Posted: Thursday, May 03, 2012 11:00 AM
Mitch Lies/Capital Press
Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., participate in a round table at the Food Innovation Center in Portland April 30. Wyden convened the round table to learn of concerns of Oregon agriculture leaders over the draft farm bill that passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee last week.
Leaders push for more fresh fruits, vegetables for snack program
By MITCH LIES
PORTLAND -- Oregon agriculture looked to Asia and its own backyard in a roundtable discussion with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., April 30 at the Food Innovation Center.
On the foreign front, agricultural leaders urged Wyden to support the Market Access Program in the next farm bill. MAP is a Foreign Agricultural Service program that helps support agricultural trade missions and other marketing efforts in foreign countries.
Closer to home, leaders urged the senior Oregon senator to push for an expansion of the school snack program to include minimally processed fruits and vegetables.
"Right now, the snack product program doesn't allow processed product to compete against fresh," said Craig Smith of Northwest Food Processors Association.
"This would tie in with our terrific farm-to-school efforts to highlight to children what fruits and vegetables are grown in our state," said Nancy Becker, a registered dietitian with Oregon Public Health Institute, a private nonprofit.
Wyden gathered farm leaders to hear their concerns over the current draft of the 2012 Farm Bill, and to discuss opportunities available in the Trans Pacific Partnership. Talks are expected to convene on the partnership in coming weeks.
"If we make good decisions in the two big areas of federal policy that are going to be framed, in my view, in the next couple of months ... this can be a huge bonanza for Oregon agriculture," Wyden said.
Wyden said he expects to see the farm bill taken up on the Senate floor in the next few weeks.
"I think this bill is going to go to the (Senate) floor pretty quickly," he said.
He expects to encounter strong support for cutting the bill's half-trillion dollar price tag.
"This is going to be a tough budget year," Wyden said.
One program that could be at risk, he said, is the Market Access Program.
"The MAP program is a very good one, but it will be up against this challenge (to cut the budget)," he said.
"(MAP) is huge for us," said Tom Danowski, executive director of the Oregon Winegrowers Association. "We can take our wine makers and our products overseas.
"And the other nice thing about the MAP money is it allows us a little bit of funding to bring people here and taste and kick dirt and see Oregon," Danowski said. "And that is a huge part of selling the Oregon wine story."
Ag leaders also spoke about the benefits they accrue from specialty crop block grants.
"Every dollar you put in there really has impact in terms of how folks are innovating," said Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries.
Wheat growers asked Wyden to push for robust crop insurance programs in the next farm bill.
"Our growers by and large recognize direct payments have sunsetted," said Craig Reeder, past president of the Oregon Wheat Growers League. "But we want to make sure long-term viability is maintained in terms of risk management."
Dairy farmers asked Wyden to support a voluntary market stabilization program. The program is included in the bill the Senate Agriculture Committee passed.
"If we as producers get to the point where we actually do balance production with consumption, we will begin to have some control," said Jim Krahn, executive director of Oregon Dairy Farmers Association.
Hugh Eisele of Scenic Fruit Co. asked Wyden to help reform the foreign guestworker program. But Wyden said he doesn't expect to see guestworker or immigration reform broached over the next year.