Buffers are a great idea. Protected riparian zones solve a number of problems salmon and other fish face. Farmers have supported these buffers in farm country for many years, helping plant over 6 million trees and bushes on over 1000 miles of Washington streams. That’s enough to go from Olympia to Los Angeles. Governor Inslee killed a bi-partisan bill approved by tribal and farm leaders that would support a major expansion of buffers across the state and move salmon protection forward. Why? Because he says only extremely large buffers will help salmon. Science studies show that most benefit of buffers is within the first 30 feet. But our Governor says we have to take farm away from farmers, destroying many if not most smaller farmers and forcing them to sell what land remains to the largest farms or to developers.
Water Rights and Water Use
Farmers can’t grow food without land and without water. Not content to take farmland away, Governor Inslee’s Department of Ecology Director is suing water rights holders. Today, two areas are involved, but the Department promises to take this legal action across the state. Settlements through negotiations have proven the best way to resolve water rights issues and the state knows this. That’s because their 40 plus year long lawsuit in the Yakima river only ended by a negotiated settlement. Now they want to do this to water rights holders across the state despite knowing full well that a most likely outcome will be the loss of water access to most if not all farmers in the affected areas.
Beyond suing for water rights, the Department of Ecology is making using water to grow food more and more difficult. Farmers involved in trying to transfer their rights from one field to another find they have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on consultants. Huge fines are assessed even on farmers trying to work constructively with Ecology on resolving water use issues. The message is clear. Farmers know in this state they can’t count on Ecology to help them grow food. Just the opposite.
Farmers need workers and farm workers need these jobs so important to their families. Yet, some state leaders destroy jobs and force farmers to look for work in other states. How? By adding ever more costs to hiring workers. Overtime for farm employees sounds great, yet the reality is farm workers want to set their own schedule. A recent Stanford survey shows that overwhelmingly farm workers want to work 50 hours or more a week during the harvest season. Their families depend on it. Because of overtime more farm workers are choosing to work in other states than Washington, making it harder than ever to find good workers to harvest our valuable crops.
Dikes and Drainage Infrastructure
In Western Washington, much of the land now producing food was often very wet and flooded. Farmers beginning the late 1800s began building dikes and drainage ditches. These have to be maintained. Failing dikes flood the land and are a major risk to life and property. Drainage ditches also need maintenance. But many in our state leadership turn their back on pleas to help farmers maintain this vital infrastructure.
Fish Project Liability
Farmers have long voluntarily participated in fish recovery projects. These are often managed and constructed by non-profit organizations. However, some projects have failed through poorly designed work. Instead of holding those responsible accountable for these failures, some of our leaders want to shift that burden to landowners. Will farmers be inclined to eagerly participate in fish recovery when they are held liable for the failure of others to properly construct and maintain these?
Fuel Taxes aka carbon credits
Governor Inslee and other state leaders prefer to call the fuel tax a carbon credit. That’s fine, but the legislature specifically exempted farms from pay this new fuel tax. This exemption applied to farm equipment like tractors but also transportation of farm goods like milk and brussel sprouts. But the Department of Ecology delayed until very late to put a process in place to make this exemption real. As it stands, there is confusion, uncertainty and an expensive new accounting requirement.
In the 1980s a herd of elk were imported into Skagit County. They were supposed to be delivered far up into the mountainous area surrounding the Skagit river valley. Instead, they were dropped on the valley floor among people, schools, traffic and farms. These elk have flourished eating the farmers’ crops. They pose a great danger to school children, highway travelers and residents. The foot disease infecting the herd represents a further risk to farmers with animals. They have caused well over a million dollars in damage to farms and crops. But the Department of Fish and Wildlife steadfastly refuses to reduce the herd.
Agency heads report to the Governor and many repeatedly reflect the Governor’s anti-farm perspective. This gets translated into excessive and unnecessary bureaucratic demands on nearly every aspect of farming. For example, farm workers have the most extensive protections of any employees. Farms must make certain workers take rest and meal breaks at very specific times. One farm was fined $149,000 by the Department of Labor & Industries for being late on several rest and meal breaks, most by just a few minutes.
Seattle City Light’s Land Grab
Seattle touts its green credentials including its power utility, Seattle City Light. But the utility has never provided fish passage at its dams on the Skagit river. Now the City wants to purchase many acres of Skagit farmland to mitigate this failure. There are better ways than removing some of the best farmland in the nation and some of the remaining farms in the Puget Sound region.
Farming, the Environment and Fish Recovery
Salmon protection and recovery are one of the most urgent public issues in our state and farmers have been leaders in fish recovery efforts. Farms themselves are a primary buffer against the greatest problem salmon face: urbanization. Farmland provides essential wildlife habitat, as anyone who has traveled to Skagit county to observe the hundreds of thousands of migrating snowbirds and thousands of swans. Streams in farming areas have far more protection for salmon than urban streams, despite the fact that urban streams delivery the most harmful pollution to salmon. This is why the Puget Sound Partnership prioritizes saving farms and farmland. And it is why the actions of our Governor and many state leaders to harm and even destroy farms is so illogical and counterproductive.
Adding Costs without Adding Higher Prices
Our Governor and some state leaders have the power to significantly add to the costs and burdens of farming in our state. They do this regularly as this document shows. They do not have the power to add to the income to offset those costs. Farmers, unlike other businesses, cannot simply pass on costs to consumers as the prices are set by others and competition from around the nation and globe determines those prices. So, what is a farmer to do? The costs keep going up, the income from what is produced does not. That’s why farms get bigger and bigger – or simply sell and farmers turn to other ways to make a living. That is what is happening. Farms in our state and nation keep getting bigger because through sheer volume they can more easily absorb the higher costs. But, at some point, they too will succumb to foreign competition where costs are much, much lower.
Is this what voters want? Now we get over half our fresh fruit and nearly half our fresh vegetables from foreign farms. That is increasing all the time. Food security and local food production are major concerns for those living in our cities. But they may not be aware of how the elected leaders, even those they vote for and support, are enacting laws and policies that are doing the opposite of what voters want.