2015 Oregon Legislative Wrap Up: Wins, Losses and Draws

Friends of Family Farmers fought hard for family-scale farmers in the 2015 legislative session on bills ranging from agri-tourism to GE crops to urban agricultural zones. On the evening of July 6, the 2015 Oregon Legislative session finally adjourned. In the end, the roller-coaster session marked by the high-profile resignation of a recently elected Governor resulted in a mixed bag of wins, losses and draws for family farms in Oregon. Here’s a rundown of the major issues Friends of Family Farmers worked on this session and how our priorities fared:

Wins:

Our efforts to support beginning farmers, OSU Extension and Agricultural Experiment Stations, Oregon’s Farm-to-School program and agri-tourism providers all went well this session. Friends of Family Farmers supported the following legislation and funding priorities that were enacted this year:

  • Aggie Bonds: HB 3239 improves access to Oregon’s beginning and expanding farmer loan program (aka Aggie Bonds) by expanding the types of lending under the program to include beginning farmer loans issued by NW Farm Credit Services as well as seller-financed loans. Additionally, through HB 5005, the Legislature authorized up to $10 million in state bonding authority to support dozens of lower-interest rate beginning farmer loans under the program over the next two years. FoFF led the effort to pass this bill.
  • Agri-tourism: SB 341 provides new legal protections for farms engaged in ‘agri-tourism’ including u-pick, corn-mazes, hay rides, farm stays and more. Under SB 341, as long as a farmer posts required signs and aren’t negligent, they are protected from liability if members of the public who visit their farm are injured due to the inherent risks of the farm, including uneven or muddy ground and the presence of animals. FoFF was a leading group in a coalition working to pass this bill.
  • Farm-to-School: Oregon’s Farm-to-School program received a large boost in funding for the next two years, rising from $1.2 million to $4.5 million. The program was also expanded to cover school meal programs statewide, going beyond the competitive grant system that made the program available to a smaller number of schools in previous years. A large coalition of Farm-to-School advocates supported the funding increases and changes to the program and FoFF testified in support during legislative hearings and met with Legislative leaders throughout the session to help ensure a positive outcome.
  • OSU Extension: Through SB 129, Oregon State University’s Extension and Agricultural Experiment Stations received $14 million in new funding, which will allow the University to hire new positions to support farmers statewide. Programs to be funded include beginning farmer support, pollinator health, sustainable grazing management, fermentation sciences and more. FoFF worked with a diverse coalition in support of this effort.

Losses:

Our work to support farmers concerned about lax state and federal oversight of genetically engineered crops, encourage increased use of ‘working lands easements’ to keep farmland at risk of development in farm ownership, and curtail overuse of antibiotics on large factory-scale farms lost out this session as the Legislature failed to act on these. Friends of Family Farmers worked in support of the following proactive legislation that received significant debate, but ultimately failed to pass:

Much of the canola grown in the US is genetically engineered to tolerate herbicides
Much of the canola grown in the US is genetically engineered to tolerate herbicides, a trait which threatens Oregon specialty seed and organic markets.
  • GE Crops: At the outset of the session, there seemed to be good odds for the passage of at least one of the introduced bills that would create state level safeguards and regulation of genetically engineered crops. In particular, after a one-year task force on genetically engineered agriculture, Governor Kitzhaber introduced a bill to allow the Oregon Department of Agriculture to use its existing ‘control area’ authority to keep genetically engineered crops away from non-genetically engineered crops at risk of cross-contamination. But almost immediately, the Governor’s office began backpedaling in response to pressure from groups representing out-of-state biotechnology interests. Once Governor Kitzhaber resigned, Governor Brown’s office walked away from the issue completely. Despite FoFF’s efforts to revive a ‘control area’ bill, the issue died without action.
  • Farm Antibiotics Reform: On the topic of farm antibiotics reform, FoFF supported House and Senate legislation that would have prohibited the feeding of antibiotics to healthy farm farm animals for growth promotion and in daily low doses for disease prevention. These practices have been tied to the growing presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in our food supply. Most farmers in Oregon either don’t use antibiotics, or are using antibiotics in appropriate ways when needed to treat sick animals, and these bills would have allowed farmers to use antibiotics when needed. They also would have required annual reporting on antibiotic use by the 100-150 largest Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in Oregon where antibiotic overuse is most likely to be taking place. While one of the bills (SB 920) passed a key Senate committee, it ultimately died without action.
  • Working Lands Easements: One of Governor Kitzhaber’s initiatives supported by FoFF, SB 204, would have used $30 million in bonding to fund new state loan, loan guarantee, and grant programs to protect working lands at risk of development and to encourage good conservation practices on farmland in Oregon. This would have provided funding for activities that protect working farms in Oregon, including through the use of working lands conservation easements. Such easements can be a way to help farmers plan for transitions in ownership to maintain their farms and protect the land from development threats, often while improving conservation values. Like a number of Governor Kitzhaber’s initiatives, this effort fell to the wayside and even a scaled down version focused on using conservation easements and other strategies for riparian restoration on farms in Oregon failed to pass the Legislature

