Strict ‘organic’ emphasis ignores realities of Oregon agriculture

By Rep. Jami Cate
What does it mean to be “Oregon?”
During a recent legislative hearing, then-House Speaker and gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek told those of us serving on the House Committee on Economic Recovery and Prosperity that “organic” is a strong part of what it means to be Oregon.
This was offered up to justify a call for increased support for organic agriculture – a sector that makes up only 1.2% of Oregon’s agricultural operations.
While I can easily agree that though small, organic is an important part of Oregon’s agricultural sector, I know firsthand in being part of other 98.8% of agricultural producers – more than 37,000 farmers and ranchers supporting their families and communities – that this assessment that “organic” is what it means to be “Oregon” by our Legislature’s highest officer, fails miserably to embody the realities of Oregon agriculture.
Research has not demonstrated the superiority of organics, nor its potential to productively feed a growing population. In fact, organic agriculture has been shown to achieve significantly lower yields than conventional agriculture – requiring more land, fuel (and labor!) to produce the same amount of food. And contrary to popular belief, pesticides are critical to both organic and conventional agriculture – with organics being even more prone to pest outbreaks and weed pressures (often requiring higher dosages and more frequent applications) – an issue that will only increase with a rapidly changing climate.
With a steep price premium and a consumer base that is overwhelmingly white and monied, it’s easy to see how some might associate organic with their version of Oregon. But there are over 15.8 million additional acres of farmland around the state that paint a much fuller picture.
The Oregon Legislature and many advocacy groups continue to hold up organic production over non-organic methods, perpetuating a false and irresponsible dichotomy while ignoring the critical importance of Oregon’s agricultural sector as a whole to meet our growing food demand. Oregon’s farmers and ranchers are still desperately trying to dig themselves out of some of the most devastating years we can remember – between COVID and the impacts of recent extreme weather events.
Organic and conventional growers alike, across the more than 225 commodities grown here, deserve all the support they can get (and more!) from our policymakers – especially now. With a $42 billion value to the state, it’s safe to say that Oregon’s entire agricultural sector (not just 1.2% of it) is a major part of what it means to be “Oregon.”
Let’s hope we can elect a governor who can be bothered to notice.

– State Rep. (and local farmer) Jami Cate represents House District 17, which includes Lebanon, of which she is a resident.