By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Oregon Farm Bureau President Barry Bushue says farmers need to stand together to fend off regulations and restrictions that threaten the livelihood of farmers.
"We can move the needle," he said. "If it is immigration reform, the farm bill, more water storage and development or legislation to help deter government purchase of farms, there may be light on the horizon.
"I do believe in strength in numbers," he said.
Bushue, who also is first vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, made his comments during the Oregon Farm Bureau's annual convention here Dec. 5.
Bushue cited several examples of agencies overstepping their authority and restricting the capacity of farms to operate profitably.
Bushue started with comments on the U.S. Department of Labor and its use of "hot goods" orders against three Oregon blueberry farms this summer to enforce labor laws.
The "hot goods" provision of U.S. labor law allows the agency to hold goods out of commerce while it investigates potential labor law violations.
Only by agreeing to their guilt and paying more than $240,000 in fines were farms able to free their perishable goods for commerce.
Farm organizations and Oregon's congressional delegation have said the tactics deny farmers due process.
"There is unity amongst policy makers and affected agencies that this is unacceptable," Bushue said. But, he said, Oregon's congressional delegation has yet to receive a response from USDOL on why the agency used the "heavy-handed enforcement tactics."
He cited examples of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expanding the reach of the Clean Water Act to all waters of the U.S., including dry ditches.
He talked about how government agencies are using tax dollars to buy and take out of production millions of acres of farmland.
He cited a recent grazing study from Oregon State University's College of Forestry that concluded grazing on public lands exacerbated the negative effects of climate change.
"I want to thank (OSU College of Agricultural Sciences Dean) Dan Arp for showing his support for the importance of livestock and grazing," Bushue said, "but I eagerly await a similar response from the dean of forestry."
Bushue also spoke on efforts to limit a farmer's ability to use technology by groups seeking to ban production of genetically engineered crops.
"We have no control over what these groups do or say," he said. "But our response is critical."
"The strength and success of Oregon and U.S. agriculture is the result of its diversity, productivity and its ability to adopt new tools and practices as new technologies arise," Bushue said.
"It is patently clear that in order to meet the growing demand for food, that we will need all the means at our disposal," he said.
"This requires a science-based regulatory framework that is appropriately rigorous as well as efficient and predictable," he said.
Bushue lauded the growth of farm-to-consumer direct sales and organic food production.
"The growth in organics is an agricultural success story," Bushue said. "The increase in direct farmer-to-consumer sales is equally impressive (and) a testament to the success of our industry and that we can and do coexist.
"But on their own, it will not feed the world," he said.
"The need of a diverse and broad-based agriculture driven by opportunity and grower choice seems obvious," he said. "Yet there are those out there who would deliberately restrict those choices."
"We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go," Bushue said. "Together, we will continue to make a difference."