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The Agriculture Quarterly
Fall 2013
The new look of food safety
By Bruce Pokarney

Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, expected to get an earful from Pacific Northwest growers during an August tour of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho agriculture. And he did. But Taylor also got an eyeful as he watched and learned about the potential impact of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) on farmers in this part of the country.
Taylor kept a running blog of his tour, which started in Idaho and Malheur Country, Oregon. He wrote about the lush diversity of crops in the Northwest, made possible only because of irrigation systems managed by the growers:

“The contrast is stark when you see land that isn’t irrigated– it’s dry, brown, and strewn with sagebrush. Understandably then, farmers have questions and concerns about FDA’s proposed requirements governing irrigation water.”

A major goal of the tour was to emphasize to growers that proposed FSMA standards are very much works in progress. That’s the take home message for all of Oregon agriculture. But any changes of the proposed rules for the better will only take place if farmers, packers, and processors stay involved and provide the necessary feedback to enlighten the federal agency. For its role, the Oregon Department of Agriculture is working to help carry the water, so to speak, insisting that FDA actually go to the farms to view Pacific Northwest agriculture firsthand. Whether by facilitating the Oregon ag community’s comments on the FSMA proposed rules, or by reviewing the rules and preparing its own comments, ODA has made the Food Safety Modernization Act a key priority.

“We want to make sure FDA gets it right,” says ODA Director Katy Coba. “We want a better system to ensure safe food, but we need to be certain that its impacts on growers, packers, and processors are reasonable, viable, and doable.”

Speak now or forever hold your peace

The first batch of proposed rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act deals with produce safety, preventive control, imports, and third-party verification. The produce rules alone have stirred the pot since they affect a group of folks who previously have not been directly regulated by FDA.
“For the first time, FDA is stepping onto the farm in a proactive role,” says ODA’s Stephanie Page, an assistant to the director, who has been one of many agency staff members dedicating a lot of time to the FSMA process. “FDA has had authority to come onto the farm when a food safety outbreak occurs and needs to react to a problem. But FSMA gives them the authority to work with farms to prevent problems.”

In its conversations with growers, ODA has learned that three of the biggest issues with FSMA are irrigation water, harvest bins, and the complexity of the rules.

In proposing the rules, FDA says it wants to zero in on farm practices that are most likely to cause food-borne illness. Water used to grow fruits and vegetables destined for raw consumption must not exceed a specific level of bacteria–235 colonies of E. coli per 100 milliliters– that, many argue, is a relatively low threshold. Levels higher than the standard require producers to treat their water. With so many growers irrigating from open canals and other surface water sources, reaching the FDA standards may not be affordable, if even possible.

“Onion growers in the Ontario area monitor their water and aren’t sure they can continue doing business if the rules, as proposed, apply to their product,” says Page.
Part of the preventive control proposed rule requires bins for produce to have smooth surfaces in order to be properly cleaned. From onion growers in the Treasure Valley to apple growers in Yakima, Washington, there has been concern over the expense of switching from the wooden bins that hold produce picked in the field or brought to the packing shed. That concern was emphasized during the August FDA tour.

While certain types of produce and small operations are exempt from all or some of the rules, it’s not entirely clear what growers should expect from FSMA. At its annual meeting, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) reaffirmed support of FSMA’s goals and the need to implement them as quickly as possible. But NASDA also believes the current rules, as drafted, are too complex.

ODA Director Coba is chair of NASDA’s Food Regulation and Nutrition Committee.

“I am learning from conversations with my fellow NASDA members that they too are concerned about the ability to enforce rules that are unclear. Growers in my state are concerned about the complexity of following multiple rules and feel having some alternatives might be a better way to proactively regulate certain commodities. We want to work with FDA and other stakeholders to get the rules right.”

FDA has left the door open for suggestions, and there is every indication it will seriously consider modifications to the proposed rules as well as alternatives that may work for growers.

With deadlines in November for comment, ODA is urging all agricultural producers to examine the proposed rules, see how those rules might affect them, and provide feedback.

Show and tell

The ODA Director sympathized with the audience of Eastern Oregon onion growers who are worried FSMA might put some of them out of business. She was told there had not been an outbreak of food borne illnesses associated with their crop before.

“For those of you who don’t think food pathogens will affect your product, let me remind you that until the past couple of years, our hazelnut growers and fresh strawberry growers were saying the same thing,” said Coba. “Yet we were all involved in outbreaks of illnesses associated with those crops. That’s why it is important for us to take the necessary steps to prevent problems and avoid costly recalls.”

“We have crossed a bridge into a better place where FDA understands they have to make some changes to their proposed rules,” says Vance Bybee, ODA Director of Food Safety and Animal Health Program. “Because of the communication that took place with our farmers and processors, I think they’ve learned that some of the rules just aren’t feasible.”