Draws:

Specialty seed producers and urban farmers were among those who had a mixed bag of results this session with some setbacks and some progress made. FoFF worked on the following bills we are putting in the ‘draw’ category:

Urban farms can provide a good income on a small acreage while boosting food security, providing pollinator habitat, and creating greenspaces.
Urban farms can provide a good income on a small acreage while boosting food security, providing pollinator habitat, and creating greenspaces.
  • Urban Agriculture: Early in the session, there seemed to be great support for HB 2723, a bill to allow local communities to establish ‘urban agriculture incentive zones’ where lower property tax rates could be offered for small-scale urban farms. The bill passed the House and a key Senate committee, but ultimately stalled in the Senate Finance and Revenue Committee in the Legislature’s final days and died upon adjournment. While this bill didn’t pass, the strong showing of support in the Legislature for encouraging urban agriculture suggests future legislation may be in the mix.
  • Canola in the Willamette Valley: The passage of HB 3382 marked at set-back on the issue of canola in the Willamette Valley, a major concern for the specialty seed industry, organic producers and fresh market vegetable growers due to issues of crop-contamination. Under this bill, the Legislature approved 500 acres of canola per year between 2016 and 2019, a period previously subject to a ‘no-canola’ moratorium. However, the bill also requires more comprehensive research on the harmful impacts of canola to the specialty seed industry and for the Oregon Department of Agriculture to present recommendations on rules or laws need to protect the specialty seed industry from canola in the future. This means the issue will continue to be something the Legislature or Oregon Department of Agriculture will have to address in the future, or risk putting significant industries in harm’s way if canola is allowed to be grown without any restrictions after 2019.
  • Manure Digester tax subsidies: A major tax credit for manure digesters was the topic of HB 2449, a bill initially supported by FoFF because it reduced tax subsidies for manure digesters by roughly 80%. Such digesters are most often located on larger-scale concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and in Oregon, the biggest recipient of this tax credit is the state’s largest dairy CAFO, Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman, which has received millions in subsidies to date. As currently structured, the tax credit also provides a taxpayer-funded incentive for new factory-scale CAFOs to set up in Oregon as long as they build a manure digester. At one point, the bill was amended to revert to higher subsidy levels, which prompted FoFF to oppose it, and amendments under discussion could have led to a nearly $20 million windfall for Threemile Canyon Farms over the next several years. Ultimately, the bill died, and while the existing tax credit will remain lucrative and continue to use up scarce tax dollars better spent elsewhere, it will expire in two years unless the Legislature acts to renew it in 2016 or 2017.

Introducing the 2015 Muckboots in the Capitol Blog – Hot Topics in Salem

January 29, 2015

Well, it’s that time again. Every other year, the Oregon Legislature meets from February to July to hold hearings, pass laws, and create the state’s budget. And since 2011, Friends of Family Farmers has had a strong presence at the State Capitol, keeping you up to date on what’s happening and how you can make a difference for family farmers and strong local food systems with our ‘Muckboots in the Capitol’ blog.

