What’s behind the vast and growing gap between voter opinion and the actions of those they elect?
The latest Gallup poll shows farming is the most respected profession and the federal government the least. The pandemic is credited with increasing the nation’s appreciation for farmers and the food industry with agriculture jumping 58% and 17 points. 69% of respondents had positive impressions of farmers, 19% neutral and 11% negative.
So, why are elected leaders and the agency officials they appoint taking such harmful actions against farmers? If their voters love farmers, why do these leaders express such animosity through their actions?
Maybe in Washington state farmers are particularly plagued by harmful local, state and judicial action. But the federal government also jumps in. Maybe in the red heart of the nation, farmers don’t face the kind of policy and court decisions that are accelerating here.
Here are a few recent examples:
- The Washington State Department of Ecology director appointed by Governor Jay Inslee is taking water rights holders to court in one of the last remaining farming areas in Puget Sound. Because the Nooksack river that serves this area does not have storage needed to replenish water in the river during the hot summers, farmers will have their water supply cut off just when it is needed most. This is known and understood by Ecology’s director but leaders insist on moving forward in suing current water rights holders.
- The Washington State Supreme Court ruled in November that the state law that exempted farm workers from overtime was unconstitutional. They took aim at farmers but badly hurt farm workers instead. This leaves already strapped farmers with having to do with fewer employees or shifting employees among neighboring farms. Farm workers will lose needed income or have to take on two jobs to survive. Some on the court want it to be retroactive which would bankrupt a great many farms.
- Washington state farmers already pay the highest wages to farm workers in the nation. Guest workers working for a season are paid well over the state’s high minimum wage and given competition for workers, most are paid well above that. But the state Department of Labor & Industries listens to union activists who want to stop the 22,000 guest workers who help harvest crops and who continually work to make hiring these workers more expensive. They add fees and redundant and pointless burdens. Larger farms are mechanizing as rapidly as possible and many smaller farms are selling out.
- The Department of Ecology issued a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permit that adds to the already very strict regulations applying to dairy farms. But, instead of defending the permit, it stands by with hands folded while an out of state attorney and a friendly federal judge wreak havoc on dairy farms, imposing impossible and unsupportable requirements through court orders and consent decrees.
- The EPA under the Obama administration created a science study to pin blame on dairy farms for pollution. Every expert who looked at it said it was false or falsified. The EPA failed to have it properly peer reviewed. When called on it, they changed the record, lied and covered up the failure. Trump appointees refused to stand up against long time staff behind the false science and coverup. Farmers have taken the issue to the Ninth Court and the EPA is responding by trying to keep the court from accessing damning documents uncovered under the Freedom of Information Act.
Americans are importing more food than ever. Now over 55% of fresh fruit and about 40% of fresh vegetables are grown on foreign farms. The impact on food borne illnesses is well documented by the CDC. Yet, our courts and legislators and administrators continually add more and more costs, regulations and demands. We are losing smaller and mid-sized farmers every day because these rising costs require ever greater efficiency. Such efficiency can only be achieved at scale.
This conversion to larger farms is exactly what critics of farming hate and what those they elect take action against. But, their actions do the opposite.
As it stands, the future is not bright for Washington’s family farmers. Farming is clearly not a left-right issue as everyone eats and as the survey shows, American’s appreciate and want American-grown food. The 39,000 remaining farms in our state and the $8 billion in farm product value is very much at risk. Why are our leaders not sitting up and paying attention?
The simple reason is they respond to what they think voters are thinking by what the media says. And, like the coastal states, our major media outlets never fail in reporting the claims and accusations of anti-farm activists. These feed the outrage that the media thrives on and farmers cannot get their day in the media courtroom.
Given the massive gap between voter opinion and elected action, we have to ask: where are the journalists? Why is this not a story worthy of the highest attention? How is it that voters and consumers express a view totally opposite to the actions of those they elect? How long will this go on?