While the 2016 legislative session in Oregon was often dominated by controversies over the minimum wage and renewable energy, lawmakers also passed several less controversial bills that will impact farmers and ranchers.
Following are some agriculture-related bills approved by the Legislature this year:
• Hemp: Growers will be able to cultivate hemp in greenhouses and propagate it from cuttings under House Bill 4060, which eliminates the requirement that the crop be directly seeded in fields of at least 2.5 acres.
The changes are aimed at providing farmers with more flexibility in producing hemp for cannabidiol, a medicinal compound, in addition to industrial products such as oil and fiber.
• Wetlands: The conversion of farmland into wetlands will receive additional oversight from local government officials in Tillamook County under Senate Bill 1517.
Wetland conversions are currently allowed outright in Oregon farm zones, but farmers have complained they alter drainage and spread weeds, among other problems.
The original version of the bill would have required such changes to be approved by local governments throughout the state, but the scope of the bill was reduced to the 10-year pilot project in Tillamook County.
• Drought: A task force aimed at minimizing the adverse impacts of drought in Oregon was created by House Bill 4113, which also appropriated $25,000 for it.
Oregon’s governor and legislative leaders will appoint up to 15 members to the task force, which will identify tools and data to mitigate drought effects.
Another piece of drought-related legislation aims to reduce unnecessary water usage during times of scarcity for irrigators and the environment.
Under Senate Bill 1529, irrigation requirements imposed by homeowner associations and similar planned communities would be rendered unenforceable during droughts declared by Oregon’s governor, state water regulators or local governments.
• Firefighting: Rangeland protection associations, which fight wildfires in remote rural areas, can be authorized by county governments under House Bill 4007.
Previously, such associations could only be sanctioned by the Oregon Board of Forestry. Under HB 4007, new county-approved rangeland protection associations will be eligible for the same insurance benefits as those authorized by the board.
All of the bills are headed to Gov. Kate Brown for her signature.