Friday, June 06, 2008
Gov. to farmers: 'How are
Gregoire visits with Washington growers as she prepares to bid
for second term
Friday, June 06,
BURLINGTON, Wash. - With strawberries ripening under
hoop houses behind her and raspberry canes leafed out in long rows in
front of her, Gov. Chris Gregoire asked a small group of Skagit County
farmers for a "report card" on how the state is doing in its goal to help
keep agriculture profitable.
|Gov. Chris Gregoire, right, and Skagit
County, Wash., grower Steve Sakuma of Sakuma Bros. Farms near
Burlington, Wash., discuss the farmís ripening strawberry crop
during Gregoireís recent stop at the farm to talk about agriculture
with a small group of local farmers. She is seeking re-election this
"We want to keep farmers farming," she
said. "The clear direction of state policy is to keep farmland,
Gregoire visited with the farmers on May 31 at Sakuma
Bros. Farms on her way back to Olympia after attending an Eleanor
Roosevelt Dinner in Bellingham.
Pleased at the chance to share
their thoughts with the state's top official, the farmers detailed some of
the challenges they're facing - among them land use, farmland
preservation, the price of fuel and fertilizer, getting locally grown food
into schools, global warming, anaerobic manure digesters, and, yes, even
the cool, wet spring weather.
They had a willing listener.
"Is it working?" she asked about the state's new farmland
preservation project and recently passed legislation that aims to get
locally grown foods into schools and institutions.
Hedlin, who serves as a board member for the La Conner School District,
had some good news to share about how students react to healthy
"One of the surprising things we've learned is that when you
start serving really good food you sell twice as many lunches," he said,
referring to the reaction of children in his district.
said the goals of the program hold out great promise to small and large
farmers alike. But it's far more complex logistically than most anyone
"It's a great target," he said. "If you can get a handle
on it, you've got a winner - a real winner."
Brothers Daryl and
Kevin Mass, who received a $500,000 grant from the state Legislature to
build an anaerobic manure digester that will serve four dairy farms near
Mount Vernon, told the governor about a permitting problem they've run
"Some of the rules on water quality make it hard to use
anything but manure," said Daryl. "We need to be able to take all
The governor assured them she'd take this
issue "to the top" at the state's Ecology Department.
"I'm a firm
believer in anaerobic digesters," she said. "I want that digester to
Land-use issues also came to the fore. Potato grower Jerry
Nelson told the governor that the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife
is buying prime farmland for habitat, often paying prices that are higher
than market value.
"They're pricing us out of the market," he said.
"We can't compete."
Seed grower Curtis Johnson echoed Nelson's
concerns, pointing out that the agency offers prices too high for farmers
to compete with.
Saying that there are 50 ways to kill a farmer,
Hedlin said that even if you have everything you need, but you don't have
enough land, you can't stay in farming.
With Congress debating
cap-and-trade legislation to combat global warming, the issue of
agriculture's carbon footprint was put before Gregoire.
look at our costs and see this issue out there, we're worried about how it
will add additional costs to our already additional costs," said
Pointing out that the governor has often said that
agriculture is part of the solution, Nelson said the industry,
nevertheless, is very dependent on trucking and therefore
"Everything we get depends on transportation," he said.
"So this carbon footprint is going to be very expensive for us. We're not
at all excited about it."
While Gregoire could understand his
concerns, she made it clear that the state can't "sit back and do
"I will not stand by and let the U.S. Congress finally
wake up on this issue and deliver to us how it should be done," she said.
"I'd rather have us decide our own destiny."
But when she proposed
rail as an alternative to trucking, pointing out that the high cost of
fuel is threatening farms in Eastern Washington that truck their goods to
the ports, several farmers shared some realities with her.
to trucking, rail offers no accountability at the other end as to the
quality of the product or the time the product will arrive, they
Sakuma said it's a bigger challenge than can be tackled on
the state level - that it needs to be solved on the national
"When we get to the end," he said, referring to the final
destination and the quality of the products shipped and the timing
involved, "it's got to be right."
Gregoire, meanwhile, had some of
her own ideas about supporting local farmers. As her black hybrid Chevy
Tahoe was being prepared to leave, she asked Sakuma a question:
Would his farm's raspberries be ripe in time for her daughter's
wedding in August?
Staff writer Cookson Beecher is based in
Sedro-Woolley, Wash. E-mail: