamette Valley unprotected.

Two actions you can take now to protect the Willamette Valley’s world class specialty seed industry

  1. Contact your State Legislators and urge them to vote ‘yes’ on SB 885. The Legislature could vote on this bill any day. Tell them that we need to pass SB 885 and maintain current restrictions on Willamette Valley canola production that expire July 1 in order to protect the region’s important specialty seed industry and the hundreds of farmers, gardeners, and food producers who depend on it.
  2. Submit written or email comments on the ODA canola rule by June 21 at 5pm. Comments can be short and we encourage you to include the following talking points:
    1. ODA’s draft proposal falls short of what is necessary to protect the unique attributes of the Willamette Valley’s specialty seed industry. Tell them you oppose the draft rule because it includes no acreage cap, doesn’t prohibit canola inside the proposed Isolation Area, doesn’t prohibit herbicide tolerant or genetically engineered canola varieties, and leaves many Willamette Valley farmers unprotected from the risks associated with canola.
    2. ODA’s final rule should include: an acreage cap not to exceed 500 acres per year inside the Willamette Valley Protected District; a clear prohibition on canola production inside the proposed Isolation Area; a larger Isolation Area where no production of canola would be allowed; clear protections for seed farmers outside the proposed Isolation Area; and, a clear prohibition on growing herbicide tolerant or genetically engineered varieties of canola.
    3. All comments on the canola rule must be received by 5pm, June 21 via email at ssummers@oda.state.or.us or by mail to: Sunny Summers, Oregon Department of Agriculture, 635 Capitol St. NE, Salem, OR 97301.

You can find more background information on ODA’s canola (rapeseed) webpage, including a map of the proposed Willamette Valley isolation areas and protected district.

Thank you for taking action!

Background

The Willamette Valley is known worldwide for producing high quality vegetable and cover crop seed. Farmers and gardeners around the world rely on Willamette Valley seed producers to maintain a well-organized system of isolation distances and crop rotations to ensure seed purity so that the seeds you plant match the pictures on the seed packs you buy.

Many of the seeds grown in the Willamette Valley are food crops in the Brassica family like broccoli, kale, various cabbages, bok choi, mustard greens, radishes, turnips, and more. Canola (also called rapeseed) is in the same family, but is primarily grown for oil production, not for seed purity. Canola can also spread many of the same plant diseases that impact other Brassica crops. Internationally, in regions where commodity-scale canola production has taken hold, specialty seed production has declined or withered away.

Further, due to its ability to move away from fields where it was planted from one year to the next, canola can also contaminate a variety of cover crops grown for seed in the Willamette Valley, and can spread into public rights of way where it is difficult to control. Unlike other Brassicas, most of the commercially available canola varieties are genetically engineered for herbicide tolerance, making concerns over cross-pollination and weediness even more concerning for many farmers.

In the Willamette Valley, the specialty seed and cover crop seed industries consist of dozens of seed companies, and hundreds of farmers – both organic and conventional – whose seeds are sold locally and worldwide to farmers and gardeners alike. These industries now at risk from canola exceed well over $100 million in production value each year.

Because of canola’s well documented plant disease and cross-pollination issues, it has been heavily regulated in the Willamette Valley for decades, and was effectively banned completely for many years. Due to pressure to plant canola in the Willamette Valley for biofuels beginning in the mid-2000s, research was conducted to determine whether it could co-exist with other Brassica crops. In 2013, legislation was passed to allow 500 acres per year of canola for research purposes. By agreement, only non-GE varieties were grown during this time, and only in accordance with specialty seed isolation rules which require a 3 mile distance between fields of similar Brassica crops that can cross-pollinate. These limits on canola acreage and isolation distances expire July 1, 2019.

Ultimately, the research did not reveal any new information on canola that would suggest that it should be unregulated in the Willamette Valley. Further, the research did not address the unique risks and problems associated with growing genetically engineered or herbicide resistant varieties of canola. Following the research, recommendations from the Oregon Department of Agriculture on future management of canola included proposals like creating an Isolation Area where no canola would be allowed, to maintaining the status quo of capping annual acres at 500 while requiring mandatory isolation distances to protect specialty seed crops.

