Farmers view Oregon AgPAC’s biennial Natural Resources Tour as an ideal opportunity to teach lawmakers about issues they face on a daily basis.
“It’s priceless to get in front of legislators and show them what you do and why you do it,” said grass seed farmer and AgPAC board member Marie Bowers Stagg.
“It’s good to educate the public about life on the farm,” said Jim Zielinski of Mission Lane Farms, whose St. Paul dairy was the second stop on the most recent tour, held June 12. “This is production agriculture,” he said. “It’s not like raising a pet.”
The biennial tour, which was started by Oregon AgPAC 20 years ago, has become a signature event for the political action committee. Among the 75 participants in this year’s tour were nine legislators and an equal number of legislative candidates.
Molly McCargar of Pearmine Farms, the first stop on the tour, brought up several issues farmers confront, including a tightened labor supply.
“Labor is getting much harder to come by,” McCargar said.
McCargar said concerns of a labor shortage have persisted the past several years. The difference this year, she said, is the shortage has gone from a concern to a reality. “This spring, we’re seeing it happen,” she said.
McCargar said fellow cherry growers have called her asking for laborers, and labor contractors have told her they don’t know where the workers are. One contractor raised wages in an attempt to draw workers, she said, which has forced the farm to follow suit and increase what it pays.
Pearmine Farms also provides farm-labor housing in an attempt to draw and keep workers.
McCargar also talked about how the farm donates dedicated acreage to the Oregon Food Bank, and opens up the farm to Salem Harvest, gleaners who harvest crops for food distribution to the needy.
“We do that because it is the right thing to do,” she said.
McCargar also talked about the effects of a proposed water-right fee. If passed, the fee, proposed for each water right a farm holds, will cost Pearmine Farms between $800 and $1,000 a year, she said.
Tom Wimmer, business manager for Marion Ag Service, the final stop on the tour, said he viewed the tour as an opportunity to educate lawmakers that farmers are good stewards of the land.
“We think it is important to let them know that we are trying to do what’s right and carry this on for generations to come,” he said.
Wimmer and others at Marion Ag Service showed lawmakers how farmers use technology to reduce farm inputs while maintaining, and in some cases, improving crop yields.
“If we don’t tell our own story, somebody else will tell their version of it,” said Dave Dillon, executive vice president of the Oregon Farm Bureau and chairman of Ag-PAC. “We need to be proactive and make sure that we’re the ones telling our own story.”