Ag Dept. makes policy recommendations to Kitzhaber

Biennial report to the governor & legislature provides priority policy recommendations
By Oregon Dept. of Agriculture

The State Board of Agriculture has completed one of its primary biennial tasks and is ready to share the results with Oregon’s governor and legislature. The 2013 Oregon State of the Agriculture Industry Report is now published, complete with a snapshot of Oregon agriculture’s competitiveness, challenges, and opportunities. The 55-page document– also available online– provides lawmakers with priority policy recommendations as determined by the 10-member board.

“The reason we put this report together is to primarily educate our legislators on what is important to agriculture,” says Board of Agriculture Chair Doug Krahmer, a blueberry farmer from St. Paul. “In some cases, the report reviews good things that have been done and in other cases, we are bringing up some things that potentially might not be so good.”

The 2005 Oregon Legislature passed HB 2196, requiring the State Board of Agriculture to prepare biennial reports to the governor and legislative assembly regarding the status of the agriculture industry. The document gives an overview of many topics and issues related to, impacting, and affected by agriculture. The report features 10 key issues critical to the competitiveness of Oregon’s agricultural producers and processors: water quantity, transportation, food processing, labor, energy, taxes, soil and water quality, land use, local foods and small farms, and food safety. Each section draws comparisons between Oregon and its neighboring states of Washington, Idaho, and California.

Primary research and writing of the report was done by the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Brent Searle, special assistant to the director. The Board of Agriculture reviewed and approved the report. Speaking in one voice, the board states, “this report should help the reader understand where Oregon is competitive, and where it is not; what things are going well, and where challenges exist; and what the legislature, governor, congressional representatives, and Oregon’s citizens can do to help.”

The board’s report is an honest, unvarnished look that avoids sugar coating the outlook for Oregon agriculture. Nonetheless, there is a lot to feel good about after reading the report, according to Krahmer.

“This is one of the more important activities undertaken by the board. When it comes to the legislative arena and getting help to solve the industry’s problems, this report is what we rely on to inform our legislators what is needed.”

Each board member will take with them a copy of the report to the State Capitol in early March, the date of the next quarterly meeting of the Board of Agriculture. Individual meetings are scheduled between board members and key legislators. The report will be given to each legislator as something that will hopefully be more than just a keepsake.

“We have recommendations for the legislature,” says Krahmer. “We have the ability to address many of those issues, but a lot of them take money. We can’t address those issues without adequate funding by the legislature. That’s one of the messages we will be delivering during our meetings.”

The report’s executive summary succinctly boils it down to a good news, bad news declaration. “The bad news: Oregon agriculture lags behind our three neighboring states in many key areas. The good news: Oregon policymakers can take positive actions to help us catch up.”

If legislators, the governor, and regulatory agencies don’t have a chance to read all of the report, they should at least be mindful of the top 10 priority policy recommendations as listed in the executive summary:

  • Ensure access to irrigation water (statewide).
  • Expand markets and increase sales locally, regionally, and internationally.
  • Support truck transportation, but begin to maximize rail, barging and other water modes to move product to market more efficiently.
  • Provide relief from the high cost of inputs, including taxes, energy, and labor.
  • Encourage management of natural resources in a way that enables farming while protecting water, soil, air, habitat, and endangered species.
  • Support a land use system that protects farmland for farm use.
  • Support a high quality research, experiment and extension service that enables growers to diversify cropping and capitalize on unique geographic micro-climates and soils, and to remain competitive in a world market.
  • Offer assistance for food processors—as key markets for growers—with technical and financial help to address wastewater permits that incorporate recycled, reclaimed, or reused water methods and technologies.
  • Help growers meet new food safety standards that are becoming more stringent and costly.
  • Help young or new farmers and transitional family farmers successfully become the next generation of aspiring producers.

The report from the Board of Agriculture is designed to not just sit on a shelf and gather dust. Board members are confident it can foster a better understanding and appreciation of Oregon agriculture, and a chance for all Oregonians to join together to address key issues.

“The last couple of reports have been well received by our lawmakers,” says Krahmer. “I believe our legislature is starting to take notice of these reports as they receive them.”

If this year’s edition results in at least some policy decisions favorable to Oregon agriculture, it’s all been worth the effort.

For more information, contact Bruce Pokarney at (503) 986-4559.

Disclaimer: Articles featured on Oregon Report are the creation, responsibility and opinion of the authoring individual or organization which is featured at the top of every article.