In response, the Legislature is now considering SB 885 to maintain the 500 acre cap on canola indefinitely, and ODA has proposed a new canola rule to replace the expiring rules as described above. The ODA Willamette Valley canola rule comment period ends June 21.

Family Farmer and Rancher Day Draws 150+ to the State Capitol

Family Farmers, Ranchers, and Good Supporters  Rally on the Oregon Capitol Steps – March 27, 2019

On Wednesday, March 27, more than 150 farmers, ranchers and good food supporters from across Oregon came to Salem for our fifth biennial ‘Family Farms Mean Business’ Day at the Capitol. We held policy workshops in the morning where we learned about current issues being debated at the Legislature and heard from Alexis Taylor, Director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. At noon, we held a rally on the Capitol steps to advocate for bills to support beginning farmers, farmers markets, a ‘time-out’ on new industrial-sized livestock operations, new incentives for climate friendly agricultural practices, and more.

Some of the bills we highlighted at the event included:
  • SB 727A – Funding for ‘Double Up Food Bucks’ programming to increase access to farmers markets for low-income Oregonians
  • Several bills to support beginning farmers including: a proposed beginning farmer tax credit, student loan assistance for beginning farmers, and new and improved beginning farmer loan programs
  • Capping industrial greenhouse gas emissions and providing funding for climate-friendly farming practices via passing HB 2020, the Clean Energy Jobs bill
  • Establishing a ‘time-out’ on new large-scale industrial confined animal feeding operations to protect the viability of small and mid-sized farms, water, and the environment
2019 Rally Day Attendees Learning About Farm and Food Policy Issues Before Heading to the Capitol to Meet with Legislators.

In addition to a rally on the Capitol steps, a day-long ‘farmers market’ took place inside the Capitol lobby to help demonstrate the importance of small farms and local food producers, and farmers met with Legislators throughout the day.

We are very thankful to all those who came to Salem to make their voices heard. This kind of citizen engagement for small farms and healthy local food systems is critical if we want to enact policies to support small and mid-sized family farms and local food producers.
‘Family Farms Mean Business! – Oregon State Capitol, March 2019
If you missed the event, you can get a recap of the rally in the Capital Press article about the event (Farm group rallies at Oregon State Capitol) and check out a photo album from the day on our Facebook page or here.

Muckboots in the Capitol: Beginning Farmer Bills and Canola Legislation Introduced

The 2019 Legislative session is heating up as legislative committees hold hearings on bills with an eye towards an early April deadline for action. Before this deadline, to help farmers and eaters raise their collective voices in support of good food and farm legislation, we are holding our fourth biennial ‘Family Farms Mean Business’ Day at the State Capitol on March 27. Make sure to RSVP today to be part of this great event that features a rally on the Capitol steps, a special Farmers Market inside the Capitol, and meetings with your legislators

We gave a brief overview of some of the bills we are tracking this session in an earlier post (which has been updated). Below is a rundown on some of newer bills introduced and other key legislative happenings as March begins:

New Beginning Farmer and Family Farmer Land Access bills introduced – Submit Letters of Support by March 14

HB 3085 – Creates a new Family Farmer Loan Program managed by the state’s economic development agency, Business Oregon, to offer direct loans to family-scale farmers and beginning family farmers for land or equipment.

HB 3090 – Establishes a new beginning farmer and rancher incentive program at the Oregon Department of Agriculture focused on issues of student loan and tuition assistance.

HB 3091 – Reduces fees and costs to borrowers using the state’s existing ‘Aggie Bonds’ beginning farmer loan program, which incentivizes private lower interest lending to beginning farmers and ranchers for land and equipment.

The three bills above have been sent to the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources and have a public hearing scheduled at 3pm on Thursday, March 14.

