Falling commodity prices, labor shortages, new workforce mandates — 2016 was challenging for many Oregon farm and ranch families.
But Farm Bureau members ended the year with important accomplishments to be proud of: Hundreds participated in the I Farm I Vote grassroots effort this November; the Measure 97 tax on gross receipts was handily defeated; and an impressive 86 percent of Oregon Farm Bureau (OFB)-endorsed candidates were elected.
“As farmers and ranchers look ahead to the 2017 Oregon Legislative Session, it’s critical that we continue to stand together as one community with a strong, united voice,” said OFB Director of State Public Policy Jenny Dresler.
Following is a preview of challenges and opportunities for the 2017 session, which starts on Feb. 1.
Despite tireless advocacy by Farm Bureau, the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions resulted in expensive new workforce mandates that burden farm and ranch families, including the paid sick leave law and the minimum wage hike.
Unfortunately, the 2017 session will bring more labor-related bills that pose new threats to Oregon agriculture.
One of these battles state-mandated scheduling for employers, which would require that employee schedules be posted two weeks in advance and would impose penalties for changes to schedules.
OFB will advocate for bills that clarify the sick time law for ag producers and legislation to provide relief to small businesses struggling with the minimum wage increase.
OFB will support legislation to cut red tape and maintain the regulatory flexibility that keeps Oregon family farms and ranches viable from one generation to the next.
There are several proposals that threaten ag production. OFB will:
- Oppose bills prohibiting the use of important medicines used to keep animals healthy.
- Oppose a patchwork of regulations and bills that prohibit the use of important crop production tools.
- Oppose cap-and-trade mandates or methane caps.
- Oppose legislation to require costly retrofit or replacement of diesel engines and farm equipment.
With 80 percent of Oregon’s ag products sold out of state — and a continued unstable situation at the port — many Oregon farmers desperately need improved, reliable infrastructure for more efficient distribution.
The Oregon Transportation Commission has recommended an increase in spending by $574 million a year to upgrade bridges and roads and relieve congestion through Portland. An investment of this size would likely require a gas tax and fee increase to fund it.
OFB will work on critical components of the statewide transportation package this session.
A looming budget shortfall of $1.7 billion could mean substantial cuts to programs important to Oregon agriculture.
OFB will advocate to keep key agency programs funded and whole, including APHIS Wildlife Services (predator control), CAFO, invasive species prevention, noxious weed control, water quality, and OSU Statewides (Extension Service, Agriculture Experiment Station, and Forest Research Lab).
“Farm Bureau members can help by talking to lawmakers about why these programs are important and how their farms would be impacted if the programs experienced significant cuts,” said Dresler.
With the defeat of Measure 97, OFB will be engaged in revenue discussions this session, including maintaining critical personal property tax exemptions for farmers and ranchers.
Water issues will loom large in 2017. There are already several legislative proposals around water fees, mandatory measurement, and funding for groundwater and instream studies.
“Water is the lifeblood of Oregon’s farms and ranches,” said OFB Public Policy Counsel Mary Anne Nash. “Oregon Farm Bureau has long worked to protect landowner certainty in water use and water rights, while supporting voluntary incentives to increase efficiency.”
Once again, 2017 will see a significant number of proposals to alter or modify Oregon’s land use planning system. OFB supports this system and will continue to work legislatively to protect agricultural lands in the state.
OFB will need many farmers and ranchers to help stand up for agriculture at the capitol. Want to get involved? Contact OFB’s Jenny Dresler .