Merkley, Wyden Secure USDA Relief for Farmers Whose Crops Were Devastated by Wildfires

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow wheat farmers in Sherman and Wasco counties whose crops were devastated by wildfires to plant cover crops, preserving their land for the next growing season without jeopardizing their crop insurance coverage.

“This assistance is a step toward recovery for the farmers and ranchers whose crops have been lost to fires,” Merkley said. “In addition to allowing our farmers to do what’s best for their land and protecting future harvests, we need significant funding for recovery in the aftermath of this devastation. I will continue to work with my colleagues to push for the emergency aid our farmers and ranchers need.”

“Farmers and ranchers recovering from the blazes that devastated their crops can use this help to move forward with restoring businesses that are vital to rural Oregon,” Wyden said. “I will continue to work with them and my colleagues on other essential pieces of this recovery effort, including the emergency aid that’s key to their economic recovery.”

“Oregon Farm Bureau thanks Senators Merkley and Wyden for their efforts in helping growers in Wasco and Sherman County suffering from the devastating effects of wildfires,” said the Oregon Farm Bureau. “The ability to plant cover crop and still be compliant with farm bill programs is critical.”

Multiple large fires have wreaked havoc on communities in Sherman and Wasco counties. One of the fires, the 78,000-acre Substation Fire, was ranked the highest-priority in the nation for a period of time. The fires destroyed thousands of acres of prime wheat, leaving some fields barren and exposed to wind and water erosion—particularly risky in windy areas like Sherman and Wasco counties.

On Aug. 6, Merkley and Wyden wrote to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, urging support of the Oregon Wheat Grower League’s request for a waiver that allows growers to plant cover crops on their fields without jeopardizing their crop insurance. Without the waiver, growers would either risk significantly less insurance coverage in the future or would have to forego cover crops, causing fields to lose valuable top soil over the winter months. That reduces future crop productivity and delays communities’ recovery from these unprecedented fires.

Merkley and Wyden have worked with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown for months to get the resources farmers and ranchers need to recover from wildfires that have swept across the state this summer.

On July 20, Merkley, Wyden and Brown asked Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to provide emergency aid for farmers and ranchers affected by wildland fires raging across tens of thousands of acres in Oregon, claiming the life of one farmer. They noted that wheat is a top-10 Oregon commodity, valued at nearly $186 million, and that this year’s wildfires are expected to have a significant impact on the statewide economy.

On July 27, Merkley, Wyden and Brown also pressed Perdue to ensure that some of the $12 billion in aid planned for agricultural trade war relief also be available to Oregon farmers devastated by the recent fires.

On July 31, Merkley, Wyden and Brown announced that they successfully pushed for USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service grant assistance to help farmers and ranchers offset the cost of critical post-fire conservation treatments, including planting range grasses and cover crops to protect damaged soil; spraying herbicides for weed control; prescribed grazing; obstruction removal, and more.