Bills propose beginning farmer loans, incentives

Three bills propose to help beginning Oregon farmers overcome cash shortages by creating a new loan program, fixing an existing one and assisting with education costs.

Due to the aging population of farmers and rising cost of farmland, Oregon should try to smooth the transition in farm ownership expected to occur in coming decades, said Ivan Maluski, policy director of the Friends of Family Farmers nonprofit.

Kristin White, a farmer in Washington County, said financial barriers can inhibit new farmers from expanding or sustaining their businesses.

“At a time only one percent of Oregon’s population is farming, we cannot afford to push out enthusiastic young people,” she said during a March 14 legislative hearing.

Under House Bill 3085, a new program would offer loans of up to $500,000 to family farmers with a net worth below $1.5 million and beginning farmers with a net worth below $750,000. The program would be overseen by the Business Oregon economic development agency in consultation with the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

The new program would serve as an alternative or supplement to Oregon’s existing “aggie bonds” loan program, which provides a tax break to private lenders who offer reduced-interest loans for land and equipment to beginning and expanding farmers.

Only two “aggie bond” loans have been made since the program was created in 2013, with just a single lender participating, said Maluski. “We had much higher hopes for aggie bonds to help address this problem.”

The intent of House Bill 3091 would be to allow more farmers to benefit from the program by reducing the associated fees, which currently include $250 for the application fee and 1.5% of the loan for a processing fee, with a minimum payment of $1,500.

Under the bill, those fees would be reduced to $100 and 1% of the loan, with a minimum processing payment of $500.

Finally, a fund would be created under House Bill 3090 to provide student loan repayment subsidies, scholarships and other incentives for people studying agriculture at Oregon colleges and universities.

The bill doesn’t specify how much would be allocated to the fund.

The program would be overseen by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and would establish preferences for students who intend to grow food with organic practices or for local markets.

The Oregon Farm Bureau objects to the preference for organic practices and local markets over other safe and legal farm practices and markets, said Mary Anne Cooper, vice president of public policy for the group.

“We prefer the program be available to all farmers and ranchers looking to get into the industry,” she said.

Grass seed grown in Oregon is often exported elsewhere, and while it’s not food, it’s often used for cover crops that improve production of corn and soybeans or for forage that’s consumed by cattle, said Roger Beyer, executive director of the Oregon Seed Council.

“There really isn’t a huge demand for organic grass seed,” he said. “Our grass seed is feeding the world even if people aren’t eating the grass seed.”

Oregon cow gives birth to rare triplets

IMNAHA, Ore. — Northeast Oregon rancher Gary Marks figured his pregnant 4-year-old cow might be having twins, considering how big she was all winter.

But triplets? The thought never even crossed his mind.

By 8 p.m. on March 23, the Charolais-Angus cross had already given birth to one calf. Sure enough, three hours later there were two in the barn. When Marks and his wife, Vicky, returned at 3 a.m. to check on the babies, they were stunned to find a third.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” said Marks, 62, who runs a small family ranch up the Imnaha River in Wallowa County. “It’s never happened before to me.”

Indeed, triplets are a rare occurrence in cattle. The odds are about 1 in 105,000, according to the Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University.

Marks said the calves weighed about 50 pounds at birth, but appear to be healthy and doing well. A typical calf weighs 85 pounds at birth.

Two of the calves had to be fed with stomach tubes right after they were born, Marks said, though they are now all nursing.

“They’re so little, I think they’re getting enough milk out of her now,” Marks said of the mother cow.

Marks said they plan to sell two of the calves after a week or so, since the mother likely cannot support more than one on her own.

“When they’re little like that right off the get-go, it’s hard to get them up to weight,” he said.

Bill to fund Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program passes committee

SALEM — Oregon lawmakers advanced a bill last week to fund a new program that would provide state grants for projects to protect and conserve farmland.

The House Committee on Agriculture and Land Use voted 5-0 to send House Bill 2729 to the Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for determining the state’s budget.

