Oregon cider business bill progresses

Suzie Hoffman samples a glass of hard cider during the Hard-Pressed Cider Fest in Hood River, Ore., in April 2016. A recent legislative proposal in Oregon would remove the requirement that cider companies producing fewer than 100,000 gallons a year on farmland be on or next to a 15-acre orchard.

Companies could produce fewer than 100,000 gallons of cider on Oregon farmland without locating near orchards under a bill that’s drawn fire for potentially disrupting agriculture.

In 2017, Oregon lawmakers allowed cider manufacturers to operate in “exclusive farm use” zones as long as the companies own or contract with adjacent orchards.

Such businesses must be on or next to orchards of at least 15 acres if they generate fewer than 100,000 gallons of cider a year and 40 acres if they produce more than that amount.

Rep. David Brock Smith has sponsored House Bill 2355, which would remove the minimum orchard requirement for cider companies making fewer than 100,000 gallons a year.

The owner of a 27-acre Coos County farm, Dan Pennington, testified Feb. 7 that it’s “inconceivable” for his “closed loop permaculture system” to devote 15 acres to an orchard because it’s highly diversified.

“We have a lot of other stuff going on,” Pennington said, noting that his property consists of pasture, forest, and crop land while also operating as a bed and breakfast.

Making cider at the farm builds on its “ecotourism” business model, which Pennington and his partner, Micha, have developed over four and a half years, he said. “We’re really at that point we’re ready to grow it a little bit.”

While Pennington said his operation fits the “spirit” of the 2017 land use bill, the 1,000 Friends of Oregon conservation group fears the new legislation would set a bad precedent.

“It will open the door to other nonfarm commercial uses that lack a nexus to farming. And it will weaken Oregon’s farm zone, which makes it harder for Oregon farmers to stay in business,” said Meriel Darzen, the group’s rural lands staff attorney, in written testimony.

The legislation passed in 2017 already contains many “entitlements” for cider producers as long as their businesses are “ultimately tied to the agricultural use of the property,” but HB 2355 would cut that link, she said.

Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development, which oversees land use regulations, didn’t take a position on the bill but believes it “eliminates the need for a connection between a cider business and agricultural land or local farm products.”

The proposed changes would allow “significantly more commercial operations on farmland” that are disconnected from agriculture, “thereby increasing the potential for conflicts with surrounding farming operations,” said Palmer Mason, DLCD’s senior policy advisor, in submitted testimony.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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