Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program

The Oregon Working Lands Database provided key data that informed the development of the OAHP

Oregon’s rich agricultural heritage and diverse farm and ranch lands have drawn people to the state for more than 150 years. These “working lands” are the cornerstone of the state’s rural communities and provide myriad benefits to the natural environment. More than one quarter of Oregon’s 63 million acres are private working lands that create agricultural production valued at $5.4 billion—the state’s second-largest economic driver.  At the same time, well managed agricultural lands support valuable fish and wildlife habitat as well as enhancing other natural resources.

For forty years, Oregon’s unique land use system has helped protect working landscapes. Even with a strong economic position and state protections, farms and ranch productivity is increasingly challenged by rising production costs, loss of processing facilities, fragmentation through new land uses, conversion to non-farm uses, complex regulations, and planning for generational transfers.

Governor Brown’s office convened a group of landowners, conservation and agricultural organizations and agencies to work with landowners, tribal governments, agencies and interested organizations to identify voluntary tools to help landowners maintain working farms and ranches while providing incentives and support for conservation benefits on those lands.  The result of this effort is the proposed Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (OAHP).

C2 Cattle Ranch in Jackson County, protected with a conservation easement by the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy

What would the OAHP do?

The OAHP provides the structure and funding to keep working lands working, while preserving and enhancing fish and wildlife benefits on these lands. The OAHP proposed the creation of:

  • The Oregon Agricultural Heritage Fund – to fund program components
  • The Oregon Agricultural Heritage Commission – to develop rules and oversee investments
  • Matching grants for three types of voluntary conservation projects
    • Permanent working lands conservation easements
    • Temporary working lands conservation covenants
    • Conservation management plans
  • Succession planning workshops using OSU Ties to the Land curriculum
  • A study of the effects of state tax burdens (especially estate tax) on farm and ranch businesses

 

Why is the OAHP needed?

  • A historic opportunity – Two-thirds (10.45M acres) of Oregon’s agricultural lands will change hands in the next 20 years, yet up to 80% of Oregon farmers and ranchers may not have a succession plan.
  • Agriculture at risk – In this transition, productive land and associated habitat are vulnerable to sale for non-farm uses, fragmentation into unviable parcel sizes, and eventual development.
  • Lost Federal dollars – A federal program exists to permanently protect US agricultural land – NRCS’s Agricultural Land Easement program (ACEP-ALE). Yet each year, Oregon leaves millions of federal dollars on the table because we do not have a state grant program to match this funding.

    Woody Wolfe (left) speaks with elected officials and partners on his farm, which is protected with a conservation easement held by Wallowa Land Trust.

 

Who developed the OAHP?
The Governor’s office convened a work group with representatives from a diverse coalition of agricultural and conservation organizations to develop a synergistic suite of programs to address both farm and ranch succession and land preservation. The work group consisted of:

 

What happens next with the OAHP proposal?

The OAHP will likely be introduced to the Oregon Legislature for their consideration during the 2017 session.

Update: OAHP’s bill HB 3249 has been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources with a subsequent referral to Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

3/24/17 Update: HB 3247 is scheduled for a public hearing on April 4, 2017 in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natures Resources.

  • Download a sample letter of testimony with submission instructions for the April 4th hearing
  • Read an overview on OAHP and why we need this crucial legislation
  • How to find and contact your local legislator

 

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