WASHINGTON (KTVZ) Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced Wednesday major investments in Oregon agriculture, rural housing, food assistance, and rural business priorities has passed the Senate, including $5 million in funding for two Central Oregon irrigation districts' canal-piping projects.
The investments were included in the Fiscal Year 24 Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies bill, which cleared the full chamber with strong bipartisan support.
The federal funding in this legislation will support programs and projects that benefit farms, families, and rural communities throughout the state.
“Agriculture is a huge part of Oregon’s economy, and it’s essential to ensure our world-class agriculture sector and rural communities have the support needed to grow and thrive,” said Merkley, who previously served as the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee that writes the agriculture bill. “This agriculture bill includes significant investments for family farms, rural housing, food assistance, habitat restoration, and wildfire smoke recovery. The legislation also prioritizes making Oregon’s agriculture more resilient to the impacts of climate chaos to protect the livelihoods of our farmers, ranchers, and producers. These huge investments will benefit Oregon’s farms and families for years to come, and I will keep championing them in Congress until they become law.”
“One of the things Oregon does best is grow things, and investing in farmers and rural life is essential to keep cultivating our state’s world-renowned agriculture,” Wyden said. “As I’ve met throughout this year with Oregonians who grow our state’s bounty, I’ve heard consistently about the need for federal investments that combat drought and wildfire smoke hurting their livelihoods, expand rural broadband, support housing in small communities and more. I’m glad this legislation helps achieve those goals and I’ll continue pressing the case until this gets over the finish line.”
Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, which wrote the bill and is one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013 so that Oregon would have a strong voice in decisions about the investments our nation should be making.
Senators Merkley and Wyden secured investments for five Oregon community-initiated projects in the Senate’s agriculture funding bill, which are as follows:
- $3 million for the Arnold Irrigation District in Deschutes County to help complete the third phase and begin the final phase of its resiliency and modernization project. As persistent drought continues to impact the Deschutes Basin, these irrigation modernization efforts will better serve farmers and ranchers and strengthen habitat for wildlife, making the region more resilient to climate chaos.
- $2 million for the North Unit Irrigation District in Jefferson County to begin its irrigation modernization project, which will transition open ditch irrigation canals to buried pressurized piping. This infrastructure modernization project will lead to significant water savings that benefit farmers, ranchers, and wildlife.
- $250,000 for the Condon Arts Council to restore the historic Liberty Theatre in downtown Condon. The rehabilitated theatre will serve as a regional hub for performing arts events and community arts programs for Oregonians living in Gilliam County and beyond.
- $113,000 for the Grant County CyberMill Expansion project in John Day to support more equitable internet access for rural Oregonians. The federal funding will be used for distance learning, telemedicine, and broadband equipment and technology.
- $76,000 for the South Lane Mental Health Center to help modernize their existing facilities, including a new roof, a new computer server, and security upgrades. These upgrades will benefit patients and staff by providing a safer, cleaner environment.
Other key funding for Oregon’s world-class agriculture that passed out of the Senate with broad bipartisan support includes:
Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: The bill includes $90.4 million for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations, including $20 million set aside for multi-benefit projects, which benefit Western states. In Oregon, this funding is primarily used to replace open irrigation ditches with pipes and is crucial for irrigation districts that need to improve water efficiency and conservation or otherwise improve fish and wildlife habitat. This program is providing critical funding for the collaborative processes underway across the state working to conserve water and keep Oregon’s family farms in business while improving the habitats of endangered species.
Wine Grape Smoke Exposure Research: Recent wildfire seasons have blanketed much of Oregon with thick, hazardous smoke, which has significantly impacted the state’s wine grape harvest. To better understand and address the challenges facing Oregon’s wine growers, the bill includes level funding at $4.5 million for research into smoke-impacted grapes at Oregon State University (OSU) and other West Coast universities.
Vineyard and Orchard Acreage Study: The bill encourages the Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to resume data collection and reporting on vineyards and orchards, so that Oregon’s grape, wine, and juice producers can use this important data to remain competitive.
Hemp Production Systems: The bill provides $4 million for Agricultural Research Services to partner with institutions conducting biotech and genomics research to improve hemp genetic research and breeding with new techniques. Hemp has quickly become one of Oregon’s leading cash crops, and indicators suggest it has the potential to bring in more than $1 billion in sales to Oregon in the coming years given a fair and consistent regulatory framework.
Rangeland Precision Livestock Management: The bill includes $4 million to promote economically efficient and environmentally responsive livestock production systems for the Western rangeland. The bill supports precision nutrition strategies for rangeland-based livestock as well as technology-based rangeland and livestock management strategies to optimize the health and productivity of Western rangeland ecosystem.
Oregon Agricultural Research and Facilities Investment: The Agricultural Research Service is receiving $88 million in funding for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of the nation’s agricultural systems. In addition, funding was secured for key Oregon agriculture research programs, including funding for research on the Sudden Oak Death pathogen plaguing Oregon’s South Coast. Other research funding victories include research for alfalfa, barley, tree fruits, pear, wheat, hops, hemp, apple, shellfish, small fruits, seaweed, floriculture, nurseries, and rangeland ecology.
Rural Housing: The bill includes $1.6 billion for rental assistance and $48 million for Rural Housing Service Vouchers, which will help address the urgent affordable housing crisis facing Oregon’s rural communities.
Rural Energy Saving Program: Senator Merkley successfully protected the RESP program from drastic cuts and secured $10.7 million in appropriations for Fiscal Year 2023. The program—which provides funding to rural utilities and other companies to increase energy efficiency—was created by Senator Merkley, who prioritized getting the funding needed to kickstart the program when he was the top Democrat on the Agriculture subcommittee. The funding from this bill would be leveraged for an additional $60 million in investment.
Rural Business: The bill includes funding for a number of USDA’s Rural Development programs, including $77.7 million for business development programs. These business development programs help businesses grow as well as provide job training for rural America.
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): The bill provides $6.3 billion for WIC which provides free food packages designed to safeguard the health of pregnant, breast-feeding, and postpartum women and infants who are at nutrition risk because of inadequate nutrition.
Now the bill has cleared the Senate, it will next head to the U.S. House of Representatives. The final legislation to emerge from the process must then be passed by both chambers before it is signed into law.
Senators Merkley and Wyden urge the House to take up the legislation without delay to keep vital government systems and programs running and invest in targeted projects needed in communities across Oregon.
Arnold Irrigation District Manager Steve Johnson told NewsChannel 21 the $3 million appropriation was the amount the district had requested, and they "are now hoping the funding passes the House."
"This is the latest installment of federal funding through the Department of Agriculture (Natural Resources Conservation Service), but is significant, as it represents a commitment for our final phase of the project," Johnson said.
"Federal funding is 75% of the total project cost, with the non-federal match of 25% from Arnold ID funds and State of Oregon programs with OWEB (the Watershed Enhancement Board) and OWRD (Water Resources Department," he added.