Reference Toolbox – Vineyards Land Use
For more than five decades Oregon has maintained a strong policy to protect farmland. The policy was adopted by the state legislature in 1973. Oregon law establishes the following statewide policy for use of agricultural land:
- Open land used for agriculture is a vital natural and economic asset for all the people of the state;
- Preservation of a maximum amount of agricultural land, in large blocks, is necessary to maintain the agricultural economy of the state and for the assurance of adequate, healthful and nutritious food;
- Expansion of urban development in rural areas is a public concern because of the conflicts between farm and urban activities; and
- Incentives and privileges are justified to owners of land in exclusive farm use zones because such zoning substantially limits alternatives to the use of rural lands.
The main tool for carrying out this policy is the Statewide Planning Program. Oregon’s Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) sets standards for such planning. The cities and counties then apply them through local comprehensive plans and land-use ordinances. Under this system, all counties in Oregon have adopted planning and zoning measures to protect agricultural land. The program calls for counties to:
- Inventory agricultural land
- Designate it in the comprehensive plan
- Adopt policies to preserve it
- Zone it Exclusive Farm Use (EFU)
Exclusive Farm Use (EFU): Oregon’s land use program places major emphasis on maintaining commercial agriculture. EFU zoning limits development that could conflict with farming practices. It keeps farmland from being divided into parcels too small for commercial agriculture. Lands in these zones are automatically eligible for lower property taxes based on the land being farmed. All 36 counties in Oregon have applied EFU zoning to their agricultural land.
Mixed Farm-Forest (F-F): The purpose of the F-F Zone is to protect and maintain areas of mixed agricultural and forest land, including lands for farming, grazing and woodland use, consistent with existing and future needs for agricultural and forest products.
According to Oregon statute, no state agency, city, or county may enact local laws or ordinances, restrictions or regulations that would restrict or regulate farm structures or accepted farming practices because of noise, dust, odor, or other materials carried in the air, arising from farm operations in farm use zones, that do not extend into an adopted urban growth boundary, unless the practice affects the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the state.
A county governing body or its designate may require, as a condition of approval of a single-family dwelling, that the landowner of the dwelling sign a statement declaring that the landowner will not complain about accepted farming or forest practices on nearby lands devoted to farm or forest use. Farm operators may want to contact their county planning department regarding this option if nuisance complaints are increasing as a result of new single-family dwellings near EFU land.
Additionally, the 1993 Oregon Legislature passed “right to farm” provisions which protect acceptable farming practices from nuisance suits. Oregon’s Right to Farm Law contains two major protection components: immunity from private action and a prohibition against regulation by local governments.
An option for resolving nuisance complaints is through mediation. Contact the Oregon Department of Agriculture Farm Mediation Program to discuss this alternative. Mediation is a voluntary process involving a third-party mediator who facilitates discussions and seeks potential resolutions to the disputes of the parties. In certain cases the costs may be covered.
All rural landowners should contact their county planning department prior to siting or building any structure or starting any non-farm use activity. Non-farm uses require prior approval by the respective county. Fines may be levied by the county if prior approval is not obtained.
Certain non-farm uses may be allowed, and their approval standards are incorporated into local zoning regulations; additional approval standards may apply to high value farmland. Technical variations exist between counties, so contact your county planning department or Department of Land Conservation and Development for details.
The following types of non-farm uses are generally allowed in exclusive farm use zones:
- Public or private schools
- Forest product propagation & harvesting
- Dwelling for farm use
- Farm buildings
- Farm stands
- Mineral exploration & mining
- Farm-worker housing
- Land based application of reclaimed water for farm use
- Playgrounds or campgrounds
- Dog kennels
- Bed & breakfast (5 guest limit) in existing residences
- Commercial activities in conjunction with farm use
- Churches and cemeteries
- Utility service
- Geothermal exploration/production
- Community centers
- Siting for solid waste disposal
- Creation/restoration of wetlands
- Hunting & fishing preserves
- Golf courses
- Small scale crop processing facility
Oregon’s EFU zoning laws provide for several types of new dwellings. The main types are replacement dwellings for dwellings that are removed, “non-farm dwellings” on less productive parts of farms and ranches and “farm dwellings” for owners and operators of commercial farms and ranches. There are now seven different ways for dwellings to be approved in EFU zones:
- As a primary dwelling for the farm operator
- As an accessory dwelling for a relative of the farmer who will live on the farm and help operate it
- As an accessory dwelling for farm help not related to the operator
- As a "non-farm dwelling"
- On "lots-of-record" owned before 1985
- Temporarily, during a medical hardship of a family member
- To replace an existing dwelling
Links to Oregon County Contacts
In 1972, the federal Clean Water Act was passed to clean up water pollution from human activities such as forestry, factories, wastewater treatment plants, and agricultural runoff. Oregon’s Agricultural Water Quality Management Act (Act) was passed in 1993, with the input and support of the agricultural industry and the Oregon Board of Agriculture, to help farmers and ranchers address water pollution. This legislation is the foundation of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s (ODA) Agricultural Water Quality Management Program. The Act directed ODA to assist the industry in preventing and controlling pollution from agricultural sources.
