Sen. Merkley Introduces Ag Bill Providing $16M In Hemp Funding
Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley — who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture — has won support in the Senate agricultural spending bill for a wide variety of agriculture, housing, food assistance, and rural business priorities that will benefit Oregon’s farms and families throughout the state. Merkley will now push for this bill to pass and be signed into law as Congress negotiates a spending package to avert a government shutdown in December.
“Every year, I travel to each of Oregon’s 36 counties to hear from each of Oregon’s diverse communities about the issues that matter most to them,” said Merkley, who co-authored the bill. “In every corner of our state, I’ve heard about the need for affordable housing and reliable, good paying jobs—especially as the coronavirus crisis’ toll on our health and economy continues to deepen. I fought hard to ensure that those insights, and the specific ideas and priorities Oregonians have shared with me, would make it into this bill, so we can strengthen the vitality of our communities and keep delivering the world-class agricultural products Oregon is known for.”
Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013 so that Oregon would have a strong voice in decisions about the investments our nation should be making.
Key elements to benefit Oregonians that Merkley fought to include in today’s bill are:
Agricultural Research: The Agricultural Research Service received an increase of $84 million in funding for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of the nation’s agricultural systems. In addition, Merkley was able to secure funding for key Oregon agriculture research programs, including funding for research on the Sudden Oak Death pathogen plaguing the south coast. Other research funding victories include research for alfalfa, barley, tree fruits, pear, wheat, hops, hemp, apple, shellfish, small fruits, seaweed, floriculture, nurseries, and rangeland ecology.
Hemp: The bill provides $16.777 million to implement provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill allowing for the cultivation of commercial hemp, which can be used to make everything from cloth and rope to oil and soap. Hemp has already quickly become one of Oregon’s leading cash crops, and many feel has the potential to bring in more than $1 billion in sales to Oregon in the coming years with a fair and reasonable regulatory framework.
In addition, the bill directs the USDA to propose amendments to the agency’s Interim Final Rule on hemp to ensure that any final rule is based on science and will ensure a fair and reasonable regulatory framework for commercial hemp producers. The bill also:
Extends the 2014 hemp pilot program until 2022, providing hundreds of Oregon farmers clear operating guidelines as the USDA smooths out regulatory challenges;
Encourages the USDA to study the usage and impact of energy and water in hemp cultivation and to make recommendations on best practices and standards;
Directs the agency to establish and maintain a hemp germplasm repository for hemp breeding purposes;
Provides $2 million for the agency to conduct regionally-driven research, development, and stakeholder engagement to improve understanding of how to effectively integrate hemp into existing agricultural cropping, processing, and marketing systems; and
Directs the USDA to work with institutions under its jurisdiction to provide access to guaranteed loans for hemp producers and businesses.
The next step for the bill is merging with a counterpart bill from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.
The Global Hemp Innovation Center at Oregon State University issued a statement in support of Sen. Merkley’s bill.
“The Global Hemp Innovation Center welcomes Senator Merkley’s continued championing of American hemp,” said Dr. Jay Noller, director of the Global Hemp Innovation Center. “We are at a critical time for the newly emerging American hemp industry that depends on research for science-based decision-making to accelerate progress towards stable production and dependable markets. This funding will help ensure coordinated research is conducted between USDA agencies and leading land grant institutions such as Oregon State University to find the most sustainable ways to incorporate hemp into American agriculture.”
The Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association also shared its support.
“We applaud Senator Merkley for his outstanding leadership and support for domestic hemp production programs,” said Courney Moran, the association’s president. “We appreciate him listening to the needs of farmers and agribusiness owners and taking action to protect their interests. Securing an extension of the 2014 Farm Bill authority until January 2021 will help farmers and state departments of agriculture transition smoothly to the 2018 Farm Bill and USDA program rules, saving farmers from an abrupt change in regulation mid-production season. We look forward to using this additional time to continue our collaboration with Congress and USDA for adoption of practical federal program rules that work for farmers in their fields nationwide and provide a framework that sets the commercial hemp industry up for success. Additionally, allocating much-needed funding to USDA for implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill and targeted research and development efforts to integrate hemp into traditional agricultural systems will further establish hemp as a true agricultural commodity. The future of the hemp industry is bright with this support from the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture!”