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Walden touts regional benefits from farm bill

If the federal farm bill now awaiting U.S. Senate action is passed into law, Jackson County would see close to $800,000 in payments the federal government makes to counties with large federal land holdings.

The payments in lieu of taxes would go into the county's general fund.

"The money is very important because it goes into unrestricted use, to help fund such programs as law enforcement, roads, public health and schools," said Jackson County Commissioner Doug Breidenthal.

In 2013, Oregon received $15.6 million in payments in lieu of taxes. Jackson County received $765,726.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, speaking at a press conference Friday at the Heffner Cattle Co. in Central Point, said the 2014 amount would be slightly more.

Breidenthal and representatives from the Jackson County Farm Bureau, Oregon Farm Bureau and Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association attended.

In addition to the payments, the congressman touched on the bill's safety net for farmers and ranchers, an easing of forestry regulations and disaster relief for ranchers and farmers who took a financial hit from wildfires and drought.

"It's important to understand the importance of agriculture to Oregon and to our district," Walden said. "It's a $5.4 billion industry for our state, and it creates hundreds of thousands of jobs."

He noted that 2012 farm sales totaled $290 million in Klamath County, $66 million in Jackson County and $21 million in Josephine County.

"This is a big part of our economy, and for several years now I've heard from farmers and ranchers about the need to get a farm bill done in a way that works as a safety net for agriculture, that continues with our important ag research, and provides the kind of disaster relief that the industries need," Walden said.

The bill reauthorizes livestock disaster programs and makes them retroactive to 2012, which is important because a prior farm bill had expired, leaving ranchers who sustained damage in 2012 wildfires uncovered.

"Those livestock producers lost many head of cattle; they lost fences, they lost their grazing areas," Walden said. "They were eligible for help and they didn't get it. This farm bill gives them that help and looks backwards to 2012 so that they'll get that disaster relief that they were due."

Walden said the bill contains provisions that prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating runoff on forest roads and enables easier harvests in forests suffering from disease and infestation.

Dave Schott, executive vice president of Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association, said those provisions and other forest-related items are a step in the right direction, especially with a potential drought and elevated fire danger looming.

"We have some provisions in there that help with regard to leasing additional fire-fighting equipment, planes for the Forest Service ... unfortunately this year it looks like they're going to be very badly needed," Schott said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden touted the benefits of the House-passed farm bill during a press conference at the Heffner Cattle Co. Friday in Central Point. - Julia Moore