Working in partnership with Oregon’s 45 local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs), ODA identified 38 watershed-based Agricultural Water Quality Management Areas (Management Areas) throughout the state. ODA Water Quality Specialists work with farmers, ranchers, community leaders, and other stakeholders who serve as Local Advisory Committee (LAC) members for each Management Area. Each LAC identifies local agricultural water quality problems and opportunities for improvement. The 38 resulting Agricultural Water Quality Management Area Plans address agricultural water quality issues in Oregon. As the LACs helped create the plans, they also helped write Area Rules (regulations) for that Management Area. The regulations ensure that all landowners do their part to prevent and control water pollution.
Vineyard operations often involve the storage and use of petroleum products and chemicals. Wash-water containing chemicals from farm equipment, including sprayers, may be regulated.
Technical assistance is available at no charge from local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, watershed councils, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Oregon State University Extension, and ODA. In some cases, funds are available through grants and programs that deal specifically with water quality issues. Often, implementing management alternatives helps the environment and also makes operations more productive and profitable.
When planning a vineyard, it is critical to be aware of the timing, amount, and frequency of precipitation events. Elevation and slope exposure are the most important determinants of precipitation totals. Its important to plan for intense precipitation events since non-vegetated hillsides will result in excessive and costly erosion, and potential law violations. Knowledge of soil types in Oregon’s wine country is also critical for designing effective erosion control measures, particularly when those soils are exposed or disturbed during vineyard development.
When designing a vineyard layout that minimizes erosion and protects streams, consider these management ideas:
- Construct roads to specified engineering standards. Include culverts, rocked or grassed roads, and grassed or lined drainage ways.
- Create stream set backs that filter soil and nutrients in overland flow.
- Install straw mulch contour strips, wattles and bales.
- Establish a cover crop between rows and on uncropped areas.
- Create properly sized sediment basins and other water control structures.
- Prepare soil pits to evaluate the permeability characteristics of the soil.
- Deep ripping is often unnecessary in Oregon. If the need is clear, rip no deeper than 36 inches, and rip cross-slope and not up and down slope.
- Install drainage tile if evaluations indicate that excessive water accumulates in the soil profile.
- Implement soil erosion prevention practices by October 1.
The Forest Practices Act (FPA) requires notification to the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) when trees are harvested for any non-forest use, including for vineyard development. Soil erosion must be controlled and Riparian Management Areas must be protected to FPA standards. The FPA requires a notification be filed before beginning any forest operation and the notification must be submitted at least 15 days before starting the operation. Visit ODF's electronic notification system.
Wetlands provide beneficial functions in a number of ways. They provide essential habitat to many species of migratory and resident birds, reptiles and amphibians, fish, insects and plants. Wetlands also store flood waters and filter pollutants. By protecting wetlands, we are protecting our health and welfare from flood damage and improving water quality.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, by 1984 over half of all the wetlands in the U.S. had been drained or filled for development or agriculture. Congress responded to these alarming figures by passing two critical wetland conservation and restoration programs administered by NRCS to slow or reverse these alarming trends. These two programs are the Wetland Conservation Provisions (WC), which was authorized in the 1985 Farm Bill, and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), which was later authorized in the 1990 Farm Bill. Through these two programs, USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) works with farmers and ranchers to maintain or increase important wetland benefits, while ensuring their ability to continue to produce food and fiber. Today, natural wetlands are still being lost, but at a much slower rate than in the past. And those that are lost are compensated for through the development of other wetlands, a process called wetland mitigation.
This Wetlands in Oregon Fact Sheet provides an overview of how to identify wetlands and what to consider when hiring a wetland consultant.
Grading may trigger permitting requirements if the development would impact waters of the state or the U.S or if the area of grading is one acre or more. There also may be development setback requirements if the property is subject to an environmental overlay zone (i.e., stream corridor protection zone). Oregon’s removal-fill law requires people who plan to remove or fill material in waters of the state to obtain a permit from the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL). “Waters of the state” include wetlands on private and public land. Consult DSL's Removal-Fill Brochure, Removal-Fill Guide (RFG), and access forms and other resources on the DSL website.
To restore, protect, and enhance wetlands on private property which provide habitat for diverse wildlife and plant species, including those that are endangered and threatened, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife can help forest landowners obtain incentives through the federal Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.