How to Submit Testimony: You can help us pass these bills by emailing a letter of support for HB 3085, HB 3090 and HB 3091 to the committee before the hearing. One, two, or all three bills can be listed in the same letter, but it’s important to say that you support them and to provide the bill numbers. Please say a few words of support for the bills and the need for the Legislature to support programs that help beginning and smaller farmers access land and affordable lending. If you have any personal stories to share about your challenges with accessing financing to start a farm or to purchase land or equipment, or with student loan debt getting in the way of starting or expanding your farm, please say tell those stories as this kind of information can be very powerful in helping the Committee members see the importance of these bills. Even if you aren’t a farmer, you can still submit a letter or email to let the Committee know you support these bills to help out beginning and smaller farmers. Make sure to list your name and address in your letters or emails to the the Committee. Address all emails and letters to the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources and send them to the committee’s official email address at haglu.exhibits@oregonlegislature.gov. Once you’ve done this, let us know so we can track testimony and letters of support that have been submitted. 

In addition, another bill – HB 3092 – would establish a new, statewide beginning farmer tax credit to incentivize leasing land to beginning farmers and ranchers. This bill has been sent to the House Revenue Committee and has not yet been scheduled for a hearing. 

Lastly a bill to provide $10 million in funding to the new Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (HB 2729) had a public hearing on February 12. This bill would provide grants for farm succession planning, and funding for both long term conservation planning and protection for working farmland at risk of development or conversion to non-farm uses. Read FoFF’s testimony in support of HB 2729 here.


Canola bills introduced as an ODA Rules Advisory Committee debate future canola management in the Willamette Valley.

The issue of canola in the Willamette Valley has been a hot topic among farmers for decades. The Willamette Valley is one of the best specialty vegetable seed producing regions in the world, and dozens of seed companies work with hundreds of farmers to produce high quality seed in the region. Because plants in the Brassica family can easily cross with each other (think brocolli, kale, cabbage, etc) a complex system of isolation distances, mapping, and coordinated management have been created to ensure that the seed you buy from Willamette Valley growers is true to type – ie red cabbage is red cabbage, savoy cabbage is savoy cabbage, purple top turnip is purple top turnip etc. Because canola (raised and crushed for oil) is also in the Brassica family but is not typically managed the same as high quality seed, there have been restrictions on canola in the Willamette Valley for years. In fact, there is currently a Willamette Valley Protected District where only 500 acres per year of canola allowed to be grown, a restriction that expires in July 2019. Without new rules, this could open the door to thousands or tens of thousands of acres of unregulated canola production, which would likely destroy the unique attributes of the Willamette Valley’s specialty seed production ability and the industry built up around it. 

The Oregon Department of Agriculture has set up a Rules Advisory Committee to discuss the future of canola in the Willamette Valley Protected District and will propose new rules this summer. However, legislation has also been introduced to address the issue:

HB 3026 and SB 885 – Each of these bills would maintain the current cap of 500 acres per year on canola in the Willamette Valley Protected District and not allow the current acreage cap to expire.

HB 3219 – Maintains the current cap of 500 acres per year of canola in the Willamette Valley Protected District, but explicitly prohibits the production of genetically engineered or herbicide tolerant varieties. 

Contact your State Legislators today to urge them to support these bills to protect the Willamette Valley’s specialty seed industry. If canola is allowed in the Willamette Valley at all, there’s needs to be a limit on the acres grown and a clear prohibition on growing herbicide tolerant and genetically engineered varieties. 


More Bills Introduced to Address the Impacts of the Lost Valley Mega-Dairy – Take Action to Support a Mega-Dairy Moratorium!

Earlier in the session, two bills SB 103 and SB 104, were introduced by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. SB 103 establishes a moratorium on new ‘industrial’ dairies (defined as those over 2500 cows, or other large dairies that do not provide seasonal access to pasture), while outlining changes to how water, air and impacts to smaller farms are considered when permitting these operations in the future. SB 104 would allow stronger local rules over siting of these facilities. These bills were introduced in response to the failed 30,000 cow Lost Valley Farm mega-dairy in eastern Oregon, which racked up hundreds of pollution violations in short amount of time after being permitted by state agencies in 2017.

These bills have not yet been scheduled for a hearing – take action to support a moratorium on new mega-dairies in Oregon here!

