Salem, Oregon (September 19, 2017): At a signing ceremony today, Governor Kate Brown put her support behind the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (HB 3249). This landmark bill creates a suite of tools designed to help farmers and ranchers pass their legacies on to the next generation. These tools include a voluntary grant match for working lands conservation easements and covenants, which help farmers and ranchers preserve working lands for agriculture and the fish and wildlife habitat they support.
The passage of this bill comes in advance of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee’s 2018 Farm Bill, which includes land preservation programs that can provide match funding for Oregon’s new program. Although the state bill did not receive funding to fully implement its programs this biennium, with the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program in place, Oregon is well on its way to joining the 29 other states that have funded working lands easements to protect farm and ranch land.
“With the average age of Oregon farmers and ranchers at 60 (higher than it’s ever been), and a massive transfer of agricultural lands looming over the next two decades, we found it imperative to get ahead of the issue,” said Mary Anne Cooper of the Oregon Farm Bureau. “Without assistance in passing on that farmland, we might lose it from agriculture forever. For the future of our economy, rural communities, and identity as Oregonians, we must ensure those vital lands remain in productive farm use and flourish for future generations.”
The bill gained widespread bipartisan support in the Oregon House and Senate because it addresses key issues farmers and ranchers face in Oregon: the fragmentation and development of farmland and the challenge of transferring this land to the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
Farmers and ranchers throughout Oregon recognize not only the importance of preserving the land itself, but as long-term stewards of the land, they understand the role these lands play in to protecting wildlife habitat as well.
“I don’t want this valley to look like a suburb. The tools in this program offer a way to capitalize on the land’s economic value while preserving what people like here, ” said Woody Wolfe, Wallowa County rancher. Wolfe currently has two working lands conservation easements on his family’s century farm, protecting nearly 500 acres of land including the confluence of the Wallowa and Lostine rivers. Wolfe used the sale of the easements to help fund the purchase of more land.
In addition to grants for permanent working lands easements and temporary covenants, the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program contains other tools for farmland preservation and farm succession, like conservation management plans and succession planning workshops.
“Agriculture is Oregon’s second largest economic driver, with an economic impact of $8.2 billion dollars per year,” said Kelley
Beamer of the Coalition for Oregon Land Trusts. “But it’s also the heart and soul of rural communities, and it provides migratory corridors, riparian areas, forest edge and other values that are essential to fish and wildlife habitat. It is imperative that we preserve this natural and cultural resource for generations to come. If we drop the ball now, we can never un-develop the land and bring it back our local food system, open spaces and habitat.
The Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program bill (OAHP) was developed during a two-year effort by the following six statewide organizations that represent agriculture and natural resource conservation: Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts, Oregon Association of Conservation Districts, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, Oregon Farm Bureau, Sustainable Northwest, and The Nature Conservancy.