Trade upheavals are creating an emergency for Washington farmers and ranchers, according to the state Department of Agriculture, which is seeking $12 million over four years to find new markets to replace lost overseas customers.
The department has asked for money from general taxes to fund trade trips, subsidize marketing by commodity groups and develop a logo to brand Washington products.
The department wants to build on the USDA’s $12 billion initiative to soften losses to retaliatory tariffs, spokesman Hector Castro said Thursday. “We believe it is a benefit to taxpayers and other residents of the state when the industry does well,” he said.
Agriculture Director Derek Sandison met with farm leaders and a governor’s policy adviser in developing the proposal. Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration has not committed itself to including the proposal in the budget the governor will present in December to lawmakers, an Inslee spokeswoman said.
In a written pitch to Inslee’s budget office, the agriculture department said the plan “responds to a state emergency that is damaging the viability of Washington agricultural businesses, rural economies and the state economy.”
“Losses have already been documented and are extreme,” according to the department. The department did not provide supporting figures.
Some Washington farm groups have projected lost sales because of retaliatory tariffs, particularly in China. The USDA-Economic Research Service predicts that farm exports to China will fall by $7 billion to $12 billion in the federal fiscal year that will end Sept. 30, 2019. The agency, however, projects that overall agricultural exports will rise to $144.5 billion from $144 billion this year.
Washington Tree Fruit Association President Jon DeVaney said growers want a more predictable trade environment and that the agriculture department could be helpful in removing barriers. Apples are the state’s top crop, and about 30 percent of them are exported.
“The sales of these apples do not just benefit growers. Apples are a big part of the state’s economy,” DeVaney said. “It’s appropriate for the state to see that the jobs and economic benefit to the state continue.”
The department proposes to spend about $3 million a year. Some $2 million would be for grants to farm groups to build foreign and domestic markets and find new customers to replace ones lost to trade disruptions.
Another $500,000 would be spent on a program to promote Washington-produced farm goods as a distinctive brand. The program would be similar to initiatives in other states such as “Idaho Preferred” and “California Grown,” according to the department.
Another $535,000 would go to three already established programs that promote Washington farm goods in international, regional and local markets. The department said that it could participate in more trade missions and international trade shows, and host more foreign buyers of agricultural products.
“Staff will be able to report at end of biennium on results of these trips and new market establishment overseas,” according to the department’s message to the budget office.