The halls of the State Capitol are full of well-heeled lobbyists, but much like a barn, the Capitol needs some farmers in muck boots to help shovel out the manure from time to time to help keep things on track.

Once the 2015 Legislative Session formally begins on February 2, we are planning to post a regular ‘shovel’ full of updates from the Legislature’s proceedings right here, both the good and the bad. So plan to check back here frequently for the latest information and follow our twitter page for even more rapid fire commentary on the Legislature’s day to day activities.

FoFF’s Legislative Priorities – 2015

So far, we’ve counted nearly 100 bills either directly relating to, or having an impact on, agriculture and food in the Oregon Legislature this year. Among these are a number of key bills and budget proposals we believe will help advance socially responsible agriculture and healthy local food systems in Oregon. In short, our 2015 legislative priorities are:

  • Protecting the viability of Oregon’s farms and agricultural markets
  • Supporting new marketing opportunities for Oregon farmers
  • Supporting new and beginning farmers
  • Reducing the harm from factory farms
  • Increasing transparency in government decision-making that affects family farmers

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1. Protecting the viability of Oregon’s farms and agricultural markets

State Level GE protections: Oregon farmers have faced huge issues with poorly managed genetically engineered (GE) crops in recent years, and the current state of federal and state oversight over GE crops presents the potential for serious economic risk, product contamination and financial harm for Oregon farmers, with little recourse when harm occurs. Many of our most important markets, both foreign and domestic, have strict requirements for non-GE products. Acknowledging a number of these issues, Governor Kitzhaber formed a Task Force on Genetically Engineered Agriculture in 2014, which FoFF and a number of others served on. Now, following on the heels of the final report of that task force, both the Governor and Legislators have introduced legislation that would strengthen state authority over GE crops to better protect Oregon’s significant non-GE markets. We will be working closely on theGovernor’s bill (SB 207) and other legislation, including HB 2674 and HB 2675, to ensure the strongest possible protections for Oregon’s important non-GE markets, aid Oregon farmers at risk of harm from poorly regulated GE crops, and to ensure stronger oversight over GE crops in Oregon most at risk of contaminating other crops.

Protecting Working Lands: The Governor has also proposed a substantial ‘working lands’ initiative that would establish new state loan, loan guarantee and grant programs intended to help protect working farmland at risk of development, and to encourage good conservation practices on existing farms in Oregon. Through new tools like low-interest loans, state loan guarantees and grants for ‘working lands conservation easements,’ Oregon can help protect existing farmland, improve on conservation values found on farmland, and provide assistance in passing along working farms to a new generation of family farmers planning to work the land. We will be working closely on the Governor’s working lands bill (SB 204) to help create new tools for family farmers and ranchers to protect working farms and ranches across the state.

Increased funding for OSU Extension and Ag Research Programs: After experiencing cuts in recent years, key Extension and Ag Research programs around the state that benefit farmers and help conserve natural resources have suffered as staffing has been cut. Now, a wide coalition of agriculture and conservation groups are seeking significant increases in funding for Extension and agriculture research programs generally referred to as the ‘OSU Statewide Public Service Programs.’ Securing funding increases will help with important regional Extension priorities including small and beginning farmer support, pollinator health, food safety, water quality protection, and research needs on crop rotation, reducing pesticide use, and sustainable management techniques.

2. Supporting new marketing opportunities for Oregon farmers

Agritourism: Agritourism is a key opportunity to enhance economic value on farms in Oregon. But whenever a farm offers u-pick opportunities, farm-stays, or other public access onto their farm as part of their business plan, the farmer takes a risk of being sued if someone gets injured. Limiting the legal liability of farmers who engage in agritourism opportunities is a key way to help reduce the risk of being sued when inviting the public onto your property. SB 341 would establish blanket legal liability protections for agritourism providers as long as they post clear signs, and take other steps to reduce risks to the public when entering their farm.

