Water for agriculture is water put to good use

May 29, 2017

Bend Bulletin

Water for agriculture is water put to good use As a general agriculture organization, the Farm Bureau celebrates the rich diversity of ag products raised by farm and ranch families across our great state.

All of Oregon’s 225-plus ag commodities — from alfalfa to apples, hay to hazelnuts, cattle to carrot seed — are valuable and vital to an industry that consistently ranks as the state’s second-largest economic driver, valued at $5.7 billion; supports 326,000 jobs, or one in eight jobs; and generates billions of dollars to the state’s economy through international and domestic exports, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Those numbers are doubly impressive when you consider that farmers and ranchers comprise only 1 percent of the state population.

Oregonians benefit when the agriculture sector is strong and thriving.

What’s damaging is when one type of farm or commodity is pitted against another.

In his guest opinion on May 23, “The way we use the Deschutes River is wrong,” George Wuerthner attempts to make the case that certain commodities raised by Deschutes County farmers aren’t worthy of water, specifically hay and alfalfa.

Farm Bureau opposes water- management proposals that seek to pick winners and losers among different ag products or farming methods, or attempt to limit Oregon farmers’ and ranchers’ productive use of their land.

Whatever crops or animals they choose to raise, farmers and ranchers are Oregon’s truest environmental stewards. Few think more about the importance of efficient water use, and available water supply, than we do, the people who make our living off of the land. Our survival directly depends upon keeping the land healthy and ensuring that there’s enough water for future generations.

To that end, we have long supported the proactive work by the Central Oregon irrigation districts to protect local farmers and ranchers, while also emphasizing water conservation and wildlife preservation. We appreciate the districts’ collaborative process for tackling tough water management issues by involving and respecting all stakeholders, including the families involved in agriculture.

Not only are farmers and ranchers working collaboratively with irrigation districts at the regional level to maximize water efficiency, water use in agriculture is also tightly regulated at the state and federal level.

Wuerthner says one could make the argument our water is being “wasted growing cattle food.” Certainly, food crops are essential for society, but commodities raised by commercial farmers in production agriculture should not be disregarded or stigmatized.

In the case of alfalfa and hay, these crops are extremely important to Oregon’s ag economy.

Hay ranks as the state’s third- largest ag commodity by production value at $604 million, and feed and fodders are Oregon’s sixth-largest agricultural export at $68.2 million, bringing in “new money” to the state.

While not as obvious as the produce you see at the grocery store, animal feed plays an essential role in the closely interconnected ag system. Ranchers around the world who raise cattle, cows, sheep, alpacas and other livestock need high-quality food for their animals, and they depend upon the hay and alfalfa grown in Central Oregon. Oregon-grown feed crops are in part to thank for making cattle and calves the state’s No. 1 ag commodity, valued at $914.3 million.

Similarly, the hybrid carrot seed so famously raised in Jefferson County doesn’t end up on the dinner table, but that seed is depended upon by carrot growers around the world for the fresh market.

Besides economic contributions, the farms and ranches of Deschutes and Jefferson Counties are to thank for much of the open space enjoyed by all residents of Central Oregon, and much of the habitat for wildlife.

Ninety-eight percent of Oregon’s farms and ranches are family owned and operated, and most are multigenerational businesses. What other industry can claim that? We are local families who are invested in our communities. We work hard to responsibly manage the region’s natural resources, including our precious water supply, and we do our part to keep it sustainable.

— Sue Vanek is president of the Jefferson County Farm Bureau and Matt Cyrus is the president of the Deschutes County Farm Bureau.

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