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WSDA Future of Farming Process

A newer element of our work is to ensure that sustainable agriculture is well-represented in the Future of Farming Project which is a statewide assessment of agriculture that was conducted by Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) in the summer of 2008.

WSDA’s FUTURE OF FARMING 20-YEAR STRATEGIC PLAN FOR AGRICULTURE

In 2007 our State Legislature recognized the need for a statewide vision for agriculture and funded Washington State Dedpartment of Agriculture $450,000 to identify the “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats” to agriculture and make recommendations back to the Legislature in 2009 that will keep farming in Washington “competitive and profitable.”

Thus, a new Network program element began in 2008 to ensure that sustainable agriculture was well-represented in Washington State Department of Agriculture's (WSDA), Future of Farming Project. This project began as a statewide assessment of Washington's agriculture and information was collected across the state in the summer of 2008.

Our goal to ensure that sustainable agriculture was well-represented in this historic opportunity to establish a statewide vision for farming  in Washington was successful. The Network helped recruit sustainable and organic farmers to secure seats on the stakeholder commitee and issued action alerts to encourage our members and the public to participate in WSDA's online survey, listening sessions and interviews around the state. Also, in collaboration with our partners, we submitted a list of priorities to WSDA that will support a more sustainable food and farming system. (Listed below.) 

WSDA's 100-page final report was released in March 2009 and some of The Network's recommendations (see below) were included in the report. These will assist the Legislature as they develop policies to support the profitability of agriculture.

 

FUTURE OF FARMING RECOMMENDATIONS

As recommended by The Network's Policy Committee

Present trends and conditions in Washington's food and farming systems, as well as world economic trends and climate change, clearly dictate that a major readjustment of food and farm policy, priorities and overall philosophy is necessary. It requires a readjustment that is already underway in some aspects and cannot be de-emphasized, postponed or ignored.

A systemic reinvention favoring the revitalization of Washington's small farm sector, transitioning Washington's large-scale farm sector towards increased service of the domestic market and reducing its negative environmental, economic and social impacts is imperative. Resources and personnel must be committed now, with long-term political and financial support, to achieve...

...this vision of Washington's sustainable food & farming system 20 years from now:

1. Strengthen and Develop new Markets for Washington Farmers

  • Increase Direct Marketing Opportunities for Farmers by public investments in Farmers Markets and Farm to School programs.
  • Increase Institutional purchasing of Washington grown food by identifying barriers and removing them. We would like to see a 50% increase in the amount of Washington-grown foods purchased by Washington State institutions such as schools, colleges, hospitals, correctional facilities, state and municipal government agencies and corporate food services.
  • Increase the availability of Washington-grown food to low income families. We would like to see a 50% increase of Washington-grown foods to low income families by increased investment in the Senior and WIC Farmer Market Nutrition programs and the Farmer to Foodbank program.
  • Improve value-added ag market development and processing infrastructure. We would like to see increased public investment in research and ag processing facilities to enable the development of value-added WA grown agricultural products.
  • Improve in-state transportation of food products. We would like to see a fuel-efficient in-state food distribution network that supports increased consumption of WA-grown products, ensures farmers and ranchers a fair price and includes distribution to wholesale, retail, institutional markets and hunger abatement programs throughout the state. The distribution system will utilize electric and hybrid technology, and an improved rail system for long distance hauling.

2. Establish a Statewide Long Range Planning Entity to address food and farming issues

  • Establish a State Food Policy Council that is networked to local and regional food councils across the state. We would like to see a State Food Policy Council and its local and regional affiliates establishing food and agriculture priorities and recommending policy to state and local governments. The Councils will be composed of agriculture research scientists, food professionals, consumers, retailers, NGOs, health advocates, environmental advocates and will be chosen in a democratic and transparent process.
  • Establish a Sustainable and Organic Agriculture Advisory Board. We would like to see an entity with the mission and authority to ensure coordination of all state agencies involved in sustainable and organic agriculture. Currently, WSDA has an Organic Advisory Board that manages the organic certification program. A broader mission and coordination is needed to ensure the development of a more sustainable food system. This Board should include sustainable and organic farmers, retailers, processors, and NGOs as well children health advocates, environmental health organizations, and academic institutions.
  • Governmental pesticide-related committees, including the Pesticide Incident Reporting and Tracking Panel and the Pesticide Advisory Board, need to expand their membership to better represent the public interest including stakeholder groups that are composed of consumer, environmental health, children welfare and nutrition, and public health interests.