If you are developing vineyards in western Oregon, you likely have oak woodlands and riparian habitats on your property. Both of these habitats are of critical concern and support a diversity of wildlife. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) can conduct a site visit, preferably during the vineyard visioning stage, to help you develop a wildlife conservation strategy.
Watch this presentation from Matt Shinderman of OSU Cascades from the 2015 LIVE Annual Meeting about building more ecologically functional farm systems.
Learn more about the voluntary Oak Accord.
An American Viticultural Area (AVA) is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Explore the AVAs below to find out what makes each growing region in Oregon special.
- Applegate Valley - Applegate Valley is a sub-appellation of the larger Rogue Valley AVA in Southern Oregon. It stretches 50 miles north from the California border to the Rogue River just west of Grants Pass.
- Chehalem Mountains - Chehalem Mountains is a sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley AVA. This viticultural area is 19 miles southwest of Portland and 45 miles east of the Pacific Ocean.
- Columbia Gorge - Just 60 miles east of Portland, the Columbia Gorge Wine region lies in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge, a dramatic river corridor that straddles the Columbia River for 15 miles into both Oregon and Washington.
- Columbia Valley - The Columbia Valley AVA is a very large growing region with 11 million acres of land in total.
- Dundee Hills - Dundee Hills is a sub-appellation within the Willamette Valley located 28 miles southwest of Portland and 40 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.
- Elkton Oregon - The Elkton Oregon AVA in located in Douglas County, Oregon. It is situated 33 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the west.
- Eola-Amity Hills - Eola-Amity Hills is a sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley AVA located just west-northwest of Salem, Oregon’s state capital.
- Laurelwood District - (info coming soon)
- Lower Long Tom - Located in Lane and Benton counties, Lower Long Tom is characterized by a chain of rolling hills separated by east-to-west valleys, cut by the tributaries of the region’s namesake, the Long Tom River.
- McMinnville - McMinnville is a sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley AVA that sits just west of the city of McMinnville, approximately 40 miles southwest of Portland.
- Mount Pisgah - The mountain was formed 65 million years ago as a sea floor volcano and is defined by elevation around the peak.
- Red Hills Douglas County - Red Hills Douglas County is a sub-appellation of the Umpqua Valley AVA near the small town of Yoncalla, which lies about 30 miles north of Roseburg and parallels Interstate 5.
- Ribbon Ridge - Ribbon Ridge is a sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley AVA that is contained within the larger Chehalem Mountains AVA.
- The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater - The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater is situated in the Walla Walla Valley in northeastern Oregon 25 miles northeast of Pendleton, OR and 5 miles south of Walla Walla, WA.
- Rogue Valley - The Rogue Valley AVA is the southernmost winegrowing region in Oregon.
- Snake River Valley - The Snake River Valley is an AVA that spans from Southeastern Oregon into Southwestern Idaho. The total area is approximately 8,000 square miles.
- Southern Oregon - The Southern Oregon AVA exists in the southwest portion of the state and encompasses Umpqua Valley, Rogue Valley, Red Hill Douglas County, and Applegate Valley appellations.
- Tualatin Hills - (info coming soon)
- Umpqua Valley - The Umpqua Valley AVA sits between the Coast Range to the west and the Cascade Range to the east, with the Willamette Valley AVA to the north and the Rogue Valley AVA to the south.
- Van Duzer Corridor - The Van Duzer Corridor AVA is contained within the Willamette Valley AVA and is located approximately 50 miles (80 km) southwest of Portland and 40 miles (64 km) east of the Pacific Ocean.
- Walla Walla Valley - The Walla Walla Valley is hemmed in by the Blue Mountains to the southeast, the Palouse to the north, and the Columbia River westward.
- Willamette Valley - The Willamette Valley is 150 miles long and up to 60 miles wide making it Oregon’s largest AVA.
- Yamhill-Carlton District - Yamhill-Carlton is a sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley AVA. Located 35 miles southwest of Portland and 40 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, the area includes the towns of Carlton and Yamhill.
For more information on each of these AVAs, please visit the Oregon Wine Board's Explore Oregon's AVAs page.
The National Organic Program is a regulatory program housed within the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. The USDA is responsible for developing national standards for organically produced agricultural products. The USDA provides organic certification cost share opportunities for organic producers and handlers. Beginning March 20, 2017, organic producers and handlers can contact USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices to apply for federal reimbursement to assist with the cost of receiving and maintaining organic or transitional certification.
Certifiers are responsible for making sure that USDA organic products meet all organic standards. There are five basic steps to organic certification:
- The farm or business adopts organic practices, selects a USDA-accredited certifying agent, and submits an application and fees to the certifying agent.
- The certifying agent reviews the application to verify that practices comply with USDA organic regulations.
- An inspector conducts an on-site inspection of the applicant’s operation.
- The certifying agent reviews the application and the inspector’s report to determine if the applicant complies with the USDA organic regulations.
