By KATY COBA
Director, Oregon Dept. of Agriculture
Oregon agriculture will face both old and new challenges in 2014, but the year also presents a great deal of opportunity. The Oregon Department of Agriculture is in a good position to provide leadership, professional expertise, and assistance to constituents dependent on the agency’s services, according to ODA Director Katy Coba, who remains optimistic about the new year.
Director Coba’s comments are part of an interview previewing the year 2014. Last month, in part one of the interview, Coba discussed key issues facing agriculture as a whole. In part two, she focuses on the Oregon Department of Agriculture:
ODA’s mission statement includes food safety, natural resource protection, and developing markets for Oregon ag products. Are any of those missions most important going into 2014?
Food safety has been the number one ranked program in the agency since I’ve been at ODA, obviously because of the human health component. I don’t see that changing despite the importance of the rest of our mission. The time and effort that ODA staff has spent on the Food Safety Modernization Act and figuring out what is going to be the state’s role in implementing FSMA will continue in 2014 as we work in partnership with other states and the Food and Drug Administration.
There are still lots of questions about the five draft rules FDA has put out as part of FSMA and it’s not smooth sailing just yet. That will be a big priority for our Food Safety Program. Full implementation of all the rules is probably six to eight years away, but we have to start learning the new relationship with FDA.
Do you still see water as a key issue for ODA this year, as it was last year?
Absolutely. There are two big opportunities for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. One is the continued work on our Agricultural Water Quality Program. We spent a lot of time in 2013 in communication with industry and conservation groups on how we can demonstrate that this program is effective. We’ve been challenged to do that. There has been a lot of effort on the ground in terms of water quality and conservation projects. But we need to quantify the impacts of those efforts.
So we are moving forward with two pilots in our Agricultural Water Quality Program, where we are doing an assessment of the riparian conditions of a selected watershed, then doing some concentrated on-the-ground work, and monitoring along the way to document how that work improves water quality. These two pilots will be a huge effort for us the next two years, and beyond as we expand to other watersheds. At the same time, the state faces legal challenges around water quality issues — not just limited to agricultural water quality but also the Forest Practices Act and certain DEQ programs.
How we continue to move forward responding to the litigation while, at the same time, focusing our effort on the great work our staff and partners are doing with ODA’s program, that’s going to be a challenge for us. I think we are going to see some really good things from our Agricultural Water Quality Program
The other great opportunity is around water quantity. This was a focus of the last legislative session and continues to be a focus of the governor. Resources are being allocated into figuring out new ways to access water — whether that’s storage projects in Oregon, partnering with Washington on some of their storage projects, or continuing conservation efforts. Look at our weather right now. Our snowpack is not good, and that’s how we store water for irrigation. If we continue to see challenges with snowpack and climate change, we’ve got to figure out new ways to access water, both through conservation and new storage.
To help with these efforts, ODA is hiring a water quantity specialist this year, funded by the legislature. I’m really excited about the opportunities ahead of us with water quantity.
What do you see on the horizon for ODA’s efforts to help market Oregon agricultural products?
Our Market Access and Certification programs feature great staff doing great work in partnership with the industry. Our whole focus is to find opportunities for Oregon producers and processors in local markets, domestic markets, and international markets.
We are looking at new market opportunities in such places as Dubai and India. Certification continues to be a growing area of opportunity and our target is to make sure we are in position to help the industry, if they want our help.
Then there is the continued excitement about everything local. It’s great for our growers and our processors. A lot of that provides opportunity for smaller producers that don’t have the ability to access larger markets. Starting in those local markets is an excellent opportunity. If they want to grow and expand beyond that, great. If they want to just continue with those local connections, that’s also great. It’s an exciting time to be a farmer or a processor in Oregon.
Will ODA continue to partner with others in telling the story of Oregon agriculture?
Yes. Many efforts have been very complementary. There is Celebrate Oregon Agriculture, which includes support from ODA, KATU television, and a number of private entities. The Oregon Agri-Business Council’s efforts are making a difference, too. A lot of promotions seem to be resonating with consumers. So I hope the industry sees the benefit of these education and outreach campaigns, and continues to fund them.
In summary, how do you feel about ODA and Oregon agriculture in 2014?
I feel great about 2014. When you look back, 2013 was a challenging year for us and many sectors of agriculture. It can’t be much more challenging than what we’ve been through.
Heading into this year, on the production side, that diversity of agriculture in Oregon is so good for our industry. I would challenge everyone to embrace the diversity and not try to pit one segment of agriculture against the other. From my perspective, we need to support all of agriculture, whether it’s small or large farms, organic or conventional production, local or international markets. That is the strength of Oregon agriculture.
Part one of Coba’s message appeared last month in the Hood River News.