3. Increase farmers entering the business

  • Strengthen WSU’s "Cultivating Success". We would like to see an expanded agricultural education program that incorporates both classroom learning and on-farm internships that is integrated with the public education system. We envision all WSU extension offices, high schools and community colleges offer the Cultivating Success certificate program.
  • Strengthen and support WSU’s Agriculture and Food Systems undergraduate degree, particularly the Organic Farming Major. We envision a strong academic program that attracts and trains new students in sustainable and organic farming practices, ensuring the next generation of farmers to support a sustainable food and farming system.
  • Increase access to farmland. We envision a well funded state program that can purchase development rights off farmland and can support Transfer of Development Rights statewide.
  • Support new farmer access to low cost farmland. Replicate statewide programs that connect land to beginning farmers such as Cascade Harvest’s Farmlink (www.cascadeharvest.org), Vermont’s Intervale Program (www.intervale.com), Colorado’s Guidestone Farm Project (www.guidestonecolorado.org) and California’s Alba Project (www.albafarmers.org).

4. Promote Sustainable Agriculture Systems and Sustainable management of farmlands

  • Rebuild and revitalize farmland soils and improve the environmental sustainability of agriculture production. We envision increased research funds for sustainable agriculture techniques (i.e. BIOAg- biological pest management), and additional education, training, and outreach to promote sustainable farming.
  • Lower the Fossil Energy "footprint" of our food and farming system. We envision a food and farming system that uses less fossil fuel. This would require a inventory of our farm and food system carbon footprint, increased funding and institutional support to WSU for reducing Washington agriculture’s carbon emissions and education, outreach and extension activities on reducing footprint (i.e. replicate WA Dept. of Community, Trade and Economic Development's residential energy reduction program but target our food and farming system).
  • Reduce agriculture's contribution to the pesticide and fertilizer pollution of Washington's waterways. We envision a food and farming system encourages less pesticide and fertilizers by providing increased financial support for sustainable and organic farming practices and the identification of safe solutions for new pests from climate changes.
  • The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program can be used to fund equipment purchase/rental which supports farmers transitioning to sustainable farming practices (i.e. direct seed operations) and to provide economic incentives to encourage incorporation of sustainable and organic farming practices.
  • Support farming practices that enhance carbon sequestration. We envision a food and farming system that provides economic incentives for farmers to store carbon in their soil and institutes a carbon market program of some sort.

5. Address Labor Security

  • Provide funds for migrant labor housing. We envision a food and farming system that provides safe housing for migrant labor. The state would provide tax incentive, low interest loans and grants to Washington farmers for the construction and maintenance of farm labor housing.
  • Adopt a state binding arbitration clause for farm labor disputes. We envision a fair and just legal system for farmers and farm workers and recommend that Washington adopt a binding arbitration clause for labor disputes similar to the recently adopted law in California.
  • Establish a health insurance pool for farmers and their families. In the interest of food security we envision a food and farming system that provides health insurance and/or coverage for farmers & their families to ensure a healthy labor supply to provide our food.
  • Provide and implement solutions to the health of farm workers and their communities by reducing harm from farm related health impacts.

6. Identify Simple Regulatory Changes that can be made easily to help small farmers

  • Identify and adopt scale-appropriate state law changes. We envision a food and farming system incorporates scale appropriate regulations. For example, RCW 69.07.103 could be amended to include all poultry, not just chickens, in the temporary permit for slaughter of 1,000 chickens or less.
  • Strengthen Right-to-Farm Laws. We envision a food and farming system which allows farms to exist in proximity with non-farming activities. Existing farming operations should be protected from nuisance claims from new building developments adjacent to farmland.

