Four individuals inducted into the Mid-Columbia Ag Hall of Fame on Thursday represent the best of what farmers have and continue to do in meeting agriculture needs, said Dan Newhouse, Washington's director of agriculture.
"We are one big ag family, and part of the challenge is to attract the next generation into our industry," said Newhouse, a farmer from Sunnyside who served seven years in the Legislature before becoming director of agriculture.
As keynote speaker, Newhouse said it is important to reconnect all of Washington to agriculture.
"I can count on one hand, and still have fingers left, the number of farmers in the Legislature," he said.
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Newhouse said there is a growing "hunger" across the state for knowing "what we produce."
The ag director noted Washington grows 300 crops worth $40 billion a year, representing 12 percent of the state's economic picture.
In praising the honorees at Pasco's Red Lion Hotel, Newhouse said Ben and Alma Grant were the type of generous and dedicated farmers he wished he'd had as a neighbor.
Newhouse also praised Basin City's Lana Cline for her dedication and years spent inspiring and guiding youth through 4-H programs and other ag-related efforts.
And he applauded the work of Jared Balcom of Balcom and Moe in Pasco as a leader in agribusiness, as well as the commitment of Columbia Basin College President Rich Cummins in building a nationally recognized ag education program.
The Grants received the Pioneer award. Cline received the Ag Mentor Leadership award, and Balcom was named Agribusinessman of the Year. Cummins was honored with the Visionary award.
Newhouse named his top concerns as international marketing efforts, ensuring a migrant work force for the Mid-Columbia agricultural industry, and having enough water to support that industry.
"We depend on migrant workers. Without an immigration policy, the source of our labor is at risk," Newhouse told the audience of almost 300 people -- mostly farmers -- at the banquet.
The Grants, who moved to the Columbia Basin in 1951, were recognized for their decades of generosity toward other farmers, helping to harvest and salvage crops, providing summer jobs and establishing scholarships for university students in their home state of Oklahoma.
Cline was praised for 30 years of dedicated service for many 4-H clubs in Franklin County where she was named 4-H leader of the year.
"I've been blessed to work with kids and animals all my life. There's no better life than being a farmer's wife," Cline said.
Balcom put a potential career in biology aside to join the family business, and then became a leader in the potato and fruit growing industries.
"I had a lot of great people around me. I was in the right place at the right time," he said.
Cummins was described as a man of conviction who followed through on a promise to revive an ag education program at CBC, despite financial challenges. "I'm just proud to be part of this community," he said.
Thursday's event was the 12th year of the program that's given 51 individual awards to farmers and friends of agriculture in the Mid-Columbia.
The hall of fame has been sponsored since 2000 by the Pasco Chamber of Commerce and the Port of Pasco.