Lawmakers learn about ag issues during tour
By MITCH LIES
For the Capital Press
Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, was raised on a ranch and, as such, is relatively familiar with issues facing farmers. But he stayed in Salem an extra day to learn what is involved in producing food in the 21st Century.
His education vehicle: Oregon AgPAC’s biennial Natural Resources Tour.
Bentz was one of about 20 legislators and legislative candidates to participate in the June 12 tour.
Asked why, he said: “I think people from farming and ranching backgrounds tend to think they know all about farming, but I find I certainly don’t. There are a lot of things that we learned about today that weren’t being done while I was growing up on the ranch.
“It’s good to get on the ground and see what is happening,” Bentz said.
The tour included stops at Pearmine Farms, a fourth-generation diverse farm in Gervais; Mission Lane Farms, a dairy in St. Paul; and Marion Ag Services, also in St. Paul.
Rep. Betty Komp, D-Woodburn, who was raised on a dairy and who also participated in the tour, said she viewed it as an excellent opportunity to hear from farmers on their home turf. “Also, I’m curious about what has changed and what has stayed the same since I left the farm,” she said.
Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, said he participated to stay abreast of issues facing the number one industry in his district.
“I need to keep up on what the needs are in agriculture to best represent my district,” he said.
“I think it is exceedingly important that we as legislators know the challenges facing farmers,” said Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, who also participated and who is chair of the House Agriculture Committee. “Farmers are the backbone of Oregon’s economy and we have to do everything we can to make sure they are successful.”
Witt said he gained perspective on several issues that he anticipates arising in the 2015 legislative session, including concerns over a proposed water-right fee, concerns about the need for separation of certain crops and challenges in obtaining labor.
“I think this tour is very apropos to the issues that we will be facing as legislators in the next session,” he said.
Rep. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, who is vice chair on the Agriculture Committee, said he participated for a host of reasons, including a desire to facilitate the removal of a disconnect between urban and rural Oregon.
“I’ve noticed that there is an incredible disconnect between the metro area and the rest of the state,” Frederick said. “And I want to change that. And part of being able to change that is to understand what is really going on on farms and ranches and in forests and on the coast.”
Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, said he participated to be better prepared to address farm issues when they arise in the Legislature. “I’m a city guy,” Barker said, “and so I’d like to learn about farming, because these things come up in the Legislature, and I want to have a basis for my decisions.”
Patty Milne recently resigned from the Marion County Board of Commissioners, which she served on for 15 years, to run against Sen. President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, for the District 11 Senate seat. She said she considered participating in the tour a high priority.
“For 16 years I’ve been very close with what happens to ag, and I want to carry that knowledge and background into the Senate,” she said.
Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, who has participated in two other tours in addition to this year’s, said the tours are always educational.
“You learn a lot,” he said. “Things you don’t think about. I’m not involved directly in farming now and this is a way to learn about what is an important industry for Oregon.”