Sharon Waterman

Sharon Waterman, president of the Oregon Farm Bureau.

Difficulties with timber trespass laws led Sharon Waterman to ask the Oregon Farm Bureau for help, beginning her decades-long involvement with the organization.

Over the years, Waterman said she’s come to depend on the Farm Bureau’s assistance with other predicaments facing agriculture in Southern Oregon.

“Here is the problem. How can we fix it?” Waterman said, summing up the organization’s role in Oregon’s ranching and farming communities.

Last year, Waterman became the first female president of the Oregon Farm Bureau, replacing its longtime leader, Barry Bushue, who now serves as state executive director of USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Waterman is modest about her rise in the organization’s leadership, saying she was initially chosen to serve on the Coos-Curry County Farm Bureau’s board because she was willing to drive to OFB’s state headquarters in Salem.

She now has her own office at the headquarters building after roughly two decades on the OFB’s state-level board, including stints as its first and second vice president. Waterman and her husband, Charlie, raise cattle, sheep, hay and timber on roughly 2,500 acres near Bandon, Ore.

Looking forward to the 2019 legislative session, Waterman expects the debate over “cap and trade” carbon emissions legislation to be a major concern for Oregon’s agriculture industry.

Increasing the cost of fuel alone would have a profound impact on the state’s farmers and ranchers, who run farm machinery and must often drive long distances, she said.

“You’ve got to be able to check on your livestock. There’s no way you can get around it,” Waterman said. “You can’t just carpool. For us in rural Oregon, it’s really huge.”

Lawmakers will also be considering an overhaul of fill-removal regulations for cleaning out drainage ditches, which is an issue that has long bedeviled Southern Oregon farmers.

The situation is particularly complex along Oregon’s coast due to the presence of threatened coho salmon in channelized streams.

Although the Legislature “may not get it all done in one whack,” Waterman said she’s hopeful the Farm Bureau can educate lawmakers about agriculture’s perspective.

“We try to engage those that don’t understand our practices,” she said. “They don’t always know what the reality is out on the farm.”

Other experiences in Southern Oregon have also prepared Waterman well for the legislative discussions in which the Farm Bureau will participate.

For example, she was involved in an advisory committee on predator damage that ultimately resulted in a 2015 bill authorizing landowner-funded control districts to pay for lethal assistance from USDA Wildlife Services.

Two years earlier, her county Farm Bureau launched a campaign against the planned flooding of farmland to establish a wetland, earning the organization a County Activity of Excellence Award from the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Agriculture has always been a volatile business, but these days especially, farmers and ranchers can’t ignore the policy challenges faced by the industry, she said.

“In the old days, we didn’t care about what happened in Legislature,” Waterman said. “You can’t run an operation today and have that thought process.”

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

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