Karla Kay Edwards
Cascade Commentary

Level Playing Field Equals Loss of Economic Freedoms 

by Karla Kay Edwards

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An important discussion is taking place in Oregon among counties and agricultural interests regarding regulating activities allowed on farmlands, especially on lands zoned as Exclusive Farm Use (EFU). During the 2010 Special Legislative Session, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 1055, which addressed the ability of wineries to sell incidental items and services in conjunction with the winery as long as they do not exceed 25% of on-site sales income. 

How absurd that private property rights in Oregon have been eroded to such an extent that citizens willingly engage in a conversation about how to limit people’s ability to run successful businesses on their own land. In this economic recession government at all levels should make every effort to remove regulations that constrain private property rights in an attempt to stimulate the natural outgrowth of entrepreneurialism and new market opportunities.

 Yet, due to more than thirty years of command-and-control statewide land use policy, agricultural interests have become used to the State of Oregon imposing proscriptive regulations that outline exactly what constitute appropriate farmland activities beyond what is already in statute for EFU lands. If the state defines these activities further, counties won’t have the bureaucratic “burden” of defending, and in many cases protecting, their homegrown definition of uses to the public, other counties or the Land Conservation and Development Commission.

 Uniform statewide regulation of agriculture might seem to create a “more level playing field” among competitors in adjoining counties. However, the economic losses to individual counties will be much greater than the perceived advantages of restrictive statewide definitions. The long-term, slow erosion of property rights in Oregon has led to political infighting, a waste of valuable resources and a loss of basic liberties.

 Additional statewide regulation would force every agricultural operation into a framework that would limit further the creative development of new markets and opportunities because it is incredibly difficult to predict future consumer demands and needs. Who would have predicted 30 years ago that the Willamette Valley wine industry would be so strong? Agriculturalists by their nature are entrepreneurs and risk-takers. That is the only way they survive in a volatile industry that relies on unpredictable weather and natural resources to earn a living. Creating and enhancing a competitive advantage for their operation is necessary in order to succeed in business.

Obviously, a farm in one part of Oregon has different advantages than one located elsewhere. One farm or the other is likely to have better soils, more rainfall, cheaper energy inputs, shorter transportation distances, stronger local markets and a multitude of other advantages or disadvantages. It is unfortunate in Oregon that government at any level has a role in the discussion of whether a farm operation remains competitive and viable. To eliminate even one unforeseen opportunity for a farm in an effort to create a “level playing field” for all farms is against the spirit this country was founded upon.

I recognize that it must be frustrating for local farmers to look at their colleagues in an adjoining county which provides greater freedom to create economic opportunities. But that is the beauty of a decentralized government structure. In a perfect world property rights would not be infringed upon by government, but at best local governments provide the ability for communities to develop through a means that best meets the needs of its citizens. Oregon has greatly limited that ability through statewide land use regulations, though there is still a diminutive amount of freedom for counties to accentuate each community’s uniqueness and potentially create a competitive advantage for its citizens. Allowing, or in some cases forcing, counties to decide for themselves what farmland and ancillary activities are best for their community is important and a far more desirable process than creating a centralized mandate at the state level.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” For the past thirty years Oregon’s land use regulations have been chipping away at citizens’ economic freedom. When will we recognize that these regulations have cumulatively eroded Oregonians’ economic freedom and ability to prosper?

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Karla Kay Edwards is Rural Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

3 thoughts on “Level Playing Field Equals Loss of Economic Freedoms

  1. History is so quickly dismissed when it doesn’t suit the government’s desires. 5 year plans and collective farms are unknown generally to the non-boomers, yet this communist planning was a dismal failure in the USSR. It was tried under FDR when they slaughter pigs before market to prop up prices, then had to import hogs to meet demand. Or the great social farm, Casa Grande, in the SW that was the utopian dream but was gone by 1940 as there were no property rights for the worker.
    Land use planning, centralizing government, is the American copy of central planning in the USSR and is a failure just as the Russians experienced.
    History is the progressive’s enemy.

  2. Unfortunately for Deschutes County, our county commissioners have taken it upon themselves to impose stricter regulations for acceptable uses on EFU land and effectively shutting down 9+ small “farms” from hosting wedding and events on their properties as an additional source of income. Since these events are not an “approved” use on the property, they have made them a violation and subject to fines. Deschutes County has turned away over $10 million in wedding and event related income over the last 2 summers by banning these activities on EFU land. In this case, they were looking to the state legislature to define the uses allowed so that they did not have to make this decision locally. Since this did not happen, we are going into the 3rd wedding season without resolve and continued loss of income to local wedding and event related businesses and the additional tourism income that is brought to the local area with a wedding or event. Many of these weddings have located to other counties where these activities are permitted. They may be limited to a portion of a wineries income, but at least they can have them and make additional revenue. In this case, a statewide acceptance of such activities on EFU land with appropriate “Conditional Use Permits” would help to level the playing field in this industry and increase potential revenue for local farmers in Central Oregon. We need this change to happen in Deschutes County soon and stop the loss of revenue to our local businesses! We support the rights of local property owners! Becky – Central Oregon Event Professionals Association http://www.centraloregonevents.net

  3. If we give up and give in, we will be serfs to an all powerful government. Our only way to fight is to vote right and complain to our reps. It’s like a dripping faucet, just tiny insignificant amounts drip until you put a bucket under and begin to catch the water do we see how much we are actually losing, then, we call the plumber. Time for the plumber is now! Joy Kingsbury

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