In his blog, FDA’s Michael Taylor said as much:
“That’s why we were here– to see these farming operations first-hand and understand how water is being used to produce such major crops as onions, and apples, and other tree fruits– crops that have a good food safety record. We are exploring how, through various approaches to alternatives and variances, we can satisfy the mandate of our new food safety law in a way that works under the conditions in the desert Northwest. We are also assuring farmers that our proposed standards are very much works in progress.”

taylor_skeen_fda_tour.jpgTaylor and other FDA representatives were shown how water is siphoned from a canal for furrow irrigation of bulb onions. They also saw drip irrigation in fruit orchards and attended standing room only listening sessions to hear what farmers had to say. Stopping at the Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario, more than 150 growers and packers were in the audience to speak at the open microphone. Many commented that their crops were safe and that the FDA regulations may put them out of business.

What also became apparent during the tour was that a lot of sectors of agriculture might need research to identify risks and to be able to show how pathogens are eliminated from their produce as part of their operation. While it is likely that the curing process kills pathogens on fresh onions, research is needed for verification.

“We gave assurances that the proposed rule provides the opportunity for alternative ways to meet certain safety standards if those ways are scientifically proven to be effective,” Taylor wrote in his blog.

In helping to plan the tour, ODA collaborated with researchers from Oregon State University and Washington State University. Their presence fortified the notion that research dollars could help producers comply with FSMA or show why they should be exempt.

ODA’s food safety focus

Part of the mission of the Oregon Department of Agriculture is to ensure food safety and consumer protection. That pledge has never been more evident than with ODA’s interest and involvement in the Food Safety Modernization Act.

“This has truly been the most interdisciplinary issue I’ve encountered in my 13 years with the agency,” says ODA’s Page.

Internally, representatives from several ODA programs– not just the Food Safety Program– have been meeting regularly since the proposed FSMA rules came out earlier this year. The group has studied the rules, participated in workshops for the industry, collaborated with others such as OSU and the Northwest Food Processors Association, and continues to receive and prepare official comments that will be submitted to FDA.

ODA has racked up frequent flyer miles in an effort to be involved on a national level. Bybee, as the agency’s top food safety official, has made a dozen trips to Washington DC the past two years to discuss how the rules should be crafted. Oregon is one of three states– along with North Carolina and New York– that continue to have a seat at the FDA table as the FSMA process ensues.
“We are seen as experts on irrigation water rules and have been invited back to DC to be in the discussions of this very sensitive topic,” says Bybee. “We were the only state department of agriculture invited to be there.”

Deadlines loom and time is growing short. The comment period for the proposed rules for produce and preventive controls ends November 15. ODA has stepped up to be a coordinator of Oregon’s efforts to respond to the FSMA rules. In the end, ODA wants to maintain the viability of Oregon agriculture without compromising food safety, which is why it is so important that every Oregonian who has a stake in food production and processing takes advantage of the opportunity to provide feedback.

“FSMA is literally going to change history,” says Bybee. “We want history to change for the better. I believe we ultimately will have a safer food supply as a result, but there are still battles to be fought and won by the states in order to make FSMA the regulatory program it needs to be.”

Which means a program with rules that allow growers, packers, and processors to stay viable while preventing outbreaks of food borne illness.​

Deadlines and Resources

The deadline for comments on the produce safety and preventive controls rules is November 15. 

The deadline for comments for importers and certification/auditing rules is November 26.

For more information visit ODA’s FSMA website at: www.oregon.gov/ODA/ADMD/pages/fsma_oregon.aspx.



Director's column
The 2013 Legislative Session is now in the rear view mirror, but the Oregon Department of Agriculture is able to focus on the road ahead of us as we meet the challenges and opportunities of the next two years– and beyond. In general, the legislature was very good to ODA, showing a great deal of confidence in our ability to serve Oregonians through the expertise of our programs and people. Lawmakers have entrusted us with additional resources that come with greater responsibility and high expectations. We welcome all of it.

ODA’s $94 million budget for 2013-15 is a significant increase from the previous biennium. While there has been some shifting of fund sources, leading to a bigger pot of General Fund dollars, the agency has been tasked with some new initiatives and expanded programs.

For instance, ODA and DEQ have been given nearly $1.5 million and one position for the Pesticide Stewardship Program. We are excited about the expansion of this voluntary program, which brings together partners, including local experts, to identify potential problems and improve water quality associated with pesticide use. We’ve seen success through this program in Hood River, Mill Creek in Marion County, and many other locations where agriculture is present. Between the funds allocated to ODA and DEQ, this program is poised to progress in a way that allows ag producers to be part of the solution. From a philosophical standpoint, we believe this is the right way to go about identifying problems and working to resolve them.

The legislature gave us continued funding for three positions to perform water quality monitoring and coordination work with other state and federal agencies on issues relating to agricultural water quality. That work started with one-time revenues approved in 2011. Now that the positions are funded for the next two years, we can keep building on the momentum we’ve gained in our water quality program.

