|AFT in the Pacific Northwest > Environmental Projects in the Pacific Northwest
The farm products marketplace is global and highly competitive, so marginal increases in the cost of doing business can have catastrophic impacts on the economic viability of a farm.
Not surprisingly, the response to environmental issues affecting agriculture reflects a constant policy stress between regulation and incentives. Public funding for environmental incentives for farm landowners rests on the confidence of legislators that incentives programs are strategic in addressing real problems and a cost effective way to spend the public’s money.
In 2007 and 2008, we undertook a thorough analysis of Washington conservation incentives programs, private and public and at all levels of government. We assessed their strengths and weaknesses, assembled the top leaders, experts, and program managers in concentrated focus group discussions of the issues, interviewed key leaders, completed a survey of the agriculture industry, and consulted in detail with the three groups most concerned: the agency personnel who fund and administer the programs, the professional conservation technical assistance providers who work with landowners and help them use incentives programs, and the farm and forest landowners who ultimately are expected to take advantage of them.
Our final report made some 29 specific recommendations, several of which have either already been implemented or are currently in the process of implementation.
In the 2008 Washington Legislative Session, AFT proposed, built the coalition in support, and then lobbied through to passage a bill that called for (and funded) a feasibility study of ecosystem services markets for agriculture (the Conservation Markets Bill – SB 6805). We created an historic coalition in support of this first-in-the-nation legislation that included the core of both the mainstream commercial agriculture industry (e.g. Farm Bureau, Cattlemen, Dairy Federation, Farm Forestry Association, etc.) and the mainstream environmental community (e.g. Environmental Council, Nature Conservancy, Cascade Land Conservancy, Audubon, etc.).
Then a project team including AFT won the government contract and completed (in early 2009) the feasibility study which concluded that these markets were likely to be quite workable, with a fair amount of development over the years ahead, and that they could be of considerable benefit for both the environment and for agriculture.
In November, 2008, AFT convened 38 of the top leaders in Washington and Oregon agriculture in Vancouver, WA, for a “Conservation Markets Workshop and Listening Session for Agriculture.” This event provided basic education on existing markets (carbon sequestration, water quality trading, wetland and aquatic resource mitigation, and wildlife habitat mitigation). And we facilitated a highly successful in-depth discussion by our agriculture leaders that drew on their experience to identify key issues and “must have” requirements if such markets are to work for agriculture.
The Summary of Proceedings is an excellent guide for how to successfully use the opportunities provided by agricultural lands in conservation market transactions and programs.
As a tool to inform the farm leader discussion at the conservation markets event, mentioned above, AFT researched, prepared, and distributed in advance a thorough discussion paper that identified issues and potential solutions for the concerns of agriculture about these markets. The paper included research on models for conservation market transactions and programs from all across the country in the areas of carbon sequestration, water quality trading, wetland and aquatic resource mitigation, and wildlife habitat conservation. It presented a comprehensive picture of how the agriculture industry, in particular, might interact with ecosystem markets and of how these markets can serve the needs of both agriculture and of the environment.
Building on the findings and recommendations of our State sponsored feasibility study, on the guidance of the agriculture community at our Conservation Markets Listening Session, and on the insights gained through our Strengthening Conservation Incentives process, AFT is now fully engaged in a multi-year effort to: 1) Initiate local pilot ecosystem markets projects; 2) Improve and clarify regulatory policy; 3) Engage the involvement of market demand institutions; 4) Engage the involvement of the natural resource incentives agencies; and 5) Educate and involve key interest groups (specifically including agriculture and the environmental community. This project has already led to new interest and support for these markets, particularly within the Washington agriculture industry.
When Shared Strategy for Puget Sound was winding up its work on a Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan in 2005, its Executive Director, Jim Kramer, proposed the development of a salmon restoration grants program targeting farms and designed to help both the fish and the farm. AFT was asked to help design and develop the program and has participated in its administration since.
Today, the “Pioneers in Conservation” program is funded by the Washington State Conservation Commission and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Its grants both save salmon and help strengthen the farm business. As of June, 2009, we will have made some $1.7 million in grants to some 37 projects around Washington. Each project represents a concrete, on-the-ground demonstration of how saving farms saves salmon and saving salmon also saves farms.
One of the first projects AFT undertook when we opened our PNW office in 2000 was assembling and analyzing models, from all across the country, from which lessons can be learned about factors for success in public processes involving agriculture and environmental issues. Our report called “Dialogues with Agriculture: A review of Processes Engaging Farm Groups in Protecting the Environment by Protecting Farmland” was completed October 16, 2000 for the Washington Farming and the Environment Project. Its findings were subsequently used by them as a guide for several years of successful work designing policy solutions for agriculture’s environmental challenges.
Integrated pest management (IPM) in agriculture is the compilation of techniques for minimizing or entirely eliminating the use of dangerous pesticides in farming. IPM tends to be labor intensive. And it is complex. Large commercial operations typically have access to consultants. And the labor cost is diluted by large areas of crop production. For smaller, urban-edge farmers, however, while the need for IPM may be greater (by virtue of direct marketing, nearby neighbors, and other issues), their access to the technology is more limited. Properly applied, however, IPM can actually increase profitability. And it is certainly good for the environment.
Under grant with the Puget Sound Action Team and foundations, AFT collaborated with the WSU Small Farms Program to empower “do-it-yourself” IPM for small farmers, wrote a farmer-friendly handbook on how to get started, and provided a series of well-attended workshops for small farmers around the Puget Sound Basin. The upshot was the adoption of IPM by a good many farmers and an increase in its use on about 2,000 acres of land around Puget Sound.
With funding from Region 10 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the U.S. Food Quality Protection Act, we have for several years administered a grants program for projects in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho that implement IPM or advance IPM science or knowledge throughout the region. Funded projects have included pheromone interruption in the tree fruit industry, pesticide alternatives for red raspberries, green manure cover crops for potato blight, reduction in carrot rust fly infestation, organic pear production, precision weather tracking for reduced pesticide application, and many more. These projects are helping prepare the agriculture industry for scheduled removal of organophosphate pesticides, are saving the industry money, are helping to reduce risks to the public health, and are helping protect the environment.
In partnership with Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, WA, we co-sponsored a “Sustaining Change on the American Farm” art exhibit. Twelve respected farmers selected from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho agreed to work with twelve well-regarded artists selected by Maryhill Museum of Art in the production of 24 mixed media works of art to be displayed at Maryhill during their 2006 season. The art and the exhibits received rave reviews, both locally and nationally. And the farmers helped us educate this influential segment of the public on the complexity, the challenges, and the art of sustainable agriculture.