Department of Agriculture Records Guide

Agency History - Historical Narrative

Agriculture is a leading industry in Oregon with over 200 commodities produced. There are at least seven distinct growing areas ranging from dairies along the Oregon Coast to the large dry land wheat farms of the Columbia Basin from the rich soils of the Willamette Valley to the wide open range land of Southeastern Oregon. The history of agriculture in Oregon dates to the native and early inhabitants of the region. The availability of plentiful agricultural land was a primary reason for the Westward migration in the United States. Early settlers to Oregon began agricultural endeavors soon after their arrival raising grain, fruit, and vegetable crops as well as livestock.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture was created by an act of the 1931 Legislature (OL 1931, Chapter 136) in order to merge the 17 scattered boards and commissions serving the agriculture industry. Supervision and coordination of all agricultural law enforcement was placed in the hands of a Director of Agriculture appointed by the Governor. Policy formulation was placed with the seven member (now ten member) Board of Agriculture with the Director serving as an ex-officio member.

The Department was initially organized into 6 Divisions (Administration, Plant Industry, Animal Industry, Food and Dairy, Market Enforcement, and Grain Inspection) which later split into the present 10 Divisions. With the approval of the Governor, the Director appointed Administrators for the Divisions.

During the first decade of operation, the Department revised its jurisdictional district plan, centralized licensing, merged the Market Enforcement Division with Plant Industries, and merged the Weights and Measures Division with Food and Dairy.

The years between 1935 and 1950 also saw growth and increased definition in the Department's responsibilities in consumer product arena and the creation of commodity commissions to better market Oregon's products to local and national consumers. The 1941 Oregon Food Act (later significantly amended in 1956) was responsible for regulating and controlling food products intended for human consumption. Food labeling, sanitation standards and the Department's role in inspection and the issuance of penalties were defined for the first time (OL 1941, Chapter 326).

The early commodity commissions were the Oregon Dairy Products Commission (1943), the Wheat Commission (1947), and the Potato Commission (1949). Other commissions would be added at the rate of two or three a decade representing an increasing number of the major production crops in Oregon, including grasses, berries, and fruit.

In 1955 a new division, the Market Development Division, was created (OL 1955, Chapter 572). This division was responsible for developing a market for Oregon farm and food products both in state and in out of state markets.

Early efforts of trying to identify and control animal and plant disease were seen in 1957 when virus-free nursery stock, and brucellosis eradication projects began. These projects were undertaken to preserve the integrity of Oregon commodities and to better enable marketing of the commodities outside of Oregon.

In 1961 the Director assumed direct supervision over the grain inspection and agricultural development divisions and two assistant directors were appointed. One assistant director supervised the management of divisions related to consumer and trade services and the other assistant director had responsibility for livestock related divisions. By 1967, another assistant director was hired to oversee the administrative services division.

In 1969, the County Fair Commission was established (OL 1969, Chapter 298) and charged with evaluating each of Oregon's thirty-six county fairs under a merit-rating program. Based on that rating, the Commission disburses a portion of the state's share of funds from the County Fair Account to each fair.

The 1970's saw significant growth of commodity commissions, including the first commission addressing a crop not grown on land: the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission (1977). 1977 also brought the creation of the State Fair Advisory Committee (OL 1977, Chapter 55). The first Oregon State Fair was held in 1861 near Oregon City but 1977 marked the first year the Department of Agriculture had a formalized role in the State Fair as an oversight entity to the State Fairgrounds in Salem.

In 1981 the Soil and Water Conservation Division was created (OL 1981, Chapter 92) and later became the Natural Resources Division in 1989. Animal Health and Livestock Identification Divisions merged in the late 1980's as well.

The Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission (ORBC) was also established in 1981. At that time the commission was called the Oregon Caneberry Commission. After years of struggling with public confusion over the term caneberry, the commission changed its name in 1992. Caneberries are berries that grow on a cane, such as raspberries, blackberries, marionberries, and boysenberries.

1984 realized the creation of the Wine Advisory Board (OL 1983, Chapter 651) to assist in the marketing and research efforts for Oregon's growing wine industry. In the 1950's and 1960's the first Oregon vineyards were established. Since that time the reputation of Oregon wines has grown so meteorically that the state now has 120 bonded wineries and over 7,500 acres of wine grapes.

The mid 1980's marked the beginnings of a hallmark time for Oregon producers who wanted to ship agricultural products to the Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese markets. The Department's Export Service Center (ESC) Laboratory began receiving certification by the nations to operate as a customs laboratory. Such certification was very rare and due to the stringent standards that had to be met, Oregon products with ESC certification were now able to pass through customs directly to the purchaser with greater ease.

In 1993 Senate Bill 1010 (OL 1993, Chapter 567) designated the Department of Agriculture (ODA) to be the lead state agency working with agriculture to address non point source water pollution. SB 1010 was a response to the federal Clean Water Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, and other natural resource conservation mandates including listings of plants and animals under the federal Endangered Species Act. 1993 also brought the Shellfish Inspection program to the Department of Agriculture Food Safety Division from the Department of Human Resources Health Division.

1996 was the year that motor fuel octane testing was introduced by the Measurements and Standards Division to ensure that consumers are getting the correct octane levels at the gas pump. This function was added as a result of Senate Bill 414 (OL 1996, Chapter 310) that established standards for motor fuel quality.

Winter 1996 brought severe flooding in areas of Western Oregon with Salem being no exception. In February 1996 Mill Creek flooded the Department of Agriculture building. Eight feet of floodwater destroyed the offices and many records that were in the basement of the building. The Department of Agriculture moved into a renovated building at the same location in October of 1998.

In 1997 the Pesticides Division was created. The pesticide area had formerly been a program area within the Plant Division.

Delta On to current organization

State Archives • 800 Summer St. NE • Salem, OR 97310

Phone: 503-373-0701 • Fax: 503-378-4118 • reference.archives@state.or.us