Vibrant ag economy benefits all communities

BY DAN NEWHOUSE DIRECTOR WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE March 28, 2010 

Washington continues to benefit from its well-earned reputation as one of the top agriculture states in the country. The state's farmers and ranchers produce nearly $8 billion in crops and livestock products annually and the Evergreen State leads the nation in many commodities.

While agriculture is facing challenges, including farmers' dependence on favorable prices and export markets, it is a diverse industry that provides a stabilizing force in Washington's economy.

Along with our state's diversified food processing industry and other affiliated businesses, the total impact of agriculture in Washington is close to $40 billion.

As a major component of our state's exports, the food and agriculture industry will help lead our economy out of this recession.

I'm optimistic about our ability to maintain our trading relationships at home and abroad. In November, Washington and Oregon joined forces to sponsor a trade mission to Taiwan, China and the Philippines. While these Asian markets are already some of our leading importers, we continue to educate new buyers about the variety and quality of our farm products. We will continue to promote our products as the economies in these foreign markets recover and begin growing again, allowing more consumers to enjoy our world-class foods. Washington needs these export markets to keep the agriculture industry healthy in the decades to come.

Here at home, Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature understand the important role that WSDA plays to protect and promote agriculture. Despite the grim budget cuts impacting state government, WSDA is committed to delivering the critical services needed by the agricultural community. We're mindful of our responsibility to our customers to find new efficiencies at WSDA, even as we maintain the quality of service that allows our growers to market their crops.

This year, the Legislature passed several measures that will enhance our ability to support the profitability of agricultural businesses. WSDA will have additional authority to monitor the health of livestock coming into the state, a move supported by industry. The law that helps WSDA inspect dairies that ship milk to other states was extended. Our Organic Food Program, a national leader, will have new authority to work with farmers interested in transitioning to organic, as well as processors seeking to manufacture organic foods.

WSDA will have the opportunity to serve our community in a new area by assuming the state's role in managing emergency food assistance programs. We will serve families in times of need by distributing food and providing grants to dozens of community food banks and nutrition assistance programs. During this economic downturn, demand for these services is skyrocketing and unfortunately the number of Washingtonians seeking assistance this year is likely to grow.

Despite the sobering increase in demand, I believe emergency nutrition assistance will be a positive addition to our mission and a new way to reconnect consumers to where their food comes from. This work will help rebuild the bridges between cities and agricultural areas. We already have deep connections with farmers and USDA, our major partners in this effort. We look forward to working more closely with urban communities and nonprofit organizations that provide such outstanding public service to those in need.

In our broader mission, we will continue to serve the people of Washington by supporting the agricultural community and promoting consumer and environmental protection. In my travels throughout the state, I am always seeking new ways to promote the success of our farmers and ranchers. As a producer myself, I am deeply committed to the future of farming.

Consumers in every corner of our state are doing their part by seeking out local agricultural products. From the local grocery to the farmers market, families support their neighbors by buying Washington foods. Vote with your wallet to keep your food dollars in your community. It's what you can do to help support a vibrant local economy.

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