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Kendyl (4), Rocky (8) and Carlee (6) Howard enjoy harvest at the family farm near Dayton.
Photo by Julie Howard

COAXIUM

POLICY

Mr. Northy goes to Washington

USDA undersecretary spends weekend in Evergreen state visiting with producers

August/September 2018
By Trista Crossley


In the last month, Washington state has been a popular place for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials to visit. Fresh off the heels of Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, Bill Northey, undersecretary for farm production and conservation, spent several days in Benton and Spokane counties, talking to producers about conservation practices and programs, crop rotations and trade.

In Benton County, Northey was joined by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) and Derek Sandison, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, as he toured the farm of Nicole Berg, National Association of Wheat Growers secretary. The group discussed USDA customer service and the U.S. wheat trade, among other topics. The next day, Northey travelled, well, north to Spokane County. He was joined by Vicki Carter and Ty Meyer, both from the Spokane Conservation District (SCD), and Mike Poulson, ag and natural resource policy director for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. The group started the morning out by talking about no-till and direct seeding with Bob Sievers, a farmer near Spangle. On the way to Washington Association of Wheat Growers President Marci Green’s farm near Fairfield, the group stopped to see the results of a SCD buffer program that pays farmers to put in buffers along streams based on the value of the crop the buffer replaces.

At the Green farm, Northey saw some of the different crops grown in the Palouse as a rotation for wheat, including garbanzos and bluegrass seed. The next stop was at the SCD’s Vets on the Farm farm and stand. Carter explained how the program got started and the impact it has had on area veterans.

The final stop of the day was at the farm of Jeff and Randy Emtman in Valleyford. During lunch, the group watched videos detailing SCD programs, including commodity buffers, and conservation efforts in the Hangman Creek watershed. After lunch, Northey asked the Emtmans to talk about their experiences with farm programs. One common theme that came up over and over was the lack of programs and incentives that help farmers sustain conservation practices once they’d gotten started. As one of the farmers during the day said, “Sustainable has to be economical.”

Northey said one of the reasons he was taking the time to visit with producers is he wanted to hear about their experiences with USDA programs, and how they need to take into account different rainfall regions and different cropping methods.

“The real bosses here are the people that are actually going up and down the fields,” he said to Sievers. “It’s very easy from a long ways away to say everybody should do this. ‘You should fall cover crop. That’s what we do in our area, you should do it whether it works or not.’”

Green said it was a great opportunity to talk to a USDA official who understands agriculture—Northey has served as the secretary of agriculture in Iowa and raises corn and soybeans on his own farm.

“It is reassuring to know that Undersecretary Northey approaches his USDA responsibilities with this perspective,” Green said. “We appreciate the fact that he is taking the time to listen to the experiences of farmers who live and work with USDA programs every day.”

WAWG thanks the offices of Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse who worked to bring Northey out to area farms, and to the SCD for planning the day in Spokane County.