Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski says his financially stressed state cannot succeed "without a thriving agricultural sector."
"We cannot have a thriving agricultural sector without the added value you give the to the food our farmers produce," he states at the Northwest Food Manufacturing & Packaging Expo yesterday in Portland.
"In Oregon, production agriculture â€¦ has a value of $3.6 billion, a figure that has increased in 15 of the past 17 years," says Kulongoski. "When you add in the value of processing and other contributing factors, that $3.6 billion becomes $8 billion in economic activity."
Looking at the total for the Pacific Northwest states (Oregon, Washington and Idaho), the economic value delivered by all links in the food chain is over $91 billion â€“ 60% of which comes from manufacturing and distribution."
Calling the food processing industry "critically important to this regionâ€™s economy, Kulongoski said the business generates 630,000 jobs annually.
"Right now the bottom line is not growing for Oregon food processors," he adds. "Consolidation is one reason why."
More than 700 mergers and consolidations have taken place in processing, wholesale and retail food sectors every year since 1997, he says. "Fewer and larger processors mean that small and medium-size processors in Oregon have a harder time competing for shelf-space in grocery stores. To make matters worse, you are competing in a global marketplace and face competition from countries where wages are low and regulatory requirements are few, if any."
This economic pain "puts pressure on our farmers who already face rising costs for seed, equipment, fertilizer and fuel," he says. "Fewer outlets for growers mean less competition and lower prices."
With more than 40,000 Oregon farms managing 17 million acres of private Oregon land, "we want our farmers to continue to hold their land in trust and to use it to grow crops, not to sell it or make it available for development that is not sustainable" he says.
"Iâ€™m going to work with you," Kulongoski promises, "and be the voice for you in the next legislative session. Youâ€™re not only on my agenda for 2005, you are high on my agenda."