As an Oregon dairy farmer, I’ve seen struggles from the pandemic and stress on food supply firsthand. When the pandemic hit, consumers and farmers were anxious about food security, especially when supply chains were interrupted, but people also became more aware of where their food was coming from and how vital local farms are. As we all know, you cannot remove food from the household budget.

It is more evident than ever that agriculture in Oregon is essential. However, policymakers face dire pressure to rectify a state budget in the wake of COVID-19. Some proposals suggest reducing Oregon Department of Agriculture funding by as much as 8.5% and a loss in funding for Oregon State University (OSU) efforts that support agriculture research, extension and education.

Like dozens of Organic Valley dairy farmers in our state, I continue doing what I always do during the pandemic. I spend a lot of time on the farm managing pasture and caring for calves that will be milk cows in a couple of years. There is a science to organic dairy farming and efficient pasturing of livestock to get optimal production.

Our state produces a diverse bounty of crops and livestock products. Much of it is processed and purchased right here in Oregon, and some is destined for other markets, generating income for families and rural communities. Oregon agriculture is an economic engine, and as we look to what strategic investments our state will make, agriculture must be part of that answer.

According to the Organic Trade Association, organic agriculture provided $350 million to farmers last year, and 92% of Oregon households purchased organic products. The state is home to nearly 900 businesses that contribute to the organic sector.

It was encouraging the Oregon Legislature and governor dedicated dollars to establish two faculty positions at OSU to accelerate organic research and education in 2019. These positions will arm farmers with knowledge so they can be more productive and better at managing farms. It is an investment that will help leverage federal research funding and set Oregon on a path to further our national leadership in organic farming.

As a young farmer, just two years out of college, I want to see our dairy industry grow, create jobs, offer consumers choices, and help feed the nation. Investments in public research in agriculture can make for more productive farms and are essential to our state’s future. It ensures food security and lays the foundation for economic vitality.

State leaders should avoid pausing or stepping back on agricultural research and education. This would not be the case of one step forward and two steps back but more like a fumble that might cost the game.

Our land-grant university taught me so much, and I brought that knowledge home to become a fifth-generation family farmer. To recruit and teach the next generation of Oregon farmers, we must continue investing in agricultural research and education.

Sara Coleman farms with her family in St. Paul, Ore. Their farm, Sar-Ben Farms, belongs to the Organic Valley cooperative, which includes over 1,800 farmers nationwide. In 2016, she was the Oregon Dairy Princess Ambassador, and in 2018 graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in agriculture business management.

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