Small farmers seek more representation on Ag Board
Group claims family- scale operations disconnected from agricultural lobby
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Claiming inadequate representation, small farmers are asking lawmakers to help ensure at least one seat on the Oregon Board of Agriculture is held by a farm-direct marketer.
House Bill 3631 would require the Oregon governor to "seek to ensure" that the Oregon Board of Agriculture include a producer "engaged in direct marketing of their agricultural commodities.""
The bill comes from Friends of Family Farmers, a group that according to its website "supports socially and environmentally responsible family-scale agriculture."
In testimony April 27 before the House Rules Committee, Friends founder Kendra Kimbirauskas said small farmers are not receiving adequate representation from the agricultural lobby.
"Our farmers are feeling incredibly disconnected with what's happening in this building and on the Board of Agriculture," Kimbirauskas said.
Kimbirauskas acknowledged that former Gov. Ted Kulongoski recently appointed a small farmer to the Board of Agriculture. HB3631, she said, ensures future administrations also appoint farm-direct marketers to the board.
The bill is among a handful of bills brought by the small-farm group. A bill exempting farms that slaughter less than 1,000 chickens a year from food-safety license requirements cleared the House by a 58-2 vote March 3. It now is in the Senate.
A bill providing food-safety licensing exemptions for small farmers who grow and process certain products for sale at farmers' markets and roadside stands passed the House by a 45-13 vote Feb. 16.
House Bill 2336 also is in the Senate.
A bill easing state restrictions on the sale of raw milk failed to clear its committee of origin by deadline and has been pulled.
Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, said HB3631 is largely symbolic, given that existing statute already calls for the governor to appoint board members that "reflect the diverse nature of agricultural commodity production with the state."
But, he said: "It's important. This new generation of farmer wants to have a seat at the table."
Oregon Farm Bureau President Barry Bushue countered that the Oregon Department of Agriculture and its board reached out three or four years ago to include more representation from small farmers.
"I believe the Board of Agriculture and the governor have accomplished that," Bushue said.
Terry Witt, executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, said the bill sets a bad precedent.
"We shouldn't get hung up in how farm products are grown or where they are sold," he said.
"(Board member selections) should be based on the criteria that they represent agriculture well," he said.
"I think it sets a dangerous precedent," he said of the bill.
The committee took no action on the bill.