In Washington ag, politics, climate and inflation put pressure

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She’s less thrilled by the daunting challenges facing Washington agriculture in 2022. The state’s 35,300 farms and ranches collectively raise more than 300 products.

That, along with weather, water availability, fertilizer and fuel prices, supply chain challenges, access to shipping and rising labor costs are all in sharp focus this year.

“Farmers are optimists and realists. They see what is, but always hope for what can be,” said Lewison, who raises beans, field corn, alfalfa and teff, a high-protein, low-carb hay crop.

But she’s nothing if not hopeful in the spring.

Story Highlights

  • She’s thrilled by the sweet smell of freshly plowed fields, the green fuzz in the orchards, the newborn livestock.

  • Lewison, director of Washington Policy Center’s Initiative on Agriculture, which is based in the Tri-Cities, worries that the state Legislature has taken a “combative” stance toward agriculture.

Washington farms produced $9.6 billion in 2016, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, the most recent complete federal assessment of the value of agriculture. The census occurs every five years.

The Washington Farm Bureau calculates that farm production coupled with more than $20 billion in revenue related to food processing and manufacturing translates to 12% of the state’s economy.

The Washington Department of Commerce calls it the state’s second largest manufacturing sector behind aerospace. Lewison fears inflationary pressure on fuel and fertilizer costs coupled with increased regulation and particularly new overtime wages phasing in by 2024 will force some operators out of the industry.

“There’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “I think that we are at a point where the domino effect will occur with people making hard choices about things costing more and the dollar being worth less.” She sees a Legislature that is out of touch with agriculture. She’s particularly worried about the riparian buffer bill, which requires trees and protection zones along creeks and rivers.

She expects it to crop up in the 2023 session. The proposal notably exempts urban but not rural areas from the rules. “Just because we farm and live in a rural area doesn’t mean we should be the only people who bear the burden of saving fish or the environment,” she said. She called on voters to voice their support for farmers and ranchers.

Apples Nothing says “Grown in Washington” more than a shiny fresh apple. The $2.2 billion industry is easily the largest in Washington ag. For 2021 and now 2022, the story is mostly about weather.

Here are some of the highlights of what’s happening in Washington agriculture, as reported in this year’s edition of the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business’ Focus Agriculture + Viticulture magazine. Much about 2022 is still unknown, from weather to the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war.