People have questions about farming. Whether members of the general public, students, industry representatives, government employees, or elected officials, when farm-related questions come up, people tend to turn to the usual information sources. These information sources often consist of friends, colleagues, books, the Internet, or academic experts. Rarely, though, do people have ready access to real farmers. Real farmers have unique experiences, knowledge, and understanding of land and farming techniques and issues. Farmers, local communities, and our society in general will benefit if people who are seeking to understand farming better have the ability to ask farmers directly. Given this, MCFB wants to connect people with questions about farming with real farmers. To accomplish this, we have established the “Ask a Farmer” program.

The questions below have been posed to our farmers.

ALTERNATIVE INCOME & GRANT SOURCES

Question: How do I start an agritourism business?

Answer:

  1. First, note that it’s not as easy as it sounds… and success is not guaranteed.
  2. Make a trip to the county zoning department or call them firsthand. Many folks have lost time and money not doing this first.
  3. In addition to the approval of the substantive agritourism activity, ensure onsite parking is available. Parking and local traffic are a real concern, especially in rural areas.
  4. Meet the neighbors and become friends. You will want and need the neighbors’ support to be successful.
  5. Note that farms with existing/longstanding agritourism appear somewhat “grandfathered” in as neighbors and the county are accustomed to the use. Given this, while not a guarantee, it might be best to start with a farm where there is a history of agritourism.

For more information, see: https://industry.traveloregon.com/opportunities/marketing-co-ops-toolkits/toolkits/welcome-oregon-agritourism-handbook/.

Question: What’s it like to have a solar field on your farm?

Answer: Solar fields had a lot of promise when they were first coming on board. They took some land out of production, but offered a good financial return with minimal inconvenience during their operational lifespan. Times are changing though and the cost-benefit isn’t penciling out as well. Each situation will have to be assessed on its own specific merits.

Question: How will $19B in Coronavirus aid for farmers impact small-scale local farmers?

Answer: $19 billion directly to the ag sector. Of that $19 billion, $16 billion will be made in direct grants by USDA to farmers and ranchers to compensate for short-term drops in demand and oversupply driven by COVID19. The remaining $3 billion will go to purchase fresh produce, dairy, and meat to distribute to food banks, community organizations and charities.

GOVERNMENT AGENCIES

Question: What is the best way to work with local government?

Answer: It’s not easy. Individuals matter. Some staff and agencies are very difficult to work with. The best you can hope for is to find a good staff person and establish a good working relationship with them as individuals.

Question: What are the most important entities for local farmers to connect with as they get started?

Answer:

  1. Multnomah County Farm Bureau/Oregon Farm Bureau & Oregon Association of Nurseries
  2. Country Financial
  3. USDA Farm Services Agency
  4. Oregon Department of Agriculture
  5. Local municipality stormwater/water quality programs
  6. Multnomah County Land Use
  7. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
  8. East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District and West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District
  9. OSU Small Farms Program
  10. Oregon Farmer’s Market Association & Portland Farmer’s Market

For more information, see: Entities for Local Farmers.

HOUSING

Question: What kind of housing best suits the needs of your farmworkers?

Answer: In addition to safe, clean, and affordable…

NEW FARMERS

Question: Advice for new famers in these difficult times?

Answer: You must really love the work that you do in farming because it is hard work and long hours spent. You must be dedicated and willing to invest your time and money in the long term because generally your return on investment takes time.

Question: How can young farmers and ranchers influence the future of agriculture?

Answer: The Oregon Farm Bureau has over 15 advisory councils and committees; the Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee is just one of them... and one way the next generation of farmers and ranchers in Multnomah County can influence the future.

Question: Are farm plans helpful?

Answer: It depends a lot on the farmer and the situation. In many cases, farmers don’t have formal “farm plans.” At a minimum, farmers should assess their:

OBTAINING FARMLAND

Question: How do I find irrigated farmland to lease?

Answer: It’s very difficult. Most irrigated farmland is already leased and when it becomes available it’s often leased through word-of-mouth to neighbors and friends. Best option is to get to know farmers in the area you are looking to farm and let them know what you are looking for. Establish and maintain sincere relationships with the local farmers as available irrigated farmland may not become available for a time.

Question: How much does it cost to rent ag land?

Answer: Average lease rates in Multnomah County for non-irrigated farmland is $122/acre/year and for irrigate farmland is $256/acre/year.

Question: Is there a lease premium for farmland that has been in the Conservation Reserve Program?

Answer: Yes, although it’s difficult to say generally how much the premium would be. If land has been in a reserve program and out of production for several years, then that soil is probably in better condition and will be more productive than it would be otherwise. As such, the landowner can likely charge a lease premium for at least an initial period of time.

WATER RIGHTS & IRRIGATION

Question: Do all crops have to be irrigated?

Answer: No, all crops do not require irrigation. Having said that, there are many variables that will determine the water needs of crops, including the species being grown, time of year, soils and slope, and weather. Irrigation will often expand flexibility on what is grown and how it is grown, and also may improve yields. For a nice summary on crops that don't require irrigation, see: https://extension.oregonstate.edu/water/irrigation/why-do-i-need-water-rights-irrigation

Question: How do you find a farm with water rights?

Answer #1: It's not easy, but you can start by talking to other farmers, inquiring with local water utilities/irrigation districts, and checking out the OWRD mapping tool at: https://apps.wrd.state.or.us/apps/gis/wr/Default.aspx

Answer #2: Property with water rights are almost non-existent and often change hands without a sign going up. Sometimes rainwater harvesting for small farms is a partial answer. A number of CSA’s in the on (interruptible) community water systems. With drip irrigation, community water can be price efficient unless the water district cuts the water supply down to home use in the summer. Anyone wanting to start a farm should not depend on groundwater or surface water until the state gets a better groundwater recharge plan.

If you have a question that you would like to pose to a local farmer, Contact Us.

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