Oregon’s farmers and ranchers are among the nation’s leaders when it comes to implementing conservation programs.

Since 2000, the amount that Oregon producers receive from the federal government to augment those programs has grown by more than 400 percent, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I think Oregon agriculture has a very good story to tell in terms of its contribution to protecting and enhancing the environment," says Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba, who's based in Salem. “Our farmers and ranchers recognize the importance of investing in measures that sustain the natural resources so important to agriculture.”

In 2000, Oregon received about $23 million. That number has steadily increased over the past eight years to nearly $94 million in 2007, according to a news release.

“Recent farm bills have dedicated more money in green payments and conservation programs, Larry Ojua, manager of ODA’s Soil and Water Conservation District Program. "Even before the emphasis, our state had done a lot of conservation work that has not gone unnoticed.”

Some farm bill programs essentially pay rent for environmentally sensitive land that is taken out of agricultural production. Other programs offer funds for technical assistance and on-the-ground projects.

The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, for example, provides incentives to landowners who install and maintain riparian buffers on agricultural land.

Voters have also enabled state water conservation districts to effectively enhance the money that comes from conservation payments. There are now 11 districts with a permanent tax rate, as approved by voters. Those districts can now offer their own cost-share program, giving producers multiple opportunities for funds and assistance.

“There is a lot of traditional conservation work the districts have always done,” says Ojua. “For Wasco and Sherman counties, districts have been successfully dealing with erosion control. These are places with a high percentage of producers adopting reduced tillage or no-till systems.

"In the Willamette Valley, where there are so many specialty crops, districts have been implementing cover crops, irrigation water management, and integrated pest management. In Hood River County, weather stations have been installed and producers are figuring out when and how they should spray their orchards to reduce drift– practices that minimize impact to water quality. All these management techniques and projects are making a difference.”

For more information, contact Larry Ojua at (503) 986-4705.

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