By CRAIG REED
For the Capital Press
ROSEBURG, Ore. — Alexis Taylor, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, commented on topics ranging from trade to wolves while visiting with ranchers at an Oct. 16 meeting of the Douglas County Livestock Association.
The back-and-forth conversation between the director and the ranchers included discussion of foreign markets for beef, wolves and compensation for livestock loss, food origins, estate and inheritance taxes and solar farms on agricultural land.
Umpqua, Ore., rancher Kurt Spencer said it is important that Oregon maintains a strong interest in pursuing foreign beef markets. He said the state is not keeping up in that pursuit.
Taylor explained that representatives from the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, the Oregon Beef Council and Country Natural Beef were on a trade trip to China last May. She said Japan has been the state’s top market for agricultural products, but the next key market for Oregon may be China. That country recently reopened its beef market to U.S. producers.
Taylor said 80 percent of Oregon’s agricultural products are shipped outside the state and 40 percent of that total is exported to international markets. She agreed it is important to seek out and establish trade relationships in those foreign markets.
She said it is important that trade trips are set up in both directions so that representatives from China, South Korea and Japan can visit Oregon to meet beef producers and to see where and how beef is raised.
“Trading relationships are long-term investments, not something you build in two years,” Taylor said. “Oregon agriculture can capitalize on our proximity to the Pacific Rim and the growing middle class in Asia.”
Cottage Grove, Ore., rancher Bill Hoyt brought up the importance of having a wolf compensation fund for livestock damage in western Oregon because the wolfpack in southwestern Oregon is dispersing and future conflicts are inevitable.
“To get to the point, we need more funds for compensation for all over the state,” he said, adding that ranchers are willing to work with the ODA and to testify on behalf of the department to the Oregon legislature on wolf issues.
Taylor said it was a point well-taken and that the ODA would continue to support an increase in the fund through the budget process. She added there are always opportunities for stakeholders to testify and provide support for the fund in the budget.
In response to a question from Tenmile, Ore., rancher Marwood Hallett about future trends, Taylor said she anticipates the origin of foods to be an important subject well into the future. She said only 10 percent of the U.S. population now lives in rural areas so the disconnect with food sources is expected. She added 56 percent of Oregon’s population lives in the Portland metro area.
“Consumers want to know the source of food,” she said. “We have generations of people who are now removed from agriculture and we’re less educated as a consumer base as a result. It’ll take time out of our business to try to educate consumers.”
The ODA is involved in the Agriculture in the Classroom program in an effort to provide educational materials on the ag industry to city classrooms.
Regarding solar panels on agricultural land, Taylor said ODA is supportive of all forms of alternative energy, but it comes down to “what is the best use of that land.”
“We want to see the most productive ag land in any part of the state protected,” she said. “We want to provide for both, but in a way that makes sense. We need to be thoughtful about solar in the state, we want it to be compatible with agriculture, but not competitive.”
Glide, Ore., rancher Mark Talcott asked Taylor about estate and inheritance taxes and the difficulty in passing an agricultural operation onto the next generation. Talcott is the fifth generation to own and operate his family’s ranch.
“We’re land rich, cash poor,” he said. “We need relief if family farms and ranches are going to continue. The last nail in the coffin is the Oregon estate tax. There is a loss of family farms because they’re being bought up by corporations that can afford the tax situation.”
Taylor said the estate tax issue is something she has heard talk about in the Oregon Capitol in Salem “so it is on their radar.” She had no further information on whether tax changes were coming.
“I find what you have on your minds very valuable,” Taylor said to the ranchers as the meeting concluded.
Following her stop in Roseburg, Taylor traveled south and made stops in Central Point and Medford to visit with and to hear from others who are involved in Oregon agriculture.