Spending Bill includes farm, forest, rural help

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Us Senator Ron Wyden Press Release,

Merkley, Wyden Announce Investments in Rural Communities Included in Spending Bill
Merkley co-authored agriculture spending bill included in the fiscal year 2021 omnibus bill passed by Congress

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley—who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture and rural development—and Ron Wyden today announced that the Senate has passed a fiscal year 2021 agriculture spending bill that will benefit Oregon’s farms and families. The next step for the bill is to be signed into law by the president.

“In every corner of our state, I’ve heard about the need for investments in our farms and rural industries, affordable housing, and good-paying jobs—especially as the coronavirus crisis’ toll on our health and economy continues to deepen,” said Merkley, who co-authored the agriculture appropriations bill. “I fought hard to ensure that those insights, and the specific ideas and priorities Oregonians have shared with me, would make it into this bill, so we can strengthen the vitality of our communities and keep delivering the world-class agricultural products Oregon is known for.”

“Building the strongest possible quality of life throughout Oregon requires robust investment to support signature job-creating state industries such as agriculture and fishing, while also ensuring rural residents have housing they can afford,” Wyden said. “I’m glad this bill helps to achieve all those goals that Oregonians have shared with me on Zoom calls, virtual town halls and socially distanced conversations during this most challenging year.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield a generation ago to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013 so that Oregon would have a strong voice in decisions about the investments our nation should be making.

Key elements to benefit Oregonians in the spending bill are:

Wine Grape Smoke Exposure Research: This year’s unprecedented wildfire season blanketed much of the state of Oregon with dense, hazardous smoke, which has significantly impacted Oregon’s wine grape harvest. To better understand the challenges facing Oregon’s wine growers, the bill includes $3.5 million for research into smoke-impacted grapes at Oregon State University (OSU) and other West Coast universities, building on $2 million secured the prior appropriations cycle.

Rural Housing: The bill includes $1.41 billion for rental assistance and $40 million for Rural Housing Service Vouchers, which will help address the urgent housing crisis facing Oregon’s rural communities.

Rural Development: The bill protects funding for a number of USDA’s Rural Development programs, including rural housing and business development programs that President Trump proposed eliminating. These programs make billions of dollars of investments in rural America every year.

National Scenic Area: The bill includes $2 million to help Oregon’s rural communities promote economic development through the Oregon and Washington Investment Boards, rounding out a $10 million commitment that was authorized when the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area was created.

Soil Health: The bill includes $1.5 million for the establishment of a Soil Carbon Research Center at OSU focused on research into current and future dryland production practices to increase profitability and yield, conserve soil, enhance soil water storage, and promote sequestration of carbon for soil health.

Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: The bill includes a $30 million for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations in Oregon. Funding is included for irrigation districts that need to improve water efficiency and conservation or otherwise improve fish and wildlife habitat. This program is providing critical funding for the collaborative processes underway across the state working to conserve water and keep Oregon’s family farms in business while improving the habitats of endangered species. Construction has begun on several key projects to address water resource interests in Central Oregon, including in Tumalo Irrigation District and Central Oregon Irrigation District, and funding announced today will allow further expansion across the state, such as the East Fork Irrigation District project that has broken ground in Hood River.

Pacific Shellfish: The bill includes $3.5 million of federal funding for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of the Pacific shellfish agricultural system. This research is critical to efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate chaos on the health and economies of Oregon’s coastal communities.

Western Rangeland Livestock: The bill includes $3 million for the establishment of a Western Rangeland Precision Livestock center to develop precision-based nutrition strategies for rangeland-based livestock, as well as technology-based rangeland and livestock management strategies to optimize the health and productivity of Western rangeland-based livestock and the rangeland ecosystem. This funding will be split among land grant universities in Oregon, Montana, and Wisconsin.

Agricultural Research: The Agricultural Research Service received an increase of $77 million in funding for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of the nation’s agricultural systems. In addition, Merkley was able to secure funding for key Oregon agriculture research programs, including funding for research on the Sudden Oak Death pathogen plaguing the south coast. Other research funding victories include research for alfalfa, barley, tree fruits, pear, wheat, hops, hemp, apple, shellfish, small fruits, seaweed, floriculture, nurseries, and rangeland ecology.

Mass Timber Products: The advanced wood products program at USDA received $3.5 million for work on mass timber products that would enhance Oregon State University’s cutting-edge research.

Summer EBT: The bill continues funding the Summer EBT program at $42 million. This program has provided much-needed nutrition for Oregon families during the summer months when schools are not in session.

Food Corps: The bill provides an increase of $1 million for Food and Agriculture Service Learning. This program helps improve education resources for healthy eating especially among children.

Hemp: The bill provides $16.5 million to implement provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill allowing for the cultivation of commercial hemp, which can be used to make everything from cloth and rope to oil and soap. Hemp has already quickly become one of Oregon’s leading cash crops, and many feel has the potential to bring in more than $1 billion in sales to Oregon in the coming years, but only with a fair and reasonable regulatory framework.

In addition, the explanatory statement highlights several concerns raised by Oregon hemp producers over the USDA’s proposed testing and sampling regulations, and directs the USDA to ensure that the final rule for the Domestic Hemp Program is based on science and will ensure a fair and reasonable regulatory framework for commercial hemp producers. The bill also:

– Extends the 2014 hemp pilot program until January 1, 2022, providing hundreds of Oregon farmers clear operating guidelines as the USDA smooths out regulatory challenges;
– Encourages the USDA to study the usage and impact of energy and water in hemp cultivation and to make recommendations on best practices and standards;
– Directs the agency to establish and maintain a hemp germplasm repository for hemp breeding purposes;
– Provides $2 million for the agency to conduct regionally-driven research, development, and stakeholder engagement to improve understanding of how to effectively integrate hemp into existing agricultural cropping, processing, and marketing systems; and
– Directs the USDA to work with institutions under its jurisdiction to provide access to guaranteed loans for hemp producers and businesses.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA): The bill provides $3.2 billion in discretionary funding for FDA. As FDA continues to be on the frontlines of addressing COVID-19, the bill ensures the agency continues to have adequate funding to respond to this urgent need. The bill also includes an additional $5 million for FDA to continue work on a regulatory pathway for CBD, a product derived from hemp.