7. Preservation of Farmland

  • Strengthen the Growth Management Act to better protect farmland. We envision a food and farming system that is well protected from impacts from new development and that has prioritized access to water for local food production. Critical areas ordinances should enable flexibility for farming operations to ensure adequate protection of critical areas without negatively impacting farming operations that provide local food.
  • Maintain the Washington State Office of Farmland Preservation. We envision a food and farming system that has an adequate farm land to feed its citizens. The Office of Farmland Preservation would be funded by state and federal appropriations to provide a multitude of strategies that protects enough of its agricultural land base so that it can feed the state’s population.

8. Establish a public school curriculum for food production

  • Create and mandate a curriculum on food production. We envision a population that understands the complexities of a food and farming system. We envision a mandatory K-12 food system curriculum that emphasizes how food is grown, agriculture's economic benefit to the State of Washington, the health benefits of a diet rich in diverse, locally grown foods and career opportunities within the Washington food and farming economic sector that are available to graduates. This curriculum could include on-farm field trips, participation in farming activities, school garden development etc.
  • Encourage facilities for food production in public schools. We envision schools that grow some of their own food and incorporate the food production into their curriculum. Funds could be provided for garden and greenhouse facilities. Students, faculty and food service personnel would be involved in the growing, harvesting and preserving of crops. Summer school programs could involve students to ensure continual crop maintenance and enhanced learning opportunities. The school greenhouses and gardens would be managed using organic methods to decrease any student risk to chemical exposures. WSDA and WSU Extension could provide resources to ensure successful school food production operations.

9. Establish state policies on liability for genetically modified crops.

  • Create and pass a “polluter pays” liability law protecting farmers that do not produce or use transgenic crops in their farm, ranch or post-harvest processing operations. Authorize state agricultural and health officials to view confidential business information on experimental genetically modified (GM) crops and authorize the state to approve any permits before field trials are allowed. Require insurance to cover damages from contamination, holding the source biotechnology corporation accountable for the genetic pollution of other farms and natural areas, and for the costs of testing, cleanup, and market losses. (Vermont passed such a measure, S 18, in both House and Senate in 2006, but the bill was vetoed by the Governor).
  • Create and pass a “Farmer Protection Act” to protect farmers from patent infringement and breach of seed contract lawsuits when their crops are contaminated unknowingly by patented transgenic seed, pollen or propagule. Such a bill would indemnify farmers who had been unknowingly contaminated, and would establish that the legal district for resolving disputes is that of the farmer. Currently, farmers with contaminated crops are targeted by lawsuits without clear recourse or defense, and are forced to defend themselves in out-of-state venues. Bills that address various aspects of this issue have passed in Indiana (HB 1571), Maine (LD 1650) and likely will pass in 2008 in California (AB 541).
  • Establish a crop sampling protocol when patent holders investigate farmers they believe may have violated patents or seed contracts. This protocol would require the farmer's written permission for sampling and provide for a state agriculture official to accompany the patent holder during collection of samples, including duplicates, for independent verification if requested by either party. Similar bills have been passed in North Dakota (HB 1442), South Dakota, in Indiana (HB 1571), Maine (LD 1650) and likely will pass in 2008 in California (AB 541).
  • Require that USDA notify the Agriculture Commissioner of the county location of any intended trials or plantings of GM crops, including for research purposes, inform neighboring farmers, outline steps to prevent contamination, conduct an environmental impact analysis that takes into account natural disasters, distribute a human health impact statement, and offer a public comment period before any tests or plantings can be permitted. (See MN 2004 Statutes Chapter 18F and Administrative Rules Chapter 1558.0010 Scope. www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/rules/?id=1558.0010) (See also the recommendations and rules that ensued from Oregon’s bill SB 570)

 

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