The World Needs Washington

Posted in Blog, Farming on Monday, September 18, 2023

The World Needs Washington

What a year it’s been! For those of us who work behind the scenes on Washington Grown, we have learned about nearly all of the farms and food in our great state. We’ve met some of the nation’s best farmers and chefs. We’ve seen inside the manufacturing centers that produce what we see on our grocery store shelves. Trust is vital between consumers and our food makers. Washington farmers work tirelessly to deliver the safest, most reliable food supply to our communities. High quality standards are the norm for American consumers. We expect the best in quality at prices we can afford. We often take for granted just how much local food we have access to on a daily basis. Rarely do we walk into one of our Washington grocery stores and not get what we want. We are #lucky. And, we have excess.

In 2022, Washington exported roughly $8 Billion worth of food and agricultural products.Here’s why.

Our global consumers need us
In Washington, we can’t eat all of the food we produce. In fact, America can’t eat all that we produce. Why do we produce so much? Because we have some of the world’s best soils. In fact, agricultural lands, especially those in northwestern Washington, are the highest priority for protection. Northwest Washington soils are better than 98% of the world. The soil is called Tokul soil and it is only found in King, Pierce, Skagit, and Snohomish Counties.2 Western Washington is a leader in producing specialty potatoes, berries, milk, and vegetables. Washington is also the top producer of blueberries in the nation, largely due to the crops grown in western Washington.3 Specialty potatoes such as reds, yellows, and purples are grown well west of the Cascades commercially because of the unique climate and soils. Soils east of the Cascades are also extremely productive. Apples, potatoes, wheat grow well because of the highly productive glacial soils, crop-friendly weather conditions, and relatively low pest pressure.

The rest of the world isn’t so lucky.

Most nations cannot grow what we grow. Apples, for example, are only grown commercially in a handful of countries.4 Most countries can’t grow enough of them internally to supply their society’s demand. They don’t have the land or soils that can mass produce them. For instance, Vietnam can grow apples but they cannot grow enough to meet the demand of their consumers. Vietnam relies on Washington apples to meet this need. Washington’s potatoes are another globally needed food. Both fresh and processed potato products are shipped around the world to nations that cannot grow our special spuds. Up to 70% of Washington’s french fry crop, 90% of our wheat, 30% of our apples, and 25% of our cherries are exported every year.5

Not only does the rest of the world not have Washington’s highly productive soils, many nations don’t have enough land to grow enough food to feed themselves. In Washington, we average around 110 people per square mile in population density annually, with King and Clark counties being the most dense.6 In contrast, Japan has a population density of more than 870 people per square mile. Japan is one of our largest trading partners. They cannot grow enough food to feed their people. Many Pacific Rim nations face the same problem. Vietnam, Philippines, and South Korea have 800-1,300+ people per square mile. Each are major importers of Washington food products.

What about Canada and Mexico? These are two of our top markets for many of our crops. They have productive land and they have space to grow their own food for their people. So why do we send them food? Because they like what we grow, and we have a special trade agreement that makes trade between us easier. The US-Mexico-Canada Agreement enforced in 2020 allowed for no tariffs on many agricultural products between the three nations. Canada can grow apples, but not as much as they need domestically. Canada’s fresh and frozen fruit imports have increased by 17.5% during the past five years to reach their highest level of almost $7.3 billion in 2022.7 Mexico can grow 77% of the apple supply they need internally8, but we help with the remaining 20%. Even our closest trade partners rely on our farmers to help feed their communities…just like we rely on them to supply our needs. Exporting our excess helps meet global demand, and it also helps our local economies.

And we need them
We cannot eat all the food we produce. So, we export our excess to nations around the world. Agricultural exporting is a large business that generates thousands of jobs throughout the state. Longshoremen, truck drivers, rail workers, elevator operators, trade analysts, food processors, even our local farmer workers rely on exports to keep Washington’s commercial agriculture industry thriving. Washington’s economy has always relied on trade, and thousands of jobs exist because of our state’s trade system. For more than a century, our ports have been vital to our state’s success.

“Pacific trade boomed as World War I curtailed Atlantic shipping, and the (Seattle) Port's low rates and efficient modern piers allowed Seattle to capture much of that trade boom. In 1918, the Port set a record for foreign trade that it did not surpass until 1965, and was (briefly) the second-busiest port in the entire country, behind only New York.”9

Because we are situated on the west coast, we have a natural pathway to Central America, Canada and Asia. Each year, our excess helps feed people in these markets and others. Seattle, Grays Harbor, Vancouver, Everett, Tacoma, Bellingham, Kalama, Longview, Olympia, Port Angeles, and Anacortes all have deep water ports that ship out our goods and support families and local communities. Together, Seattle and Tacoma make up the 2nd largest load center in the nation.10 Our ability to import and export is a major piece of our Washington’s DNA. This ability paired with our expertise in growing some of the world’s best food has created a social responsibility for our communities. We have the best people and system in place to provide safe, reliable food to millions outside our borders.

Washington’s food security for the future
As a leading food producer globally, Washington farmers face a challenge in the next 25 years. According to the estimates compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization, by 2050 we will need to produce 60 percent more food to feed a world population of 9.3 billion.11 Our farmers take that responsibility seriously, and we are honored to do it. We will need to grow more food on less land, using less water. Very few nations will be able to help meet the needs of the future, but Washington will be a part of the solution. The world needs us, and our farmers are up to the task.

Washington’s Top 10 Agriculture Exports (2022)
Resource: WSDA5

 Rank Product Value Top Markets


 Fish and Seafood  $1.3 billion  Canada, Japan, Netherlands
 2  Frozen French Fries  $969 million  Japan, South Korea, Mexico
 3  Wheat  $894 million  Philippines, Yemen, Japan
 4  Dairy  $769 million  Indonesia, Japan, Mexico
 5  Hay  $647 million  Japan, China, South Korea
 6  Apples  $643 million  Mexico, Canada, Vietnam
 7  Hop Cones and Extracts  $377 million  Belgium, Germany, United Kingdom
 8  Beef  $323 million  China, Japan, Taiwan
 9  Fresh Sweet Cherries  $218 million  Canada, Taiwan, China
 10  Pulses  $124 million  Spain, China, Canada


1 - WSDA, accessed on September 10, 2023 
2 According to the USDA, Tokul soils are among the most productive soils in the world. It is unique to northwestern Washington, made up of volcanic ash and loess over glacial till. Tokul soils are generally found on lowland plains and glacially modified hills and mountains. 
3 According to the WSDA, rich soils, diverse climates and large-scale irrigation make Washington State one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, allowing us to produce over 300 different crops. Agricultural production, food processing, and trade represent a significant segment of the state’s economy.
4-Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, accessed on September 10, 2023
5-WSDA, accessed on September 10, 2023
6 - OFM, accessed on September 10, 2023
7-Canada Department of Agriculture, accessed on September 10, 2023
8-Mexico News Daily, accessed on September 10, 2023
9-Historylink, accessed on September 13, 2023
10-Washington Ports Association website, accessed on September 13, 2023
11-United Nations, website accessed on September 15, 2023