3. Supporting new and beginning farmers

Enhancing and Funding Aggie Bonds: In 2013, the Oregon Legislature created Oregon’s Beginning and Expanding Farmer Loan Program, also known as Aggie Bonds, to provide lower interest lending to beginning and smaller farmers. In 2015, legislation (yet to be introduced) will expand the types of lenders who will be able to offer Aggie Bonds backed loans. The more lenders who participate in the program, the more beginning farmers are likely to benefit from the lower interest rates Aggie Bonds can offer. Additionally, because Aggie Bonds require state-backed bonds to be issued equivalent to the value of loans issued under the program, some $10 million in bonding authority will need to be authorized by the legislature for 2015-17 to support loans for the maximum amount for up to 10 beginning farmer borrowing the maximum amount (approximately $500,000) per year. Lastly, elements of the Governor’s Working Lands Initiative (mentioned above) are also intended to provide lower interest loans and loan guarantees which can be used by beginning and newer farmers and aid in farm succession from an older to a newer generation in Oregon. Combined, these efforts will both support the existing Aggie Bonds program and enhance opportunities for beginning farmers in Oregon.

4. Reducing the harm from factory farms

Preventing misuse of antibiotics on factory farms: The misuse of medically important antibiotics on healthy animals for growth promotion and disease prevention in factory farms is both a major public health issue and a problem for socially responsible farmers who need antibiotics to work when trying to heal genuinely sick animals. Major outbreaks of antibiotic resistant salmonella from Foster Farms chicken, which sickened hundreds across the country in 2014, is the most recent example of how the lack of transparency on antibiotic use, and misuse of medically important antibiotics, in factory farm settings is a growing problem. HB 2598 would bar the use of medically important antibiotics for non-medical purposes in food producing animals (with a focus on poultry, swine and cattle), and require extensive reporting on the use of antibiotics on factory farms in Oregon to better track how much and what types are being used in the largest concentrated animal feeding operations, where misuse of antibiotics is most likely.

5. Increasing transparency in government decision-making that affects family farmers

Board of Agriculture reform: Oregon’s Board of Agriculture is the advisory board to the Oregon Department of Agriculture and members are appointed by the Governor. But unlike other state agency oversight/advisory boards, the Governor’s appointees to the Board of Agriculture are not confirmed by the Oregon Senate, nor are its members subject to the Oregon Government ethics and conflict of interest provisions that other state Boards are required to adhere to. In recent years, it has not been clear what criteria are being used to select Board of Agriculture appointees, and without Senate confirmation, there is no way to ensure the public has meaningful input on who gets selected. HB 2595 would change this and also require that at least two of the 10 Board of Agriculture members be ‘direct market’ producers who primarily sell within Oregon to help ensure that this fast-growing sector of agriculture has guaranteed representation on the Board no matter who is Governor. The bill would also make clear that the two ‘public’ members on the Board have no financial conflicts of interest related to agriculture.

Stay Tuned:

As the session proceeds, a number of other bills that fit into one or more of the above priority categories will likely emerge and require our attention, including efforts to maintain or increase funding for Oregon’s Farm to School program, bills to create or remove tax credits that impact farming, land use related bills, and more. Check in to the Muckboots in the Capitol blog for the latest information.

Muckboots in the Capitol – February 2014 Legislative Session Wrap-Up

The Oregon Legislature convened its 2014 legislative session on February 3 and finished work on March 7, two days ahead of the constitutionally required adjournment date. A number of bills were introduced that were important to Oregon farmers and food consumers:

HB 4078 – As introduced, this bill would have affirmed Washington County’s controversial plans to designated significant farmland for urban development, a move opposed by FoFF and many farm, food and land use groups.

