Congressman Bentz meets with local ranchers and farmers

November 18, 2021
Congressman Bentz meets with local ranchers and farmers

United States Representative Cliff Bentz (R-OR) and Congressman Randy Feenstra (R-IA) met with a group of local farmers and ranchers Friday Nov. 12 to hear their concerns and discuss the upcoming farm bill, as well as other local projects. At a roundtable discussion held at the Central Oregon Livestock Auction Yard in Madras, the congressmen heard from North Unit Irrigation District leaders, local ranchers and farmers as well as county and city of Madras representatives.

The group discussed the shifting market for livestock trade, and the increasing difference in cost from the producer to the consumer. "We just want a fair market, a good price and a fair opportunity to succeed," said Mark Wunsch, president of the Jefferson County Livestock Association. The group then raised concerns about the ongoing drought in Jefferson County, and the need for new water sources. Farmers raised the issue of the growing cost of irrigation, and the inability to pay their ever-growing irrigation water bills.

Most Jefferson County farmers and ranchers get their irrigation from the North Unit Irrigation District (NUID), which serves 58,842 acres of land and over 900 users. It costs farmers about $70 an acre for irrigation. While some assistance is available, farmers encouraged Bentz to advocate for more support for assistance. Another solution to this problem that was discussed is the proposed pump station at Lake Billy Chinook. The pump station would allow farmers to access much more water, and would allow more water to flow freely through the Crooked River, benefiting the environment, and potentially creating better water quality down river, according to NUID executive manager Mike Britton.

The project, expected to cost around $400 million, has largely gained support from farmers, local tribes and environmentalists alike, but the hefty price tag, over 100 times the current NUID budget, makes it a hard sell."The challenge to raise the funds and gather support is enormous, but the benefit in our community is so great," said Bentz, who stated he was in full support of the project. However, Bentz and nearly all other Republicans in the House voted against the recently passed federal $1 trillion infrastructure bill that local irrigation leaders hope to utilize for the pump station project.

Another large topic of discussion was the lack of infrastructure support for farmers. The local FSA office has only one full-time employee and has trouble retaining a staff assistant due to budgeting. Farmers and ranchers rely on reporting to the FSA office to calculate insurance and banking. Additionally, with only one employee, the office cannot increase the projects it works on, resulting in no increase in budget for more staff. Aside from the lack of employees, the office remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and producers can only complete their forms via phone or mail.

The thread through the entire discussion was the importance of agriculture to the economy not just in Jefferson County, but the entire country. "Without successful and supported agriculture," said Feenstra," the country cannot succeed."By Kiva Hanson

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