Monday, January 14, 2013

Old farmers die; corporate farms go under

Speech to the Josephine County Commissioners, 3/9/2011

Yesterday, the Medford Tribune reported that Associated Fruit is laying off half of its permanent work force because they can’t borrow enough money on their thousand acres of orchards to make it though this season, after last year’s late freezes.  “Basically, we just ran out of land value collateral to satisfy (the bank’s) requirements.  The irony of Oregon’s land use system designed to protect farming was that, in overprotecting land, it becomes so devalued that you can’t use it to raise money for collateral.”
Harry and David ran into the same brick wall in trying to stay solvent through this depression: they can’t sell land or borrow enough on it to avoid bankruptcy.   Farmers have historically been able to sell land or borrow against it to get through bad years, but Oregon has so tied up its farm land that even corporate farmers are going out of business.
Multnomah County has recently figured out that their old farmers are dying out, and there are few new farmers to take their places, so they passed a 15-year plan to help young would-be farmers get training, money, and lease land to farm. 
“‘We realized there was no place for a truly entry-level beginner farmer who wants to farm on a small scale to enter the field," said Dan Bravin, county food program coordinator.
“‘This program fills in that gap.’
          The Oregonian further reported, “The effort is part of a growing state trend to help people enter farming as the number of farms declines. From 2002 to 2007, Multnomah County lost 21 percent of its farms. Clackamas and Washington counties saw 15 percent and 7 percent declines, respectively.”
          Forty years ago, Oregon’s legislature decided that small farms are not really farms at all, and stopped large farms from being split smaller than 80 acres.  Now we find that we need small farms and new farmers, and that law has stopped the natural generation of both.
          Senate Bill 100 has so devalued Oregon farmland that corporate farmers are going bankrupt and old farmers can’t sell their land and retire.  County governments are trying to get young people to live like serfs, living in the city and going out to farm each day on a piece of a lord’s land.  Almost nobody with the money for 80 acres or more of land is stupid enough to buy that land in Oregon, where it can be used for nothing but farming or forest.  People who want only 5 to 10 acres can’t buy it for a decent price.  But since Multnomah County is finally figuring this out, perhaps the time has come to repeal this law.
Published at Yahoo Voices under The Wealth of Counties #4.

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