  • Because it was so controversial as originally written, this bill was amended substantially and became the topic of a ‘land use grand bargain’ that would end further lawsuits over Washington County’s controversial rural/urban boundary changes, while providing longterm protection for substantial high quality farmland in the Helvetia area (and others) in Washington County by largely designating these lands as rural reserve. Read more about the ‘land use grand bargain’ here.
  • On February 27, the amended HB 4078 passed out of the House Rules committee with a broad consensus of support from land use planning advocates and farm groups. It passed the House in a unanimous vote on February 28, followed by a unanimous vote of the Oregon Senate shortly after. Governor Kitzhaber is expected to sign the bill into law.
  • Though compromise was reached on HB 4078 and the issue of setting rural and urban reserves in Washington County, some legislators are using the bill’s passage to call for potentially significant changes to the land use system that could put farmland at risk in the 2015 legislative session.

SB 1541 – Extends until 2020 the crop donation tax credit for farmers that donate crops to food banks and food pantries.

  • FoFF and a wide array of farm, food and food security groups submitted testimony in support of this bill and it passed the Senate 30-0 on February 14. It ultimately also passed the Oregon House unanimously in the final few days of the legislative session. Read testimony on the bill here.
  • Because the bill has passed, beginning in 2014, farmers donating their crops to food banks and food pantries will be able to received a tax credit for up to 15% of the wholesale value of the food donated, and be able to use the credit on their taxes for up to three years. The new crop donation tax credit expires in 2020.

SB 1563 – Expands Oregon’s entrepreneurial development fund (a loan program) for use in rural areas, increasing the cap on loans from $70,000 to $100,000, and extending payback periods from 5 to 10 years. This expanded program could be used for lending to agriculture and small farm businesses in rural areas.

  • This bill has passed both the Senate and House with little opposition and is on its way to the Governor’s desk. Read the bill here.

HB 4139 – Would have declared certain neonicotinoid pesticides as ‘restricted use’ and stepped up education about pollinators for pesticide applicators.

  • This bill was substantially amended in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and no longer contains a restriction on pesticides. The amended bill instead establishes new pollinator education requirements for licensed pesticide applicators and sets up a Governor-appointed task force to identify new pollinator protection measures that could be enacted by the Legislature or Oregon Department of Agriculture in the future.
  • The amended bill has passed both the House and Senate and is now headed to the Governor. Read an article here.

HB 4153 – Authorized cities and counties to adopt ordinances for expediting industrial development in rural areas with high unemployment, which could negatively impact farmland.

  • This bill died in committee.

HB 4100 – Would have referred a measure to the November 2014 ballot that would require labeling of genetically engineered (GMO) foods sold in Oregon.

  • A public hearing was held on this bill on February 12 in the House Rules Committee. Friends of Family Farmers testified in support along with a wide range of food, farm and consumer organizations and businesses including Whole Foods, Organically Grown Company, Oregon Tilth, Oregon Farmers’ Markets Association, Oregon Rural Action, Consumers Union, Slow Food Portland, Rogue Farm Corps, and more. See all submitted testimony here.
  • Because this bill was in the House Rules Committee, it could have moved to a vote at any time up until the end of the session.
  • The Legislature ultimately failed to take any further action on this legislation, marking three sessions in a row of not holding a vote on the issue of GMO food labeling, instead leaving the issue up to the citizen initiative process or the Governor’s GMO Task Force (see below) for now.

Governor Kitzhaber’s GMO Task Force:

  • The Governor’s GMO Task Force was initially announced in early October to help establish statewide policies relating to the regulation of genetically engineered crops and foods as a result of the inclusion of SB 863 in a short special session of the Legislature in the fall of 2013. SB 863 pre-empted local communities from establishing or enforcing local seed and food related ordinances and was a top-priority of out-of-state companies that patent and market genetically engineered seeds and pesticides. In lieu of local policies, many legislators and the Governor called for a statewide approach to such issues. The task force will be tasked with developing policies to address conflicts between GMO crops and non-GMO crops, food labeling, and other related issues, and to inform legislation the Governor plans to bring forward in 2015.
  • During the February session, the Legislature approved $125,000 in funding for the task force.
  • The Governor’s office has announced that the facilitator of the task force will be Oregon Consensus, and the co-chairs will be Dan Arp, Dean of the College of Agriculture at Oregon State University, and Jennifer Allen, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University. Other members of the task force are being identified now and the group is planning to begin meeting in April.