- The certifying agent issues organic certificate.
Demeter USA is the only certifier for Biodynamic farms and products in America. It is part of a world-wide organization, Demeter International, that was first formed in 1928 and named for the Greek goddess of agriculture, to advocate for Biodynamic agriculture and to certify Biodynamic farms. Demeter remains the oldest ecological certification organization in the world, active in fifty countries around the globe. While all of the organic requirements for certification under the National Organic Program are required for Biodynamic certification, the Demeter standard is much more extensive, with stricter requirements around imported fertility, greater emphasis on on-farm solutions for disease, pest, and weed control, and in-depth specifications around water conservation and biodiversity.
The Demeter Biodynamic Farm Standard is a comprehensive organic farming method that requires the creation and management of a closed system minimally dependent on imported materials, and instead meets its needs from the living dynamics of the farm itself. Please find more information here.
Low Impact Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) supports environmentally and socially responsible winegrowing through third-party certification and education. Its roots are in the Pacific Northwest and its standard is internationally accredited. Each year, LIVE members complete a checklist of practices and a set of reporting documents. This annual process enables third-party inspectors to verify that sustainability goals are being met. Salmon-Safe requirements are embedded in LIVE certification standards. Learn more about the LIVE program here.
There’s more than one way for vineyard operators to receive Salmon-Safe certification for pioneering viticulture practices. Salmon-Safe’s Oregon and Washington vineyard certification program is operated in partnership with Low Impact Viticulture and Enology (LIVE). Organic vineyards seeking Salmon-Safe certification are certified by Oregon Tilth, the leading West Coast certifier of organic farms. Oregon Tilth offers Salmon-Safe inspection as an optional water quality and habitat overlay to during routine organic inspection. To find out more, visit Salmonsafe.org.
Regenerative Organic Certified® is a certification for food, fiber, and personal care ingredients that represents the highest standard for organic agriculture in the world, with stringent requirements for soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness.
Regenerative Organic Certified® uses the USDA Certified Organic standard as a baseline. From there, it adds important criteria and benchmarks that incorporate the three major pillars of regenerative organic agriculture into one certification.
Regenerative Organic Certified® is overseen by us, the nonprofit Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA). The ROA is a group of experts in farming, ranching, soil health, animal welfare, and farmer and worker fairness.
Irrigation may be required for vineyard operations depending on the geographic location of the property and the age of the vines. Young vines typically need irrigation water to get established. Drip irrigation systems are common throughout many areas of the state. In order to irrigate a vineyard using surface or groundwater, a water right must be obtained from the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD). Water rights may not be available if the property is located within a designated critical groundwater area or groundwater restricted area. It is important to investigate the availability of water rights when looking to purchase a vineyard property.
Under Oregon law, all water is publicly owned. With some exceptions, cities, irrigators, businesses, and other water users must obtain a permit or license from the OWRD to use water from any source, whether it is underground, or from lakes or streams. Generally speaking, landowners with water flowing past, through, or under their property do not automatically have the right to use that water without authorization from OWRD.
Oregon's water laws operate under four fundamental provisions:
Beneficial purpose without waste: Surface or groundwater may be legally diverted for use only if it is used for a beneficial purpose without waste.
Priority: The water right priority date determines who gets water in a time of shortage. The more senior the water right, the longer water is available in a time of shortage.
Appurtenancy: Generally, a water right is attached to the land described in the right, as long as the water is used. If the land is sold, the water right goes with the land to the new owner.
Must be used: Once established, a water right must be used as provided in the right at least once every five years. With some exceptions established in law, after five consecutive years of non-use, the right is considered forfeited and is subject to cancellation.
With some exceptions, a water right, permit, or license is required to use the waters of Oregon. Most water rights are obtained in a three-step process. The applicant first must apply to the OWRD for a permit to use water. Once a permit is granted, the applicant must construct a water system and begin using water. After water is applied, the permit holder must hire a certified water right examiner to complete a survey of water use and submit to the OWRD a map and a report detailing how and where water has been applied. If water has been used according to the provisions of the permit, a water right certificate is issued after evaluation of the report findings. In most areas of the state, surface water is no longer available for new uses in summer months. Groundwater supplies are also limited in some areas. Allocation of new uses of water is done carefully to preserve the investments already made in the state, whether in cities, farms, factories, or improvement of fish habitat.
Water rights are not automatically granted. Opportunities are provided for other water right holders and the public to protest the issuance of a permit. Water users can assert that a new permit may injure or interfere with their water use, and the public can claim that issuing a new permit may be detrimental to the public interest. This provides protection for both existing water users and public resources.
When applying to OWRD, you may need help from a Certified Water Right Examiner. This individual is certified to collect and report data and conduct surveys. Find one in your area here.