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ODA faces challenges and opportunities in 2013

Director Katy Coba says the agency will continue to meet its mission in the new year

Oregon agriculture is poised to build on the overall successes of 2012. To help the cause, the Oregon Department of Agriculture will continue its three-fold mission of providing food safety and consumer protection, natural resource protection, and marketing of Oregon agricultural products. ODA Director Katy Coba says 2013 will be a challenging, yet potentially rewarding year for the agency as it meets the needs of its constituents.

Director Coba’s comments are part of an interview previewing the year 2013. Last week, in part one of the interview, Coba discussed the key issues facing the agriculture industry as a whole. In part two, she focuses on the Oregon Department of Agriculture:

Looking at ODA’s mission statement, is there any indication that food safety is any less important than it was a year ago?

“No, there certainly isn’t. We have just seen some draft rules from the US Food and Drug Administration that clarify the federal government’s intentions as it implements the Food Safety Modernization Act, giving FDA more authority. I’m sure there is a lot of interest in those rules, and probably some elements that Oregon agriculture will want to see tweaked. ODA plans to work very closely with our industry in terms of reviewing those rules and making comment so we can get everything in a workable form for Oregon agriculture. I think these rules will change the way producers will have to handle their product. The rules appear to introduce some changes to on farm production and  provide additional clarification on what kind of authority and role FDA is going to play. Given that, we will need to understand the role for ODA’s Food Safety Program. We are still vitally committed to performing our normal food safety activities. I don’t anticipate changes to the extent that our program will be diminished in its importance. We need to remain vigilant about food safety.”

From an environmental standpoint, what are the key issues facing ODA?

“I can sum it up in one word– water. A lot of time was spent in our agency this past year on both water quality and water quantity. There continues to be much interest in ODA’s Agricultural Water Quality Program and us being able to better document that agriculture is doing its fair share in taking care of land and water. I expect to see some changes in our program this year to make us more focused, to use our limited resources as best we can, to partner with other key agencies, and to document success. On the water quantity side, the Oregon Water Resources Department developed the state’s first integrated water resources strategy last year. Our agency was very involved. Now comes implementation. There is a lot of work to be done, but there is also an opportunity for Oregon agriculture to hopefully develop additional water resources that will provide some economic benefit for the industry.”

“At the same time, we continue to hear concerns around pesticides. Our job is to continue to partner with the industry to make sure pesticides are used in an appropriate manner. One voluntary program we are very excited about is a partnership with DEQ, Oregon State University, our soil and water conservation districts, and landowners on the ground. It’s called the Pesticide Stewardship Program, which brings together a team that includes landowners to address pesticide problems and make adjustments, if need be, in how pesticides are used. So far, the program has shown positive results.”

What is ODA’s focus in marketing Oregon agriculture?

“Asia is our big target overseas. On the Governor’s Trade Mission this past fall, we learned that more than half of the world’s population lives within a five hour plane ride from Hong Kong. We have a great ability to tap into that growing population and enjoy a competitive advantage by being on the West Coast. We can transport our products to that market cheaper than, perhaps, a Midwest or East Coast state can. We are also collaborating with our neighbors when it comes to export markets. Where we can partner with Washington, Idaho, and California to promote regional products jointly, it can be a benefit to all of us. Of course, we need to remember that agricultural marketing in Oregon is a three-legged stool– we need good access to local, domestic, and international markets. So I expect ODA’s efforts will continue to focus on all three.”

Do you expect the legislature to help ODA when it convenes this year?

“Some key investments that were proposed in the Governor’s budget [include] continued funding for our water quality program and the monitoring component of that program, increased funding for the Pesticide Stewardship Program, continuing the wolf compensation and assistance fund, which is so important for those that are dealing with the reintroduction of wolves in the State of Oregon, and funding an ODA water quantity position to help implement the new Integrated Water Resources Strategy and really take advantage of some opportunities to make more water available for agriculture. The one downside we have in our budget because of a shortfall in lottery revenue is a proposed reduction in our Plant Conservation Program as well as our Weed Control Program. These are very vital and important programs. We will do the best we can with the resources the legislature ultimately gives us.”

What internal changes might help ODA meet these budget challenges in the year ahead?

“You are seeing more of our programs working together and cross-functioning. We are encouraging folks in our programs to work together in ways they might not have in the past, and take advantage of all the creativity and expertise we have in this agency. We want to provide services better– cheaper if we can– and meet customers’ demands. I have to give kudos to our employees who, despite the ongoing budget challenges, have come together and think of new ways of doing business. All of us owe them a great deal of thanks and appreciation for the work that they do.”

“Overall, I’m very excited about Oregon agriculture and our agency in the coming year.”

For more information, contact Bruce Pokarney at (503) 986-4559.

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