In the past few weeks, three additional bills dealing with the management of large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have also been introduced, including:

SB 876 – would create a two-step permitting process for large confined animal feeding operations to provide greater scrutiny before they go into operation. This is the first of two bills emerging from a work group organized by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

SB 886 – would set limits (not yet specified) on the use of groundwater for watering livestock at large confined animal feeding operations. This is the second of two bills emerging from a work group organized by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. 

HB 3083 – would establish a ‘Task Force on Large-Scale Dairy Farms’ which would submit a report to the Legislature by September, 2020.

Muckboots in the Capitol: Organic Farmers and Advocates Make Their Voices Heard

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.

Click Here to RSVP – Family Farms Mean Business!

Muckboots in the Capitol: 2019 Oregon Legislative Session Begins (updated)

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:

Farmers and Eaters rally together for family farms and ranches at the State Capitol in Salem.

Farmland Protection and Beginning Farmer Access to Land

HB 2729 – Provides funding for Oregon’s new Agricultural Heritage Program. Aimed at preventing the loss of farmland to non-farm uses, under this program grants would be available for organizations and entities that provide farm-succession planning; for conservation planning and easements that provide longer term protection for farmland; and for technical assistance to help entities like land trusts and Soil and Water Conservation Districts to assist producers in long-term land conservation. Update: A hearing was held on HB 2729 at February 12 – read FoFF’s testimony in support here.

Beginning Farmer Tax Credit – Expected to be introduced soon, this bill would provide a tax credit for landowners who lease or rent land to beginning famers in Oregon. Update: HB 3092 was introduced on Feb. 26 and is awaiting action in the House Revenue Committee.

Small Farm and Beginning Farmer Lending – Bills to facilitate greater participation in Oregon’s existing Aggie Bonds Beginning and Expanding Farmer Loan Program and creating new low-interest lending opportunities for small and mid-sized family farms are also likely to be introduced this session. Update: On Feb. 26,  HB 3085 was introduced to creates a new Family Farmer Loan Program managed by the state’s economic development agency, Business Oregon, to offer direct loans to family-scale farmers and beginning family farmers for land or equipment. Also introduced was HB 3091 to reduces fees and costs to borrowers using the state’s existing ‘Aggie Bonds’ beginning farmer loan program, which incentivizes private lower interest lending to beginning farmers and ranchers for land and equipment. Finally, a third bill, HB 3090 would establishes a new beginning farmer and rancher incentive program at the Oregon Department of Agriculture focused on issues of student loan and tuition assistance. All three bills are scheduled for a hearing in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources on Thursday March 14. 

Agritourism

SB 449 – Creates standards for ‘farm cafes,’ allowing farmers and ranchers to offer prepared meals made with products grown or produced on their farms or ranches or from the local agricultural area.

SB 287 – Establishes standards for ‘farm breweries’ to allow for farm-direct sales of beer from Oregon farms. Update: SB 287 passed the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on March 5 and is now headed for a vote in the full Senate.

HB 2790 – Amends rules for what qualifies as an ‘outdoor mass gathering’ on farmland and requires clear and objective standards for permit review of agri-tourism gatherings of 500 individuals or fewer. 

Water and Climate 

Oregon Climate Action Program – Establishes a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s largest emitters (expect for agriculture and forestry), while creating an ‘allowance’ program intended to generate funding for climate adaptation and other programs. Friends of Family Farmers endorsed a similar bill in 2018, albeit with some concerns, because it would have explicitly created a fund to support water conservation on farms as well as farming practices that sequester carbon in soils. We are still in the process of reviewing the bill under discussion in the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction – HB 2020 – to determine whether small and mid-sized farms will be likely to benefit from the programs the bill establishes. 

Factory Farm Reform –The following bills were introduced in response to the much publicized Lost Valley mega-dairy near Boardman, which was approved for 30,000 cows by state regulators in 2017. The facility almost immediately began violating it’s pollution permit and used exemptions to tap restricted groundwater areas. Lost Valley ultimately went bankrupt but is currently still in operation despite having it’s permit revoked last year, revealing the need for a ‘time-out’ on permitting new facilities of this scale until tougher rules are put in place.

