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Oregon agriculture - not just a commodity

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Articles - November/December 2013
Monday, October 28, 2013
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Oregon agriculture - not just a commodity
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Oregon’s top ag commodities are a diverse bunch. The No. 1 in 2012, according to preliminary ODA figures, was greenhouse and nursery products, a grab bag of pampered plants, shrubs, bulbs and turf sod highly dependent on the national real estate market. In 2008 the value of this group plunged 17% following the U.S. housing-market collapse, then fell another 6% and 3% in 2009 and 2010 respectively, before finally stabilizing the last couple years above $740 million. “They were up to over $1 billion before the recession,” says Stephanie Page, special assistant to the director at the ODA. “There’s still some distance to go there.” Grass seed, the state’s No. 6 commodity in 2012 with a value of $411 million, was also hit hard by the housing crisis and is seeing incremental growth again.

Some Willamette Valley grass-seed farmers held their own by planting wheat during the recession, notes Page. Wheat was the No. 5 top commodity in 2012 with a value of $472 million and has grown more than 250% during the last decade, due to the misfortunes of other wheat-growing regions around the world and high global demand. The year 2013 may be more of a bust, though, after the GMO scare that temporarily suspended wheat exports to Japan and South Korea, but especially because of drought in Eastern Oregon, where the crop is grown without irrigation. Page drove through Gilliam County this summer and wondered to herself if they were growing an experimental crop before realizing it was stunted wheat.

In 2011, before greenhouse and nursery reclaimed its throne, hay was, well, making hay as the top commodity with a statewide value of $752 million, up dramatically from $488 million in 2010. “Hay has been a pretty interesting story,” says Page. “The rising tide in terms of feed-commodity prices helped boost hay prices.” Hay still ranked high at No. 3 in 2012 with a preliminary value of $638 million.

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