Bill aims to revive idle ag land
Updated: Wednesday, March 06, 2013 12:10 PM
By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- Agricultural land in Western Washington that has been sitting idle for years could become productive again.
Legislation introduced in the state House of Representatives would direct the Washington State Department of Agriculture and Washington State University to develop a program that fosters connections between landowners, potential growers and purchasers.
Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, said she sponsored House Bill 1188 as a way to put existing resources to their best use. The WSDA already assesses agricultural lands, and WSU engages the state's ag industry through its extension offices and research centers.
The program would maintain an agronomist and a technician to connect growers with the latest varieties, techniques and knowledge needed to add value to the existing farming systems. The estimated expenditure for the 2013-2015 biennium is $535,0000 from the state's general fund. Expenditures for later biennia would be $440,000.
The program would build on the emerging consumer interest in local foods, adding value to low-value rotational grain crops, Lytton said.
Jay Gordon, who farms 900 mostly organic acres near Elma, said that since the canneries moved east of the Cascades, much ground in Southwestern Washington has been idled. The grain research going on at WSU's Mount Vernon Research Center "hasn't gotten down to us," he said.
Gordon, who is also executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation, said Organic Valley has been signing up feed growers on three-year contracts, creating a "nice synergy" for grain and alfalfa growers.
Ron Shultz, of the state Conservation Commission, said he wants to see changes in agriculture in the southwestern part of the state. A lot of fallow acres are producing "bumper crops of Scotch broom," a weed.
Lytton's bill would eventually impact all counties in Western Washington, but initially it would focus on central and southern Puget Sound region: Clallam, Jefferson, Mason, Lewis, Thurston, Pierce, Clark, Cowlitz, Pacific, Kitsap, Grays Harbor, Island and San Juan counties.