Key pieces of legislation that would have affected the food we put in our shopping baskets and serve to our families were in play in the session of the state legislature that just concluded. Up for debate were issues on genetically engineered (GE) crops, antibiotics in animal feed, urban agriculture and a loan program to help beginning farmers, among many others.
Unprecedented efforts by concerned citizens—including readers of Good Stuff NW—and small farm organizations helped to offset some of the lobbying and money thrown around by out-of-state agribusiness interests, resulting in big wins for family farmers and consumers, but there were also some disappointing losses. Here's the wrap-up.
Loans for beginning farmers (aka Aggie Bonds): With the average age of an Oregon farmer nearing 60, HB 3239 will make a big difference in bringing younger farmers online quickly. It expands the types of loans issued by NW Farm Credit Services, as well as seller-financed loans. Through HB 5005, the Legislature authorized up to $10 million in state bonding authority to support dozens of lower-interest rate beginning farmer loans over the next two years.
Agritourism: The ability of Oregon farmers to educate more people about farming and farm practices and earn income from those visits without fearing liability claims was given a big boost by SB 341. As long as risks are clearly posted, it provides protection for farms engaged in agritourism including U-pick, corn-mazes, hay rides, farm stays and more.
Farm-to-school programs: Oregon's children will be eating healthier meals at school thanks to HB 2721*. Funding for the popular program will increase from $1.2 million to $4.5 million over the next two years and was expanded to cover school meal programs statewide.
OSU Extension: This critical agricultural service will get $14 million in new funding with HB 5024, reversing a decade of staff and budget cuts. It allows the University to hire new positions to support farmers statewide, including beginning farmer support, pollinator health, sustainable grazing management, fermentation sciences and more.
Genetically engineered (GE) crops: Significant legislation to give the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) the authority to keep genetically engineered crops away from non-genetically engineered crops was dropped after Gov. Kitzhaber, who had favored this effort, resigned, and when out-of-state industrial interests worked to quash efforts to revive it.
Farm antibiotics reform: A major battle was waged over SB 920, which would have limited the use of "medically important" antibiotics—i.e. those used on humans—on otherwise healthy animals by Oregon's livestock industry. An outpouring of support from consumers (and readers of Good Stuff NW), as well as support by the medical community and many of the Oregon's livestock producers was strongly opposed by the state’s biggest corporate factory farms and out-of-state agricultural pharmaceutical companies.
Urban agriculture: While this bill didn’t pass, there was a strong show of support in the legislature for HB 2723, which would have encouraged the establishment of urban agriculture incentive zones, where lower property tax rates could be offered for small-scale urban farms. This suggests future legislation may be in the mix.
Regulation of canola: Canola is a major concern for the specialty seed industry, organic producers and fresh market vegetable growers due to issues of crop contamination. HB 3382 is a setback to those concerns because it allows 500 acres of canola to be grown 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 and for the ODA to present recommendations on rules needed to protect the specialty seed industry from canola in the future.
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Read the rest of the posts in the Your Food, Your Legislature series.
Thanks to Ivan Maluski and Friends of Family Farmers for help with understanding and reporting on these important issues. I couldn't have waded through the reams of legislative data without their input.
* In the closing hours of the session, HB 2721 was folded into appropriation measures SB 5507 and 5501.