When people think of Oregon they usually first think of rain. If you live here, it’s hard not to think of rain.

It rains a lot here; this is not new news. And while that might make some Southern California transplants complain, our rain represents the best economic asset we’ve got.

When you take our rain and combine it with strong land-use protections, you have the ingredients for a robust agricultural economy. I have always believed that grass seed, hazelnuts, vineyards and blueberries represent our competitive advantage. Our climate and our land use (along with the hard work of our farmers) has made agriculture the second largest economy in the state. Our farms are so important to job creation that our largest industry — tourism — wouldn’t be so robust if it wasn’t for our wineries and beautiful landscapes.

Our farm economy is a strength, and I’m working this session to make it even stronger. In order for our ag economy to grow, we need to expand markets, provide market certainty and invest in long-term research.

This year in the Oregon Legislature, I’m sponsoring a Grow our Farm Economy slate of bills that will promote Oregon farm industry, get nutritional and local foods to kids and seniors and create jobs for our region and statewide. Here’s what we’ve fought for so far:

• Expanding local markets: The House has already unanimously passed a bill that would expand local farmers markets by allowing food benefits to be used at markets so that seniors and low-income mothers can buy local, healthy foods.

• Building farm infrastructure: I am co-sponsoring the effort to continue to invest in farm workforce housing so that our farm workers have the stable housing they need.

• Aggie Bonds for new and growing farms: Aggie Bonds — spearheaded by Rep. Brian Clem — are loans that help provide capital to farmers to encourage a new generation to participate in agriculture.

• Healthy food for kids: A number of House members — following Rep. Clem's and Speaker Tina Kotek’s leads — are working together to promote and enhance Oregon’s Farms to Schools program that will expand the program that helps our schools provide healthy food and our farmers expand their markets.

• Research dollars for new markets: With many others, I am fighting for increased funding for the OSU Extension Service so that our farmers have access to — and are using — the most modern research and techniques to increase production and identify new markets.

These bills, and many more, represent the efforts of myself and a number of my colleagues to reinvest in the economy that Oregon does better than anyone else. If we do it right, we’ll create jobs, improve nutrition, increase exports, attract tourists and improve Oregon’s economy.

These opportunities give a silver economic lining to those gray clouds that represent some of Oregon’s best economic opportunities.

State Rep. Ben Unger, a Democrat, represents Oregon House District 29, which includes Gales Creek, Forest Grove and Cornelius.

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