ODA also has received funding to establish a water quantity position in January that will help implement the state’s Integrated Water Resources Strategy. We’ve asked for this position for a long time and think it will ultimately help provide more water availability for Oregon farmers and ranchers. This position should be a huge asset for us and for the industry.

Lawmakers restored funding for ODA’s Noxious Weed Control Program at a time when the state can ill afford to relax in its efforts to battle invasive species. Our original budget proposal faced significant cuts to that important program.

The legislature also doubled the amount of money originally allocated in 2011 for the Oregon Wolf Depredation Compensation and Financial Assistance County Block Grant Program, providing additional resources to prevent conflicts between wolves and livestock as well as compensating ranchers who have lost animals to wolves.

A lot of our priorities for this biennium were funded, which is terrific.

It’s important to note that for years, the state’s natural resource agencies have suffered from what I consider to be a disinvestment in General Fund dollars. As a whole, lawmakers this session provided an influx of General Funds into our budgets, which is good news. Nonetheless, all natural resource agencies still account for less than 2 percent of the Oregon’s General Fund.

As far as ag-related legislation is concerned, this issue of the Ag Quarterly contains an article detailing some of the important bills that passed this session. HB 2427 limits canola production in the Willamette Valley to 500 acres for research purposes over the next few years. HB 2700 creates a beginning and expanding farmer and rancher loan program to be administered by the Oregon Business Development Program in consultation with ODA. And HB 3367 extends several important tax credits, including one for farmworker housing, until 2020. There was also significant legislation dealing with water and land use– two topics that you can count on each and every session.

The Oregon Legislature has a challenging mission, and issues important to agriculture are not always at the top of the priority list. Still, I think it’s safe to say that the 77th legislative assembly helped our farmers and ranchers in many ways and certainly provided the resources for the Oregon Department of Agriculture to continue doing its job. For that, I am grateful.

Board of Agriculture spotlight: Stephanie Hallock
Former Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Director Stephanie Hallock has been familiar with some of the issues confronting agriculture, but admits her past focus was relatively narrow. The newly appointed public member of the State Board of Agriculture is excited to expand her scope of knowledge while adding her impressive skills and advocacy to the group’s overall expertise.
“Because of my time at DEQ, I have had a lot of experience in water quality, but I only knew a little bit about the amazing diversity of issues facing agriculture and the Oregon Department of Agriculture,” says Hallock. “I’m looking forward to learning about other key areas including food safety, marketing, and invasive species. It’s all very interesting.”
It’s rare, if not unprecedented, for the Board of Agriculture to have a member who has been in charge of a major state agency. The daughter of a well-known state senator, Stephanie Hallock earned a bachelor’s degree in English and masters in public administration at Portland State University. She was a presidential management intern in the Carter Administration– a program designed to bring more women and minorities into the federal government. She was assigned to the regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco and eventually landed at DEQ to manage the hazardous and solid waste programs.
“When DEQ decentralized, I requested a move to Eastern Oregon and was put in charge of all operations east of the Cascades,” says Hallock. “My husband and I lived outside of Sisters and fell in love with Eastern Oregon.”

After being persuaded to pursue the top job at DEQ, Hallock came back to Portland but was able to maintain the strong relationships she had developed. Working part time for Oregon Solutions, her strength in problem solving led to successful local and regional projects in the Lower John Day, The Dalles, and other Oregon locations. Her last project was to expand the City of Portland’s Community Gardens Program.
“I’m really interested in solving problems and working to get things done. When I was a state agency director, I was part of the Governor’s Natural Resources Cabinet and got to know some of ODA’s key issues. I have a real appreciation for agriculture and the challenges it faces. I hope I can help on some of the issues.”
“I’m impressed at how interested and engaged everyone on the board is, regardless of the perspective they are coming from. I really get the sense that everyone is interested in all issues, not just what affects their particular industry. Board members speak openly if they have differences of opinion, but in a very supportive way. I like that.”
She also likes returning to Central Oregon whenever possible– especially now that her son, daughter-in-law, and young granddaughter live in the Bend area. For that reason, it was only appropriate that Hallock’s first Board of Ag meeting was held in Prineville.
A quick learner, a problem solver, and an experienced collaborator, Stephanie Hallock brings an impressive resume to the Board of Agriculture.

