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Governor, senators seek fire aid for Oregon farmers

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley want to use a portion of the $12 billion USDA tariff relief package to assist local farmers affected by wildfires.
George Plaven

Capital Press

Published on July 30, 2018 11:31AM

Wheat fields damaged by the Substation Fire near Moro, Ore. Oregon’s governor and two U.S. senators are seeking federal funds to help victims of the fires.

Associated Press File

Wheat fields damaged by the Substation Fire near Moro, Ore. Oregon’s governor and two U.S. senators are seeking federal funds to help victims of the fires.

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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the state’s two U.S. senators are asking the Trump administration to assist local farmers who lost some or all of their crops in one of several large wildfires burning in the state.

Specifically, Brown — along with Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley — want to carve out a portion of funds from the new $12 billion emergency relief package for farmers affected by the president’s mounting trade war with China and other countries.

In a letter sent July 27 to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, the trio of Democrats said they are concerned that crop insurance and normal disaster relief programs will not be enough to cover losses sustained by Oregon producers.

Funding for the $12 billion package comes from the Commodity Credit Corporation, a Great Depression-era program created to protect farm income and prices. It did not require congressional approval.

“We respectfully request USDA use a portion of the newly announced aid to assist Oregon farmers whose crops have been lost due to fires,” wrote Brown, Wyden and Merkley.

They criticized President Trump’s trade policies, saying the president has made a bad situation even worse by instigating a trade war “without any apparent strategy or consideration of the consequences.”

“We agree with our colleagues in the Senate that farmers want trade, not aid,” they wrote. “But regardless of the president’s trade strategy, USDA must act to assist American farmers enduring disaster now.”

Back-to-back wildfires in Wasco and Sherman counties have especially put a dent in the region’s wheat production and overwhelmed rangeland where ranchers graze their livestock. The Substation fire started July 17 near The Dalles and burned nearly 80,000 acres, including 1 million to 2 million acres of standing wheat.

One farmer, 64-year-old John Ruby, died trying to fight the blaze, digging a firebreak to protect his neighbor’s property. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, though it was described by the Wasco County Sheriff’s Office as “incendiary in nature.”

A second large fire is now burning near the same area, this time south of Dufur, consuming 34,550 acres. The Long Hollow Fire was unintentionally started July 26 by farm equipment working on private property, and was 58 percent contained as of July 30.

The Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Cattlemen’s Association are working to raise money for victims of the fires. The cattlemen’s association is also collecting donated hay, equipment and supplies for ranchers who lost rangeland for their animals.

“The surviving cattle and ranching families are in desperate need of essentials like hay and fencing,” the OCA wrote in a press release. “We ask Oregon ranchers to come together and support their fellow ranching families in this time of need.”

Donations to OCA can be made online at www.orcattle.com/donate. Checks made out to the Oregon Farm Bureau Fire Relief Fund can also be mailed to the Farm Bureau offices, c/o Patty Kuester, 1320 Capitol St. N.E., Salem, OR 97301. The OFB and Wasco County Farm Bureau will decide where to best use the money received.

For those wanting to help the family of John Ruby, the farmer who died, Columbia Bank in The Dalles has set up a fund. Donations can be mailed to Columbia Bank, 316 E. Third St., The Dalles, OR 97058. Call 541-298-6647 for more information.


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