Merkley Announces Crucial Provisions in Senate Funding Bill to Support Oregon’s World-Class Agriculture

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley announced today that he secured a number of crucial wins for Oregon in the Senate agricultural spending bill, which will invest in agriculture, rural housing, food assistance, and rural business priorities that will benefit farms and families in every corner of the state.

“Every year, I travel to each of Oregon’s 36 counties to hear from each of Oregon’s diverse communities about the issues that matter most to them,” said Merkley, the former lead Democrat of the subcommittee. “In every corner of our state, I’ve heard about the need for affordable housing and reliable, good paying jobs. I fought hard to ensure that Oregonians’ stories, ideas, and priorities would be heard and included in this legislation, so we can recover from this pandemic and ensure that Oregon’s world-class agriculture sector continues to grow and thrive.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful 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.

Key elements to benefit Oregonians that Merkley fought to include in today’s bill are:

Agricultural relief: In response to a historic heatwave, drought, and wildfire season, Senator Merkley secured $7 billion in relief payments to farmers, ranchers, and other producers who have been impacted by drought, extreme heat, smoke exposure, or wildfire. 

Wine Grape Smoke Exposure Research: The unprecedented wildfire seasons of recent years have blanketed much of the state of Oregon with dense, hazardous smoke, which has significantly impacted Oregon’s wine grape harvest. To better understand the challenges facing Oregon’s wine growers, the bill includes $5 million for research into smoke-impacted grapes at Oregon State University (OSU) and other West Coast universities, a $1.5 million increase.

Rural Housing: The bill includes $1.45 billion for rental assistance and $45 million for Rural Housing Service Vouchers, which will help address the urgent housing crisis facing Oregon’s rural communities.

Rural Energy Saving Program: The bill increases the funding available for the energy efficiency upgrades from $107 million to $208 million. The program, which provides funding to rural utilities and other companies to increase energy efficiency, was created by Senator Merkley when he was the top Democrat on the subcommittee. 

Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: The bill includes a $20 million increase for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations. This funding used to replace open irrigation ditches with pipes is critical to 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. Construction has begun on several key projects to address water resource interests in Central Oregon, including in Tumalo Irrigation District and Central Oregon Irrigation District, and funding announced today will allow further expansion.

Pacific Shellfish: The bill includes $2.5 million of federal funding for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and resiliency of the Pacific shellfish agricultural system. This research is critical to efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate chaos on the health and economies of Oregon’s coastal communities.

Western Rangeland Livestock: The bill includes $3 million for the establishment of a Western Rangeland Precision Livestock center to develop precision-based 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-based livestock and the rangeland ecosystem. This funding will be split among land grant universities in Oregon, Montana, and Wisconsin.

Sudden Oak Death and other Agricultural Research: The Agricultural Research Service received an increase of $180 million in funding for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of the nation’s agricultural systems. In addition, Merkley was able to secure funding for key Oregon agriculture research programs, including funding for research on the Sudden Oak Death pathogen plaguing the 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.

Summer EBT:  The bill continues funding the Summer EBT program at $45 million.  This program has provided much-needed nutrition for Oregon families during the summer months when schools are not in session.

Food Corps: The bill provides an increase of $500,000 for Food and Agriculture Service Learning.  This program helps improve education resources for healthy eating especially among children.

Hemp: The bill provides $2.5 million for Agricultural Research Services to partner with institutions conducting biotech and genomics research to improve hemp genetic research and breeding with new techniques.  Hemp has already quickly become one of Oregon’s leading cash crops, and many feel it has the potential to bring in more than $1 billion in sales to Oregon in the coming years with a fair and reasonable regulatory framework.

  • Directs the agency to establish and maintain a hemp germplasm repository for hemp breeding purposes;
  • Provides $2 million for the agency to conduct regionally-driven research, development, and stakeholder engagement to improve understanding of how to effectively integrate hemp into existing agricultural cropping, processing, and marketing systems; and
  • Directs the USDA to work with institutions under its jurisdiction to provide access to guaranteed loans for hemp producers and businesses.
  • Directs USDA to work with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Drug Enforcement Administration to study and report to Congress on whether there is scientific basis for the current limit of 3 percent THC in hemp and suggest alternative levels if necessary.
  • Within 90 days of enactment of this bill, it directs the Secretary to establish a dual designation for hemp as a specialty crop based on the manner and purpose for which it is grown.

