Oregon Agriculture and Land-Use Planning

By Bernasek, Tim | Environmental Law, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview
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Oregon Agriculture and Land-Use Planning

Bernasek, Tim, Environmental Law

     A. Implementation of Current Planning
     B. Regulatory Reform
     A. Address Property Owners' Concerns Over Loss of Property
     B. Reduce the Cost of Regulatory Compliance
     C. Regionalize LCDC


Both land-use planning advocates and opponents cite various reasons to support or oppose the system of land-use planning that has been implemented in Oregon over the past thirty years. Orderly development, environmental protection, property rights, open space, transportation corridors, and affordable housing are only a few examples. This essay will focus on economic arguments as the basis of support for a system of statewide land-use planning. Specifically, this essay will focus on agriculture's impact on the state economy, and will argue for a system of land-use planning that designates land for agricultural uses as an important factor in maintaining the health of Oregon's agricultural economy. In addition to enhancing agriculture's viability, proper planning does in fact maximize private property interests. Finally, this essay will discuss sources of conflict that have arisen in the current model of land-use planning and suggest improvements for this system.

I should make it clear at the outset: the arguments laid out in this essay are mine. For most of my professional career, I have been privileged to represent the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation, the largest general agricultural association in the state. Without a doubt, many of the arguments I advance are the result of conclusions reached after wrestling with land-use planning issues on behalf of my client. However, I have not asked for, nor have I received the Farm Bureau's endorsement of the observations laid out in this essay.


Oregon agriculture continues to be a major player in Oregon's economy. Given its position as one of the top industries in the state, policymakers should focus on creating a regulatory environment conducive to maintaining, if not strengthening, agriculture's viability. To be clear, non-economic arguments could be made for preserving agriculture's presence in Oregon, like maintaining rural heritage, preserving open space, and others. However, these arguments will not be made here. Agriculture's position as one of the top industries in the state alone warrants policies, including sensible statewide land-use planning, that will enhance its position in the state's economy for years to come.

In spite of growing conventional wisdom that agriculture is part of some bygone era in Oregon and is fading as a presence in the state's economic picture, a few key statistics show this is simply not the case. Agriculture is the second largest industry in Oregon behind technology, accounting for over $4 billion dollars annually in direct farm input (1) and over $11 billion dollars in total economic activity to the state. (2) Nine percent of Oregon's jobs are connected to agriculture. (3) Approximately 9.5 % of Oregon's gross state product (GSP) is attributable to agriculture. (4) Agriculture is not just a major component of Oregon's rural economy. The majority of the Port of Portland's total tonnage of exports, about sixty percent, is agriculture sourced from Oregon and other states. (5)

On any given day, one could peruse the major daily newspapers in Oregon and find stories about efforts underway to build upon the state's high-tech sector. (6) Given its position as the top industry in the state, this is both understandable and appropriate. Agriculture too, as the second-largest player on the state's economic stage, warrants increased initiatives to maintain and strengthen its position. As will be discussed more fully below, sensible land-use planning policies that preserve and protect land for agricultural production are a vital component of, and must be a part of, any strategy to maintain a strong agricultural sector.

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