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Oregon ag director says water is a top priority for governor

Mitch Lies Capital Press February 21, 2008
SALEM - Agriculture Department Director Katy Coba said at a grass seed grower meeting here Thursday that Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has identified water storage as one of four priorities he will be pushing in the 2009 legislative session.

The announcement, coming on top of the governor's support of the Agriculture Community Water Act, which is moving smoothly through the Legislature special session currently under way, signals a change in policy that could benefit a farm community, Coba said.

Under the act, the state is setting aside $750,000 to conduct a feasibility study on replenishing groundwater in the Umatilla Basin.

"Hopefully in 2009, we can fund and have some new water storage in the Umatilla Basin," Coba said.

Coba, a featured speaker at a Perennial Ryegrass Bargaining Association meeting, covered a variety of topics in her presentation, including land-use controversies that swirled around Measure 37 and subsequently Measure 49.

The controversies, she said, at the very least brought to the attention of Oregon's political leadership how farmers use their land and the difficulties in keeping farmland in an agricultural resource base.

"Making sure we have enough land to devote to food or fuel is absolutely critical," Coba said.

Coba urged farmers to keep abreast of activities of the Big Look Task Force and the get engaged in the land-use discussion. The panel, also known as the Oregon Task Force on Land Use Planning, is charged with making recommendations for changed to state land-use policy to the 2009 Legislature.

Coba also unveiled the state's plans to increase its monitoring of water quality in rural areas to show elected officials and others how well farmers protect water under the state's 1010 water quality management plans.

Coba also said she expects agriculture's impact on air quality to continue to be an issue before lawmakers in the 2009 session, particularly because a task force formed to address dairy air quality is expected to deliver a report to lawmakers next session. That report could include recommendations for management techniques to reduce agriculture's impacts on air quality.

On the marketing side of the department's work, Coba said Oregon growers should work to take advantage of current consumer trends to buy local.

"We need to figure out ways to take advantage of this," she said. "Saying, 'I'm an Oregon family farmer' has been a good thing to say for a long time now."

Coba also weighed in on a debate that has become a hot-button issue in the Oregon grass seed industry in recent years: Whether the industry needs to obtain more transparent planting and harvesting data.

"Data for us is absolutely critical," she said, "because that is the basis for making decisions. It's not the only factor, but it is a big one."

The department serves as a mediator in price negotiations under the law that created the Perennial Ryegrass Bargaining Association.

Coba applauded the recent move by the association to move up the deadline for setting prices.

"I think this will be a huge benefit for everyone involved," she said.
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