Decades after lobbying for Oregon Farm Bureau, Greg Addington returns to lead it

One of Greg Addington’s first jobs out of college involved driving around the state talking with farmers and ranchers on behalf of the Oregon Farm Bureau. Now, nearly 30 years later, he’s returned to lead it. 

In November, Addington, 53, began his new job as executive director of the state’s largest agricultural advocacy and lobbying organization. He oversees an annual budget of nearly $3 million, 12 staff and 32 county farm bureaus representing all 36 counties in the state.

He takes over from former executive director Dave Dillon, who led the Farm Bureau for 20 years before leaving last summer to serve as president of Food Northwest, a regional food processors trade association. 

“Farm Bureau has always had a special place in my heart. It’s where I started, and cut my teeth,” said Addington, who is moving to Salem from Klamath Falls. “I don’t think I would have made this kind of move professionally or physically for any other organization.”

Oregon’s $5 billion agriculture industry is one of the state’s largest, with about 37,000 farms and ranches and 86,000 farmworkers. The farm bureau has 6,600 members, making it one of the prominent agriculture groups. 

The last thing anybody needs is a new guy coming in and just changing everything.

Greg Addington, executive director of the Oregon Farm Bureau

Addington intends during his first few months on the job to watch and listen. 

“The last thing anybody needs is a new guy coming in and just changing everything,” he said.

Addington has been involved with farm and ranch issues for the past couple decades as executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association and an independent consultant for farmers, ranchers, realtors and politicians. He also worked for minority leader of the Oregon House, Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville. Addington served as her chief of staff during the 2021 Legislative session. 

He is currently a member of the state’s Environmental Quality Commission, to the dismay of some environmentalists who say his work with farmers and ranchers conflicts with the role of the state’s top environmental regulatory body. 

Growing interest in agriculture

Addington grew up in Eagle Point, north of Medford, in the Rogue Valley. He didn’t come from a farming family, but grew up in a rural area with animals around because his dad was a veterinarian. He had great uncles who ranched in the Klamath Basin and their experiences helped develop in him an interest in the industry, he said. 

 The Rogue River Valley is famous for its pears. (Oregon Department of Agriculture)

“I spent a lot of time around those kinds of people in the ag community, farmers, ranchers, and just really, you know, people that made an impression on me as I grew up, and as I went off to college to figure out what I wanted to do,” he said.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics at the University of Idaho, and in 1996,  worked for the Farm Bureau as a field representative in southern Oregon. In that job, he visited the local farm bureaus in Oregon’s counties and served as a liaison between them and the Farm Bureau’s representatives and lobbyists in Salem. 

In 2002, the bureau hired Addington as a lobbyist in Salem. 

Water issues

In Salem and later in Klamath Falls, Addington honed his negotiating skills.

As the head of the Klamath Water Users Association, a nonprofit advocating for water access for farmers and ranchers, he tried to negotiate water-sharing agreements among  the state and federal government, ranchers, farmers and tribes. At stake for the tribes and environmentalists was the survival of endangered fish, ecosystems and traditional ways of life. Farmers and ranchers were concerned about their livelihoods, with livestock and crops needing increasing amounts of water. 

Though he did not secure a deal, his former colleague and his successor at the association, Paul Simmons, said Addington was instrumental in getting people with opposing viewpoints to communicate. In November, federal regulators approved the removal of four Klamath River dams, which will begin this summer. 

He’s one of the guys that stopped federal legislation to buy back water rights, to create permanent conservation easements on water, to retire commercial agriculture on watersheds.

Steve Pedery, conservation director of Oregon Wild

“The courage and leadership that he showed and his understanding of the importance of building and maintaining trust among other people is incredible,” Simmons said. 

Others who worked on the negotiations said Addington’s singular focus on getting farmers and ranchers a good deal meant many environmental measures were cut. Steve Pedery, conservation director at Oregon Wild, a nonprofit based in Portland that was involved in early iterations of the Klamath Agreements, said Addington is smart and effective at getting ranchers and farmers what they want at all costs. 

“He’s one of the guys that stopped federal legislation to buy back water rights, to create permanent conservation easements on water, to retire commercial agriculture on watersheds,” said Pedery. 

Oregon Wild’s interaction with Addington led to the group opposing his nomination in 2018 to the Environmental Quality Commission by Gov. Kate Brown. Oregon Wild and two other conservation groups asked the Oregon Senate not to confirm Addington. 

He has served on the commission two times for a total of three years, with a break in 2020 when he worked for Breese-Iverson. Breese-Iverson said she hired Addington because of his experience with water issues and in navigating tough negotiations. 

“He’s just a person with compassion, and I think it shows in his relationship building abilities,” she said. “That’s the thing that I think people will really resonate with as they get to know Greg around the state.”

He’s just a person with compassion, and I think it shows in his relationship building abilities. That’s the thing that I think people will really resonate with as they get to know Greg around the state.

– State Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville and House minority leaderPedery said he fears that Addington will put agriculture interests above environmental protection.

“You have a guy who is now head of the largest agribusiness group in the state, on a commission that is supposed to protect residents from those agribusinesses,” Pedery said. “He’s a walking conflict of interest.”

Addington said he doesn’t know whether he will stay on the commission. His term ends in June 2023, and he is eligible for reappointment. He has no legal obligation to step down, according to Stephanie Caldera, a spokesperson for the commission. He said he will recuse himself from any vote that poses a conflict of interest, but that does not mean he won’t vote on agriculture-related issues.

“I do think there’s real value in having a perspective like mine on that board to kind of raise some of these issues and provide a little bit of balance,” Addington said. “But I also don’t want to ever get sideways from a conflict standpoint.” 

Future of Farm Bureau

He’d like the bureau’s membership to grow and bring in more people who work with a broader range of commodities, such as timber. He also wants to work closely with legislators and state agencies crafting agriculture, natural resource and environmental policies.

“The regulatory environment in Oregon is so challenging. There’s just a disconnect,” he said. 

He’ll focus on lobbying the government to address some of the concerns farmers and ranchers expressed decades ago.

“I think the political moment will remain but issues are always going to be there. I think water, labor and focusing on the food supply and food security is something that I’m really interested in doing,” he said. 

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Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.