Growing up in Eastern Washington, agriculture was the formative experience of my life. I could look out the living room window of my family home and see fields of wheat ripening, corn tasseling, beans and potatoes blooming, and alfalfa being cut, raked, and baled.
The beauty of the agricultural life that holds our focus also makes it hard to divert our attention to the flood of legislation that is threatening our work and the economic benefits we provide.
The agricultural community provides approximately $10 billion to this state’s economy while employing more than 164,000 people — that is more than Microsoft and Amazon combined. We are the stewards of the land we cultivate and the animals we raise.
We are also a community that remains largely silent on policy issues until they are too far along to turn around. Having spent a few years in Texas where, by and large, people know someone either directly involved in agriculture or only slightly removed from it, I learned about being an active participant in debates about agriculture policy.
The farmers and ranchers of Washington could learn from their Texan counterparts and make our voices heard. It is critical to be heard before our legislative bodies so those activists who are anti-agriculture or do not understand ag issues aren’t the only voices legislators hear.
Even if you’re not a fan of politics or the limelight, you can still help promote a positive message about agriculture. We all talk to other people, and that is a chance to tell others about the problems facing farmers today — labor shortages, trade deficits, water concerns, property taxes.
The current legislative session is the perfect opportunity to help policymakers stay informed. There are bills being introduced so rapidly it is hard to keep up with them all, but there are a few standouts that could change our agricultural way of life for the worse.
For example, HB 1398 and its companion bill SB 5438 would increase the cost of hiring H-2A workers and would shut targeted farm workers off from job opportunities.
HB 1045 is a bill that would ban the use of lethal removal in wolf management. Protecting wildlife is important, but state managers need to have the option to removal wolves to pose a safety risk to people and animals.
If you’ve been affected by the recent wildfires in this state, keep an eye on HB 1188. The bill would allow trained volunteers to form associations and speed response times in protecting rangelands in areas underserved by other firefighting agencies.
If you’ve ever created a job for someone, look into SB 5693, which would require all retail sellers and manufacturers of agricultural products and their suppliers to report “any violations of employment-related laws and incidents of slavery, peonage, and human trafficking within thirty days of the violation or incident.”
If you’ve ever cheered on your child, or that of a friend or neighbor, in a county fair, research HB 1283. The legislation would increase funding to county fairs statewide for the first time in 27 years.
All this legislation is right in our own backyard. If you farm or ranch in our state, the policies being debated in Olympia right now will have an immediate effect on your life and livelihood. It is critical to stand together to create a Washington where agriculture is appreciated for its contributions.
So, what can we do? Create relationships with your legislators. Visit them when they are in their local offices or in Olympia. Join an industry group and help advocate for yourself and your neighbors.
Farming and ranching is hard, grueling work that makes hard people — on the outside. They also instill patience, perseverance, tolerance and concern for neighbors and community.
Those are the qualities our representatives in Olympia should hear about, because that makes a stronger and more caring Washington for everyone.