Merkley Announces Major Investments to Support Agriculture and Rural Communities in Oregon

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley today announced he secured major investments in Oregon agriculture, rural housing, food assistance, and rural business priorities through the FY23 Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies bill.

“As I hold a town hall in each of Oregon’s 36 counties every year, I hear from folks in every corner of the state about what matters most to them, including ensuring our world-class agriculture sector has the support it needs to grow and thrive,” Merkley, who previously served as the top Democrat on the subcommittee that writes the bill, said. “The agriculture bill I championed includes significant investments for family farms, rural housing, food assistance, habitat restoration, and wildfire smoke recovery. The legislation also prioritizes making Oregon’s agriculture more resilient to the impacts of climate chaos to protect the livelihoods of our farmers, ranchers, and producers. I will keep pushing this critical legislation through the Appropriations process to benefit farms and families in every corner of the state.”

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 in the agriculture funding legislation includes:

Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: The bill includes a $175 million, a $75 million increase, for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations. This funding used to replace open irrigation ditches with pipes 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: 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.

Rural Energy Saving Program: The bill increases the funding available for the energy efficiency upgrades from $11.5 million to $13 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 Agriculture subcommittee.

Oregon Agricultural Research and Facilities Investment: The Agricultural Research Service received an increase of $161 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. The bill also includes funding for facilities improvements at the Corvallis, Burns, Pendleton ARS Stations.

Western Rangeland Livestock: The bill includes $1.5 million for the 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.

Rangeland Precision Livestock Management: The bill includes $3 million 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.

Rural Housing: The bill includes $1.487 billion for rental assistance and $50 million for Rural Housing Service Vouchers, which will help address the urgent housing crisis facing Oregon’s rural communities.

Rural Development: The bill includes funding for a number of USDA’s Rural Development programs, including rural housing and business development programs. These programs make billions of dollars of investments in rural America every year. Total funding for the Rural Development mission area is $4.4 billion, or a $401 million increase over fiscal year 2022.

Summer EBT: The bill continues funding the Summer EBT program at $50 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 $4 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.

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 chambers and signed into law.