Oregon senators call for drought relief in new farm bill

KLAMATH COUNTY, Ore. – Oregon’s Senators are calling for more to be done by the federal government to help the agriculture community.

“We know that this is not just going to be suddenly, magically healed,” Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said. “That’s why investments in both how we plant, how we water, and how we deliver water to the fields all elements are going to be essential to continue to support our farmers.”

Earlier this month, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley submitted a letter calling for federal agriculture officials to address long-term drought in the region.

“As I traveled through my 36 county tour talking to people in every part of the state, the challenges of ag are very apparent,” Merkley said. “Sometimes it’s the export markets, sometimes it’s the diseases that are affecting it, but the biggest factor by far is the availability of water and those changing circumstances.”

Senator Merkley says he hopes this call will make the committee see the challenges faced by farmers in the west.

The Klamath Water Users Association is a non-profit that represents farmers and ranchers working in the Klamath Basin. They say the biggest challenge faced by agriculture workers in the basin is the persistent lack of water.

“Having the drought that we’ve had that has been the largest impact,” said Scott White. “The second largest and still related is how do we manage the limited supply that we have?”

Last year, KWUA reported a massive grasshopper infestation that took out many crops in the basin. It said the dry, hot conditions help promote the birth of these bugs.

“This year, we had a tremendous grasshopper outbreak and those grasshoppers were coming off of our dry refuges.”

White is the general manager for the Klamath Drainage District, a member district part of the Klamath Water Users Association. He says the dry wildlife refuges that aided in the grasshopper infestation were a direct result of the federal management of water supply.

“What we’ve seen here in the last couple of years is our two wildlife refuges have gone dry because of the management decisions that were made at the federal level in relation to our water resources,” White said.

The Klamath Water Users Association executive director Paul Simmons said in a statement that he hopes the federal government will make decisions to better all communities in the basin, rather than divide water rights based on policy preference.

Senator Merkley says he believes his call for action in the bill will help improve water infrastructure in the whole state, including the Klamath Basin.

“We’re also talking about things like the research and development of more drought resistant crops,” he said. “So our research laboratories for agriculture are particularly important as we face these changing conditions.”

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Taylar Ansures is a producer and reporter for NBC5 News. Taylar is from Redding, California and went to California State University, Chico. After graduating, she joined KRCR News Channel 7 in Redding as a morning producer. She moved to Southern Oregon in 2022 to be closer to family and became KTVL News 10’s digital producer. Taylar is currently finishing her Master's Degree in Professional Creative Writing through the University of Denver. In her free time, Taylar frequents independent bookstores and explores hiking trails across Southern Oregon and Northern California.
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