Every Acre Matters
How much does one acre produce? How much does one acre cost?
For Washington farmers, every acre matters. The right amount of sun, perfect type of soil and various microclimates throughout the state make this a haven for farming. In fact, only California grows more crops than we do in Washington. It is a precious and valuable resource for our state. The ability to produce such a variety of local food for Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver and all other areas in the state is a rare privilege. There are more than 60 farmers markets throughout the state, and our grocery store shelves showcase sales on healthy choices year-round. We have more than 35,000 farms that are organic, traditional, urban, rural, big and small. We grow so much food in this state that we have excess after feeding Washington and our neighbors around the U.S. Exporting food to nations across the globe is one of our major economic boosts for the state. Even with that seemingly abundant food supply, the profit margins for farms throughout the state averages 1-5% and leaves little room for error. This makes every inch of farmable land valuable. What would happen if each farmer lost one acre of land? Or 20? Or 100? As we dive into a new legislative session in Olympia, this is what some legislators seem to be considering.
In the name of saving salmon, some officials want to take farmland out of production along the countless wetlands, streams, rivers and canals running throughout Washington’s farm country. Mandatory buffer ideas, like those introduced in the 2022 session, will hurt food production in the state. It will also dispropor-tionately have a negative impact on small, new and low income farmers. For example, in Skagit County, the average farm size is 94 acres. A buffer zone of 200 feet along one mile of canal or river is equal to 24 acres of land – more than 25% of the entire farm. This mandatory law would force many farmers to sell off land, and some would even quit farming altogether. This wouldn’t lead to farm and fish-friendly practices, it would lead to land sold to the highest bidder; in many cases that would be developers. Farmland will then become houses and pavement, not wildlife and fish-friendly fields. And once the farmland is gone,it’s gone for good. But what these legislators seem to be missing is the answer to a simple question: would it even work? Washington does not have confirmed smolt (baby salmon) count numbers or evidence that current riparian enhancement projects are working. There is little data to prove the fish are benefitting from these projects that are now more than a decade old. And, studies show that ocean warming, overfishing, roadway pollution and urban development are more responsible for salmon decline than managed farmland. Farmland is a beneficial neighbor to waterways. A field of potatoes, raspberries, or spinach is more fish-friendly than a shopping center, parking lot, or housing development. Farmers use best management practices to mitigate noxious weeds, runoff and pollution. They understand the advantages of good conservation practices, and many protect and restore natural riparian areas on their own land voluntarily. This undoubtedly protects salmon better than the alternative of urban development. As young and beginning farmers search for land to make their start and urban sprawl continues to invade farmable acreage, it becomes even more evident that there is not enough land available for all who want to produce food. Every acre of farmable land matters. A reduction of any farmable land has a direct impact on the local food supply. Residents in the greater Seattle area would be impacted by a loss of farmland in Skagit County and throughout the state. Mandatory buffers unfairly blame farming and food production for lagging salmon recovery while other, more direct problems with the ecosystem, such as overflowing sewage plants and sprawling urban and industrial development, are not being addressed appropriately. Washington farmers take pride in caring for their land and providing food to their neighbors, and they are helping keep waterways healthy voluntarily. Mandatory buffers of any size will negatively affect the wrong target.