Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, today announced key provisions in the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill that will help Oregon’s rural communities. The bill was voted out of committee today on a bipartisan vote.
“I was glad to partner with Chairman Hoeven on a bipartisan bill to provide significant resources for rural Americans and Oregonians, including investing in the effort to combat Sudden Oak Death; innovations in mass timber; and in our organic farming economy,” Merkley said. “This bill rejects Trump’s budget blueprint, which gutted programs that support rural communities, and instead used the recent 2017 spending bill as a framework to invest in our communities that need it most.”
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 of the legislation that will impact Oregon include:
Sudden Oak Death: A provision includes $3.7 million for the Tree and Wood Pest program, which will help Oregon’s nurseries prevent the spread of Sudden Oak Death. The pathogen is plaguing forests in Curry County, and is a threat to Coos and Josephine counties. Merkley, with Republican State Representative David Brock Smith, has convened a task force of more than 40 partners that are working collaboratively to procure the data and funding needed to contain Sudden Oak Death.
Mass Timber Products: The bill includes $3.5 million for the advanced wood products program at USDA that would enhance Oregon State University’s (OSU) cutting-edge work on mass timber products. These products provide an innovative alternative to structural building materials, and Merkley has fought to increase funding for OSU’s trailblazing work.
Sustainable Agriculture: The bill provides $30 million — a $3 million increase — for the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. SARE provides education, outreach, and professional development opportunities for farmers, agriculture cooperative extension agents, USDA employees, not-for-profit institutions, and the private sector. SARE also provides grants for research and education related to sustainable agriculture practices, and has funded 5,000 projects over.
Organic Agriculture: The bill provides $12 million for the National Organic Program, which develops and enforces our nation’s standards for organically produced agricultural products. The bill also provides $5 million for the Organic Transitions Program, which is dedicated to helping farmers transition from conventional to organic farming practices.
Rural Energy Savings Program: The bill provides $8 million for the Rural Energy Savings Program to leverage $48 million in loans to support energy efficiency retrofits in rural homes and businesses. This funding can also be used to replace rural manufactured housing and to finance renewable energy projects in rural areas.
Agricultural Research: This bill would provide a $12 million increase in funding for the Agricultural Research Service, which conducts cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of our nation’s agricultural systems. In addition, the bill provides $500,000 to establish a pear genomics research position that will support pear production in Oregon and across the nation through research related to disease and pest resistance, and improving orchard efficiency.
Industrial Hemp: The bill prohibits the Federal government from interfering with hemp research projects or with legally produced hemp products, and encourages the Department of Agriculture to support industrial hemp research by informing researchers of their eligibility for Department funding. Industrial hemp is used to make everything from rope and cloth to oil and soap. Hemp products account for over $600 million in annual domestic sales, and while hemp has the potential to be a multi-billion dollar domestic crop, we instead have to import all of our hemp from nations ranging from Canada to China. Oregon is one of the states that have enacted laws allowing for the cultivation of industrial hemp.
Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: The bill provides $150 million for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program, including funding 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 process underway in the Deschutes Basin to conserve water and improve the habitat of the spotted frog, helping to keep Central Oregon family farms in business.
The next steps would be for the bill to be sent to the Senate floor for a full Senate vote, and eventually to be merged with a counterpart bill from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.