Lawmakers in Oregon recently held hearings about potential bills for the upcoming legislative session, which will run from early February to early March.
Following are some of the “legislative concepts” likely to be introduced that will pertain to agriculture:
Wells and surface water
Legislative Concept 170 would require the Oregon Water Resources Department to prove that a well is interfering with surface water rights before restricting its use.
Last year, the agency shut off surface water irrigation for ranchers in Oregon’s Upper Klamath Basin due to scarce water.
Irrigators in the area fear that in 2014 the agency will also prohibit the use of their wells due to alleged interference with senior surface water rights, said Rep. Gail Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls.
More than 200 wells could be shut off based on regional hydrological models, which would drastically reduce the productivity and value of land in the region, she said.
The undergound aquifer in the Upper Klamath Basin is highly fractured, so individual wells don’t necessarily have to affect surface water levels, Whitsett said.
Under the legislative concept, the OWRD couldn’t shut down a well unless it’s individually determined to have a substantial effect on surface water within a certain distance, she said.
Though the Upper Klamath Basin inspired the concept, it would apply throughout Oregon, Whitsett said.
“The department needs to prove it, not just take water away from the people,” she said. “If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.”
Crop donation tax credits
Legislative Concept 69 would reinstate and increase tax credits for crop donations by farmers to food banks, gleaning cooperatives and other non-profit groups.
A previous crop donation statute, which provided farmers with a tax credit worth 10 percent of the donated crop’s wholesale value, expired in 2011.
The legislative concept would increase the tax credit to 15 percent of the wholesale value and extend the program until 2020.
The tax credit is needed because farmers spend money on labor, machinery and fuel to harvest and store donated crops, according to the Oregon Food Bank.
The 10 percent rate was too low to entice some farmers into donating, and when the program expired, other growers ended their involvement, the organization said in a submitted document.
Every tax credit dollar under the crop donation program contributes nearly 11 pounds of food, enough for nine family meals, according to the food bank.
Legislative Concept 164 would establish a Catastrophic Fire Reforestation Assistance fund that would help forestland owners pay for up to half the cost of replanting burned landscapes.
To qualify for the program, forestland owners would have to lose at least 50 percent of the timber on their land within a year due to fire.
They would also have to submit a written request and a reforestation plan to Oregon’s State Forester by the end of the year in which the fire occurred.
The program would make up to $1 million a year available to all forestland owners, but the state forester may apply for additional funds from the legislature if necessary.
The legislative concept would also allow forestland owners to claim tax credits for up to 50 percent of the reforestation cost, with the total amount of the credit spread over four years.
Legislative concept 126 would classify several “neonicotinoid” pesticides as “restrictive use,” which means they must be sprayed by a licensed applicator.
The chemicals — clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — would be subject to the restriction until 2021.
The legislative concept would also require the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon State University to develop “best practices” to prevent the pesticides from harming pollinators.
ODA would also present a report to the legislature about health of bee and pollinator populations every two years.