ODA stays busy as a bee
The Oregon Department of Agriculture has been abuzz with activity this summer as survey technicians collected both native bees and domesticated commercial honeybees as part of an effort to learn more about the presence and health of pollinators. ODA’s efforts take on even more significance in light of the increased attention given to bees this year.
“The fact that we are participating in these surveys is an indication of the importance we place on bees, not only for the role they play in agriculture, but what they mean to our ecosystem,” says Helmuth Rogg, manager of ODA’s Insect Pest Prevention and Management Program (IPPM).
The two bee surveys are independent of each other but are connected by the growing concern over the fate of pollinators nationally and worldwide.
About two-thirds of the world’s food and fiber crops depend on pollination for reproduction. There has been a steep rise in numbers of commercial honeybee hives that have disappeared in the US due to colony collapse disorder (CCD)– a significant threat to agricultural production. It is well known that native pollinators in Oregon, including bumblebees and bees in general, are critically important for many specialty crops and native plants. The value of native bees comes into sharper focus given the status of domesticated honeybees under assault from CCD, diseases, and parasites.
“There are many factors affecting the health of domesticated honeybees, so it’s always good to have a ‘plan b’ available,” says Rogg. “Enhancing native bee populations can be an effective alternative for pollinating specialty crops in Oregon. You don’t need to completely rely on honeybees brought in by commercial beekeepers.”
IPPM received a $75,000 grant for the 2012 season to survey native bees associated with Oregon’s specialty crops. The funding was made possible through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. Willamette University student Briana Ezray set up nearly 300 traps in various specialty crop settings throughout Oregon, including flower, fruit, and carrot seed production areas. Ezray and other ODA survey technicians removed the traps in late August last year and found hundreds of specimens of various bee families.
“Last year’s trapping gave us a long list of native bees that we are still working to identify,” says Rogg. “It has been challenging to identify these different species. We are entering some new territory.”

As part of the identification process, ODA specialists have been preparing the specimens for a digital imaging system with the idea to generate a native bee screening aid. There could be as many as 70 species playing a role as pollinators of specialty crops.
A second year of Specialty Crop Block Grant funding provided $61,625 for the next phase of the native bee survey work, which was done this summer.
“This year, we wanted to identify native bees that are involved in the actual pollination,” says Rogg. “So instead of just setting up traps and collecting native bees, this year we have had our insect trappers observe pollination activity and physically remove the bees from the flowers. This way we will know clearly which native bees are truly involved in pollination. As an example, we can identify a species that is involved in sweet cherry or carrot seed pollination. By finding ways to enhance that population of bees, we hope to get more of these specific pollinators into the orchards and fields should there be issues with the domesticated honeybee.”
ODA is cooperating with the Xerces Society, which is working on ways to enhance native pollinator populations in a specialty crop setting. Ideally, growers may be able to slightly modify the habitat to attract more native pollinators. ODA is also working with bee specialists at Oregon State University to learn more about the biology and phenology (the relationship between a periodic biological phenomenon and climatic conditions) of the state’s native bees.
“We know these native pollinators are important to such crops as blueberries, cherries, and carrot seed,” says Rogg. “Sometimes, growers have difficulty getting commercial domesticated honeybees brought into Oregon at certain times of the year, since so many of those bees are used in California, particularly for almond pollination. So unless you have your own honeybees, the role of native pollinators becomes more important.”
The second survey focuses on the domesticated honeybee, not the native pollinators. USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has recruited several states in the past couple of years to collect live bees to study health issues related to CCD. This was Oregon’s first year as a participant.
“We collected domesticated honeybees and looked for parasites or diseases they might have,” says Rogg. “We are trying to help the national effort to figure out what might be the causes related to colony collapse disorder. This way, we can also get an idea about the health status of Oregon honeybees.”
APHIS provided a specific protocol. ODA visited 20 volunteer beekeepers, both private and commercial, and collected from eight different hives per beekeeper. The live bees were put in a specially designed box and sent back east for APHIS examination and analysis. The national survey has been funded since 2009 and is especially interested in documenting the presence or absence of parasitic mites.
ODA continues its investigation into bumblebee deaths earlier this year in Wilsonville and Hillsboro. In the Wilsonville case, the deaths were determined to be pesticide related. Late summer, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced new pesticide labels that prohibit use of some neonicotinoid pesticide products where bees are present. EPA says it is taking the action in recognition that multiple factors play a role in bee colony declines, including pesticides. While the ODA bee surveys have nothing to do with pesticide issues, the events of this summer have shined a brighter light on the value of pollinators. What ODA learns through bee collection will help strengthen the knowledge base and perhaps ultimately improve the fate of bees in Oregon.



