SPOKANE — The U.S. Department of Agriculture runs three agencies in Washington to support ranchers, farmers, forestland owners, and producers across the state. We pride ourselves on working closely together, to ensure we accomplish our functions in a unified, coherent and effective manner.
Although our three agencies, the Farm Service Agency (FSA), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Rural Development (RD), have individual functions, we share USDA’s priorities. These priorities include advancing racial equity and opportunity, addressing climate change, tackling food and nutrition insecurity, and creating new and better market opportunities for those we serve.
Unlike many federal offices, we live and work in the communities we serve. This brings us closer to the Washingtonians who can benefit the most from the resources we provide.
Last year was a remarkably successful year.
The Farm Service Agency provided more than $230 million in disaster relief in 2022 in our state. This includes funds for pandemic relief, crop and grazing losses due to drought and restoration of farmland affected by fire or floods. Throughout the state, FSA accepted 1,065 offers into the Conservation Reserve Program, a program that supports erosion control and habitat enhancement for fish and wildlife.
Along with the programs that FSA offers farmers and ranchers, we offer low interest loans for struggling or new borrowers, those unable to obtain commercial financing. FSA approved 281 loans across the state totaling just over $50 million. This money is used to operate family-size farms, purchase land, equipment or livestock, help farmers get their start, and even assist the youth with pursuing their agricultural dreams under the supervision of an adviser.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service provided more than $40 million in assistance to producers who are working hard to improve their natural resources. That included tripling our forestry assistance, which will enhance landowners’ ability to manage their forests, helping reduce fire risk across the state. We’ve also made significant progress regarding the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program, an aquifer rescue mission in Central Washington, which will exchange deep well irrigation with Columbia Basin Project surface water irrigation. Once complete, we will help save the Odessa Aquifer, a vital water source that tens of thousands of Central Washingtonians rely on for municipal water.
USDA Rural Development introduced a new program that would provide loans and grants nationwide to support meat and poultry processors and producers around the country.
For example, in Washington state, Island Grown Farmers’ Cooperative (IGFC) was awarded an $815,891 grant through the first round of Rural Development’s Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program (MPPEP). IGFC, a small farmer-owned co-op based in Skagit County, has operated a Mobile Processing Unit under USDA inspection for 20 years and recently began work on a permanent facility. Completing the construction at the IGFC facility will greatly expand processing capacity and allow the producer-owners to reach more consumers via farmers markets, food co-ops, restaurants, and direct-to-consumer sales across Washington state.
This is great news for local producers and provides more of our small farms a way to process livestock and bring their goods to market. Rural Development also offers resources for rural businesses to install alternative energy systems or increase operational energy efficiencies.
We have a new year ahead of us. USDA will continue to provide economic opportunity through innovation, helping Washingtonians thrive; promote agriculture production that better nourishes Americans and the world; and to preserve our natural resources through conservation, restored forests, improved watersheds, and healthy private working lands.
With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, our three sister agencies will focus in 2023 on the Climate Smart Ag Initiatives to support urban agriculture, with special emphasis on underserved producers.
And surrounding it all, it is a priority for USDA to ensure that all benefit from our programs and services in a fair and equitable way to meet the needs of the agriculture community.
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Jon Wyss is the Washington state director of the Farm Service Agency, Roylene Comes At Night is the state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Helen Price Johnson is the state director for Rural Development.