Speaking up for Family Farms at the Oregon Board of Agriculture

The Oregon Board of Agriculture listens to a Farm Service Agency at its December 2016 meeting.
The Oregon Board of Agriculture listens to a Farm Service Agency panel at its December 2016 meeting.

Every few months, the 10-member Oregon Board of Agriculture meets somewhere in the state. The Board of Agriculture ‘advises the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) on policy issues, develops recommendations on key agricultural issues, and provides advocacy of the state’s agriculture industry in general. In addition, the board issues a biennial report to the Governor and Legislative Assembly regarding the status of Oregon’s agriculture industry.’

Because of this, FoFF often speaks at Board of Agriculture meetings to talk about issues important to small and mid-sized family farms in the state.

At the Board’s most recent meetings, held November 29 – December 1, we provided testimony raising concerns about the proposed Lost Valley Ranch 30,000 head mega-dairy moving into north central Oregon. We believe the proposal underscores several serious flaws in Oregon’s permitting process for livestock operations of this scale that need to be addressed. You can read our full testimony to the Board here, but we raised several key points including:

  • Water Quality – A concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) of the scale of Lost Valley Ranch should not be sited in the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area, a region with significant groundwater contamination issues related to runoff from manure.
  • Air Quality – Mega-CAFOs like the nearby Threemile Canyon Farms are already major air pollution sources in the region, releasing ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and methane. A state task force in 2008 recommended the creation of a Dairy Air Quality program to reduce air quality impacts from these kinds of operations, but to date, no such program exists. The state’s failure to establish air quality rules for large CAFOs is a major breakdown in oversight and accountability, and such oversight must be in place before Lost Valley Ranch is approved.
  • Land Use – While Oregon’s land use system protects agriculture, local communities have little or no power to say ‘no’ to industrial scale factory farms that threaten local agricultural communities, rural quality of life and the environment. The state must consider upgrades to the land use system to allow local communities to say ‘no’ to factory farms.
  • Impact on Smaller Farms – Both the US and Oregon have seen large numbers smaller family-scale dairy farms go out of business as the number of larger confinement dairies has grown. But the Oregon Department of Agriculture does not conduct any sort of impact analysis on the economic tradeoffs and potential harms to smaller farms when large CAFOs move in. ODA must consider the economic tradeoffs of these operations before it issues permits that could end up putting family scale farms out of business.

We hope that our concerns will not be lost on deaf ears. Please contact Governor Kate Brown and urge her to deny the water quality permit for the Lost Valley Ranch mega-CAFO, to enact long-overdue air quality rules for large livestock operations, and to protect small and mid-sized family farms and rural communities in Oregon from factory farms that threaten their livelihoods.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture will be making a decision on a key water quality permit needed for the Lost Valley Ranch proposal in the coming months. The next Board of Agriculture meetings will be held February 15-17, 2017 at the Oregon Department of Agriculture headquarters, at 635 Capitol St. NE in Salem.