Agriculture and dynamic change are not typically synonymous. But the Farm Bill that President Obama signed in February recognizes a tectonic shift that one may see in our supermarkets and farmers markets. The New York Times called the bill a significant shift in the types of farmers who are now benefiting from taxpayer dollars, reflecting a decade of changing eating habits and cultural disposition among American consumers.
Fruit and vegetable farmers gained access to crop insurance programs that had long excluded them. Block grants to their marketing programs also grew significantly. This was at the expense of aid to large scale crops, which have long dominated the Farm Bill.
The Pacific Northwest, and Oregon in particular, will feel this dramatic movement in the underpinning of U.S. farming. Unlike their Midwest brethren who farm vast fields of soybeans, corn and wheat, Oregon and its Willamette Valley farms are renowned for so-called specialty crops, which are fruits, vegetables and nuts. Those crops are also farmed in the Columbia River Gorge as far east as The Dalles, on the North Oregon Coast and upriver from Astoria on Puget Island.
Agriculture is one of the sectors at which America has excelled since the 19th century, thanks to research and education at the land grant universities. Our sister newspaper, the Capital Press, reported in 2013 that enrollment at West Coast agriculture schools was uniformly up dramatically. And the newspaper noted that students were showing marked interest in organic farming.
In the form of climate change, the environment is the issue of this century. Agriculture is the immediate byproduct of climate, and it will assume even greater significance as the century progresses. Changes in the Farm Bill, which had strong support from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, bode well for our region.