Support the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program 

HB 4060 (OAHP)

Update: Incorporated in the “christmas tree” bill and was awarded 6 Million

What is the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (OAHP)?

The Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (OAHP) is a state program administered by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB). OAHP has four components: technical assistance, succession planning, conservation management plans, and easements. Since this program was first authorized by the state in 2017 it has only ever been granted funding once, in 2022, and it only funded the Conservation management plan and easement programs. These are still the ones being put up for funding today. The Conservation management plan portion of this program seeks to enable farmers and land stewards to bridge the gap of the many conservation programs available. In this program a landholder will develop a management plan for their land for the next few decades and identify funding sources from the federal and state government and then cover the match needed to make the projects happen. Conservation easements are restrictions placed on the deed of a property limiting the uses that land will have in the future. The legal and financial process to make these permanent changes is expensive and eligible for federal assistance. This program provides state funds to help leverage that federal support and make easements more possible.

Why does FoFF care?

FoFF’s program, Oregon Farm Link, is on the frontlines of the land access crisis facing many farmers today. Land prices have been skyrocketing, development has been threatening farmland and the housing crisis is making farmland annexation an attractive option for many municipalities. We have to take steps to preserve our high value soils and farmland permanently or we risk losing land accessible to the community food system in the future. Oregon’s land use laws and the concept of Urban Growth Boundaries (UGBs) has protected a lot of farmland, but this is necessary as we approach changing land use in the future.

Not only do we have a crisis of land availability, we also have a crisis of land affordability. Conservation easements are one of the only tools we are aware of that reduce the price of farmland. The way an easement works is that land is accessed for its total value, and then uses are singled out and monetized (in many cases these are things like the mineral mining value, timber value, development value, etc.) and then all uses are stripped away except for agricultural production. This then leaves the land at its “agricultural value” meaning what it is worth if the only thing you can do there is farm. The cost of the easement is the value of all those rights of use being removed from the land. That is paid out to the current owner and then a subsequent owner can pay the lower price. Easements can also dictate the type of farming that is done on the land. They can specify practices, conservation zones and possible new building sites. An easement can also go as far as requiring that the person who buys the land to be the person who farms it which would prohibit an investment buyer from swooping in to purchase newly discounted farmland. Land in an easement can also be held by an LLC allowing multiple farmers to act as the owners of the property and act in cooperative. Each easement is unique and it is largely up to the intent of the owner at the time the easement is applied. That is both a benefit and a flaw of the process.

FoFF wants to broaden the tools available to lower land prices, preserve farmland for production and keep farms close to city centers.

What is going on in the 2024 session?

HB 4060 is a bill in the House Committee on Agriculture requesting $10.8M for the program for the next biennium. This is what is known as a committee bill, meaning that it was not requested by an individual legislator, but at the need of the committee where it is assigned. This can be a helpful designation for conveying consensus that the committee in question all agree on the importance of the issue.