Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and his Results Washington team hope to increase working farm lands by 100,000 acres by the year 2020.
According to the state, the goal is to increase farm lands from 7.237 million acres to 7.347 million acres.
“Agriculture is a very important component of the state’s economy,” aide Kirk Cook, supervisor of the natural resources assessment section and hydrogeologist for the Washington State Department of Agriculture. “A healthy agricultural economy contributes to a healthy statewide economy.”
Concerns have emerged about the loss of prime farmland to development, particularly in western Washington, such as the Skagit Valley and Snohomish County, Cook said.
“Once you lose farmland, it’s pretty impossible to get it back,” he said. “To preserve that farmland for now and into the future goes a long way to ensuring viable agriculture is going to remain in this state.”
The department, conservation commission and Office of Farmland Preservation are getting more involved in county growth management ordinances, working to offer provisions and incentives to keep farm land in production, Cook said.
The agencies are considering incentives to maintain viable agriculture land or consider environmental benefits, Cook said, including conservation easements.
“It’s more about making sure things are put into place to allow farmers to keep their land in high-value operations, rather than sell it off to developers to subdivide it,” he said.
Part of the problem is that the state needs to consider the relative quality and location of acres, Cook said. If farm acres disappear in western Washington, but expand in eastern Washington, the goal would appear to balance out.
“Eastern Washington’s a little bit easier to deal with just because we have a lot more rural area,” he said.
Cook said the state hopes to put more focus on the issue, to generate further interest on state, federal and local levels. They will collect data for a year or so, to decide where to concentrate efforts, he said.
“We would rather see productive farmland and all the environmental benefits that go along with that, rather than continue to creep out into rural areas and grow houses instead of food,” Cook said.
Washington’s departments of agriculture and ecology and Office of Financial Management are among the agencies working on the issue for the Results Washington goal council.