SB 1541 offers farmers 15 percent of wholesale price

Local nonprofits are hoping to draw in more fresh, local food to distribute to the hungry, while local farmers are looking to donate excess produce at less of a loss.

The Oregon Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 1541, offering farmers a tax credit for food donations. Farmers receive 15 percent of the wholesale crop price.

“The tax credit makes it feel like it’s worthwhile,” said Kathy Unger of Unger Farms in Cornelius, where berries and vegetables are grown. “Most farmers want to donate, but it’s hard to eat that cost.”

In the past, the Ungers have donated to St. Matthew’s Catholic School and St. Vincent de Paul, a service organization that assists an estimated 35 to 50 families every day, offering boxes of food and assistance with other basic needs like paying rent and utility bills.

“Sometimes you have food that doesn’t look as pretty that you can’t sell. Donating it helps organizations get food out to people who need it,” Unger said. “It’s hard to see food dumped and not used.”

A previous reward for crop donations ended in 2011 and the credit used to be only 10 percent.

That extra 5 percent will make a difference, Unger said, but whether or not getting 15 percent back for their donated produce will allow them to break even is hard to say.

“Costs for farmers won’t be covered entirely,” said Phillip Kennedy-Wong, a policy advocate for the Oregon Food Bank who fought with a team to get the bill passed. “But we hope it helps. We want to go back to legislatures in the future for a higher percentage, but we’ll give it some time. It’s a good start.”

Kennedy-Wong said those at the food bank would like to see more donations as a result of the greater incentive and are hoping to continue to draw in more fresh, locally sourced food.

“It’s definitely a win-win,” Kennedy-Wong said.

The tax credit is estimated to cost the state $350,000, which would bring in about 3.9 million pounds of food. That estimate is at the high end of the prediction scale, Kennedy-Wong said, but food bank representatives would be happy if that ended up being the case.

Farmers haven’t had time to take advantage of the credit yet, as it starts in June.

Unger said they usually factor in that there will be some produce they can’t sell, “but it’s hard to factor in waste because you never know what it will be.”

“There are so many variables in farming,” Kennedy-Wong said, adding that whether certain crops have a strong or weak year may make the biggest difference.

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