WEB ONLY: Congressman Blumenauer, state Sen. Metsger hold open discussion

If it was an open and frank discussion on agriculture that U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer and State Sen. Rick Metsger wanted at the Boring-Damascus Grange on Tuesday, Sept. 5, that's exactly what they got.

Over two dozen farmers, business owners, and representatives from various agriculture-related industries offered suggestions, asked questions, and aired concerns about the current state of agriculture in Oregon.

The forum was held in preparation for the Congress to reauthorize the Farm Bill in 2007 and in the spirit of cooperation between state and federal representatives to work on future advancements and opportunities for Oregon.

Blumenauer, a Democrat whose congressional district includes the Sandy area, said the Farm Bill contains $25 billion for 146 provisions that cover a wide range of activities (see sidebar).

'Part of why I want to have this conversation is to make sure that as we're going into the reauthorization that we're thinking about ways that can make that bill better for Oregon, better for farmers generally, better for the taxpayers, and be better for the environment,' Blumenauer said. 'There's probably more that can and should be done to help farmers in Oregon deal with changes that are going to be required, in terms of their practices.'

Discussion topics ranged from the inequity of where the majority of the Farm Bill's funding goes to the current debate on immigration policy to energy dependency and alternative energy.

The recent problems that stem from fuel prices and their effect on agriculture was a hot topic throughout the forum.

'This latest energy crisis has brought a lot of our operations to the point where we're really struggling,' said Don Coats, president of the Oregon Wheat Growers League. 'It all relates to fertilizer and fuel. We farm large acreages and we rely a lot on tractors and as a result of fuel prices, we're struggling.'

Coats cited America's reliance on foreign oil and natural gas as a problem that can be alleviated by tapping into the country's resources. Metsger also noted that alternative energy needs to take a step forward, both in the state and the country as a whole.

'In terms of alternative energy, Oregon is not where it should be,' Metsger said. 'This needs to be a major argument both on the federal and the state level.'

Clair Klock, of the Clackamas County Soil and Water District, pointed to the potential cumulative impact that could be had from helping individuals utilize renewable resources on a small basis, as well as small farms using small bio-diesel units. Klock, however, painted a bleak picture over the state of our region's water.

'As far as water conservation, we see ground water levels dropping in every community,' said Klock. 'We have people deepening their wells. We have people that have water problems that now face 50 lot subdivisions in their neighborhood because of Measure 37.'

Farm Bill 101

The following are some of the provisions that were in the Farm Bill Congress passed in 2002. Lawmakers are debating these terms and many, many others for a 2007 bill:

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Provisions

Gives tax credits and other financial incentives to first-time farmers and ranchers, as the average age of an agricultural worker sails over 65.

Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling

Requires mandatory labeling of meat, produce, peanuts and farm raised fish by its country of origin to allow U.S. consumers to know and choose the origin of their food.

USDA Equity and Justice Reforms

Increases accountability and transparency in all U.S. Department of Agriculture programs and services, including support for the USDA Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights.

National Organic Certification Cost Share Program

Provides assistance to small farmers who choose to implement environmentally sound practices in compliance with the USDA's National Organic Program.

Purchase of Locally Produced Foods

Encourages institutions participating in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs to purchase local foods where practicable.

Farmworker Assistance

Increases funding for emergency grants to assist low-income migrant and seasonal farmworkers.

There will be an official 2007 Farm Bill forum from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25. At Portland State University. Call 503-655-3144 for more information.

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