Farmers would rather raise crops and tend livestock than fight political battles in Olympia, so the addition of agriculture to the Washington Policy Center agenda is welcome news.
The WPC describes itself as an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank that promotes public policy based on free-market ideas. It researches issues, compares how our state operates to others around the country, and makes legislative recommendations based on those findings.
It is an organization that carries significant weight in several government circles.
This year, the center celebrates its 20th anniversary. Traditionally, it has focused on education, environment, health care, small business, technology and telecommunications, transportation and government reform.
Now, thankfully, agriculture will be added to the list.
A new director for agriculture policy has been hired and will be based in the Tri-Cities. Madilynne Clark, who previously worked for Ag Association Management in Kennewick, will take over this critical research department.
We hope this new focus will become a force in Olympia.
Clark’s mission will be to help improve the business climate for our state’s farmers, who not only help feed the world but boost our overall state economy.
Agriculture is more important to Washington than many people may realize, with $51 billion of the state’s yearly economic output coming from the industry. While Microsoft and Boeing are well known stars, the number of people working in farm and food processing is more than those two companies combined, surpassing 160,000, according to the center.
More than 300 different crops are grown in Washington, and the only other state with more diversity is California. We lead the country in apple and raspberry production, and come in second behind Idaho in potatoes.
Most of the crops are grown in Eastern Washington, while dairy farms are scattered throughout the state. We rank 10th in total milk production in the U.S., and fourth in milk production per cow.
In addition, Washington is home to 850 wineries, and wine grape growing areas exceed 50,000 acres. The state ranks second only to California in total wine grape production.
With so much at stake, it makes sense to have as strong a voice in Olympia as possible to ensure agricultural interests are protected. The new emphasis by the think tank should help with that.
Already, the center is monitoring news that union leaders at ports along the West Coast, including Bellingham and Seattle, have agreed to start contract talks early with the Pacific Maritime Association.
The current contract does not expire until July 2019, but advanced negotiations are being planned in order to avoid a repeat of the 2014-15 port slowdown that wreaked havoc to the farming industry. Millions of dollars were lost and food was left to rot on the docks while negotiations stalled.
Helping maintaining access to Washington’s ports now will be a priority for the center, and that’s huge. Agriculture is a crucial business to the state, but especially in Eastern Washington. The industry can use as many supporters as possible, and WPC should be an invaluable one.