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Oregon celebrates National Agriculture Week 2013

ODA Director Coba says it’s time to say thank you to the state’s farmers and ranchers

All Oregonians and all Americans are encouraged to say thank you to the nation’s farmers and ranchers this coming week while perhaps learning more about agriculture. Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba wants to take advantage of the opportunities to highlight one of the state’s leading industries as part of National Agriculture Week March 17-23. The annual event is designed to salute more than two million US agricultural operators and nearly 39,000 farmers and ranchers in Oregon.

Nationally, Ag Week and Ag Day, celebrated March 19, is a time to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture and its positive impact on the daily lives of each American. This year marks the 40th anniversary of National Agriculture Week. In an interview marking the special week, Director Coba renews her usual optimism about the industry sector:

What is your general message to Oregonians regarding National Agriculture Week?

“National Agriculture Week is a time we can all pause and reflect on all things agriculture, which is very, very exciting. It’s just a great time of year. It’s spring, it’s planting season, and it’s time to give thanks and get ready for a new year of crops and livestock. We’ve really seen the industry rebound since the recession. We’re seeing that rebound happen on so many different fronts. We’ve got some great opportunities going on in Oregon centering on agriculture. From growth in new markets– local and international– to the growing public interest in Oregon agriculture, it’s a wonderful time to be a part of it all. There’s so much excitement around our farm to school program, engaging kids and teaching them about where their food comes from while letting them have hands-on experiences in growing their own gardens. That’s just one example of how agriculture is reaching out to others.”

Does the current Celebrate Oregon Agriculture campaign fit with what you would hope for as part of National Agriculture Week? (Note: The campaign uses TV, print, and online resources to reach primarily parents and caregivers of school-aged children with key ag messages.)

“The campaign has been a great success. We are delighted in the variety of interest and support that we are getting, from Whole Foods to Norpac Foods, from the Oregon Dairy Products Commission to the Oregon Beef Council, from the Oregon Agri-Business Council to other organizations interested in participating. It really is a wonderful way to not only talk about Oregon agriculture, but to also show urban Oregonians where they can go to find local agricultural foods, show them how to cook with local products, be creative in terms of their own gardening– just some really great ideas. It brings in such a wide variety of what represents Oregon agriculture. It’s exciting and positive.”

This is your eleventh National Agriculture Week as ODA Director. A lot of messaging has taken place. Do you think is has moved the needle in terms of the public’s understanding and appreciation of agriculture?

“I do think the needle is moving. One of the reasons I would say that is what I’m hearing and seeing during the short period of time we’ve been spending at the Capitol for the 2013 legislative session. We have quite a few new legislators, but we are finding an all-around strong interest in agriculture. They want to know how they can support agriculture, and want to make sure Oregon agriculture can be successful and continue to contribute to our economy. Policy makers are getting the message about Oregon agriculture. I think that is reflected in the general population as well.”

A key message each National Ag Week is how much agriculture contributes to the economy. Is that still a point of emphasis?

“Oh, yes. We’ve seen agriculture’s footprint expand relative to some other economic sectors after the recession. Based on a recent study by Oregon State University, agriculture is up to about 15 percent in terms of its contribution to Oregon’s economy, it’s responsible for 1 in 10 jobs in the state, it continues to grow, and I see the future to be very bright for agriculture. The ongoing demand for food and fiber will increase. We are well positioned to continue to grow great products in Oregon.”

Another key message is how farmers and ranchers take care of the land and water that sustains them. Is that the case for Oregon?

“Agriculture’s contribution to the environment is huge. The federal government owns the majority of land in Oregon, but our agricultural producers are next in terms of land ownership. If we want this land taken care of, it’s going to be those landowners that do the job. There are a number of programs out there to help farmers and ranchers do good things on the ground. ODA is one of many partners with the private sector, federal government, and all kinds of groups that support these types of efforts. We know farmers and ranchers are generally being good stewards. We are very proud of them. Agriculture is only going to be successful in the future as long as we take care of the land and water so vital for our production.”

So we already know what your National Agriculture Week message is to Oregonians in general. But what’s your message to our agricultural producers?

“I’m so incredibly proud of them. They’ve come out of the recession as strong as ever. They continue taking advantage of new opportunities to improve their operations. They are looking for connections with urban Oregonians. They are exploring alternatives and new markets in both the local and the international marketplace. They are a proud people who just happen to grow great food and fiber. I am so grateful our farmers and ranchers are part of Oregon. Dedicating one week of the year to honor them is nice, but I think our agricultural producers should feel appreciated year around for all they do.”

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

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