HB 2729 calls for appropriating nearly $10 million from the general fund over the next biennium to subsidize the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program, created in 2017 as a voluntary grant program to help farmers and ranchers with easements, succession planning and conservation strategies to ensure working land remains in production.

A 12-member commission met six times in 2018 to write the program rules, which were approved by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board in January. OWEB would administer the program, awarding grants to not only preserve farms, but the fish and wildlife habitat they support.

Ken Bailey, of Orchard View Cherries in The Dalles and a member of the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Commission, submitted testimony to the House Agriculture and Land Use Committee, saying that Oregon family-owned farms and ranches “face a critical turnover period in the coming years.”

“Continued pressure on our state’s productive agricultural land threatens to fragment working lands and leave us with a patchwork of low-density, unwise development,” Bailey said.

According to a 2016 study by Oregon State University, Portland State University and Rogue Farm Corps, more than 10 million acres, or 64%, of Oregon’s agricultural lands are bound to change ownership over the next two decades. This comes as the average age of farmers has increased to 60, up from 50 in 2002.

The study also suggests that fewer young people are getting into farming — 24% of all Oregon farmers were beginning farmers in 2012, down from 32% in 2002.

Lois Loop, a fourth-generation Willamette Valley farmer and member of the Agricultural Heritage Commission, also submitted testimony saying that she has seen non-agricultural uses pop up on exclusive farm use land in the region, regardless of state land use laws.

“This program would provide the encouragement needed for working farm families to get succession planning, and provide a way of financing the conservation needs and a method of protecting the heritage of the farm,” Loop said. “This includes the need to continue to produce the food and fiber needed for a growing population.

In addition to paying for grants, HB 2729 provides $738,652 for OWEB to hire three new positions and contract for services provided by the program. Positions include a full-time program coordinator, natural resources specialist and part-time office specialist.

State Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, one of the bill’s chief co-sponsors, said farmland and ranches are a critical economic driver for the state.

“It’s important that we preserve our irreplaceable natural resources,” Hansell said. “Funding this program will help farmers and ranchers pass on their agricultural legacies to future generations.”

Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, another of the bill’s co-sponsors, also advocated for the program, pointing to bipartisan support and backing from a coalition of farm and environmental groups.

“In this legislative session, we need to either commit to preserving our agricultural heritage and all of its co-benefits, or allow Oregon’s working lands to be further fragmented and sold off in a way that may irreparably harm agricultural and conservation purposes,” Witt said.

New urban food hub helps small farmers sell into urban market

PORTLAND — If it comes to pass, the “Green New Deal” talked about in Congress may find expression in food hubs such as The Redd in Portland.

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., believes it should.

Which is an overly colorful way to say change is afoot, and some serious people hope to replace what they describe as America’s “industrial food system.”

Specifically, they’d like to see more regional networks of environmentally and economically sustainable farms and ranches selling nutritious, affordable meat, fish, greens and grain to “eaters” in cities.

The Redd, a food storage, aggregation and distribution hub developed by the nonprofit Ecotrust group and like-minded partners, may turn out to be a model for that change.

In nature, a redd is a spawning area for salmon. In Portland, The Redd is a spawning ground for innovative food ideas on Salmon Street.

Emma Sharer, who manages The Redd campus for Ecotrust, said the food hub aligns with the group’s principle of doing business as a source for good.

“My perspective on that is we’re trying to create a new kind of economic system centered around food,” Sharer said. “The Redd is one of those infrastructure pieces to support what we’re envisioning.”

Sharer said most consumers aren’t familiar with the complicated details of the supply chain that brings food to stores and restaurants. At the same time, there are “fishers, farmers and ranchers all over who could use the support of the buying power we have in the heart of Portland,” she said.

“We have all this incredible food being grown outside of Portland,” she said. “How do we get more of this bounty to the people who really need it?”

Blumenauer, who represents Portland’s progressive hotbeds east of the Willamette River, said The Redd is “absolutely” repeatable elsewhere.

“Every state should be able to have a facility like this,” Blumenauer said. “Every metropolitan area.”

