Merkley Secures New Funding, Policy Guidance for Broad Range of Oregon Agriculture Priorities

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and Rural Development, today announced key provisions in the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill that will help Oregon’s rural communities—from investments in rural housing; to research into the impacts of wildfire smoke on crops; to hemp, which is becoming a cash crop for Oregon. The bill was voted out of committee today on a unanimous, bipartisan vote.

“As the son of a millwright from a small timber town, I am focused every day on how to create good jobs and opportunity in every part of our state,” Merkley said. “I made sure this bill makes Oregon’s priorities our national priorities. These investments will help Oregonians in every part of the state sell more, reduce costs, develop new products, and strengthen our communities.”

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 benefit Oregon include:

Smoke taint research: The smoke from last year’s wildfires had a significant negative impact on Oregon’s winegrapes. To better understand the challenges facing Oregon’s winegowers, the bill includes $5 million for research into smoke taint at OSU and other West Coast universities.

Hemp: The bill provides $16.5 million to implement provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill allowing for the cultivation of commercial hemp, which can be used to make everything from rope and cloth to oil and soap, and is projected to bring in more than $1 billion in economic input to Oregon this year. The bill also includes an additional $2.5 million for hemp innovation research.

Cannabidiol (CBD): Merkley secured $2 million for research, policy evaluation, market analysis, and enforcement discretion policy to appropriately regulate CBD—the non-psychoactive product derived from hemp—under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The bill also includes language requiring the FDA to report to Congress within 90 days on the progress toward regulating CBD, and within 120 days, FDA must issue a policy on products containing CBD that align with the Hemp Farming Act—the bill, which Merkley co-authored, that finally recognizes hemp for the agricultural commodity that it is. Although CBD was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill, and the hemp industry continues to grow, the FDA has not developed a regulatory framework for CBD products. This funding and language provides needed guidance for Oregon’s hemp production, which is on track to be a billion-dollar industry in the state.

Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: The bill includes a $25 million increase for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations.  Funding is included 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 improve the habitats of endangered species, while keeping Oregon’s family farms in business.

Rural Energy Savings Program: Funding for the program, which Merkley created, was maintained at $10 million and will leverage an additional $58 million for energy efficiency retrofits to buildings in rural communities. The bill also continued language from last year that allows the program to offer low-interest loans for replacing existing manufactured housing with new, energy-efficient manufactured housing in rural communities.

Hazelnut Grants: Merkley successfully included bill language to prioritize the organic hazelnut industry in the $17.5 million Value-Added Producer Grant program. The organic hazelnut industry in Oregon has significant potential to grow and increase the production of value-added goods with an investment in increased processing capacity, which could be supported by this grant program.

Mass Timber Products: The advanced wood products program at USDA received $3.5 million for work on mass timber products that would enhance Oregon State University’s cutting-edge research.

Organic and Sustainable Agriculture: Merkley secured significant increases to funding for organic and sustainable agriculture programs. The USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program received $37 million. The National Organic Program received $15 million—a $1 million increase—to develop and enforce the country’s standards for organically produced agricultural products. The Organic Transitions Program, which is dedicated to helping farmers transition from conventional to organic farming practices, received $6 million.

Agricultural Research: The Agricultural Research Service received an increase of almost $120 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 alfalfa, pear, wheat, hops, apple, shellfish, small fruits, seaweed, floriculture, nurseries, and the Sudden Oak Death pathogen plaguing the south coast.

Rural Development: Merkley successfully protected funding for a number of USDA’s Rural Development programs, including rural housing and business development programs which President Trump proposed eliminating. These programs makes billions of dollars of investments in rural America every year. In addition, Merkley was able to secure a $2 million increase for grants for rural business development for 2019.

Rural Housing: Merkley has long championed significant increases in funding to help address the housing crisis facing rural communities. The bill includes an additional $44 million for rental assistance and an additional $5 million for Rural Housing Service Vouchers.

Farm Bill Implementation: The bill includes $35 million for the Farm Service Agency to assist the agency in implementing the 2018 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill included numerous provisions that will directly benefit Oregon, including adjustments to the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program, the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program, the Dairy Margin Coverage Program, and farm loan levels; the formation of a new Soil Health Demonstration Project; a prioritization of renewable energy deployment through the Rural Energy for America Program; funding for specialty crops and pest and disease management programs; several new tools to protect communities from wildfires; and the legalization of agricultural hemp production.

Origins of Livestock: The bill directs the Secretary to complete work on the proposed rule for organic dairy operations concerning how and when conventionally raised animals can be brought into organic production systems. This will finally close a loophole that has caused unfair and inconsistent interpretations of organic standards to the detriment of organic family farmers who have followed the spirit and intent of the Organic Foods Production Act.

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