Merkley, Wyden Announce Crucial Funding to Support Oregon’s World-Class Agriculture

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced 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. These wins have been included in Congress’s final funding package for fiscal year 2022, the omnibus spending bill, which is expected to pass both chambers of Congress and be signed into law by President Biden this week.

“As I travel rural Oregon I hear about numerous farming and ranching challenges and the need for rural housing and broadband,” said Merkley, the former lead Democrat of the subcommittee. “The ag spending bill invests in all that and more and I’m really proud to support it.”

“I’ve kept my promise to hold town halls each year in each of our state’s 36 counties in large part so I can hear directly and consistently from rural Oregonians about their needs when it comes to agriculture, wildfires, housing, broadband and much more,” Wyden said. “After more than 1,000 town halls statewide and counting, I’m gratified this legislation provides such a robust response to the economic and quality-of-life concerns I’ve heard at those town halls and other settings in rural Oregon.”

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 included in today’s bill are:

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 $3 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 authority available for the energy efficiency upgrades 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 $100 million for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations, in addition to the $500 million included in the IIJA for the program. 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 Electronic Benefit Transfer (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.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): SNAP is funded at $140.4 billion, a 23 percent increase or $26 billion over fiscal year 2021. This increase will ensure Oregonians receive increased benefits.

Summer Food Service Program (SFSP): $581 million for a federally-funded, state-administered program that reimburses program operators who serve free healthy meals and snacks to children and teens in low-income areas. Maintaining level funding for this program is important for children to receive access to healthy and nutritious meals while on summer break.

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 (ARS). ARS funding will allow for critical 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.

In addition to the funding allotments above, Merkley and Wyden secured federal funding for nine 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 and Senator Wyden’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 and Senator Wyden have 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 and Senator Wyden’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 their insight into local needs and the vital support provided by their teams.” 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 truly appreciate Senator Merkley’s and Senator Wyden’s leadership and advocacy on behalf of the Northeast Oregon Regional Food Bank and Community Connection.  We’ve been the region’s food bank since 1985, and our new food distribution center is about eight times larger than our previous facility. Senator Wyden’s and Senator Merkley’s support for the much improved center ensures that residents of Northeast Oregon will have access to healthy food for decades to come,” said Margaret Davidson, Executive Director, Community Connection of Northeast Oregon, Inc.

“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.”

“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.”

“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.