ODA restricts use of certain dinotefuran products
The Oregon Department of Agriculture restricted the use of 18 pesticide products containing the active ingredient dinotefuran while it continues the investigation of a large kill of bumblebees in Wilsonville and Hillsboro this summer. By adopting a temporary rule, ODA took action, in an abundance of caution, to avoid the potential of similar large bee kills this year due to specific pesticide applications.
“I directed the agency to take this step in an effort to minimize any potential for additional incidents involving bee deaths connected to pesticide products with this active ingredient until such time as our investigation is completed and we have more information,” says ODA Director Katy Coba. “Conclusions from the investigation will help us and our partners evaluate whether additional steps need to be considered.”
The ODA restriction focuses on ornamental, turf, and agricultural pesticide products that are used by both professional applicators and homeowners. Products with the active ingredient dinotefuran registered in Oregon for other uses, such as flea and tick control on pets or home ant and roach control, are not affected by the restriction. ODA’s concern is focused on those uses that may impact pollinators.
By statute, ODA has legal authority to establish limitations and procedures deemed necessary and proper for the protection of bees and other pollinating insects. The temporary rule will be enforced until the end of the year, by which time ODA is expected to complete its pesticide use investigations of the Wilsonville and Hillsboro incidents. Those investigations will determine if the pesticide applications were in violation of state and federal pesticide regulations, and will assist ODA in addressing any potential future actions.
More information on ODA's restrictions is available at: www.oregon.gov/ODA/PEST/Pages/Pollinator.aspx.


Oregon ag hits the culinary scene
When up to 50,000 people flocked to Portland’s Waterfront Park this summer for the 30th annual Bite of Oregon, it was yet another opportunity for agriculture to connect with a large urban audience. As consumers sampled heritage chicken skewers basted with an Oregon blueberry salsa or indulged in a Pinot noir-glazed tri-tip, they were reminded of the wonderful bounty provided by local farmers and ranchers.

In these types of urban happenings, a collection of talented chefs act as liaisons between local growers and the urban public.

“Culinary events have long been a staple for building awareness and promoting Oregon food products,” says Gary Roth, director of marketing for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “Every summer, we have a diverse celebration of food going on right in the heart of the state’s largest urban center. The opportunity is huge for Oregon agriculture to be present and tell its story to the many people who come through The Bite during its duration.”

The connection between city folks and agriculture has grown stronger over the years. The popularity of farmers’ markets has been a major factor. So have a number of festivals dedicated to Oregon agriculture, from wine to seafood to berries. All have responded to the increased interest by consumers in where their food comes from and how it is grown. 

“It’s really important that Oregon agriculture make its presence known in these types of urban culinary events,” says Leif Benson, a four-time Chef of the Year winner in Oregon and member of the Oregon Potato Commission. “Oregonians really like the concept of supporting local farmers. When they have awareness of Oregon agriculture through these types of events, it provides an incentive for them to continue looking for local products.”
Chef Benson’s efforts to tie Oregon’s commodity commissions with the delicious foods they produce were on display at The Bite in August. A new event called the Oregon Bounty Chef’s Table was one of many dining options for attendees, highlighting the important connection between the state’s locally grown ingredients and nationally recognized cuisine. The brainchild of Benson, local chefs prepared 40,000 portions of food provided by five Oregon agricultural commodity commissions, using two recipes from each commission, continuously for all three days of the event. Pro Chefs Oregon– the organization that undertook the effort– has never gone so large-scale. It takes a lot of effort, expertise, and Oregon product to make it all happen.
“It’s like a farmers’ market on steroids,” says Benson. “A lot of food is prepared and consumed at The Bite.”

The idea started brewing three years ago when Benson spoke with ODA Director Katy Coba about his desire to create partnerships between Oregon chefs and the agricultural commodity commissions. Since Benson was already a member of the Oregon Potato Commission, he was aware of the disconnect between growers and end users in the culinary world. Benson, representing Oregon chefs, eventually approached all of the commissions with an offer of a resource to help growers expand markets by getting into the culinary scene. That included having chefs provide cooking demonstrations and unique preparations at culinary events and festivals.
“Our organization provides one-stop shopping for the commissions to promote their products, whether it’s overseas, locally, at a farm event, a festival, or even a culinary competition,” says Benson. “We can provide chefs to help out with the effort.”
Along with the Potato Commission, this collaboration now includes the Oregon Beef Council, the Oregon Blueberry Commission, the Oregon Raspberry/Blackberry Commission, and the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission– which at this year’s Bite, expanded to include other seafood commissions.
The Chef’s Table portion of the event offered some unique food samples using products from the five participating commissions. How about a salad that features Oregon blueberries and pink shrimp? After all, berries are no longer just for dessert. Featuring product from the Oregon Beef Council, attendees enjoyed a Vietnamese beef sandwich called Bahn Mi. Marionberries mixed in with vanilla ice cream using liquid nitrogen may sound unusual, but you can bet it tastes great. Chefs also prepared a seafood cake that makes use of Oregon Dungeness crab, pink shrimp, and salmon. All these featured foods and more were offered in samples of 3.5 ounces. Remember, it’s called The Bite of Oregon.
“People were able to try multiple products instead of having one giant plate of a single item,” says Benson.

Attendees of The Bite also had the opportunity to meet the rancher, farmer, or fisherman who is responsible for the flavorful food offered at the Chef’s Table.

