Big vs. small farms a key theme in legislative debate
By MITCH LIES
The Oregon Farm Bureau isn't looking to introduce bills this legislative session, but with more than 1,600 bills already on the dockets, it has plenty to monitor.
Bills the Bureau are watching include one requiring an annual registration fee for each horse in Oregon, one exempting small farms from certain food safety requirements and a bill expected to be introduced later in the session that would set a minimum cage size for egg-producing hens.
"One of the themes of the session we're concerned about is big versus small, and trying to pit commercial-sized operations against small operations," said Katie Fast, director of government affairs for the Oregon Farm Bureau.
Fast said several bills have surfaced that would exempt small farms from certain food safety requirements. In one bill, farms with less than $20,000 in annual sales of an individual product would be exempt from provisions of state food safety laws.
"We would like to shift that around to be based on risk factors," Fast said.
"All it takes is one outbreak for an entire industry to be crippled," Shawn Cleave, an associate director of government affairs for the Bureau, said. "I don't think the public cares if it comes from a big farm or a small farm."
Under federal law, farms with less than $500,000 in total annual sales are exempt from certain food safety requirements.
Senate Bill 262 would replace brand inspection for equines with ownership certificates. The bill would institute an annual registration fee of $100 per horse and establish certain horse care requirements.
A grass roots uprising, which in recent weeks flooded legislative offices with phone calls, has made it unlikely the bill will pass, Fast said.
Fast said she has heard a bill instituting a minimum cage size for egg-producing hens is in the works.
It is expected to be patterned after a Washington state initiative proposed by the Humane Society of the United States, which would require egg producers to give hens enough room to turn around and extend their wings.
The Bureau is watching land-use legislation stipulating which recreational activities are allowed on farms in exclusive farm-use zones.
The Bureau is balancing a desire to provide farms the ability to vertically integrate without negatively impacting farm practices in deciding which bills it will support or oppose, Cleave said.
The Bureau hopes to kill bills to consolidate natural resource agencies that assist farms and ranches with agencies that regulate the industries.
And several bills that would increase fees also are attracting attention from the Bureau.
The Bureau also sees opportunities in the session that started Feb. 1.
"The budget holes faced by the state provide great opportunity for us to talk about budget holes in the private sector, and to make the tie that that is why the state is in financial crisis," Fast said. "And also it provides us an opportunity to stress the economic importance of agriculture as one of the key drivers in the economy."
Among bills the Bureau expects to back include bills to either repeal, sunset or scale back the impacts of Measure 67, the gross receipts tax lawmakers passed in 2009 and voters approved in 2010.