U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called Oregon’s diverse agricultural landscape “a model for the future of agriculture” during a visit to the mid-Willamette Valley on Tuesday, which included a tour of a local family farm and meetings with Gov. Kate Brown.
“It’s such a more resilient system, and we obviously want to continue to see farmers be able to prosper here in Oregon and across the country,” Vilsack told reporters while at G&C Farm outside Salem.
Despite that diversity-grounded resiliency — boasting specialty growers and more than 220 commodities — Oregon farmers face significant challenges stemming from climate change. This year alone, the Willamette Valley saw historic weather events in the Valentine’s Day ice storm and the two-day “heat dome” in June.
Taylor Martin of G&C Farms said they lost 65-70% of their cane berry crop this year in just those two days. He and his father Brian Martin took Brown and Vilsack on their tour, including showing them blackberry leaves crisped from the heat.
“We’ve never had an event like this. The heat dome … basically baked them on the cane,” Taylor Martin said.
93% of the state is currently in severe or extreme drought conditions, Brown also noted.
“We are obviously seeing the compounding impacts of climate change on the ground here in Oregon,” Brown said.
Vilsack said farmers who were impacted by the weather this year might be able to apply for some financial assistance in the fall. A payment framework is currently under debate and could be announced publicly in late August or September.
He added that existing assistance programs intended to provide support to farmers during disasters needed to be looked at for potential improvements.
The pair also had a meeting at the Oregon Office of Emergency Management building to discuss wildfire risks and coordination between the state and federal government on wildfire resiliency and suppression efforts.
Vilsack also touted President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan and the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package currently in the Senate as containing critical investments to support agriculture and wildfire resiliency.
“We need to do a better job of managing our forests, and that requires resources,” he said. “We’ve been attempting to do forest management on the cheap.”
Reporter Connor Radnovich covers the Oregon Legislature and state government.
Source: States Man Journal