Oregon farmers who have suffered from drought and other disasters will gain access to $40 million in forgivable loans under a legislative package approved on December 13. The money will serve as a 'bridge' to keep farmers afloat while they wait for USDA assistance, but the loans will be forgiven if growers do not qualify for federal disaster relief. “We’re telling farmers and ag workers across the state that we acknowledge how hard it’s been to survive this year,” said Rep. Bobby Levy, R-Echo, before the House floor vote.
Throughout 2021, farmers have been plagued by winter storms, drought, heatwaves, insect infestations, wildfires, and flood damage, all during a global pandemic. “It’s been the hardest year for natural disasters in many Oregon producers’ memories,” said Mary Anne Cooper, Oregon Farm Bureau’s vice president of public policy, during a legislative hearing on the bill.
The forgivable loans are intended to allow farmers to stay in business, but will not actually result in a profitable year, she said. “I just think that’s out of reach for the 2021 year.” The Oregon Farm Bureau estimates about $75 million was made available to disaster-afflicted growers in the legislative package, which was passed during the December 13 special session.
“Assistance is needed to help producers with losses not covered by federal programs,” said Megan Kemple, director of policy advocacy for the Oregon Climate and Agriculture Network nonprofit. Farmers with gross incomes of less than $500,000 will qualify for loans of up to $125,000 under the bill.
Rep. Jami Cate, R-Lebanon, objected to the limits of $500,000 on gross income and $125,000 in loan amounts, arguing that larger farms are still family-owned “mom and pop businesses,” she said. When their expenses are in the millions of dollars, farmers must also have revenues in the millions, Cate said before the House floor vote. “Having bigger farms or higher-value crops just means you’re playing with higher stakes.”
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