AFT in the Pacific Northwest > Keeping Agriculture Economically Viable in the Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the key Congressional Members on the Farm Bill. And our Northwest agriculture community is influential with their colleagues in the industry across the country. With co-sponsorship from key government agencies, agriculture industry, and other groups, we held a day-long conference in Moses Lake to encourage a discussion among farmers, environmentalists, and others on the issues and possibilities for the 2008 Farm Bill. This event engaged parties with widely diverse perspectives, in a constructive debate. This and other work helped enlist support from within agriculture. It set the stage for a far-reaching public education campaign. And, ultimately, it provided the foundation for our direct work with the Congressional Delegation both here in the Northwest, and nationally – including flying key agricultural producers in for meetings with Congressional Members in Washington DC and arranging local meetings for them also here in the Northwest.
One of the 2007 Washington Legislative successes was the inclusion of a $450,000 earmark in the appropriation for the Washington Department of Agriculture that called for an economic analysis of the status and future of our state’s agriculture industry. This became the Future of Farming study, completed early in 2009. We participated in an advisory capacity for the managers of this study and provided contract assistance on land loss statistics, on regulatory issues and opportunities, and in the development of a comprehensive guide to farmland protection programs currently available. We also led the focus group discussion on farmland protection issues conducted by the study group. Recommendations from this study now provide a comprehensive 20-year vision for the needs of the future of Washington agriculture.
When we first opened our PNW Office in 2000, one of our first goals was to elevate community interest and concern about farmland loss. In 2001, we convinced the County Executives of Pierce County and Snohomish County to convene and host forums in their communities that would assemble a discussion group of widely respected leaders from agriculture, the environment, and the urban communities to consider ways urban and rural interests coincide and to recommend actions that could improve the quality of life for both. These two successful and well-reported Farm-City Forums then led to follow up community processes and to creation of local committees to address specific issues identified by the forums. Among the extended impacts of both forums was heightened pressure for farmland protection and development of economic development strategic plans in both communities.
In 2004, the Pierce County Council passed Resolution R2004-105 which posed a series of questions concerning the future of local agriculture. We provided an initial response to these questions in a Phase I report entitled: “The Suitability, Viability, Needs, and Economic Future of Pierce County Agriculture.” Our report strongly recommended and subsequently led to the completion, by economic consultants Barney & Worth,” of a Phase II response entitled: “Preserving Farmland and Farmers – Pierce County Agriculture Strategic Plan.” This plan continues today to provide useful guidance for local agriculture in this community.
In 2003 we partnered with Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland, Skagit County WSU Extension, and the Economic Development Association of Skagit County to help with a farm community public process to develop a strategic plan for the economic future of agriculture. We completed an economic baseline assessment, prepared initial economic impact discussion materials and helped lead a discussion with a diverse and highly expert group of community members in or affected by agriculture. Based on our research and on the results of this discussion, we then prepared a report entitled: “Economic Impacts of Agriculture in Skagit County, WA.” This report identified both traditional economic impacts and also non-traditional impacts. And it included an effort to quantify both. The report was widely mentioned in the local press and helped the local agriculture industry muster public support for programs to preserve agriculture in Skagit County.
One of the issues that emerged in the public process for the Washington Future of Farming study was concern about the impact of environmental regulation on agriculture. We completed a short research paper designed to help inform the discussion of the “Regulatory Impacts” focus group and participated in the focus group discussion. Our paper highlighted ways to cope with environmental challenges in agriculture without needing to resort to direct environmental regulation which can be costly for agriculture.
As farms and farmlands disappear, the support businesses and institutions needed for agriculture also tend to disappear. Is there a “critical mass” of agriculture needed in a community if the supporting farm infrastructure is also to survive? What is the relationship between the number of active farms and amount of farmland and the suppliers, services, processors, and other needed agricultural support in a community? Working with the Oregon Farm Bureau and initially with Oregon State University and later with Portland State University, we helped lead two introductory studies on this topic that provide a rare starting point for inquiry into this important issue so important to policy judgments about farmland protection all across the country.
Over the past 9 years the PNW has been home to two winners of the prestigious national AFT Steward of the Land award. The 2002 winner was the Bailey Family of Orchard View Farms near The Dalles, Oregon. And in 2008, the award went to Nash Huber of Nash’s Organic Produce in Sequim, WA. The community activism, land protection, environmental leadership, and business success of these two farms serve as wonderful models for farmers all across the country. They also reflect well on all of us associated with agriculture in the Pacific Northwest.