“It’s a good partnership,” says Bryan Ostlund, administrator of the Oregon Blueberry Commission. “And it’s a lot of fun for our growers. As the state’s largest food event, The Bite is our best opportunity to meet our customers and tell the story of Oregon blueberries.”

Blueberries, along with many other Oregon agricultural products, are globally recognized for high quality and flavor. Events like The Bite bring that reputation back home by providing an awareness campaign of what is produced in Oregon. Benson says he’s surprised that some Oregonians don’t even know potatoes are grown inside the state’s borders.

“We are looking for more commissions to participate in The Bite next year, and any other urban venue that provides an opportunity to educate people on what is produced in Oregon and how.”

​For chefs like Benson, it’s not a case of being loyal to one or a handful of agricultural commodity commissions. They are loyal to good food, especially when it’s produced in Oregon.



Five-year trend reveals Oregon ag's ups and downs
Oregon agriculture’s tremendous diversity is reflected in the fact that most crops and livestock are on the upswing the past five years while a handful are slow to get back to 2007 production values. Despite the ups and downs, the state once again enjoyed a record high agricultural production value in 2012 at $5.4 billion. That bottom line number is a half billion more than reported in 2007.
Newly revised figures released by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), with assistance from Oregon State University, contain preliminary numbers for the 2012 value of production. The overall trend shows farms and ranches have not only bounced back from the days of recession, they have eclipsed 2011’s high water mark of $5.3 billion. Out of the top 40 commodities, only nine saw decreases in 2012 from the previous year. Compared with 2007 production, only eight have dropped.
Over the past 20 years, the leading Oregon agricultural commodities have generally stayed the same, with an occasional newcomer entering the picture. Oregon’s 2012 value of agricultural production– the total value of crops and livestock sold off the farm– includes a top ten list that contains familiar names but a rank order that varies from year to year:
  1. Greenhouse and nursery products– $745 million
  2. Cattle and calves– $653 million
  3. Hay– $638 million
  4. Milk– $497 million
  5. Wheat– $472 million
  6. Grass seed– $411 million
  7. Potatoes– $172 million
  8. Pears– $134 million
  9. Corn for grain and silage– $119 million
  10. Onions– $115 million
At least one longstanding member of the top ten has dropped out– Christmas trees ranked #12 last year with a value of $102 million. At different times in recent years, both blueberries and cherries have cracked the top ten but now find themselves at #11 and #14 respectively.
Over the past two decades, greenhouse and nursery production has been Oregon’s top ranked agricultural commodity nearly every year. At $745 million, the sector is up slightly from 2011 but remains 28 percent below its record high of more than $1 billion in 2007. The recession’s impact on the housing market negatively impacted sales starting in 2008. It has been a long, slow journey back for the industry sector, which is still way short of that billion dollar mark of five years ago.
Cattle and calves have regained second place with a strong showing in 2012, gaining 7 percent from the previous year and an impressive 40 percent from its production value in 2007. The commodity was ranked #3 both in 2011 and five years ago.
At #3, hay remains one of the leading crops in Oregon, but its value last year dropped 12 percent from 2011. However, compared to 2007’s production value, hay has increased 38 percent. Remaining at #4, milk also saw a one-year drop in 2012 (6 percent) but remains 21 percent higher in production value than 2007’s number.
Wheat prices have been relatively high the past couple of years, allowing the one time leader of Oregon agriculture to bounce back into the top five. Prices softened a bit in 2012, dropping the value 6 percent from 2011. That’s still 31 percent better than 2007, making wheat another commodity that is generally trending up.
At #6, the story of grass seed parallels greenhouse and nursery products. The recession and corresponding housing market slump reduced demand and sales following 2007. While last year’s 20 percent increase in production value from 2011 was encouraging, grass seed’s value is still 19 percent below what it was in 2007, when it ranked second of all Oregon ag commodities.
Potatoes have ranked #7 for many years, but its value dropped 4 percent from 2011. That is still nearly 18 percent better than it was five years ago.
After greatly struggling in 2011 and dropping out of the top ten for a year, pears rebounded nicely in 2012, reaching #8 and increasing in production value by 73 percent from the previous year. That’s the highest percentage jump of any of the top commodities. The value of pears has also increased 58 percent from 2007.
For the second straight year, corn grown for grain and silage is in the top ten at #9, increasing in value by 10 percent from 2011. No other commodity has grown more dramatically over a five year period as the production value for corn grown for grain and silage has increased a whopping 138 percent since 2007.
Rounding out the top ten is onions, which dropped off the list in 2011 after being a mainstay for many years. Onions have shown good growth over both a one-year period (+25 percent) and a five-year period (+135 percent). Its return to the top ten pushed out blueberries and Christmas trees.
Outside the top ten, only a handful of commodities have trended down over the past five years– and none dramatically. Christmas trees, apples, grass and grain straw, horses and mules, cranberries, and strawberries have all seen production values drop from 2007.
Notable growth over the five-year stretch has been recorded for blueberries (+65 percent), wine grapes (+37 percent), cherries (+52 percent), mint (+67 percent), and blackberries (+56 percent). Watermelons (+204 percent) and sheep and lambs (+95 percent) have grown considerably as well, but the percentage growth is a little misleading since their overall value is not quite as high as some of the others that are trending up.
It’s hard to predict 2013 production values, but a five-year history suggests the general trend will be up.
For the latest Oregon agriculture facts and figures, go to: oregon.gov/ODA/docs/pdf/ff2.pdf​.



