ONTARIO — The future of Oregon agriculture and occupational opportunities in the sector was the focus of comments by Alexis Taylor, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, in her talk to those attending the Summer Farm Festival and Malheur Experiment Station Field Day on Wednesday.
Taylor met with onion packers and shippers and toured Owyhee Dam on Tuesday, then stopped in at the Experiment Station the following day to talk with growers and participate in the program during lunch
“Ag is cool,” Taylor said is the message her department is putting out at any opportunity it gets.
There are rewarding jobs in agriculture, whether it is on the business side or on the production side, Taylor said, and ODA works with such organizations as the FFA and Ag in the Classroom to help get the word out.
Communities have to try and be creative in order to succeed, she said.
Ag producers and packers are becoming more creative to be more competitive and address the problem of not being able to find enough workers, Taylor said.
She noted that some dairy farmers have turned to using robotics to milk their cows and cherry and onion packers are using technology to grade and sort their produce, making for more uniform fruit for shipment and reducing the number of people needed for a sorting line who can be used elsewhere in an operation,
One of the hallmarks of Oregon agriculture is its diversity, and to cover the industry, ODA has 38 programs to assist, from ag to everything ensuring proper weights and measures on produce sold at the grocery store to fuels purchased for vehicles.
The state agency is also responsible for helping onion growers implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, which are not as stringent as originally proposed, required growers to do a lot of testing and record keeping.
Citing figures from 2017 Census Agriculture, Taylor said there were about 16 million acres of farmland in Oregon, some 340,000 acres less than what was recorded in 2012. In contrast, the number of farms was around 37,000, about a 2,000 increase over 2012, noting a lot of those farms are nine acres or less, and farming is not the primary income.
While the average size farm for the state is 424 acres, the average size farm in Malheur County is more than 1,000 acres, she said.
In answer to a question about the impacts of tariffs on U.S. exports, Taylor, using cherries as an example said, while the tariffs raised prices for Chinese consumers, they would still buy Oregon cherries as their incomes have been rising.
Another concern is that there could be more inspections on China’s part, which may keep U.S. products from reaching stores in China quickly, meaning they would be less fresh, she said.