What’s New in Oregon Agriculture (2014)
Adrienne Pauly, Focus Co-editor
Agriculture Department Oversees Complex Industry
Stephanie Page, Special Assistant to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, explained at a January 2014 Hot Topics session at the Salem Library that her agency is committed to three main goals: 1) to protect the state’s natural resources, 2) to assure food safety, and 3) to promote the marketing of Oregon agricultural products at the local, domestic, and international levels. She then fielded a wide variety of questions from League participants.
She explained that 80 percent of Oregon’s farm products are exported out of state. The Department regulates the use of pesticides and fertilizing products. Staff investigate both licensed and unlicensed products. They also check water quality at dairy and chicken farms and inspect the farms annually, and monitor water quality at all other farms. They check water use efficiency and insure quality for both agriculture and fish.
“We license many more products than just farm items,” Page said. “We license any place that toxic materials are sold–gas stations, groceries, and Home Depot (they sell pesticides).” In all, the Department operates 36 separate programs. Despite its size, Page reports that “Our Department represents a small percent of the state budget.” Following several years of budget cuts, the 2012 Legislature did increase the Department’s funding for water quality issues.
A new trend within the agriculture industry is for multiple states to coordinate on issues of mutual interest. “We work a lot with Washington on food safety and marketing efforts,” Page said. There is a national association of State Departments of Agriculture. One state’s technical experts often share information with another state.
One serious problem facing agriculture is the aging of today’s generation of farmers that threatens a future void in farm management. Oregon has a program that helps new farmers enter the specialty crops program and another farm intern program. Oregon State University has a small farm program.
Contamination is a broad issue, especially in Oregon’s diverse agricultural environment. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are reviewed and approved by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) before they can be sold in Oregon.
Crop contamination is not confined to GMOs. A unique new system called Computer Aided Mapping has been developed to deal with the issue. Using computers to calculate the various timing for planting and or pollinating disparate crops so that one crop does not interfere with its neighbors, contamination can be avoided. The system requires computer expertise, but equally important it requires intense human communication and cooperation between the neighboring farmers.
Page recommended a website founded by former USDA Secretary Dan Glickman: http://www.foodandagpolicy.org/news. Called AGree: Transforming Food & Ag Policy, the site has articles from very diverse perspectives. For information on GMOs go to this website and enter GMO in the search space.
After the meeting, Stephanie sent the following by email:
- Here is our home page where folks can learn about all of our programs:
- Here is a link to a press release issued in November about the steps that ODA is taking to protect pollinators: http://www.oregon.gov/ODA/Pages/news/131121bee_measures.aspx
- And here is more information about pesticide licenses: