CHEHALIS, Wash. — Farmers, public agencies and a nonprofit group are planning to build nine silos at the Port of Chehalis to tap into the region’s demand for grains.
Yet to be financed, the silos, if built, would give farmers a place to store grain and distribute it by rail. The area’s farmers need new markets because a processor stopped contracting with growers for vegetables, Lewis County farmer Dave Fenn said.
“People will find something to grow. The question is finding something profitable,” he said.
Halfway between Seattle and Portland, Chehalis is on Interstate 5 and the BNSF Railway Co. line. Lewis County commissioners have committed $800,000 for a rail spur to the silos. The port hoped for $2.5 million in the state’s capital budget to build the silos by 2020, but neither the House nor Senate put money in their budget proposals.
Port Executive Director Randy Mueller said Monday the port will look for other sources of money, perhaps a USDA grant. There’s always next year’s capital budget, he said.
“It certainly doesn’t kill the project at all. It’s going to take a little longer to get it developed and funded,” Mueller said.
The port plans to put the silos on an 8-acre vacant lot in an industrial park. Besides farmers, the silos will help tractor dealers, fuel suppliers and the “whole constellation of businesses that support the agricultural industry,” Mueller said.
Organizers plan four 1,000-ton silos, four 60-ton silos and two 30-ton silos. The silos would serve different purposes — grain for livestock in one silo, barley destined for malting houses in another, for example.
Washington State University Extension agricultural agent Stephen Bramwell investigated the region’s potential for growing grain by surveying 21 farmers in Lewis and Grays Harbor counties.
The farmers reported they were growing about 2,300 acres of grain, mostly barley, but also wheat and oats. Farmers said they would grow more if guaranteed a market. They would plant more than double the acres if they were guaranteed a market and a good price, Bramwell said.
Bramwell said he also surveyed brewers and bakers in Thurston County, just to the north, who said they willing to pay a premium for local grains.
The Northwest Agriculture Business Center is helping plan the silos. The Mount Vernon-based nonprofit organization is extending its reach into Southwest Washington. The center’s project manager, Mike Peroni, said not getting money this year in the capital budget will only be a temporary setback.
“There is a lot of excitement around this project,” he said. “I’m sure I’m not the first to use the word ‘resourceful’ when describing farmers who are determined to get something going.”