Friday, February 13, 2004
Am I getting too serious? The more time I spend over here, the more serious I become about the issues. But on a subject that really breaks my heart, I will begin with some tongue-in-cheekers sent by Jim Lowery of the Washington Rural Development Council. He suggests handing the following list of statements to each person as they enter a farming area:
• It's called a gravel road. No matter how slow you drive, you are going to get dust on your Navigator. I have a four-wheel drive because I need it. Either drive or get out of my way.
• If that cell phone rings while a bunch of mallards are making their final approach, we will shoot it. You might hope you don't have it up to your ear at the time!
• You bring Coke into my house, it better be brown, wet, and served over ice.
• So you have a $60,000 car. We are really impressed. We have a quarter of a million dollar combine that we only use two weeks a year.
• No, there is no vegetarian special. Order beef. Well, you can order a chef salad and pick off the two pounds of ham and turkey.
• So every person in a pickup waves. It's called being friendly. He'll help you out of the ditch, too.
Rural Washington is really in a bind. Our farms and farmers are shrinking in number. It is more profitable to sell our land for housing or to business than to sell our food and fiber.
While the average American family spends less than 10 percent of its disposable income on food, farmers and ranchers get less than 20 cents of every dollar spent. Even though we are bombarded by regulations and allegations of mistreating our workers (or our animals), even though the state wants our water, even though we have been subjected to lawsuits and harassing behavior, we in agriculture still drive our state's economy.
Consider the following: Washington farmers produce 5.6 billion dollars worth of ag products and employ more than 80,000 people, making agriculture the state's largest industry. The second largest manufacturing industry is food processing, employing over 45,000 people. Then there are the thousands that supply or service the industry. One in five non-farm jobs are directly related to agriculture. Besides producing food and fiber and employing large numbers of workers, we export about 34 percent of our total ag production, making us the eighth-largest agricultural exporting state. More than 85 percent of our wheat, 60 percent of our hops, and 30 percent of our apples go overseas. This is an enormous boost to our economy and helps our trade imbalances. We are good farmers.
According to the Agricultural Statistics Service, our potato growers have the highest yield per acre of any state (twice the yield of Idaho!). Our dairy cows produce more pounds of milk per cow than those in any other state. Whitman County grows more wheat and barley than any other county in the U.S. Washington is first in the nation in more than a dozen crops: red raspberries, hops, spearmint oil, peppermint oil, seed peas, apples, sweet cherries, tart cherries, pears, lentils, Concord grapes, Niagara grapes, and carrots and sweet corn for processing. In addition to the most and the best, the United States has the safest food supply in the world. I am proud of the Washington farmer. I am disgusted at those who try to dictate to us at something we do best.
I know the work that farms and ranches demand of its owners and I am concerned that their average age is 54. I worry that a wonderful way of life is disappearing along with the respect shown for family, for the land, and for pride in a job well done. The first day of Spring every year is National Ag Day. Find a farmer living close to you and give him a pat on the back!
Jerri Honeyford, wife of Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), provides her Across our State column as her take on the legislative happenings currently underway in Olympia.