Business Planning: Licenses and Regulations

Laws and regulations touch on almost every aspect of running a farm business.  Some regulations may require you to obtain a permit or license for certain activities. Some of the most common regulations and licenses that apply to small-scale farm businesses in Oregon. The information provided is based on the best information available, but you should check with the relevant regulatory agency for specific requirements for your farm operation. 

Environmental Quality  

As a farmer or rancher, one of your primary responsibilities is to be a good steward of the land and other natural resources. The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality manages a number of regulatory programs that focus on this stewardship role and your production practices.  

All farmers are expected to protect water quality, and various federal and state regulations cover both point- and non-point source activities. In Oregon, farmers must meet their area’s water quality requirements as set out by ODA Natural Resources—Ag Water Quality.  More information about Ag Water Quality Plans here. 

The following three practices, which can have significant negative effects on water quality if not properly managed, are typically overseen by state agencies and may require permits.  

  • Land application of wastewater- Except for very small producers, land application of wastewater may require a permit from Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Division. Wastewater can include dairy parlor wash water, wash water from other packing and processing operations, and field runoff that may contain pollutants like fertilizer unused by plants. 
  • On-Farm Composting- Rules usually apply to all types of source material, including plant materials, crop and processing residue, manure, and animal carcasses and meat waste from on-farm processing or other mortalities. The rules are intended to manage potential risks to water quality from composting operations. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is the agency in charge, and it has developed a scale- and risk-appropriate permitting system that is friendly toward smaller scale operations.  
  • Confined Animal Feeding Operation- In Oregon, farmers and ranchers with animal feeding operations on their property, even small ones, and especially those using liquid manure systems, may need a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permit from ODA’s CAFO program

Produce and Food Safety  

Federal food safety regulations for farmers, packers, processors, and handlers — mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act — are now in place and being implemented by the federal Food and Drug Administration in partnership with state agencies. These regulations are designed to prevent food-borne illness related to fresh produce. Most small farms will be at least partially exempt, but they must still meet some of the requirements, including keeping certain records, and they can lose those exemptions if linked to a food safety problem. For more on the Food Safety Modernization Act and how it applies to Oregon producers, Oregon Department of Agriculture provides information on their website. 

Selling and Processing Products 

If you are planning to sell fresh, raw or processed farm products there are several rules and licenses that may apply to your business available through Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Division.  

Exemptions: There are also several exemptions that may apply that do not require food safety licensing if you are selling on-farm and direct to consumers. A full list of exemptions is available at What Can I Do Without a License?  Some of the most common are:   

  • Fruit and vegetable stands located on a farmer's property are exempt if only selling produce grown by the farmer.  

  • Retail honey extractors who own their hives can have an unlimited number of hives if they only sell to the consumer.  

  • Egg producers who are selling and delivering their own eggs directly to an individual consumer are exempt from licensing, but labeling is required. Egg producers selling only ungraded eggs to a dealer are also exempt.   

  • Raw milk producers may have no more than two producing dairy cows (and no more than three cows total), nine producing sheep, or nine producing goats on the premises where the milk is produced. A license is not required. The farmer may advertise the product, but sales can only occur at the farm. Note: The fact that the state of Oregon allows residents to sell certain volumes of raw milk does not eliminate their liability if someone gets sick from drinking that milk. Selling cheese and other dairy products require licensing. 

Thanks to the work of many partners in Oregon, there are some other exemptions that allow some baked goods and value-added products to be prepared and sold without costly licenses. For more information about these prospects read about:  

Meat and Poultry: The regulations for meat and poultry processing is complicated. There are some exemptions based on the type, number, and/or processing of the livestock you are selling. In most cases if you are selling meat directly to your customers you will need an ODA Meat Sellers License.  The Meat and Poultry Processing Regulations guide and the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network provides more detail. 

Plants and Christmas Trees: You may need to obtain a nursery license if you are selling more than $250 of nursery stock per year or Christmas tree license if you have more than 1 acre.  More information and the definition of nursery stock is available through ODA. You do not need a license to sell cut flowers. 

Licensed Scales: If you want to price and sell your product by weight (for example, $5/lb for tomatoes) you will need a licensed scale. ODA’s Weights and Measures division is the state program that regulates scales so that customers pay for the amount of product they are receiving.  If you price your product by volume or container size (for example, $5 per pint of blueberries) a licensed scale is not required. 

Remember, even if your farm direct products do not require a license or inspection you still need to give mindful attention to product safety including: proper refrigeration, product handling and hand washing procedures, and sanitizing areas that come in contact with any food products, including fresh fruits and vegetables.  

Other Production Regulations 

In addition to environmental quality and food safety regulations, farmers and ranchers may need to address a variety of other regulations, depending on what they produce and the type of business. Examples include the following:    

  • Pesticide use- In most states, farmers need to obtain a pesticide applicator’s license in order to use certain pesticides on the land they manage. Usually this only pertains to Restricted Use Pesticides, but check with your county Extension office or Oregon Department of Agriculture to make sure. 
  • Air quality- Farmers may also be affected by air quality regulations that govern activities such as agricultural burning, emissions from livestock operations, or dust levels. 
  • Land use laws- County-level zoning and state land use laws may affect whether you can farm and what farming activities can take place on your farm. Counties also vary in their approach to permitting agricultural tourism.  
  • Agricultural labor- Farmers must also comply with regulations concerning worker health, well-being, and safety. Oregon Department of Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) is the local agency that regulates agricultural operations.  For more information, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has issued a number of regulations that pertain to agricultural operations. For more information, visit OSHA Safety and Health Topics: Agriculture Operations. Specific regulations have also been established for seasonal and migrant labor that address pay, workers’ rights, and housing. For more information visit the U.S. Department of Labor Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) website.