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Farmers see troublesome legislation on the horizon

Non-farm uses expanding in some state land-use zones

ENTERPRISE — Potential conflicts between farming and other land uses in Oregon are likely to inspire new legislative proposals next year, according to a state land-use expert.

“Don’t be surprised to see several bills dealing with non-farm development,” said Jim Johnson, land-use specialist with the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

During a Sept. 24 meeting in Enterprise, Ore., Johnson advised members of the Oregon Board of Agriculture to begin thinking about drafting policy resolutions that would help guide legislators during the 2015 session.

Some land uses are permitted outright in “exclusive farm use” zones in Oregon, but nonetheless may be incompatible with surrounding farms. For example, wetland mitigation banks are created on farmland to offset the loss of wetlands to development in other areas.

Aside from taking land out of production, those new wetlands can create drainage problems for nearby growers and attract birds that eat crops, Johnson said.

One farmer has likened the situation to the wetland bank providing lodging for birds while farmers provide the restaurant, he said.

Even so, there is no permit required for wetland banks on farmland that would provide land-use officials with an opportunity to review proposals, Johnson said.

“We’re not saying they shouldn’t be allowed on farmland, we’re saying they shouldn’t always be allowed,” he said.

Another non-farm use that’s been drawing attention is “rails-to-trails” projects, in which abandoned railroads are converted to trails for the public, Johnson said. Some farmers are concerned that tourists will create problems that railroads did not, such as trespass and theft, he said.

Public and private schools can also be built on farmland without a conditional-use permit, which is troubling to farmers due to pesticide restrictions around schools that have been proposed in the past and may get resurrected, Johnson said. “You wouldn’t put this in an industrial park, why would you put it in an agricultural zone?”

Transmission lines and energy facilities have raised similar concerns, since they can interfere with the function of center-pivot irrigation and prevent planting of tree crops, Johnson said.

The Oregon Board of Agriculture may consider adopting resolutions to either deal with these land uses individually, or create a broader policy for such non-farm uses, he said.

While such resolutions aren’t binding, legislators rely on them while considering bills, he said.

The board may also consider adopting a policy for land conservation trusts, in which farmers can sell development rights while continuing to cultivate their land, Johnson said.

Such trusts are becoming more popular, and the board could help them be used more strategically around the state, he said. “They can be a real complementary tool to the (land-use) planning program.”

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