SB 103 – Establishes a moratorium on new industrial ‘mega-dairies’ in Oregon until rules for these facilities are strengthened. Requires the adoption of tougher air emissions and water use rules for these facilities, allows stronger local rules, sets up a bonding requirement, and requires studies on the economic impacts of mega-dairies on other dairy farms, and sets up a task force on animal welfare at mega-dairies. 

SB 104 – Strengthens the ability of local communities to adopt stronger rules for industrial ‘mega-dairies,’ preventing state agencies from granting permits unless local rules are complied with.

Funding for Statewide Extension and Organic Programs

SB 257 – Provides $30 million in funding for the Oregon State University Statewide Public Service Programs, which would allow for increased staffing and new investments in Extension programs and Agricultural Experiment Stations to support the needs of family farmers and ranchers. Friends of Family Farmers is working to secure greater investments in Organic Extension agents in particular in order to meet the unique needs of the organic farming sector. Update: SB 257 is scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Education on March 18. 

Genetic Engineering and Pesticides

HB 2882 – Allow farmers that have been harmed by contamination from genetically engineered crops to sue the patent holders of those crops.

HB 2619 – Prohibits the sale or use of products containing neonicotinoid pesticides in Oregon.

HB 2493 – Prohibits aerial spraying of pesticides to land within the McKenzie River and Santiam River watersheds, which make up much a significant portion of the Willamette Valley.

Farm Direct Agriculture

HB 2837 & SB 727 – These bills would provide financial assistance to recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – sometimes called Food Stamps) for purchasing locally grown fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets, farm share sites and retail outlets. Update: SB 727 had a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Human Services on February 21 – read FoFF’s testimony in support here

FoFF’s 2019 Policy Agenda and Listening Session Recap

We are pleased to announce that we’ve completed our 2018 Farmer and Rancher Listening Session Report & 2019 Policy Recommendations!

View the Full Report Here

Local farmers & ranchers vote on the top issues at our Listening Session in Astoria.

From December 2017 to May 2018, FoFF organized and facilitated 19 Farmer & Rancher Listening Sessions across Oregon. We invited producers out to local Grange halls, libraries, and breweries to talk about the issues impacting their farming operations and to brainstorm potential solutions.

Over 200 farmers and ranchers helped us identify several priority issues and we used this input to develop proactive policy proposals and program work outlined in the report. While a wide range of issues were raised at our Listening Sessions last year, several emerged as priority topics. As usual, small and mid-sized family farmers face significant challenges. Oregon’s family farmers especially need assistance in the following areas, including:

  1. Access to Land & Capital
  2. Access to Small Farm Meat Processing Infrastructure
  3. Expanding Opportunities for Agritourism
  4. Water Conservation

As the 2019 Oregon Legislative Session begins, we urge Oregon decision-makers to take action to address these issues. You can help amplify our voice demanding policies that benefit Oregon small and mid-sized family farms. On March 27th, 2019 we will be holding a day of action at the State Capitol in Salem to support legislation addressing these priorities. We will offer workshops in the morning to fill you in on food and farm issues, hold a rally on the Capitol steps, and provide opportunities for you to weigh in on legislation impacting local food systems and family farmers. Join us for the day and together we can show decision-makers that Family Farms Mean Business! 

FoFF Ballot Measure Endorsements 2018!

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.

For these reasons, Friends of Family Farmers has joined a coalition of over 100 organizations, community groups and businesses opposing Measure 105 because we support the rights of all people in our communities, regardless of their race or national origin. Learn more about Measure 105 and find out how you can get involved in stopping it here. Vote No on Measure 105!

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!

2018 Oregon Legislative Recap

The Oregon State Capitol – June 2017

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.

Well managed rotational grazing on pasture and the use of cover crops can sequester carbon in soils.

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.

As a result, Friends of Family Farmers testified in support of the bills, while highlighting a few areas where we felt the legislation could be significantly stronger. You can read our February 22 testimony to the House Rules Committee in support of the legislation here.

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.