Net farm income drops slightly in 2012
Oregon farmers and ranchers fell short last year of 2011’s near record net farm income, but many sectors of the state’s agricultural economy did well in 2012. Despite a 5.2 percent drop in the overall bottom line for producers, Oregon’s net farm income continues a general trend of recovery from the dark days of recession.
A newly released economic snapshot of Oregon agriculture shows net farm income at nearly $960 million in 2012. That’s a drop from the $1.01 billion mark recorded in 2011 but a huge improvement from the $452 million recorded in 2010. Oregon’s net farm income began a downward slide during the national recession that ran through 2009 following 2004’s record high of $1.14 billion.
Net farm income ​balances production value– which reflects the prices paid to growers for what they produce– with expenses. It is the amount retained by agricultural producers after paying all business-related expenses and is considered an important indicator of the agricultural economy’s overall health. Think of it as the farmer’s paycheck. Out of that paycheck, growers make payments on land purchases, family living expenses, and family health insurance. Statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) show net farm income is cyclical. They also show that the average payout for Oregon farmers and ranchers may not be as high as you would expect from a net farm income that has hovered around a b​illion dollars the past couple of years.
Net farm income is spread among all producers. Therefore, the average take home pay for Oregon farmers and ranchers is about $25,000. Many producers did much better last year, while others made much less.​
The overall value of production increased again last year with both crop production and livestock showing higher cash receipts. Crops increased by 3.7 percent to $3.39 billion in 2012 while livestock rose 2.6 percent to $1.4 billion.
The slight overall increase in production value was offset by expenses paid by operators. Last year, that figure reached $4.4 billion. Reigning in costs to the producer remains a major challenge that keeps the net farm income number from being better in Oregon.
Nationally, net farm income decreased 3.6 percent in 2​012– very comparable to Oregon’s decrease of 5.2 percent. ERS does forecast 2013 to be a bounce back year with an estimated US net farm income of more than $120 billion. If Oregon follows suit, that would be welcome news.


Specialty crops: A recipe for success

The Agriculture Quarterly is proud to offer an Oregon recipe that features fresh, local produce– the kind that is often found in school gardens and/or cafeterias around the state. This recipe is brought to you by the Oregon Harvest for Schools Project, funded in part through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

The Oregon-grown tomato needs hot days and warm nights to ripen which, as you know, don’t always happen. However, this year appears to have been a great tomato season. By the way, tomatoes are a great source of nutrients such as:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin K
  • Lycopene - an antioxidant that promotes heart health and keeps the immune system healthy - its also the pigment that makes tomatoes red. Also, tomatoes are a great source of potassium.

Enjoy them year round in this recipe...


Grilled Chicken Vegetable Kabobs


  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 pound boneless chicken breast without skin,
    cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 4 wooden skewers
  • 8 cherry tomatoes
  • 12 whole bay leaves
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 green pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice


  1. In a small bowl,mix olive oil,lemon juice, and ground black pepper; pour over chicken and marinate one hour in the refrigerator.
  2. To make skewers,thread tomato, chicken, bay leaf, onion, and green pepper; repeat.
  3. Grill over medium heat for 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through.
  4. Discard bay leaves before serving.
  5. Serve each kabob over 1⁄2 cup brown rice.

Serving size: 1 skewer, servings per recipe: 4, Calories: 297, Sat fat: 2g, Dietary fiber: 5g, Trans fat: 0g, Sodium: 73mg, Total Carbohydrates: 29g, Cholesterol 68g, Protein: 28g

This recipe provided by Champions for Change. Visit their website for more healthy, low-cost recipes: www.cachampionsforchange.net​



2013 legislative roundup
As it usually does every two years, agriculture gained its share of lawmakers' attention as the 2013 Oregon Legislative Assembly convened for about six months earlier this year. The following highlights represent a portion of ag-related legislation approved and signed into law by Governor Kitzhaber. For more information, including full language of each bill, please go to: oregon.gov/ODA/pages/ag_leg.aspx​


House Bill 2427

Limits canola production in the Willamette Valley to 500 acres for research purposes until 2017 and appropriates $697,000 for OSU to conduct brassica research.

Economic development

House Bill 2620

Directs Governor's Office to develop a plan to align state economic and community development programs with regional and community-based development programs.

