Agriculture has long been a staple of Oregon’s economy, providing the nation and the world with a wide variety of products including onions, wheat, and cattle from Eastern Oregon; salmon and cranberries from the Oregon Coast; berries, hazelnuts, and nursery products from Willamette Valley; and pears and apples from the Columbia Gorge. Our state’s farms provide good jobs and drive the rural economy.
Providing Fresh, Local Food
Senator Merkley knows that providing fresh, healthy food to our children will help them perform better in school. As Speaker of the House in the Oregon State Legislature, Merkley launched Oregon’s first “Farm to School,” program. Merkley supports policies at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide flexibility to states and allow them to implement regional preferences for local growers.
To support American farmers and help families make choices about the foods they eat, Senator Merkley supports Country of Origin Labeling for food products. We already have nutrition information for food items, but it’s also important to include information about where that food comes from. This way, Americans can support local agriculture and reduce the global warming pollution that results from transporting food around the world.
Protecting Family Farms
Oregon has a long and proud tradition of family farms. In America’s complex tax system, it’s easy for family farmers to get looped into tax policies meant for major corporations or wealthy estates. As Speaker of the House in the Oregon State Legislature, Senator Merkley led a bipartisan coalition to increase the estate tax exemption for family farmers, ranches, fishermen and foresters. Senator Merkley supports a similar adjustment to the estate tax on the federal level to help farm and ranch families keep their land in farming and keep putting food on tables across the nation. He will fight to make sure our farm programs help family farmers and the specialty crops grown across Oregon.
Ensuring a Safe and Healthy Food Supply
Merkley is working to improve the nation’s food supply by improving traceability of contaminated processed foods while protecting the organic farming and sustainable agriculture industries.
From his position on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Merkley added a provision to the Food Safety Modernization Act to support Oregon’s organic and sustainable farmers. Merkley worked to streamline regulations for small farms and processors to ensure small businesses don’t get bogged down with complicated paperwork and duplicate regulations. The bill includes flexibility and exemptions for small farms and processors in various sections in the bill, including a change Merkley supported to guarantee small farms and processors have access to training necessary to comply with new food safety rules. Senator Merkley continues to work with other Senators to exempt small and local farms from certain rules meant for larger farms, while still ensuring strong public health safeguards. Senator Merkley was also a key supporter of increasing the tracing systems for processed foods and successfully pushed for a pilot project to trace processed foods.
Fighting for the Klamath Basin
For decades, conservationists, tribes, farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and State and Federal agencies have struggled to resolve conflicts over water and natural resources in the Klamath Basin. These parties have put aside their long-standing disputes and entered into agreements to find solutions that will benefit all stakeholders in the Klamath Basin and bring predictability to the allocation of water resources from year to year. Senator Merkley has continually advocated for a collaborative solution to the natural resources challenges in Oregon and has traveled throughout the Klamath Basin, listening to stakeholders on all sides. Senator Merkley was the first federal official to endorse the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and is committed to working the stakeholders in the basin and the regional delegation to enact the federal enabling legislation. The agreements will advance and restore the natural fish production and salmon fisheries, establish reliable water and power supplies to sustain the agriculture industry, local communities and National Wildlife Refuges, give the Klamath Tribe new revenue sources, and create new sustainable economic opportunities throughout the entire Klamath Basin.
In the short term, however, Oregon farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin have been facing one of the most severe droughts the region has ever seen. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared the Klamath Basin a federal disaster area. Senator Merkley, working alongside Senator Ron Wyden and Congressman Greg Walden, successfully secured emergency funding for a land idling program to provide relief to local farmers and ranchers. Merkley’s efforts helped secure $10 million in drought relief for the Klamath Basin to ensure that family farmers and ranchers are able to get through this difficult drought.
Merkley will continue working with Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and local leaders to ensure that farmers, ranchers and tribes in the Klamath Basin can recover for the next growing season.
Assisting Farmers Transporting Goods to Market
Sometimes regulations designed for larger corporations can also cause trouble for family farmers. One example is trucking rules: current U.S. Department of Transportation rules for interstate trucking, with requirements such as drug testing and logging hours of driving, also apply to any farmer transporting his or her own goods to market. Senator Merkley introduced legislation with Senators Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to exempt farmers transporting their own goods and supplies from these rules.