The next step for the bill is merging with a counterpart bill from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.

In addition to the funding allotments above, Merkley secured federal funding for eight projects throughout Oregon. Those funds and projects include:

  • $4,875,000 headed to the Ochoco Irrigation District, to implement two phases of its irrigation modernization project. Once completed, the project will return 12 cfs of water to the Crooked River that will improve habitat for fish and wildlife and also provide agricultural benefits for farmers and ranchers. The federal funds will be boosted by matching funds from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and grants from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.
  • $2,500,000 secured for the East Fork Irrigation District of Hood River County, to complete the final phase of their system modernization project—the piping of the Eastside Lateral Canal.
  • $2,000,000 secured for the Wallowa Lake Dam Rehabilitation project, which will include necessary fish passage facilities and further the efforts to restore imperiled species that inhabit Wallowa Lake and the Wallowa River.
  • $750,000 secured for the McKay Creek Irrigation Efficiency Project, which is organized by the Deschutes River Conservancy, and will work with 15 landowners along the creek to implement projects that improve irrigation practices and increase crop production. The efforts will help restore flows to the middle section of McKay Creek, an important cold water tributary of the Crooked River.
  • $500,000 headed to the Detroit Lake Foundation, to support the construction of a new Community Center in Detroit after the previous one was destroyed in the 2020 Labor Day fires. The Center will serve as an emergency shelter, daycare, and early education facility.
  • $450,000 headed for the Warm Springs Commissary Project, which the Warm Springs Community Action Team is undertaking to restore the 125 year old commissary building on the Warm Springs Reservation. The renovated building will be an economic hub for the community.
  • $150,000 headed to the Oregon Food Bank and the Community Connection of Northeast Oregon to upgrade rural food banks and food distribution centers.
  • $50,000 secured to support broadband solar internet trailers in Sherman County—trailers that are parked in rural areas and beam wireless high-speed internet to homes in valleys.
  • $50,000 headed to the Friends of the Fossil Library to help secure a new facility for the Fossil Public Library.

“This year’s drought has shown how badly we need to modernize agricultural infrastructure,” said Julie O’Shea, Executive Director of the Farmers Conservation Alliance. “East Fork Irrigation District’s watershed plan alone will save the equivalent amount of water as the cities of Eugene, Salem and Hood River consume for drinking water each year. In total, irrigation modernization projects in Oregon will support over 1700 jobs, reduce the cost for Oregon’s farmers and protects water instream for fish. Senator Merkley’s leadership on securing investments that increase agricultural resilience and maximize environmental benefits has been critical.”

“The economic sustainability of wheat production in the Pacific Northwest requires healthy research facilities. Senator Merkley has been dedicated to sustaining the Ag Research stations Oregon producers depend upon for long term viability of farming operations,” said Amanda Hoey, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Growers League.

“The recent Western US drought and chaotic climate events underscore the importance of redoubled efforts to protect and enhance resilience of dry land farming in Oregon and the PNW. Senator Merkley’s prescient investments in new scientists and research to cope with our mounting challenges could not have come at a more critical time for the survival of dry land farm families and rural economies. I am grateful for the insight into local needs and the vital support provided by Senator Merkley and his tireless staff, as well as Senator Wyden and his team,” said Greg Goad, ARS/OSU Liaison member, Pendleton Station.

“The Ochoco Irrigation District is thrilled that Senator Merkley successfully included our irrigation modernization project in this spending bill,” said Bruce Scanlon, manager of Ochoco Irrigation District. “This project is part of OID’s mission to effectively and efficiently serve irrigation needs of our patrons: Not only will it reduce the operations and maintenance costs for farmers in the district, it will also save water—returning it to the Crooked River and benefitting fish species. And project construction will employ dozens of people in our community. We thank Senator Merkley for his leadership, and urge Congress to include this funding in the final bill.”

“Senator Merkley’s efforts to secure funding for Sherman County’s Solar Broadband Trailer Project in the Agriculture Appropriation Committee mark-up is greatly appreciated,” said Joe Dabulskis, Sherman County Judge. “Fast, reliable internet access can be life changing and is key to our residents’ ability to access medical care, education and job opportunities.  We are fortunate to be able to partner our efforts with Senator Merkley’s to add more solar trailers to provide service to our citizens.  We are optimistic that these vital resources be included in Congress’s final budget later this year.”

