News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Advocates celebrate passage of farm bill

Community advocates are celebrating passage of a state bill limiting industrial agriculture, while the owner of a local chicken ranch hopes the new rules do not create a burden for farmers.

Senate Bill 85 was approved in the Oregon Senate and House of Representatives June 20 and 21, respectively, and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Tina Kotek. Approval was along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against.

The bill tightens restrictions on permits for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), the official term for large livestock farms with artificial flooring such as concrete. They often contain thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of animals.

SB 85 removes stock water exemptions for a period of five years and requires farms using more than 12,000 gallons per day for animals to acquire a water right or lease an existing right. It also allows counties to require pollution barriers between production areas and neighboring homes such as setbacks, berms or vegetation.

The bill also set additional restrictions for CAFOs near fragile watersheds, and paved the way for future air quality restrictions based on the results of a pending Environmental Protection Agency report. 

These new restrictions take effect upon the bill being signed into law and would apply to permits issued for new or expanding CAFOs, while existing CAFO permits would not be impacted.

Farmers Against Foster Farms (FAFF), a Scio-based advocacy group, said they were “extremely grateful” for passage of what they considered a crucial piece of legislation. FAFF has helped lead the charge for CAFO reform since 2021, and on June 21 its members said in a public statement this was a victory for rural residents across the state.

“The Oregon legislature stood by our rural communities in our fight to protect our water and farms from predatory multinational corporations attempting to take our natural resources, pollute our water and air and ruin our quality of life,” said Scio farmer and FAFF President Christina Eastman.

She thanked legislators who supported the bill and the community members who advocated through FAFF. Eastman also had words for local lawmakers who stood opposed to the bill, including Sen. Fred Girod (R-Stayton) and Rep. Jami Cate (R-Lebanon), and said they turned deaf ears to their own constituents.

“This was a grassroots effort led by local farmers that crossed partly lines, so it was disappointing that two of the Stayton-Scio area’s most important legislators couldn’t be bothered to show concern about local air quality, water quality and quality of life, especially when it directly threatened local schools and family farms in their district.”

Cate had been a vocal opponent of SB 85 and argued CAFOs have operated unnoticed for decades and new restrictions would only harm farmers. Cate did not return a request for comment on the passage of SB 85 prior to press time.

One resident also opposed to SB 85 was Eric Simon, owner of J-S Ranch, near Scio, who received a CAFO permit May 26, 2022, to raise 3.5 million broiler chickens annually. Two similar poultry CAFOs have been proposed near the Scio and Stayton areas, though their owners have yet to complete CAFO applications.

Simon said he was disappointed the new regulations passed and said he does not believe the people who advocated for SB 85 truly understood how his farm and others like it operate. 

He did congratulate FAFF on passage of the bill, and said if advocates had visited his farm they may have thought differently about the impacts CAFOs have on local communities.

“It was upsetting to me to see the emotional testimony from people that had been led to believe that our local poultry producers were going to ruin their lives and communities,” said Simon. 

“… Our ranches have been good neighbors for 30 years. If those people would have spent a little time driving past existing ranches they would have known the truth for themselves.”

Simon said the removal of the stock water exemption places an undue burden on farmers because acquiring a water right can take years, and this process itself should be addressed by legislators. 

Simon also said he hopes county officials understand the important role food procedures play in society and do not enforce new land use restrictions lightly.

For FAFF, passage of SB 85 is not the end. They plan to continue advocating for policies that “modernize” the regulation of industrial agriculture.

“We are committed to continuing the work to protect our environment and the homes of rural people from being sacrificed for corporate profits,” said Scio farmer and FAFF co-organizer Kendra Kimbirauskas.

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