It’s too soon to say the project bridges the urban-rural divide. But Lauren Gwin, associate director of the Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems at Oregon State University, said Ecotrust and its partners provide critical infrastructure that was missing.

“My take on this is that Ecotrust has been trying to figure out what type of hub is really going to connect with food producers who are not in the Portland metro area,” Gwinn said.

“These markets are willing to pay,” she said. “What they’re trying to do is offer services that make it easier for farmers to connect with these markets.”

To back up a bit, The Redd is a two-building, 76,000-square-foot campus along Salmon Street in Portland’s revitalized Central Eastside industrial district. The $25 million project, headed by Ecotrust and supported by private companies and public groups, involved renovating a pair of classic buildings. One was an century-old iron works, the other a former marble stoneworks sales building.

Redd West
Redd West is the nuts and bolts side, and has been operating since 2016. It is intended to provide the “last mile” storage and distribution services that small to mid-size producers and food manufacturers scramble to arrange.

Rural and urban fringe producers can get their goods into a single drop-off in Portland without too much trouble, but delivering them to restaurants, markets and grocery stores in the crowded city center — that last mile — eats up time and money.

A 2015 “Ag of the Middle” study by Ecotrust concluded many smaller producers can’t expand because they become mired in the chores of packaging, labeling, storage, aggregation and delivery.

Redd West rents producers rack storage, cold storage, freezer space and production space and equipment. The building’s anchor tenant, B-Line Sustainable Urban Delivery, runs the storage facilities and distributes food to commercial customers aboard human-pedaled, battery-assisted cargo trikes. About 200 producers have used some aspect of Redd West services to scale up or branch out. A two-year “accelerator” program helps some beginning businesses get on their feet.

Among Redd West customers are Carman Ranch in northeastern Oregon, which sells grass-fed beef, and Cattail Creek Lamb of Junction City, in the Willamette Valley. Both use Redd West’s storage and delivery services to get their meat to Portland restaurants and markets.

Another type of user is Stoneboat Farm, a small vegetable operation run by two brothers in the Helvetia area west of Portland. The operators lack storage, but kept 13 pallet boxes of root vegetables at Redd West this past winter. When they had orders to fill, mostly in Portland, they drove to the facility and loaded up.

Redd East
The other half of the campus, Redd East, is event and meeting space. It’s capable of holding nearly 700 people for conventions or trade show-type gatherings, but has flexible space for small board meetings or work groups. A full kitchen can be used for demonstrations or product testing.

This being Portland, the campus has some distinct touches. The cargo trike batteries are recharged via a solar array on the roof. Redd East was restored with hemlock paneling certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and with cedar that was a gift from the Coquille Indian Tribe of Southern Oregon. The Redd East restrooms are gender neutral: A half-dozen private, one-person toilet rooms fronted by a common handwashing area.

The campus formally opened March 2 with a crowded “Redd Reveal” party that included food, drink and music with a $25 ticket. Blumenauer was a featured speaker.

Although known for his wonky bowties and bicycle transportation advocacy, Blumenauer has long been interested in local food systems and critical of federal Farm Bill spending.

He believes federal subsidies prop up commodity growers at the expense of small farms, alternative crops, local markets, research and more. He often says too much of the money goes to “the wrong people, to grow the wrong food, in the wrong places.”

Blumenauer said he insisted the “Green New Deal” espoused by first-year Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez include language on food and farming. As a result, the proposal calls for removing greenhouse gas emissions from ag operations “as much as is technologically feasible,” and for supporting family farms, sustainable farming and land use, soil health and “building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.”

At The Redd opening, Blumenauer said Oregon products are a “premium brand” and that people will pay more for high-quality food emerging from such regional networks.

“This is a huge opportunity for Oregon agriculture,” he said. “We have good, healthy, sustainable food and we’ve got that cachet.”

‘Small Agriculture’ — a digital exhibit from USDA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Library (NAL) has launched a new digital exhibit named “Small Agriculture.” This exhibit showcases three small-scale farming and niche agricultural initiatives that USDA has supported since its establishment. The exhibit features—

1. The School Garden: focusing on scientific aspects of plants, food production, marketing food products, engaging with the natural world, being outdoors and taking responsibility for your school garden.

