Out of sight, out of mind.
For us that phrase describes our failure to focus on the devastation our farming and ranching families in Eastern Oregon are currently experiencing. Excessive snow, ice and extreme winter temperatures have culminated in a literal disaster. And we urge our state’s major newspapers and broadcast media to give this catastrophe the coverage it deserves.
Damages and costs are still being assessed, but full recovery could take up to three years, and cost over $100 million. Regardless of which side of the Cascades you call home, it’s critical we are all aware of and actively support our fellow Oregonians through the near insurmountable difficulties they’re facing from the terrible effects of this past winter. Because we are one Oregon.
The onion industry, which contributes about $143 million annually to the state economy, was hardest hit. Current estimates place total commodity loss at 150 million pounds, or the equivalent of four 10-pound bags for every man, woman, and child in Oregon. To date, at least 50 onion storage and packing facilities have collapsed from snow and ice accumulation, leaving insufficient infrastructure for the 2017 harvest. Insurance coverage is projected to only cover 0-70 percent of replacement costs. Many Oregon growers are considering relocating and rebuilding in Idaho, taking a good share of those $143 million in revenues with them.
Livestock suffered from the severe weather. At least 1,000 mother cows are lost and assumed dead. Calf births are down 30 percent so far this year. Livestock weight gains are down 40-50 percent versus typical years.
There is also significant expense to infrastructure. Damage to roads and buildings are considerable. County and city budget reserves were depleted to fund snow removal. Flooding remains a very real concern.
Those affected are hard-working farming and ranching families whose businesses are vital to Oregon agriculture and the state economy. The recent area visit by Governor Brown, Senator Ferrioli and Representative Bentz, and initial efforts to bring emergency aid to these communities should be applauded, but more is needed to restore and maintain a vibrant agricultural community that contributes so much to Oregon’s economic health.
Oregonians are urged to support House Bill 2012, the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Act, designating Ontario, Vale, Nyssa and the immediate surrounding area as the “Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Region. HB 2012 would use $10 million in borrowed economic development funds from the Oregon lottery; the money would be repaid over time. HB 2012 would create a new seven-member board run by locals to promote workforce and economic growth in the area, with the ability to award economy-boosting grants and loans.
Please stand with us to support Eastern Oregon families and businesses that have suffered so much in recent months. Let’s give this disaster the attention it deserves to ensure a vibrant future for farming and ranching families and businesses that comprise the heart of this historic and unique part of Oregon. Because we are one Oregon.
Sen. Ted Ferrioli
John Day, Ore.
Sen. Bill Hansell