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National association helps ODA and Oregon agriculture

NASDA meeting in DC brings state departments of agriculture together on key issues

Agriculture may differ from state to state, but many of the key issues facing farmers, ranchers, and food processors are the same from coast to coast. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture– NASDA– brings those state agencies together to listen, learn, and respond to challenges in a unified fashion that accomplishes more collectively than what any individual state can do alone. Oregon plays a leadership role in NASDA’s proceedings and the state’s agriculture is benefiting from that participation.

“NASDA is so critically important for Oregon, largely because of our distance from Washington DC,” says Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba, who has been actively involved with NASDA since becoming director in 2003. “It’s very difficult for me or for our staff to get back to DC on a regular basis. So we rely on the NASDA staff to convey what’s important for departments of agriculture. NASDA doesn’t just represent ODA, but we are very much in sync with the rest of the state departments of agriculture on these key issues, and can rely on NASDA and NASDA staff to carry that message whether it’s directed at congressional members or federal partners.”

This week, NASDA is holding its winter policy conference in Washington DC, one of two times during the year that top officials from state agriculture departments meet in person. Titles of these officials may vary from director to commissioner to secretary of agriculture, but each value membership to the organization. The 11-member NASDA staff carries out directives from the member states and coordinates the association’s messages and activities. It has been an effective combination.

“Within NASDA, we have a structure of four regional groups,” says Coba. “Oregon is part of the western region. Among those 13 western states, you really see similarities, We have so much in common. It’s nice to have that collective voice, we are not just a single state standing alone. Regional associations also exist for Midwest, Northeast, and Southern states. Some key issues cross multiple regions. Some can be dealt with at the regional level. But the NASDA Board of Directors is made up of members from each region, which is very important. I think we do a great job of understanding and respecting the differences between regions and bring key issues forward collectively where we have commonality.”

At this year’s conference, common issues include invasive species, water quality, and the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Other critical issues capturing the attention of all NASDA members this week are free trade agreements, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, and drone use in agriculture. Key speakers at the conference have included Gina McCarthy, administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (pictured right, photo by USEPA); Mike Taylor and Howard Sklamberg– two top deputy commissioners of the US Food and Drug Administration; and US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Secretary Vilsack’s visit, in particular, coincided with the news that the US Senate approved a new Farm Bill that is now on its way for President Obama’s signature.

“Having top level federal officials speak to us is par for the course,” says Coba. “The benefit of having these mid-year meetings every year in DC is that we have that chance to interact with our federal agency counterparts. They get to hear our concerns and answer our questions.”

As chair of NASDA’s Food Regulation and Nutrition Committee, Coba has played a leadership role in developing official comments on behalf of the state departments of agriculture regarding the sweeping impact of FSMA, particularly on farmers.

“We’ve never tackled anything like FSMA,” says Coba. “The impact FSMA has on agricultural producers that have never really been regulated before in that way, is the reason the state departments of agriculture are driven to get involved. We have managed, thankfully, to be very unified on this issue. There are some key matters we need to work on with FDA. We are committed to doing that. We heard this week that FDA is committed. So we are going to roll up our sleeves and figure out how to move FSMA forward.”

Working with federal agencies is an important role for NASDA. When issues get bigger than the agencies, NASDA finds itself interacting with US senators and representatives.

“NASDA is a player on Capitol Hill,” says Coba. “It has been a priority for us to beef up that presence in the last five years. I think we’ve done a great job of that and that will be a priority moving forward as well.”

Specifically, NASDA has weighed in with the collective voice of the states on the US Farm Bill. The Agricultural Act of 2014, as its known, addresses many of NASDA’s top priorities including increased funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program as well as for plant pest and disease management programs. The legislation enhances the flexibility of conservation programs to address important environmental improvements. The legislation also maintains important funding for the Market Access Program (MAP), and provides dollars for critical research to enhance US food and fiber production.

The relationship between Oregon and NASDA has been mutually beneficial.

“Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with ODA when dealing with issues that need to be handled well,” says Bob Ehart, NASDA’s Senior Policy and Science Advisor. “Katy Coba and her team are truly fantastic to work with. The ODA policy team gets it and the technical program staff members are a tremendous resource when we work on issues important  to Oregon and the nation’s agriculture.”

NASDA also provides value to Oregon agriculture through the relationships established among the state departments of agriculture, according to Coba.

“Absolutely. This is a place we can come and realize that we are not alone with all the difficult issues we are dealing with at the individual state level. These other states are dealing with it. We share good ideas and partner when we need to. It’s just a great group to be a part of.”

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

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