To the Editor:
As third-generation stewards of our ranch in Eastern Oregon, we are concerned about the slow, steady decline of Oregon’s agricultural land base, and the aging of the farmer and rancher population, now nearly 60 years old on average.
For rural counties in Eastern Oregon, agriculture is the primary economic driver. As aging farmers and ranchers transition their operations to the next generation, they face many obstacles, including estate tax, increasing prices of agricultural lands and mounting pressure from regulatory agencies.
These obstacles create reluctance in young people to “follow the family footsteps” and take over the family farm or ranch. Those children who do not want to continue the family business need to pay off Oregon’s repressive estate tax, which sometimes forces them to sell parcels of land. The resulting reduction in size compromises the economic viability and integrity of the whole, often resulting in the eventual sale of the remaining land for developmental uses.
It is urgent and imperative to facilitate the positive transition of ag lands to the next generation. The Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (House Bill 3249) is a good start. It highlights permanent working lands easements and temporary covenants as “tools” for farmers and ranchers to preserve their working lands within mutually agreed upon parameters. Easements and covenants prevent fragmentation and development of the land, while allowing ag production and compensating the landowner for the forgone rights. These agreements do not affect property tax rates.
In short, conservation easements provide an avenue to transition working ag lands to the next generation at an affordable value while allowing for the continuation of a productive lifestyle vital to our rural economy and our state.
For the future of Oregon’s working landscapes, future generations and our wildlife habitat and open space, we urge Oregon’s Legislature to support the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (HB 3249). If we do not act now to protect working agricultural lands, they will continue to decline until we have none. The loss of working lands means loss of the attributes that brought all of our families to this beautiful state in the first place.
Roger O. and Meredith L. Ediger