Senate Bill 246

Authorizes the Oregon Business Development Department to work with public entities to develop certified regionally significant industrial sites.

Senate Bill 253
Creates the Oregon Industrial Site Readiness Assessment Program, which will provide grants to help local governments survey the availability of industrial sites and create a plan to help develop these areas.

Land Use

House Bill 2202

When issuing permits for mining aggregate on high-value farm land composed predominantly of Class I and Class II soils in the Willamette Valley, the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) shall require the operator or owner to excavate substantially all of the significant aggregate resource within the operating permit boundary, not including any buffer, setback and sloping areas, to the extent that the removal of the significant aggregate resource can be done subject to limitations imposed by other federal, state, or local regulatory requirements.

House Bill 2746

Modifies provisions authorizing alteration, restoration or replacement of a dwelling on a tract of land zoned for exclusive farm use.

Senate Bill 462

Establishes requirements that must be met before an applicant may submit an application for land use approval to establish or modify certain disposal sites for composting.

Senate Bill 841

Modifies provisions under which local governments may authorize wineries on land zoned for exclusive farm use (EFU) if certain conditions are met, including agri-tourism and other commercial events. A​llows food service at a winery under specified conditions. Authorizes bed and breakfast facilities associated with wineries to serve two meals per day and to serve bed and breakfast guests at the winery.


House Bill 2025

Prohibits owners or possessors from allowing bison or bison hybrids to run at large. Establishes economic damages liability of owner or possessor of bison running at large or of person allowing bison to run at large.

New and small business

House Bill 2393

Allows the slaughtering, processing and selling of up to 1,000 poultry as an outright permitted non-farm use, subject to specific limits, in areas zoned for exclusive farm use.

House Bill 2700

Creates the Beginning and Expanding Farmer and Rancher loan program. Program will be administered by the Oregon Business Development Department in consultation with ODA.

axes and tax credits

House Bill 3367

Extended several tax credits, including the Farmworker Housing Tax Credit, until January 1, 2020.​

Water supplies

Senate Bill 839

Establishes criteria and conditions for projects to receive funds from a new Water Supply Development Account, establishes net environmental public benefit requirements for the Umatilla Basin Aquifer Recovery Project, and creates two task forces to implement and review various aspects of the bill.

House Bill 5008, Senate Bill 5506, Senate Bill 5533

Authorize the Oregon Water Resources Department to receive and expend lottery bonds to develop water supply projects. SB 5533 recapitalizes the Oregon Business Development Department's Special Public Works Fund. HB 5008 authorizes the Department of Administrative Services to provide $500,000 in General Fund for the East Valley Water District.

Weeds and pests

House Bill 2247

Deletes out of date weed laws, deletes OSU aquatic weed statutes, and restores Civil Penalties to Noxious Weed statutes inadvertently lost in 2011 reorganization.

House Bill 3364

Establishes state Integrated Pest Management Coordinator and Integrated Pest Management Committee.


Oregon welcomes new FoodCorps members
The 2013-14 school year in Oregon includes seven new FoodCorps members dedicated to full-time public service in school food systems. This marks the third year that Oregon has hosted FoodCorps members at various sites around the state. Tasks performed by the members include expanding hands-on nutrition education programs, building and tending school gardens, and sourcing healthy, local food for school cafeterias.

Last year’s five FoodCorps service members taught 6,673 students, generated over 400 volunteers, met with 76 Oregon farmers, and helped grow almost 1,633 pounds of produce harvested from school gardens that ended up in school cafeterias. Another 987 pounds harvested from school gardens were brought into classrooms for tastings and activities.

LeaMaster retires, new editor on board
Liz Beeles joins ODA as the new Publications and Web Coordinator after moving from Ellensburg, Washington. Her experience includes work with non-profits and higher education as well as owning a graphic design business. Liz has a degree in Media Communication from Central Washington University.

Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Fall Harvest Dinner

Date: October 19, 2013
Time:  5:00 pm - Appetizers & Silent Auction
6:30 pm - Dinner
7:45 pm - Oral Auction
Location: CHSM Hill Alumni Center, 725 SW 26th St, Corvallis, OR, Across from Reser Stadium
Oregon Vegetation Management Association (OVMA) Annual Conference

Date: October 23-25, 2013
Location: Seaside Civic and Convention Center, Seaside, OR
Website: www.ovma.ws
Oregon Soil and Water Conservation Commission

Quarterly Meeting in conjunction with the OACD Annual Meeting and Conference
Date: November 5-7, 2013
Location: Best Western Agate Beach Inn, Newport, OR
For more information: hrickenbach@oda.state.or.us​
Oregon State Board of Agriculture Meeting

Date: December 3-5, 2013
Location: Food Innovation Center, Portland, OR

Check out all the ODA public meetings

Print version
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