Standing Up for Small Farms at the Oregon Legislature

by Natalie Danielson,
Central Oregon Organizer for Friends Of Family Farms

Rising land prices, too little water, too much water (or snow!), climate change, one-size-fits all regulations…in the midst of all these threats and more, how can our community work together to protect Oregon’s agricultural legacy?

As a grassroots organization, we at Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF) strive to listen, to mobilize and be the voice for Oregon family farmers who responsibly steward their land and feed our communities.

Listening is the foundation for any grassroots organizing, so to shape our programs and policy agenda, FoFF has hosted farmer and rancher listening sessions statewide since 2009, hearing from hundreds of producers over the years. In 2018, we visited 19 communities across Oregon, including Terrebonne and Bend. During these sessions, several issues rose to the top: beginning farmer access to land, enhancing access to small farm meat processing infrastructure, expanding opportunities for agritourism and water conservation.

With the input from family farmers across the state, we worked with legislators and several bills that support small and beginning farmers are now being considered.

Beginning Farmer Access to Land

Access to land and capital for beginning and small farmers is an issue we heard over and over again, all across the state.

The average age of farmers and ranchers in Oregon is 60 years old and with extensive areas of farmland expected to change hands in the coming decades, Oregon must do all it can to assist the next generation. According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, Oregon lost over ten percent of farms between 2002 and 2012, many of these beginning farmers in the first ten years of operation. Oregon farmland prices have been rising dramatically in recent years due to a variety of factors, making it even more difficult for beginning farmers to start or grow their farm businesses.

To address these challenges, we are working on three bills to support beginning farmer access to land.

House Bill 3085 creates a new Family Farmer Loan Program to offer direct loans for land or equipment. Many family farmers or ranchers (depending on income) would be eligible to apply for low-interest loans for land and equipment if this new program is created, including beginning farmers. This bill passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee unanimously in early April.

House Bill 3090 establishes a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Incentive Program at the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) to assist beginning farmers and ranchers with student loan debt and tuition. Under this bill, the ODA would establish a program for incentives that would include, but not be limited to: student loan repayment assistance, stipends and scholarships for those enrolled in agricultural training programs at Oregon colleges and universities. This bill also passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee unanimously in early April.

House Bill 3092 establishes a new statewide Beginning Farmer Tax Credit to incentivize leasing land to beginning farmers and ranchers. Similar programs already exist in other states, and have proved successful in helping farmers lease land at affordable rates while providing benefits to landowners who make land available. Tax credits can be controversial, and at the time of printing, this bill had not yet had a hearing.

These bills have the potential to have a big impact for beginning farmers throughout the state. “If we want our small farms and young farmers to be successful, we need to give them access to land and to give them the assistance they need to create on-farm efficiencies,” says Megan French of Boundless Farmstead near Bend.

For all of these bills, the next step is to convince the Legislature to fund them with the limited state dollars we have. But if we make enough noise in support of these bills, we can make it happen! Go to oregonlegislature.gov to look up your legislators and tell them to pass HB 3085, HB 3090 and HB 3091 and invest in our beginning farmers and ranchers.

Water Conservation & Climate Change

Water use and conservation are big issues, particularly in drier parts of Oregon. Climate change is a growing threat to water supplies, rural communities, farms and ranches. With more extreme and unpredictable weather, farmers and ranchers are on the front lines and suffering the effects of climate change.

For this reason, we are supporting House Bill 2020, legislation that caps industrial greenhouse gas emissions while creating a framework for Oregon’s farmers and ranchers to be a part of the solution to climate change.

In particular, HB 2020 creates a new Climate Investment Fund to support projects, programs and activities that reduce and sequester greenhouse gas emissions and promote adaptation and resilience in the face of climate change. A significant portion of these investments would be dedicated to rural Oregon for projects on working lands. Within a few years, grants could become available for producers to adopt practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote carbon sequestration or enhance irrigation efficiency. Practices could include planting cover crops or perennial pasture, managed rotational grazing, planting hedgerows and a variety of organic methods.

HB 2020 has been debated for much of the session this year. It may or may not have passed by the time you read this, but you can get the latest on our blog at friendsoffamilyfarmers.org.

These bills are the results of grassroots organizing efforts. We, the people, get to decide what the future of agriculture will look like in our state and together we can keep Oregon a great place to live and farm!

If you support these kinds of efforts, we invite you to get involved with Friends of Family Farmers.

FoFF was founded in 2005 to represent farmers and ranchers who didn’t feel their voices were being heard. Today, we engage in educational programming like our InFARMation events to connect consumers and farmers; the Oregon Pasture Network to promote pasture-based livestock producers and Oregon Farm Link to connect beginning farmers with landowners.

Contact Natalie Danielson, our Central Oregon Organizer at natalie@friendsoffamilyfarmers.org

friendsoffamilyfarmers.org

photos courtesy of Friends of Family Farmers

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