Farms, Food, and Fiber: Merkley and Wyden Announce Big Investments for Oregon Agriculture and Rural Communities in 2024 Funding Package

Funding included in the FY24 minibus appropriations package champions family farms, rural housing, broadband, and more.

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced major investments in Oregon agriculture, rural housing, food assistance, and rural business priorities—along with nearly $12.7 million in funding for 14 Oregon community-initiated projects—have passed through the fiscal year 2024 (FY24) minibus funding package. This six-bill package cleared both chambers of Congress last week and was quickly signed into law by President Biden.

Successfully pushing back against the most extreme funding cuts and policy provisions proposed by House Republicans, Merkley and Wyden secured investments in the FY24 Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies bill included in the package. 

The agriculture funding bill also supports programs and projects that benefit farms, families, and rural communities throughout the state. 

“Agriculture is a huge part of Oregon’s economy, and it’s essential to ensure our world-class agriculture sector and rural communities have the support needed to grow and thrive,” said Merkley, who previously served as the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee that writes the agriculture bill. “The agriculture portion of the funding package includes significant investments for family farms, rural housing, food assistance, habitat restoration, and wildfire smoke recovery. It also prioritizes making Oregon’s agriculture more resilient to the impacts of climate chaos to protect the livelihoods of our farmers, ranchers, and producers. These huge investments will surely benefit Oregon’s farms and families for years to come.”

“The global appetite is huge for crops grown in our state, and these comprehensive federal investments in Oregon agriculture and rural communities will help farmers, ranchers and food producers,” Wyden said. “I’m pleased the teamwork with Oregonians who shared their priorities with me and Senator Merkley in town halls and my roundtables around the state to highlight our state’s bounty has produced these wins for improved irrigation as well as robust health care, housing, broadband and more for rural communities across the state.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, which wrote the bill and is one of the most powerful committees on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013 so that Oregon would have a strong voice in decisions about the investments our nation should be making.

The 14 community-initiated projects championed by Merkley and Wyden that passed in the agriculture portion of the FY24 minibus funding package—with the support of members of Oregon’s congressional delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives—are as follows:

  • $3 million for the Arnold Irrigation District in Deschutes County to help complete the third phase and begin the final phase of its resiliency and modernization project which will convert 11.9 miles of open-ditch irrigation canal into a buried, closed pipe system. As persistent drought continues to impact the Deschutes Basin, these irrigation modernization efforts will better serve farmers and ranchers and strengthen habitat for wildlife, making the region more resilient to climate chaos.
  • $2 million for the North Unit Irrigation District in Jefferson County to begin its irrigation modernization project, which will transition 27.5 miles of open-ditch irrigation canals into buried pressurized piping as well as upgrade 153 turnouts. This infrastructure modernization project will lead to significant water savings that benefit farmers, ranchers, and wildlife.
  • $1.875 million for the City of Stayton to make critical stormwater infrastructure improvements, which will unlock access to approximately 80 acres of developable industrial land and spur economic development in the community. Secured with support from Rep. Chavez DeRemer.
  • $1 million for Tillamook County’s Three Rivers Fiber Broadband Phase 2 project. The funding will be used to build over 7 miles of fiber optic broadband infrastructure and enable services to 322 homes and a fish hatchery in rural southern Tillamook County. Secured with support from Rep. Bonamici.
  • $1 million for Benton County to build the Monroe Rural Health Center, which will provide greater access to quality healthcare for rural community members. The new Health Center will provide acute primary care, behavioral health, chronic disease management, and health screenings to vulnerable residents by addressing financial, geographic, language, and cultural barriers to care. Secured with support from Rep. Hoyle.
  • $1 million for Lane County’s Emergency Communications Resiliency and Interoperability Project. Funding will go toward a key portion of the project to replace aging radio communication infrastructure at Bear Mountain. Radios for fire districts are critical to radio continuity for first responders during both routine and catastrophic situations, as well as keeping communication networks (cell and internet) functional for the public. Secured with support from Rep. Hoyle.
  • $500,000 to the City of Carlton to help replace and upgrade a portion of an over 100-year-old sewer mainline in the City’s downtown, which is currently made of very porous clay and concrete. The funding will help modernize the City’s wastewater infrastructure to better serve this rural community. Secured with support from Rep. Salinas.
  • $500,000 to the City of Dayton to help construct the Dayton Civic Center, which will include a new City Hall, library expansion, and community meeting space. It will also serve as a dedicated location for emergency preparedness and response activities.  Secured with support from Rep. Salinas.
  • $500,000 to the City of Oakridge help cover significant repair and construction costs needed for its Willamette Activity Center Renovation Project. This effort will bring the now-closed multi-purpose community facility back online to serve as a hub once again for critical community services and activities including hosting the Lane County Food Bank, the Oakridge Warming Center, a local church food distribution center, a community theater group and city council chambers. Secured with support from Rep. Hoyle.
  • $500,000 to help Glide Revitalization renovate a community space to be utilized for childcare, social services, office space and as a library. The Center will serve the Glide community as well as the entire Glide School District and to community members of the greater Douglas County region that work in the Glide area and need access to childcare where they work. Secured with support from Rep. Hoyle.
  • $361,075 to the Port of Newport to make repairs to the dock and pilings at the Newport International Terminal. Repairs will address deteriorated pilings, and piling caps, and concrete repairs above and below the splash zone. These improvements will result in future opportunities to spur economic development through the creation of new jobs and revenue for the City of Newport. Secured with support from Rep. Hoyle.
  • $250,000 for the Condon Arts Council to restore the historic Liberty Theatre in downtown Condon. The rehabilitated theatre will serve as a regional hub for performing arts events and community arts programs for Oregonians living in Gilliam County and beyond.
  • $113,000 for the Grant County CyberMill Expansion project in John Day to support more equitable internet access for rural Oregonians. The federal funding will be used for distance learning, telemedicine, and broadband equipment and technology.
  • $76,000 for the South Lane Mental Health Center to help modernize their existing facilities, including a new roof, a new computer server, and security upgrades. These upgrades will benefit patients and staff by providing a safer, cleaner environment.

