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Farm groups don’t buy ‘Buy Oregon’ plan

Capital Press Staff Writer

SALEM, Ore. — Two influential farm groups are opposing a bill being crafted by an environmental group that would create a purchase preference for Oregon-grown agricultural products and a Buy Oregon Policy Council.

The Oregon Farm Bureau Federation and Oregonians for Food and Shelter are concerned that the Oregon Environmental Council is advancing a hidden agenda within the language of its “Buy Oregon” bill and question the logic of creating a new council in the face of a staggering state budget crunch.

“This bill goes far beyond just buying Oregon agricultural products,” said Terry Witt, executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter. “It gets into things like organic and sustainable agricultural practices.”

“Frankly, any proposal the Oregon Environmental Council brings up is going to be viewed with skepticism because they haven’t built up trust,” said Jean Wilkinson, a lobbyist for the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation.

Karen Lewotsky, a program director for the OEC, believes the farm groups are off base. Farmers helped craft the legislation, she said, and most farmers she has talked to support it.

“I’m hearing a lot about a hidden agenda,” she said. “I’m hearing that somewhere in the bill, something bad is going to happen to agriculture. Well, I can tell you, there is no hidden agenda. This bill has to do with ‘How do we help Oregon agriculture?’”

The OEC’s draft legislation outlines parameters for a state institution purchase-preference policy and hands the responsibility for crafting the policy to a 21-member council made up of a variety of interests. The Buy Oregon Policy Council would develop purchasing parameters for Oregon institutions and define what qualifies as an Oregon-grown agricultural product.

According to the draft, about one-third of the policy council would come from the agricultural community. The council would be established within the Institute for Natural Resources at Oregon State University.

Lewotsky said operating costs would be minimal. The policy council would be made up of volunteers, and a lone full-time employee could handle the support work.

The draft legislation has several noncontroversial components, including encouraging the promotion of Oregon agriculture through educational campaigns, encouraging efforts to expand markets for Oregon-grown products and promoting value-added opportunities.

The draft, however, also contains language that appears to promote organic and sustainable agricultural production — language that concerns OFS and OFBF members.

“It appears that it would give preference in terms of market access to those people who practice organic production,” said Farm Bureau President Barry Bushue. “We believe all agriculture should be united and no preference given to organic farming and no preference given to traditional farming.”

“In the first section, the word environmental is used more than the word agricultural,” Witt said. “That indicates to me that there is more to this bill than just buying Oregon agriculture.”

Matt Blevins, a lobbyist for OEC, said the environmental council would prefer that OFS and OFBF support the bill but is prepared to go forward with the legislation without their support.

“I think (their lack of support) is going to give some folks pause, but the first reaction I get when I mention to legislators that they are not supporting the bill is, ‘What’s their problem?’”

Blevins said one lawmaker told him: “’It’s ridiculous when petty politics get in the way of a good idea.’”

For a complete text of the draft legislation, go to http://www.capitalpress.com/OECDraftBuyOregon.html.



Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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