Monday, January 14, 2013
Oregon’s Sacred White Elephants
Speech to the Josephine County Commissioners, 2/9/2011.
Naumes sold its pear orchard to Grants Pass because it couldn’t find another buyer for 250 acres of prime exclusive farm-use land, a mere two miles from the city limits. Who with the money for 250 acres, or even 80 acres, would buy farmland in Oregon, where one cannot do anything with the land but farm it? In this case, only the City’s Council and a few staff, who don’t know enough about farming to know what an expensive asset an orchard is to maintain, or how hard this one is to get rid of.
The City thought it was buying future parkland for a really good price when it bought the Naumes property and called it the River Road Reserve. But it had really bought a sacred white elephant.
The sacred white elephant comes from a story of an Eastern Potentate who, when he wanted to ruin a courtier, gave him the court’s sacred white elephant. The courtier couldn’t put it to work, since it was sacred, but he had to feed it, which was expensive enough to ruin a man.
Orchards are expensive to maintain. Most fruit trees want to grow tall; we like to keep them down where the fruit is easy to pick. Such pruning destroys the tree’s natural form and makes it a slave to regular bi-yearly pruning, else it will grow dense and breed insects and diseases. Crowding fruit trees together over a big piece of land also breeds pests and diseases. That’s why Jackson County’s fruit growers put out the AbandonedOrchards video on www.RogueTV.org in its “Video on Demand,” to save their own commercial orchards from fast-spreading diseases like fire blight, which devastated their orchards two decades ago.
Apart from these problems, weeds can become a nuisance and sometimes a fire hazard, which applies to most farmland. Even hayfields need regular cutting and weeding if they are not to breed noxious weeds like star thistle and blackberries.
If not for Oregon’s land use law, Naumes could have sold their farm to a developer who would have gladly taken out that orchard and built houses, businesses or factories, or split it into 5-10 acre lots that ordinary folk can afford to buy and even farm. Senate Bill 100 has turned all of Oregon’s large farms into sacred white elephants that cannot be split or easily sold, but are still as expensive to maintain as any large farm.
This is ruining our farmers and our farms. Their owners are getting old and want to break up their farms and sell them to younger folks, but the people with the money who want to buy Oregon’s white elephants are rich retirees building 80-acre vineyard estates. Little wonder that our large farms are slowly turning into hay fields and we are over-planted in grapes.