BY BRANDON SAWYER
Maybe it’s because agriculture happens mostly outside the urban environment where most Oregonians live. Maybe it’s because farming seems an antiquated occupation and its present-day workforce is overlooked. Maybe it’s the 21st-century focus on organic and value-added crops, community-supported agriculture and backyard vegetable gardens. Whatever the reason, somehow most of us have forgotten about the huge role played by agricultural commodities in Oregon’s economy.
We’re talking single-syllable mainstays like wheat, hay, pork and pears. The consumer and industry focus on certification, heirlooms and buying local has certainly elevated agriculture, but such (trendy) products are dwarfed by the economic force of the state’s major commodities that are grown large-scale and feed a sophisticated export infrastructure, sending fresh and raw products overseas as well as supplying the region’s food processors, stores and restaurants.
Agricultural production alone was estimated at a record high $5.4 billion value by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) in 2012, topping 2011 by 2%. But ag’s “economic footprint” as estimated by Oregon State University’s Extension Service – production, processing, support services, food and drinking establishments, wholesale and retail trade, transportation and warehousing – generated direct and indirect sales of $49.1 billion in 2009. That’s 17% of statewide economic output, supporting 422,891 or 19% of total jobs. That’s a huge footprint, yet so low profile and geographically vast that it’s easy to miss.
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