Farmers will tolerate a lot. They deal with the unpredictability of Mother Nature every day. Obstacles arise and they find ways around them with an eye on a successful harvest as the end goal.
However, when local government creates challenges for farmers, things can get a little more impassioned. Some Benton County farmers say the county left critical access roads a mess this spring, impeding their ability to access their fields and ultimately impacting their livelihoods.
Benton County commissioners apparently agree, declaring an emergency last week that allows the county to skip the bidding process, if necessary, and get the work done on the roads as harvest looms next month for the dryland wheat farmers.
The state of emergency covers farm roads in the Rattlesnake Mountain and Horse Heaven Hills areas. That’s where farmers say the roads were left pitted, with large rocks in the way, rises in the center and ditches so deep they couldn’t get their equipment in the fields.
A couple of dozen farmers took time out of a busy farming morning this spring to attend a commissioner’s meeting and hand-deliver a letter outlining their concerns. While the farmers and the county road engineer didn’t quite agree on the source of the problem, they did agree that the road conditions were unacceptable.
The county road engineer blamed miscommunication within the department as crews struggled to deal with the after-effects of our extraordinary winter. One road supervisor apparently lost his job over the debacle.
It’s unfortunate that it took the farmers appearing at a commissioner’s meeting to spur action, but they used the system in place and their voices were heard.
Commissioners vowed to get to the bottom of the problem and remedy it. The county already had crews making the necessary repairs when the emergency was declared.
If it doesn’t appear the crews can get the work done before wheat harvest, the declaration will allow for immediate action to call in reinforcements without having to go through a lengthy bid process.
It’s an insurance policy of sorts that may not be needed but the forethought to have it ready to activate just in case is much appreciated by those impacted and those of us who like to see elected officials respond swiftly to the needs of their constituents.
Farmers have had to deal with a lot from Mother Nature over recent months. The extra moisture from our snowy winter is actually a boon for dry land wheat farmers, creating conditions for higher than average yields.
A good farming year can help carry them through to the next as they wait to see what the weather throws them next winter. What they don’t need is to battle with poor road conditions as well.
Many of these rural roads are known as farm-to-market roads, and for good reason. They are a critical piece in the farming puzzle. We’re glad county officials know that and acted swiftly. Let’s hope the work gets done before the combines start rolling.