A young woman from La Grande posted a message on Twitter, seeming astonished to see farm equipment in town this week for the Hermiston Farm Fair and Trade Show.

“(W)hy are there a bunch of tractors in the middle of (H)ermiston”? she asked.

Hermiston is growing increasingly urban, serving as a retail and service center for surrounding communities. But make no mistake, this is still farm country.

If you look at a satellite photo of this area you can easily see the urban area is surrounded by farm land and mostly irrigated circles. Yes, this is still farm country — some of the most important farm land in Oregon.

Umatilla and Morrow counties have ranked No. 2 and 3 in agriculture sales in the state for the last two years, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture and figures from Oregon State University. Our two counties accounted for $714 million of the $4.1 billion in farmgate value in the state in 2009. That’s more than 17 percent of Oregon’s agriculture production from two of the state’s 36 counties. Farm production values were down in 2009, but less so here than in the top-ranked farm county, Marion County. Marion County’s crop production, which relies heavily on the grass seed and nursery industries, has been particularly hard hit by the declines in the nation’s housing industry.

We agree with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who said this week that “America’s farmers and ranchers are helping to lead the country’s economic recovery.” The same thing could be said for the economy of Eastern Oregon, and Umatilla and Morrow counties in particular.

Vilsack’s comments came with the release of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2010 Farm Sector Income Forecast.

This has been a bounce-back year for many farmers and ranchers, who are seeing better prices for their wheat, cattle, dairy products and potatoes and other crops. The national forecast is good news for our community, because so much of our economy is based on the farm products that are grown, processed and shipped from our area.

We take pride in the greater-Hermiston area of our famous watermelons, but we also know that it is potatoes, alfalfa, onions, cattle, dairy, wheat, mint and a host of other agriculture products that fuel much of our regional economic engine. The value of those farm products, which provide income for farm families an employees, is further enhanced by jobs in food processing in our area. Dollars also flow to equipment dealers, parts stores, auto dealers, restaurants and all businesses in our community.

“The dedication of our farmers and ranchers is second to none,” Vilsack said. “They have worked hard keep their debt low and to capitalize on a broader economic recovery. And their willingness to adapt, innovate and embrace new research and technologies has ensured their success for decades and ensures they will remain resilient in the years to come.”

It may have looked strange to visitors and recent newcomers to our community to see farm equipment sitting out in front of the Hermiston Conference Center this week for the 37th annual Hermiston Farm Fair and Trade Show. But it really was just a reminder of the foundation our economy continues to build upon.

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