Several key issues of importance are heating up this year in the Washington legislature. Heightened interest in protecting farmland has resulted from the defeat of Initiative 933 last November, as well as from the increased development and environmental pressures on farmers. Governor Christine Gregoire is helping lead the way with a “Working Lands Initiative” legislative package that includes several bills and proposed appropriations urged by AFT to deal with issues of concern. Included in the hopper so far are new appropriations for PACE, a new Office of Working Lands, planning for agriculture, new funds for conservation stewardship assistance and a number of other useful measures. Such actions would certainly help agriculture, and may also relieve some of the pressures that led to the filing of I-933 in the first place.
The threat of farmland loss traditionally has been measured by projecting past losses into the future. For many of us, it is already quite worrisome to know that, in Washington state, we lose farmland to development every year at a rate of about 23,000 acres. That’s an area the size of Lake Washington. This figure is based on USDA Census of Agriculture numbers from 1997 and 2002 (currently the most recent data).
But what if conditions are changing—perhaps improving or possibly growing even worse? What impact does this trend have on the profitability of today’s actual farm businesses? And how widespread are these impacts, across our state, right now?
Initiative 933, our recent property-rights ballot measure in Washington, has now been defeated. But many voters remain uncertain about exactly what the measure really meant and about where we stand in agriculture, now that it has failed. Leadership on I-933 came largely from the Washington Farm Bureau which argued passionately that its adoption was necessary for the survival of agriculture. Yet there were many well-respected farmers and farm groups that opposed the measure – including AFT.
So what does the defeat of I-933 mean for the future of agriculture in the State of Washington?
American Farmland Trust is engaging with local communities to develop a stronger 2007 Farm Bill. The Pacific Northwest office recently teamed up with local Wash. farm organizations and agencies to hold “Visions of the Federal Farm Bill” to address questions and to begin shaping some constructive ways the local community can respond to the farm bill. The more than 150 participants represented nearly 100 different firms, farm businesses and organizations. Such events will also help other groups interested in the farm bill to develop policy that can truly meet the needs of agriculture and address the public interest in the years to come.
American agriculture faces new challenges that may influence the upcoming federal farm bill. Interest in the 2007 reauthorization of the federal farm bill is as intense in the state of Washington as it is anywhere in the country.
AFT’s Pacific Northwest office is organizing a statewide conference entitled: “Visions of the Federal Farm Bill” to be held in Moses Lake, Wash. on Thursday April 20, 2006 that will address questions and begin shaping constructive ways our community can respond to the farm bill. The conference will be keynoted by Washington’s Director of Agriculture, Valoria Loveland, and will feature a luncheon address by Congressman Doc Hastings of Washington’s 4th Congressional District. It will feature panels of speakers who will address aspects of four major farm bill topics: risk management, conservation stewardship, economic opportunity and foundations for the future.