Today, OGP is a statewide coalition of 15 food & agriculture organizations.
Each legislative session the coalition chooses legislative priorities to work on collectively based on the needs of each group’s members or constituents. We work together to activate farmers and eaters as citizen lobbyists on food and farm policy in the state.
2011 was the Oregon Grows Partnership’s first legislative year as a coalition. OGP partners worked diligently on our three priorities:
1. The Farm Direct Bill or “Pickle Bill” allowing low-risk foods (dried fruit, jam, etc) to be processed in a home kitchen for legal sale. WIN!
2. Recognition of the federal poultry slaughter exemption allowing on-farm slaughter of up to 1000 birds for direct sale to consumers. WIN!
3. Development of a virtual state bank modeled on the North Dakota State Bank to increase credit and lending options for farmers and small businesses. LOSS.
The diligent work of ORA members on these priorities helped us win the Farm Direct and poultry slaughter exemption bills! Although it was not a coalition priority, we also worked hard and won a state bill that established a pilot program to fund Farm to School. ORA members called, wrote and some folks even drove to Salem for Family Farm and Ranch Rally Day at the capitol. During rally day we talked directly to all our representatives as well as folks from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the State Treasurer about the issues we most care about.
OGP Work in 2013
The Oregon Grows Partnership chose three additional priorities in 2013. We had a great Power to Win workshop in November with Kevin Williams from the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC). This two-day workshop brought together leaders, members and staff of the organizations in the coalition for strategizing and planning for 2013 including ORA members. We developed our plans for working on our 2013 priorities which included further improvement of poultry processing, increasing access to financing for small and beginning farmers and coal exports. Listed below are our priorities from 2013:
1. clarify permitting rules for the poultry slaughter exemption across the state
Oregon Grows Partnership saw the successful passage of the 1000 Bird Exemption in the 2011 legislature. This law exempts qualifying producers from having to obtain processing permits for on-farm sales of up to 1000 poultry per year that were slaughtered on-farm.
While the rule exempts small poultry producers from expensive ODA Food Safety permits, it does not exempt producers from having to obtain conditional use permits required for processing the chickens, which can cost anywhere from $400 to several thousands of dollars, depending on the county.
HB 2393 will amend the Land Use statute for permitted uses on land zoned Exclusive Farm Use (EFU) to include facilities for the processing of 1000 poultry or fewer per year. This eliminates the need for a conditional use permit, and perhaps only requires a county building or site permit, which is far more affordable than an EFU use permit.
2. Establish an "aggie Bonds" program
Small and new farmers have smaller margins than most small businesses applying for loans. Therefore, commercial financing rates are often cost-prohibitive, especially compared to residential financing rates. Purchasers of very small farms (under 40 acres) often seek residential financing but are hampered due to farming activities which are perceived as high risk by the lender or they are encouraged to lie by a real estate agent or mortgage broker. The Aggie Bond program is designed to close this gap and help small and beginning farmers obtain more favorable financing rates.
Aggie Bonds (HB 2700) allow lenders to provide qualifying farmers with lower rate financing so these farmers can build equity faster. They are federal small-issue bonds that exempt private sellers and financial institutions (including Oregon community banks) from paying federal income tax on loans made to qualifying farmers. These lenders then pass the savings on to the farmer as a roughly 25% decrease in the interest rate the farmer pays on the loan (8%-6% or 6%-4.5% etc.). Aggie Bonds could also help increase the feasibility of installing renewable energy projects by reducing up-front costs (through loans) and interest rates are reduced (through Aggie Bonds). Currently, 16 states have Aggie Bond programs with model legislation for us to draw from for the Oregon program.
3. Push for a comprehensive environmental impact statement on proposed coal exports and their impact on grain growers, farmers, and ranchers
In 2011 wheat was the top export by volume from the Port of Portland and wheat and at $277 million, wheat product exports were the top agricultural export by value in the state. Wheat is also ranked the fifth most valuable commodity and is particularly important in Central and Eastern Oregon as Umatilla, Morrow, Sherman, Gilliam and Wasco counties are the top wheat producers in the state. The importance of affordable and timely access to rails and barges for wheat growers in the state is paramount to the success of family agriculture in Oregon’s breadbasket, but the dramatic increase in rail traffic due to proposed coal exports threatens access and affordability.
In a letter from previous Oregon Governor, John A. Kitzhaber, to U.S. Secretary Ken Salazar and others, the Governor requested a “programmatic and comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act to look at the ‘unprecedented number of export coal proposals.’” This EIS would include an economic analysis quantifying the impacts on our region’s farmers and the cost of upgrading and building new ports and rails to accommodate the increased traffic. We believe this EIS would show an unreasonable burden to rural communities and on grain growers competing for limited and deteriorating transport infrastructure. A comprehensive EIS would provide an opportunity for all potentially affected constituencies to have a say in developing an analysis of the impacts of expanding West coast ports. It would also give us a say in the decisions of whether and how to permit and build those ports, and in measures to prevent or mitigate adverse impacts on other shippers, such as farmers, and communities bisected by coal-hauling railroads. The Army Corps of Engineers, Senators, Congressional Representatives and the Governor are all influential decision makers who can be targeted and pushed to support a comprehensive EIS. (See “Coal Trains Bound for Eastern Oregon & Beyond” article in this newsletter for more background.)
How to Get Involved
ORA is developing a team of folks to work on food and agriculture policy issues—from local to national. Your voice, experience and desire for better policy that promotes family agriculture, fairness and local food is critical. You can get involved by contacting our office at 541-975-2411.
More on the Oregon Grows Partnership
You can learn more about the Oregon Grows Partnership at http://oregongrows.wordpress.com/ or by contacting ORA.