Fourteen congressional staffers were in Oregon last week to get a better understanding of how decisions made in Washington, D.C., affect farmers.
They were in the state for a two-day tour of Oregon farms, research facilities and a natural resource educational center as part of the Farm Foundation’s efforts to teach policy makers about agriculture.
The foundation, an 86-year-old nonprofit, funds and conducts multiple projects, including one focusing on measuring soil health economics — a project that is studying long-term economic and environmental consequences of cover cropping.
“Our primary objective is to inform policy decisions, whether they happen in Washington, D.C., or in the board room,” said Constance Cullman, president and CEO of the organization.
The tour of Oregon is the foundation’s third of the last two years and first of 2019. The foundation previously brought congressional staff to sites in Florida and Indiana.
“We chose Oregon because of the diversity of agriculture here and some of the unique challenges that are being experienced here,” Cullman said.
“Oregon is on the edge of some of the emerging challenges that are facing the food and agriculture sector, and it is the type of agriculture that a lot of congressional staff are unfamiliar with,” Cullman said.
Several of the participants were staff of House and Senate agriculture committee members, from Texas, Florida, Indiana, Georgia, Washington and Oregon.
The tour included visits to the World Forestry Center in Portland, two nurseries, Iverson Family Farms (also known as Wooden Shoe Farms), Oregon State University’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center, a straw processor and a seed company.
“The World Forestry Center was really an interesting visit for the staff to understand a lot of what is happening in the forestry sector,” Cullman said.
“At Wooden Show Farms (tour participants) saw some of that mix of agritourism with real production agriculture,” Cullman said. “And they got to dive into the issues involved around industrial hemp and what is happening there with it being legalized in some states and not in others.
“Of course, most of these congressional staff worked on the farm bill, which made industrial hemp a possibility across the country,” she said.
At Bossco Trading in Salem, tour participants were exposed to the Oregon straw industry.
“We saw how a policy change actually created a whole other market and how farmers are dealing with that change in policy of going from burning straw to getting it off fields and finding an export market for it,” Cullman said.
“I think one of the best things (the congressional staff) are seeing is how the legislation that they are passing and the policies that they are putting in place or considering are affecting real life production here in Oregon,” Cullman said. “That is critical for them to know and understand.”