2. Subsistence Homesteads: a Federal housing program created in 1933 as a response to the Great Depression aimed at improving the living conditions of people coming from overcrowded urban centers, while simultaneously giving them a new opportunity to experience small-scale farming and home ownership.

3. Victory Gardens and Farms: initiatives carried out to increase the supply and quality of fresh food for the domestic U.S. population during World War II.

NAL is part of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and serves as an extensive resource for agricultural information. For more information on this and other exhibits, visit the NAL website .

USDA seeks 5 nominees for the National Organic Standards Board

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) seeks nominations of qualified individuals for five open seats on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The 15-member advisory board considers and makes recommendations on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances and other issues involving the production, handling and processing of USDA certified organic products.

Each member serves a five-year term and represents specific sectors of the organic community. Current openings include:

One individual with expertise in areas of environmental protection and resource conservation.
One individual who owns or operates an organic farming operation or an employee of such individuals.
One individual who owns or operates a retail establishment with significant trade in organic products or an employee of such individuals.
Two individuals who own or operate an organic handling operation or an employee of such individuals.
USDA is also accepting nominations of qualified candidates to fill future unexpected vacancies in any of the seven categories representing the scope of the organic agricultural community.

Deadline for nominations is May 17, 2019.
Members attend two in-person meetings each year and participate in bi-monthly subcommittee conference calls. USDA reimburses NOSB members for approved travel and associated lodging expenses.

Nominations must include a resume and an AD-755 application form. Nominations may also include an optional cover letter and letters of reference.

Nominations may be emailed to at the National Organic Program or mailed to: USDA-AMS-NOP, 1400 Independence Avenue SW., Room 2642-S., Ag Stop 0268, Washington, DC 20250-0268. Electronic submissions are preferred.

Learn the in’s and out’s of agritourism

A lot of small farms are getting involved in agritourism to boost the bottomline.

But, there are a lot of things to consider before you dive in. Significant hurdles have arisen for agritourism over the years — including insurance liability issues and land use problems.

The Oregon State Small Farms Program will present Agritourism 101, a free presentation on the in’s and out’s of agritourism, March 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. at MPFS Youth Farm
4320 Winema Place Northeast, Salem. It will be presented by Extension agritourism agent Mary Stewart.

The program is free. For more information and to register, go to the program website.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture — the most recent available — reported an income of over $15 million from agritourism in Washington state, and Idaho had just over $5 million. Oregon brought in over $10 million, and California topped them all with nearly $38 million in agritourism income.

Nationally, the sector makes up 3.8 percent of agricultural income, based on the 2012 census, which reported over $704 million in agritourism income across the U.S.

Oregon bill would make on-farm breweries easier

Agritourism activities currently allowed on Oregon wineries and cideries would be extended to on-farm breweries under a bill approved unanimously by the Senate on March 12.

Senate Bill 287, which would permit on-farm breweries to make beer, have tasting rooms, serve brewer’s lunches and dinners and hold special events, among other provisions, will now be considered by the House.

Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, cast the bill was a tool for bridging the urban-rural divide in Oregon.

“This is one more way to get people from around the state, who don’t really understand what farming is and how these products are really grown, out to these areas to wander out to see what’s being done and being produced,” he said.

The bill hit some initial turbulence due to the different role that hops play in the brewing process compared to grapes, pears and apples in making wine and cider.

Wineries and cideries rely on the fruit from surrounding orchards as a main ingredient, while hops provide flavor to a beverage primarily made from grains and water.

The concerns was that there’s less justification for allowing another non-farm use in “exclusive farm use” zones.

The original version of SB 287 applied to breweries generating less than 150,000 gallons annually with at least 25 acres of hops growing on-site or on adjacent land.

Proponents worried that requiring 25 acres of hop yards might exclude smaller companies from benefiting from the bill, while the Oregon Farm Bureau believed that a proposed reduction to 10 acres was too low.