“We are just so grateful for Senator Merkley’s leadership and advocacy on behalf of the Northeast Oregon Regional Food Bank.  We’ve been the region’s food bank since 1985, and this new food distribution center is about eight times larger than our current facility. Senator Merkley’s support for the much improved center will ensure that residents of Northeast Oregon have access to healthy food for decades to come,” said Margaret Davidson, Executive Director, Community Connection of Northeast Oregon, Inc.

“Once again Senator Merkley has delivered for Oregon’s winegrowers. Much remains unknown about how smoke can impact wine quality and strategies to mitigate negative effects. An additional $5 million in research funding will go a long way in furthering our understanding of how to address the damaging effects wildfires can have on the state’s signature value-added crop,” said Alex Sokol Blosser, President, Oregon Winegrowers Association. “Oregon State University is at the cutting edge of this important research and is building out its capacity to serve as a regional hub for both testing and research. With wildfires starting earlier than ever this year we appreciate Senator Merkley’s recognition of the immense challenge facing growers and wineries across the state.”

 “This is a very exciting day for East Fork Irrigation District,” said Steve Pappas, District Manager of East Fork Irrigation District. “We have been working hard for over 30 years to modernize our system. With this investment, we will be able to continue modernizing the Eastside Service Area. The project will conserve water, reduce energy use, improve irrigation water reliability, and enhance fish and wildlife habitat in the Hood River watershed. We appreciate Senator Merkley’s leadership in helping us increase the resilience of our communities and farming in the Hood River Basin for the next 100 years.”

“This is amazing news. We know it’s still a long road before this is a reality, but just the idea of it being a possibility will give the community a much needed boost,” said Davis Evenson, Detroit Lake Foundation President. “It is personally humbling to see all of the support we are receiving. This grant, along with all the other support we have received from the community, will get us well on our way to rebuilding our town that we all love.”

“We are grateful for this continued investment, which will benefit the lands, waters and wildlife of Oregon. It allows stakeholders in the sagebrush of Eastern Oregon to team with the ARS to advance collaborative science-based conservation and demonstrate the importance of science in addressing complex ecosystem problems such as increased wildfire activity and invasive annual grasses,” said Garth Fuller, Eastern Oregon Conservation Director, The Nature Conservancy.

“For the second year in a row, Senator Merkley has secured language in support of a clinical trial for a rare and debilitating neurologic disorder that disproportionately affects children, known as Pantothenate Kinase-Associated Neurodegeneration, or PKAN,” said OHSU neurologist Dr. Penny Hogarth, one of the study leads. “This is a devastating disease and Senator Merkley’s advocacy has helped OHSU researchers advance a promising treatment in an accelerated, low-cost model, benefitting PKAN patients and families across Oregon and the country.”

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the need for food assistance over the past 18 months—and with a resurgence in COVID cases, we know we can’t afford to slow our efforts to connect communities with essential resources,” said Oregon Food Bank CEO Susannah Morgan. “Investments like these are critical to our shared work to end hunger in Oregon and Southwest Washington.”

“This funding is an invaluable investment in a project that both restores natural flows to McKay Creek, supporting reintroduced steelhead, while providing more reliable pressurized water to farmers. We are thankful for this federal investment in a truly win-win project that gives back to the community and the ecosystem,” said Kate Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the Deschutes River Conservancy. 

“We are grateful for the efforts Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden have put towards obtaining funding for our Wallowa Lake Dam project.  Fixing this 100 year old hazardous dam is something the community has worked on for decades, and seeing it to completion will continue to help our community thrive for many years to come–by helping avoid catastrophic floods, providing water for irrigation, and providing much needed infrastructure for fish seeking to access to Wallowa Lake’s cold clear waters,” said Joe Dawson, Secretary, Wallowa Lake Irrigation District.

“We are moving and restoring the Commissary, a 125-year old historic building, and turning it into a small business incubator for Warm Springs entrepreneurs.  It will be a launch pad for successful local businesses, and will eventually offer retail space, co-working space, a food truck pod, commercial kitchen, outdoor market, outdoor recreation and pavilion space, and a classroom/conference room for community use. The Commissary is more than a building; it is the anchor project of what we expect to be a larger downtown business district in Warm Springs.  We are thrilled to receive this funding; it will truly assist us in building and strengthening our local business community, and in making Warm Springs a more vibrant place,” said Chris Watson, Executive Director, Warm Springs Community Action Team.