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Some Oregon farm bills quietly die, others quietly gain approval

While some of the most controversial proposals in the Oregon Legislature quietly died this year, other more-targeted bills were quietly enacted.
Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

Published on July 10, 2017 1:11PM

Last changed on July 10, 2017 1:20PM

SALEM — Many attention-grabbing farm-related bills considered during Oregon’s 2017 legislative session died quietly despite much initial fanfare.

Meanwhile, several more-targeted and less-contentious proposals were approved without nearly as much commotion, though they’re likely to have on-the-ground consequences for growers.

Numerous bills drew big crowds to committee meetings where lawmakers heard hours of impassioned testimony.

Limits were proposed for neonicotinoid pesticides, dairy emissions, livestock antibiotics and solar panels on farmland.

New lawsuits over pesticides would have been possible under legislation that removed “right to farm” protections for chemical applications and eliminated the requirement to notify farm regulators before filing complaints.

Every water right in Oregon would have been subject to a new $100 fee under one bill, while irrigators would have to install measuring devices under companion legislation.

Critics of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, attempted to overturn the state government’s pre-emption of local restrictions against such crops. They also supported a bill that would have exposed GMO patent holders to new financial liabilities.

All the above proposals failed, not during dramatic floor votes, but because they were killed off by legislative deadlines.

Lawmakers also sorted through a multitude of attempts to tweak Oregon’s land use laws to relax restrictions on farmland.

A few significant proposals proved successful.

With the passage of Senate Bill 677, companies producing hard cider will enjoy the same land use rules as those producing wine, meaning they can process and sell the beverage on farmland while conducting other agritourism activities.

Several bills would have made it easier to build “accessory dwelling units” to increase housing availability in rural areas.

Under House Bill 3012 — which passed the House and Senate unanimously — historic homes can be converted into such ADUs when a new house is built in a rural residential zone. Previously, the older building had to be demolished to make way for a new home.

It will also be easier to apply biosolids — often called sewage sludge — to farmland.

Biosolids are already regularly used as fertilizer, but they’re often generated by stationary sewage treatment plants.

House Bill 2179 clarifies that human waste from septic tanks can be treated on-site within farm zones in mobile units that travel from property to property.

Another successful bill ensures growers who lose farm structures to natural catastrophes will be able to rebuild without interference from the Department of State Lands.

Last year, the agency tried to block a hay exporter from rebuilding two burned-down barns because they were suspected of being located in a wetland, despite the property’s absence from any wetland maps.

House Bill 2785 clarifies that landowners who want to rebuild farm dwellings and other agricultural structures are exempt from Oregon’s fill-removal laws, as long as they receive county approval and the original destroyed buildings existed before 2017.

Before approving new subdivisions, local governments will have to notify irrigation districts early in the process under Senate Bill 865.

Irrigation districts worried that new housing projects will disrupt canals and other infrastructure, prompting them to propose the legislation.

After some initial resistance from cities, a compromise was struck and SB 865 passed unanimously in the Senate and 56-1 in the House.

On the tax front, farmers won two notable victories.

Beneficial tax provisions — exempting agricultural machinery from property taxes and reducing property tax rates for farmland — were set to expire in seven years under House Bill 2859, whereas they’re currently permanent.

The proposal drew such vehement opposition from growers that the House Revenue Committee decided to scrap those provisions during the bill’s first hearing.

Another tax proposal, House Bill 2060, nearly went the distance.

The bill, which would have excluded small companies with fewer than 10 year-round employees from tax breaks, narrowly passed the House but died in the Senate without a hearing.

Agricultural groups convinced lawmakers to spend money on a couple proposals that are popular among farmers: grants for schools to buy local foods and a fund to pay for farmland-preservation easements.

However, several farm-related spending proposals didn’t gain traction, such as those directing cash to the battles against sudden oak death and invasive weeds.

Bills dedicated to restoring state funding for FFA agricultural education, meanwhile, were approved by education committees in the House and Senate but never received a hearing in the critical Joint Committee on Ways and Means, which allocates funding.


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