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.

SALEM — A proposal to expand allowable activities for cider businesses on farmland is sailing through the Oregon legislature with minimal opposition.

Imitating rules established for wineries, Senate Bill 677 would permit cider businesses to produce and sell their beverages, serve food and conduct other agritourism activities on-site in farm zones.

Companies generating less than 100,000 gallons of cider a year would have to be within or next to an orchard of at least 15 acres to take advantage of the provisions.

The orchard size requirement would increase to 40 acres for those businesses producing more than 100,000 gallons annually, under the bill.

The Senate has unanimously approved SB 677 and it’s now heading for a vote on the House floor after clearing the House Committee on Economic Development and Trade with a “do pass” recommendation on May 3.

Cider businesses are similar to wineries in terms of government regulation and the process of crushing fruit to make juice that’s then fermented into alcohol, said Dan Lawrence, founder of Stone Circle Cider near Estacada, Ore.

The goal of SB 677 is to provide cider companies with the same opportunity to process and sell their product, while educating consumers about how it’s made, said Lawrence.

“Oregon is in a strong position to be a leader, if not the leader, in this industry nationwide,” he said. “It helps bring dollars and jobs to the countryside.”

U.S. sales of cider surged more than 300 percent between 2010 and 2015, to about $870 million, with Northwest consumers being particularly keen for the beverage, according to testimony from the Northwest Cider Association, which has 25 members in Oregon.

Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, commended SB 677’s supporters for emulating existing land use provisions for Oregon wineries, rather than trying to create a whole new system for their industry.

“There’s fewer unknowns here,” Helm said.

Nobody spoke against the bill during the committee hearing, but written testimony submitted by the Oregon Farm Bureau was unenthusiastic.

The organization wants to encourage Oregon’s cider industry but is concerned “about the breadth of activities authorized” under SB 677, much as it was concerned about previously enacted rules for wineries, said Mary Anne Nash, OFB’s public policy counsel.

The proposal allows bed-and-breakfast operations and other activities “seemingly unrelated” to agriculture in farm zones, without requiring cider businesses to own the orchards, she said.

“This could result in the development of a production facility and business center that is not actually part of the farm use on the property,” Nash said.

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