Click HERE for quotes from community-initiated project recipients included in the agriculture bill portion of the FY24 minibus funding package.

Other key funding for Oregon’s world-class agriculture that passed Congress with bipartisan support includes:

Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: The bill includes $35 million for the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Operations Program, including $14.65 million set aside for multi-benefit projects, which benefit Western states. In Oregon, this funding is primarily used to replace open irrigation ditches with pipes and is crucial for irrigation districts that need to improve water efficiency and conservation or otherwise improve fish and wildlife habitat. This program is providing critical funding for the collaborative processes underway across the state working to conserve water and keep Oregon’s family farms in business while improving the habitats of endangered species. 

Wine Grape Smoke Exposure Research: Recent wildfire seasons have blanketed much of Oregon with thick, hazardous smoke, which has significantly impacted the state’s wine grape harvest. To better understand and address the challenges facing Oregon’s wine growers, the bill includes an increase in funding for research into smoke-impacted grapes at Oregon State University (OSU) and other West Coast universities. 

Vineyard and Orchard Acreage Study: The bill encourages the Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to resume data collection and reporting on vineyards and orchards, so that Oregon’s grape, wine, and juice producers can use this important data to remain competitive.

Hemp Production Systems: The bill provides $4 million for the National Agricultural Research Services to partner with institutions conducting biotech and genomics research to improve hemp genetic research and breeding with new techniques. Hemp has quickly become one of Oregon’s leading cash crops, and indicators suggest it has the potential to bring in more than $1 billion in sales to Oregon in the coming years given a fair and consistent regulatory framework. 

Rangeland Precision Livestock Management: The bill includes an increase in funding for research efforts to promote economically efficient and environmentally responsive livestock production systems for the Western rangeland. The bill supports precision nutrition strategies for rangeland-based livestock as well as technology-based rangeland and livestock management strategies to optimize the health and productivity of Western rangeland ecosystem. 

Oregon Agricultural Research and Facilities Investment: The Agricultural Research Service is receiving over $88 million in funding for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of the nation’s agricultural systems. In addition, funding was secured for key Oregon agriculture research programs, including funding for research on the Sudden Oak Death pathogen plaguing Oregon’s South Coast. Other research funding victories include research for alfalfa, barley, tree fruits, pear, wheat, hops, hemp, apple, shellfish, small fruits, seaweed, floriculture, nurseries, and rangeland ecology.

Rural Housing: The bill includes $1.6 billion for rental assistance and $48 million for Rural Housing Service Vouchers, which will help address the urgent affordable housing crisis facing Oregon’s rural communities. The Senators also secured $1 million to fund nonprofits and public housing authorities to preserve at-risk rural affordable housing, resulting in more rural residents benefitting from stable, affordable, and decent housing.

Rural Energy Saving Program: The bill includes$3.5 million in new appropriations for Fiscal Year 2024 to keep the program operating at its current levels. The program—which provides funding to rural utilities and other companies to increase energy efficiency—was created by Senator Merkley, who prioritized getting the funding needed to kickstart the program when he was the top Democrat on the Agriculture subcommittee. The funding from this bill would be leveraged for an additional $20 million in investment which when combined with the $85 million in carryover authority from previous years will allow the program to finance $105 million in projects.

Rural Business: The bill includes funding for a number of USDA’s Rural Development programs, including $66.6 million for business development programs. These business development programs help businesses grow as well as provide job training for rural America.

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): The bill provides $7.03 billion for WIC, which provides free food packages designed to safeguard the health of pregnant, breast-feeding, and postpartum women and infants who are at nutrition risk because of inadequate nutrition. This is a $1.3 billion increase over FY23 and will protect essential benefits for nearly 7 million women and kids nationwide and ensure that no one will be put on a waitlist or denied assistance.

With half of the key government funding bills for FY24 now passed by Congress and signed into law, Merkley and Wyden will keep working to ensure the remaining six funding bills follow suit later this month without steep cuts to programs and projects Oregon families rely on. Passing these bills is necessary to avoid a partial government shutdown that would be harmful to communities across the state and nation.