Coba: Challenges loom for ODA

Mitch Lies/Capital Press Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba discusses the agencyÕs budget with Rep. Jean Cowan, D-Newport, at a meeting Feb. 8 in CowanÕs office.

Ag department director 'thrilled' with reappointment

By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

SALEM -- Gov. John Kitzhaber recently reappointed Katy Coba director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Coba, who was raised on a wheat ranch in Pendleton, Ore., worked for the department from 1989 to 1995 as special assistant to the director. She has been director since January of 2003, when Gov. Ted Kulongoski appointed her to replace Phil Ward.

The Capital Press recently sat down with Coba in her Salem office. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q First of all, congratulations on being reappointed director. How does that feel?

A I'm thrilled. I had asked to stay here. This is where I wanted to stay. This is a great industry and a great agency.

It is a challenging time, but at the same time I feel really good about the work this agency does, and the way it is supported by our broad base of customers.

What we hear is not, "There is something wrong with your program," but "We just think there ought to be more general fund support." We hear that consistently, program by program, which is a good sign.

The industry hopefully is pulling out of its economic challenges, and there are brighter days ahead, and this agency is just going to continue to do what I think is the great work that we do to support agriculture in Oregon.

Q Are there any large-scale changes in store for the agency?

A Not really. We're always looking for new opportunities, whether it is new markets or other arenas, and we certainly hear concerns about ongoing regulations and new regulations.

Our challenge is that, a lot of what we're facing right now is driven either by courts or federal government, so we're trying to do what we can to add our voice to good government and provide information to the industry as they are working with our federal delegation and others about how to change regulations that are coming down, or minimize harmful impacts.

It is a challenge, and we are feeling it as well from an administration side in terms of there is just a lot of stuff coming at us.

The concern about water quality right now and the (Department of Environmental Quality) toxics reduction rule, we are hearing it loud and clear.

We are working closely with DEQ to make sure ODA continues to be the lead agency with the agricultural water-quality program, and DEQ supports that.

Q We've heard from small farmers that they don't believe they are being adequately represented by ODA. Can you comment on that?

A We keep asking them what more they want from us. They've asked for some things from us. We've done it. I don't know what they want from us that we're not doing.

We received a letter from Friends of Family Farmers last summer expressing concerns that they've had. For example, there is a lot of confusion around poultry slaughter and why Oregon was requiring something different than the federal requirements. So we put an FAQ piece on our website to try and explain that.

It is confusing and Oregon statute is different than the federal statue. Rep. (Brian) Clem, D-Salem, has a bill to bring in line Oregon statute to mirror federal law, and we worked with Rep. Clem to structure that bill.

Also there is a lot of confusion around our food-safety requirements. So again, we developed an FAQ piece that we added to our website to try to answer questions they were asking us. And then we designated two of our food-safety staff as our small-farms go-to staff, and that is also on our website. You can call those people directly.

Also, we now have a small farmer on the Board of Agriculture. Laura Masters was appointed last fall.

I feel like we've done a lot. I haven't heard of things that they want us to do that we haven't done.

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