The revised version of the bill approved by the Senate changed the threshold to 15 acres of hops for breweries manufacturing less than 15,000 barrels a year, which is the equivalent of 465,000 gallons of beer.


Ample February snowfall boosts Oregon stream forecasts

PORTLAND — What a difference a month makes.

Oregon snowpack was averaging just 73% of normal at the beginning of February, setting the stage for low spring and summer stream flows, particularly west of the Cascade Range.

The story is much different heading into March, after weeks of record-breaking snowfall and precipitation from Crater Lake to Baker City. Every basin in the state is now measuring above normal for snow, except for the Hood, Sandy and Lower Deschutes basins, which were at 93% as of March 11.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has released its latest monthly Oregon Water Supply Report, which calls for vastly improved conditions based on the sudden surge of winter weather.

“A remarkable and unexpected recovery in snowpack occurred during the shortest month of the year, dramatically improving the water supply outlook across Oregon,” the report states. “February storm cycles more than doubled the amount of snow on the ground in most locations, breaking many records along the way.”

According to the NRCS, seven of Oregon’s long-term snow monitoring sites broke records for highest snowpack on March 1, with data going back 35 years. Between Feb. 20-26, almost every snow measurement site from Crater Lake to Mount Jefferson set records with 2 to 3 feet of fresh powder.

As a result, most basins went from a snowpack deficit to a surplus, including:

• Willamette Basin, 51% of normal to 109%.

• Rogue and Umpqua basins, 60% to 115%.

• Klamath Basin, 69% to 119%.

• Upper Deschutes and Crooked basins, 66% to 112%.

Eastern Oregon is also piling up the snow, with the Umatilla, Walla Walla, Willow, John Day, Malheur and Goose Lake basins all topping 150% of normal. Precipitation at lower elevations also set records in places like Heppner, Baker City and Malheur County.

“All of the state just dramatically improved for snowpack,” said Julie Koeberle, a hydrologist with the NRCS Oregon Snow Survey team.

More snow is, of course, good news for farms and fish. Koeberle said forecasts are looking especially promising in northeast Oregon, with stream flows predicted to be 140% of normal from April through September in the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Willow basins.

A few areas, including the Deschutes River basin and Mount Hood, are still lagging behind at 80 to 95% of normal stream flows. But based on the current trajectory, Koeberle said most of the state is going to have normal to above normal stream flows heading into spring.

The one caveat, Koeberle said, is avoiding sustained periods of warm weather that can melt snow too quickly — as it did last May, diminishing what was an already sparse snowpack and leading to water shortages and drought statewide.

The U.S. Drought Monitor still shows more than 60% of Oregon in moderate to severe drought.

“You can’t really get rid of drought with just one good wet month. It takes a little more than that,” Koeberle said.

The federal Climate Prediction Center, meanwhile, continues to call for a better chance of higher temperatures over the next three months, and a roughly equal chance of dry or wet weather. If warmer weather does melt away snow quickly again, Koeberle said the impacts could be mitigated if Mother Nature comes through with enough spring rain.

“It’s really just kind of a wait and see,” she said.

Reservoir levels are a bit more hit and miss across the state, storing anywhere from 65 to 97% of capacity, though most can expect significant inflows in the coming months as snow begins to melt.


OSU presents Rural Living Day 2019

If you own a small farm or are considering a move to the country, you might want to check out Rural Living Day 2019.

Presented by Oregon State University Extension and OSU’s Small Farms Program, Rural Living Day is March 9 from 9 a.m to 4:30 p.m. at Harrisburg High School, 400 South 9th St.,
Harrisburg. The cost is $25.

“If you are a small acreage/rural property owner or considering a move to the country you won’t want to miss this event. Workshops throughout the day offer something for everyone,” according to the event website. ” Classes on Bee Keeping, Compost, Pasture Management, Well Water Management, Soils, Tree ID, Wildfires and more.”

For a complete schedule and to register, go to the event website.