Oregon Agriculture Remains Essential to Oregon Economy

Craig Beebe, 1000 Friends Communications Intern

Last week saw some important news emerge regarding agriculture’s vital role in Oregon’s economy, highlighting its current significance as well as the need to protect its long-term viability.

First, a study from the Oregon State University Extension Service clearly demonstrates farmland’s continuing importance to Oregon’s economic livelihood. Oregon Agriculture and the Economy: An Update (pdf) indicates that agriculture’s economic contribution has continued to grow. The researchers of the Oregon Department of Agriculture-commissioned study report that agriculture has a $22 billion impact on statewide sales of goods and services, and supports roughly 12 percent of the state’s workforce, about 261,000 jobs. Although agricultural revenues fell about $3 billion from 2008 to 2009 because of the recession, its contribution to the overall Oregon economy grew from 10.6% to 15%.

However, production costs are increasing for many farms, leading to some concern about how policies can help make more farmers successful and expand their impact in Oregon’s economic success. Overall land in use as farmland is declining somewhat, although the authors note that this decline “has been slowed somewhat by Oregon’s land use laws” and by the rise of smaller “adaptive farms” producing a variety of crops such as vegetables and fruit.

The report very clearly indicates that the economic effects of agriculture extend far beyond the farm, supporting jobs of many types throughout rural and urban areas of the state. “Agriculture is more than just farming,” ODA Director Katy Coba said in a state press release. “The updated study underscores that agriculture is a leading economic engine in Oregon.”

Also last week, the OSU Extension Service reported that state agricultural sales are already rebounding from the recession, with 23 of 36 counties reporting increased agricultural sales in 2010. Statewide, OSU estimated that total sales increased about 3.8 percent in 2010, to about $4.3 billion. The top county for agricultural sales was Marion County, with an impressive $511 million of sales, followed by Umatilla, Morrow, Clackamas, and Malheur. Still, given the major decline experienced in 2009, farmers are hoping for continuing growth.

Protecting that agricultural productivity from the effects of climate change is a major challenge for the state’s farmers and researchers. On Friday, Feb. 18, the US Department of Agriculture announced a $20 million grant for a five-year study called Regional Approaches to Climate Change in Pacific Northwest Agriculture (REACCH PNA). A collaboration of Oregon State University, Washington State University, and the University of Idaho, the study seeks to protect the viability of winter wheat, one of the region’s most important crops, by understanding and improving farming practices to mitigate and respond to changing temperatures and precipitation. As Oregon’s fourth most valuable crop, wheat is extremely important for the state’s overall economy; it is also the Port of Portland’s top export. Along with many other crops, it is potentially at significant risk as the climate changes.