Recently, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown appointed Marty Myers, general manager of Threemile Canyon Farms LLC, a subsidiary of North Dakota-based R.D. Offutt Co., to the state’s Board of Agriculture. In appointing Myers, the governor overlooked a family farmer, Monmouth dairyman Jon Bansen, who had also applied for the position. This appointment sent a message to agricultural producers across Oregon that Governor Brown, when given a choice, will side with corporate agribusiness over hard-working family farmers.
While Myers is a nice man, the fact is he represents an out-of-state corporation with a checkered past in our state. Threemile Canyon Farms is the very definition of a factory farm, confining over 60,000 cows in an intensive milk production operation where the cows never graze on pasture. Over the years the facility has been at the center of several controversies, including labor violations, allegations of animal abuse, and a major source of air pollution.
In 2005, Threemile revealed they were releasing 5.6 million pounds of ammonia into the air each year, a byproduct of decomposing liquefied manure. The U.S. Forest Service fingered Threemile’s ammonia as one of two major sources of acid rain and haze in the Columbia Gorge.
Rather than mitigating ammonia emissions, Threemile lobbied for the operation to be exempted from Oregon clean air laws. During a Dairy Air Quality Task Force created by the Legislature, Myers was instrumental in crafting a “do-nothing” plan of action.
Myers stands in stark contrast with Monmouth dairyman Jon Bansen. Unlike Myers, who lives in the Portland area, Bansen lives and works on his farm with his wife and children. He is a third-generation dairy farmer producing high-quality organic milk for the Organic Valley Cooperative. Bansen’s farm, Double J Jerseys, is a pasture-based system, where the cows are grazed rotationally outdoors nearly year-round on 600 acres.
The appointment of Myers over Bansen should raise the eyebrows and the concerns of farmers across Oregon. Notably, a 2013 Oregon Employment Department report found that between 2002 and 2007, shortly after Threemile doubled the number of dairy cows in the state, nine family dairy farms went out of business every month on average.
Factory-scale dairy operations across the country have expanded herds, driving down milk prices. Family dairy farmers haven’t been able to compete, and many have closed down their farms. Increased Asian demand for milk products is likely to increase this problem in Oregon. Dramatically increasing Oregon cow numbers to meet this demand, as some have argued for, won’t help independent family dairies. If anything, our state will see a surge in the growth of dairy production from “Threemile-esque” operations. Not only will these massive factory farms present significant challenges for the communities in which they set up shop, they will make it even more difficult for independent producers to compete — possibly driving the final nail into the coffin of many already-struggling independent dairy farmers.
Myers’ appointment should also draw considerable scrutiny of the appointment process for the Oregon Board of Agriculture. Unlike most agency boards and commissions, appointments to the Board of Agriculture are not confirmed by the Senate. This allows the Department of Agriculture and the governor’s office to work in secrecy to secure the appointment of their preference without any public scrutiny. Further, the Board of Agriculture is exempt from Oregon Government Ethics requirements that public officials provide statements of economic interest to ensure financial conflicts of interest are disclosed and addressed.
This is not good government.
At a time when Oregonians have cause to be on high alert for inappropriate conduct at the highest levels of state government, it would appear that this appointment to the Board of Agriculture is simply more of the same “pay-to-play” politics that we’ve seen in the past. Threemile Canyon Farms LLC has spent $178,500 on lobbying in Oregon since 2012, and gave $30,000 to Gov. John Kitzhaber’s re-election campaign in 2014.
It’s time for serious reform to prevent the kind of backroom dealings that allowed an out-of-state corporation to gain a seat on Oregon’s Board of Agriculture. With nearly 85 percent of Oregon farms family-owned and -operated, and most small and mid-sized, Governor Brown’s appointment is completely out of step with the future of Oregon agriculture.
Kendra Kimbirauskas is a third-generation producer and currently raises a variety of pasture-raised livestock in Linn County. She is co-founder of the group Friends of Family Farmers and chief executive officer for the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.