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Guest Column

Challenges for farming communities

Dear friends...I am writing you today about a challenge ahead of farming communities throughout Eastern Washington. The challenge is real and it affects more than those involved in advocacy groups and organizations. Our challenge is apathy and ignorance.

Not just apathy within our own communities and governments, but apathy outside our circles. As farmers, we have been silent about the obstacles we've overcome and the importance of our work. I used to think it was "someone else's job" to tell the story of farm life and agriculture. My job was to sit on the tractor and to harvest the best crop possible. It was up to some staffer I didn't know to advocate for me.

Well, even the greatest staffer is only one voice. I am now seeing first-hand the consequences of a silent farming community.

The mission of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers is to work for solutions to problems of the farm, the farm home and rural community using united, organized action to represent, protect and advance the social, economic and educational interests of wheat farmers of Washington state.

In today's world of instant media and information, this protection requires us to share the stories of our farm families. I encourage all of you to look at advocacy as a vital tool necessary for our farms' survival.

Public opinion is affecting farms now more than ever. There is misinformation being spread as gospel by non-experts, but they are being considered credible by those far-removed from our farms.

Our silence is no longer just a sad development, it is a knife in our own back. It is not only taking place on the west side of the mountains. It is also happening in our back yard. Just recently, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers submitted a registration to participate in this year's Spokane Lilac Parade. We were denied admittance because "wheat farming isn't a big influence on Spokane."

Just last week the Washington state legislature passed supplemental operating and capital budgets that closed a more than $1 billion shortfall. That was very welcome news and we thank our legislators for finding a bipartisan solution. They did it without additional cuts to Washington State University's wheat research program and without eliminating farm tax exemptions. But both options were on the chopping block until the final hours. Next year we will fight an uphill battle on many fronts statewide and nationally.

Here's what I need you to do - SHARE! Don't be afraid to tell people about your farm. Tell your story and your family's story. Don't be overwhelming about it, but don't hesitate to share with others via social media, blogs, personal talks, etc. If you see someone on social media struggling to get their story out, support them! If you're not sure what to say, visit our website and you'll find some very basic, factual talking points about Washington's wheat farms. Here's an example:

...family wheat farms are one of the largest economic drivers of jobs in Eastern Washington

...in 2010, the Washington wheat industry contributed about $925 million in production value to the state's economy

...we are an industry that creates a trade surplus for our state

...more than 25,000 jobs are tied to wheat farming in Washington

...farmers and ranchers are the hard-working, sustainable backbone of Eastern Washington

...our state's farmers and ranchers have been one of the few industries to positively affect the economy

The public views our family operations ignorantly as "corporate farms." We are still family farms.

Also, now the nutritious attributes of wheat are under fire. We are working diligently to correct the misinformation among the public, but we can't do it alone. This is not a letter asking for your membership. This is a note asking for your advocacy. It is no longer an option, it is a necessity.

- Eric Maier is president

of the Washington Association

of Wheat Growers

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