Lawmakers may ease small-scale on-farm processing

Small-scale processing on Oregon farmland would be subject to fewer county restrictions under legislation favored by both agriculture and property rights advocates.

However, one provision in the proposal has become a point of debate: whether the exemption should apply to on-farm processing of cannabis.

Oregon’s land use laws currently allow crop processing on farmland in facilities smaller than 10,000 square feet, but the buildings are still subject to county siting standards, such as landscaping and parking requirements.

Under House Bill 2844, such county siting standards wouldn’t apply to on-farm processing facilities smaller than 2,500 square feet, which proponents argue will allow farmers to avoid costly and time-consuming requirements without “spill over impacts onto neighbors.”

“We believe this will help a lot of farms access new markets,” said Mary Anne Cooper, vice president of public policy for the Oregon Farm Bureau, during a Feb. 26 legislative hearing.

Cooper noted that small-scale processors of mint or lavender may not even be aware of the county siting standard provisions of existing law.

The original language of the bill excluded all cannabis — hemp and marijuana — from the more relaxed requirements, said Dave Hunnicutt, president of the Oregon Property Owners Association, which supports HB 2844.

Under two proposed amendments, lawmakers could choose to exempt just hemp from the siting standards or extend the exemption to both psychoactive and non-psychoactive forms of cannabis, he said.

Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, said he’s voted against legislation easing marijuana restrictions in the past, but raised the possibility “that boat has left the dock” in terms of treating it different from other crops.

His argument came up against resistance from Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, who said marijuana can legitimately be treated differently because it remains illegal under federal law.

Clem said he believes the proposal can move forward in the House Committee on Agriculture and Land Use, which he chairs, but the amendments need further discussion.

The committee also considered House Bill 2919, which would allow schools in “exclusive farm use” zones to expand onto contiguous land.

An enlarged septic field planned by the Kings Valley Charter School appeared to be the main impetus for the proposal, which led lawmakers to question why the project wasn’t allowed under existing land use provisions.

Clem said the committee would communicate with officials in Benton County, which denied the school’s request, to see if a change in land use law was actually necessary.

Another proposal considered by the committee related to guest ranches, which are currently allowed in “exclusive farm use” zones until 2020.

The sunset date has been extended in the past but House Bill 2435 would eliminate it altogether because guest ranches remain relatively rare and haven’t been controversial, said Clem.

However, the Central Oregon Landwatch conservation group said it would be more comfortable with the proposal if guest ranches had to show they still have underlying livestock operations.