Senate OKs ag appropriations with Oregon funding

WASHINGTON – Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the Agriculture Appropriations bill that was voted out of the full Senate Thursday 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 major cash crop for Oregon.

“Every year I visit every county in Oregon, and people everywhere want the same thing: a chance to earn a good living, provide for their families, and build something for the future,” said Merkley, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee and co-authored Thursday’s bill.

“I bring back the good ideas and priorities I hear and make sure Oregonians’ voices are heard when decisions get made in DC.  This bill includes investments that will help Oregonians in every part of the state sell more, reduce costs, develop new products, and strengthen our communities.”

“At town halls and other meetings, I hear from Oregonians on the ways they would like to see more support for their communities,” Wyden said. “I’m proud to report that rural Oregon communities can grow stronger with this legislation’s big wins for farmers, economic development, rural housing, and the environment.”

“Oregon’s wheat growers are very appreciative of Senator Merkley’s continued leadership on the Senate Ag Appropriations Subcommittee to insure continued funding for research efforts like the Resilient Dryland Farming Initiative, that are critical to our growers and to many other sectors of Oregon agriculture,” said Blake Rowe, CEO of Oregon Wheat Commission and Oregon Wheat Growers League. “The Senator’s work, along with the consistent support of Senator Wyden, will pay dividends for our growers both now and for years to come.”

“Ashland is extremely grateful for federal investments over the last 10 years to protect our community and water supply from wildfire. Increasing wildfire funding will help all of Southern Oregon by putting people to work responsibly managing our forests to reduce smoke and fire impacts on public health, safety, and the economy,” said John Stromberg, Mayor of Ashland. “Senator Merkley’s and Senator Wyden’s leadership on this issue has been absolutely critical.”

“With Senator Jeff Merkley’s leadership on the U.S Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and Rural Development, working in partnership with Senator Ron Wyden, I’m encouraged to see the FY2020 Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill approved today include significant investments of critical importance to Oregon agriculture and our rural communities,” said Dr. Alan Sams, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University. “This bill provides exciting and needed new investments in research that will allow our scientists and extension leaders to pursue solutions to improve agriculture resilience and competitiveness for a diverse array of Oregon commodities across the state, from hemp to wine grapes, tree fruits, shellfish, and dryland wheat, among others.”

“Modernizing Irrigation infrastructure is one of the single biggest steps we can take to keep water flowing for food, farms, and fish,” said Julie O’Shea, executive director of the Farmers Conservation Alliance. “We commend Senators Merkley and Wyden for their leadership in strengthening rural resilience throughout Oregon, and we look forward to seeing the real impact these investments will have on improving the lives of Oregonians and our environment.”

“Oregon’s hemp trade deeply appreciates Senator Merkley’s and Senator Wyden’s leadership on recognizing hemp as an important and rapidly growing part of agriculture,” said Nathan Howard, co-founder and president of East Fork Cultivars. “This funding is another step toward a regulatory framework that will provide thousands of hemp farmers and professionals stability and certainty, allowing us to meet this plant’s potential and trade’s potential as a massive generator of wealth.”

“This monumental water conservation bill essentially puts the health of the Deschutes River and its tributaries decades ahead of where they would be without it,” said Craig Horrell, president of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control. “We appreciate Senators Merkley and Wyden for their commitment to improving the environment and strengthening the resilience of our agricultural community.”

“Oregon is at the forefront of organic and sustainable agriculture, and this investment in research will help our robust berry and grape industries continue to advance and thrive in both domestic and world markets,” said Philip Gütt, administrator of the Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research. “We thank Senator Merkley for fighting for this important research funding, with Senator Wyden’s support, on behalf of producers across Oregon.”

“Since the ground was first tilled, the ability to survive and thrive on the greater Colombia Basin’s approximately 5 million dryland acres have depended on advancements from university and Agricultural Research Service scientific work to improve farming,” said Greg Goad Agricultural Research Station/ Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center Liaison Committee Member. “The Resilient Dryland Farming Appropriation represents a necessary redoubling of effort to meet the challenges of increasing climate chaos and low wheat prices.  This funding represents the best hope of these family farms to survive in the increasingly hotter and dryer conditions we live in.”

“I appreciate the hard work of our senators, and the advocacy from many of our community partners who understand the critical function this expanded access to capital plays in the ability for the Gorge economy to continue to thrive and prosper,” said Amanda Hoey, Executive Director of the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District.

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 sales to Oregon this year. The bill also includes an additional $2.5 million for hemp innovation research.

Cannabidiol (CBD): The bill includes $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 issue a formal enforcement discretion guidance for CBD products, giving hemp producers a measure of certainty and the ability to sell CBD products while the FDA works to establish permanent regulations. The FDA will also be required to report to Congress within 90 days on the progress toward regulating CBD in accordance with the Hemp Farming Act—the bill, which Merkley and Wyden 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 $35 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.

National Scenic Area: The bill includes $2 million to help Columbia River Gorge communities promote economic development through the Oregon and Washington Investment Boards, rounding out a $10 million commitment that was authorized when the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area was created. The bill also includes language directing the USDA secretary to prioritize National Scenic Areas that were devastated by wildfires, including the Eagle Creek area in the Columbia River Gorge.

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: The bill includes 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 to drive the development of new innovations and markets for Oregon timber.

Organic and Sustainable Agriculture: The bill includes 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, the bill includes funding for key Oregon agriculture research programs, including funding for research on alfalfa, pears, wheat, hops, apples, shellfish, small fruits, seaweed, floriculture, nurseries, and the Sudden Oak Death pathogen plaguing the south coast.

Rural Development: The bill protects 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, the bill include a $2 million increase for grants for rural business development for 2019.

Rural Housing: The bill includes an additional $44 million for rental assistance and an additional $5 million for Rural Housing Service Vouchers, helping address the urgent housing crisis facing Oregon’s rural communities.

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, led by Wyden; 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.

Origin 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 merging with a counterpart bill from the U.S. House of Representatives, in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.