Some military families face additional financial hardship at the Christmas season and, this year, some Oregon National Guard soldiers based out of The Dalles are experiencing a little larger financial struggle than usual in the wake of the October federal shutdown.
Weekend Guard exercises were cancelled in October as a result of the shutdown. While soldiers had the option of making up time during the week by working at the local armory, some of those coming from a distance faced a logistical challenge and were unable to do so, said Carol Roderick, treasurer of the Family Readiness Group. In addition, some had to find a way to pay health insurance premiums despite the lost income.
“It’s coming out of what they normally get in regions should be under the purview of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, which has the budget and expertise to make these kinds of decisions,” said Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, who addressed the issue at the Wasco County Farm Bureau’s annual meeting in late October.
There are currently 102 members of the local group, which was originally formed in the 1940s and then split to represent different areas of the county before merging into one entity in 1967.
On the federal front, the state farm bureau is suing the federal government to protect fruit growers from enforcement action without proven justification.
The organization’s legal team is seeking to obtain documents that explain why the U.S. Department of Labor blocked shipments of perishable crops during a 2012 dispute over wage claims.
The agency invoked the provision of federal law known as “hot goods” that was crafted to deal with serious infractions at garment factories around the turn of the century.
Three blueberry farmers in Oregon were forced to pay a total of $240,000 to resolve claims so their fruit could be moved to market.
At issue was a Labor inspector’s contention that it was impossible for one worker on each of the three farms to have picked as much as payroll records indicated.
Therefore, the berry grower was determined to have violated minimum wage law by having two people work on the same ticket and paying only one individual.
In addition to requiring the fine be paid on site, Labor demanded that the farmers sign consent agreements acknowledging wrongdoing, which prevented them from fighting the charge.
The farm bureau saw the “heavy handed” enforcement tactics as not only unfair and unprecedented, but having the potential to harm any business with a workforce.
After a Freedom of Information Act request for records about Labor’s use of the powers went unanswered, the farm bureau took legal action.
Dillon said Labor needs to explain whatever policy changes have taken place to warrant taking such strong action.
He said out of 400 uses of “hot goods” enforcement across the nation in 2012, nine involved agriculture.
“Something was different here, it was not normal practice,” he said.
Because of the emerging concern with Labor actions, Dillon said the farm bureau is educating agriculturalists about what their due process rights are when an inspector shows up for a random visit. In the past he said most inspections were complaint-driven, something that appears to have changed.
“We want people to comply with the law, our dispute isn’t with that, it’s just the tactics they’ve been using,” he said.
The farm bureau is focused not only on state and federal policy-making decisions but promoting agriculture as a business for the next generation of Americans. The organization also seeks to honor farmers and ranchers whose families have worked the same land for at least 100 years.
More than 1,177 Oregon farms and ranches have been in the same family at least one century and 26 more than 150 years.
The Young Farmers and Ranchers Program is designed for producers between the ages of 16 and 35 and builds leadership skills. In addition to networking with others in the same industry, participants get to travel and join activities that advocate for agriculture.
“I think it’s one of the best leadership tools available anywhere,” said Anne Marie Moss, communications director for the state farm bureau.
In December, the youth arm of the organization will hold a Discussion Meet to showcase effective communication within a group.
Contestants will be evaluated on the exchange of ideas and information on pre-determined topics. The winner will receive a prize and the opportunity to compete at the national level in January.
Recipients will also be named for the Achievement Award and Excellence in Agriculture Award, both of which recognize people actively involved in their community and farming practices.
The farm bureau also organizes a summer program through Oregon State University that offers K-12 teachers an opportunity to incorporate agriculture into their classrooms.
With many young people deciding not to follow in their parents and grandparents footsteps to operate the family farm or ranch, Dillon said there is a national security issue to be addressed. A nation that does not grow its own food is at risk and farm bureaus are seeking to reverse the current trend and keep smaller farms alive and well.
Toward that end, the state farm bureau awards about $70,000 in scholarships annually to students who are interested in an agriculture-related career. Wasco County provided three scholarships in late October, a total of $1,800 that was raised, in part, from the annual pancake feed and auction in February 2013.
Voting members of the farm bureau must generate at least $2,500 in gross incomes from an agricultural operation and are allowed to participate at both the local and state level of decision-making.
Supporting members may not be farmers but these individuals in some way are involved in agriculture activities. Associate members have no ties to the industry but want to show support.
For online information about Oregon Farm Bureau access www.oregonfb.org. The website features the Oregon Bounty’s Farm Stand Guide that lists the locations where residents and visitors can find home-grown foods and products.
Polehn can be reached for more information about the Wasco County Farm Bureau at 541-340-9731.
The local chapter meets at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at the Polehn Farm Packing House, 2121 Dry Hollow Road in The Dalles.
Meetings do not take place in December due to the convention and July because of harvest.