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Celia VanHollebeke (9 months old) enjoys her first handfuls of dirt while visiting her grandfather, Butch VanHollebeke, at his farm in Kahlotus.
Photo taken by Amy VanHollebeke








Retirement comes calling

After more than seven years, FSA's Judy Olson steps down

February 2017
By Trista Crossley

For the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Washington state office, January brought more than just a new year. It brought a vacancy in the top spot as Judy Olson, state executive director since 2009, retired.

Olson is well known to the farmers of the Evergreen State, especially wheat farmers. Before her time at FSA, she was the Eastern Washington director for Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) for more than a decade. Before that, she served as president of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), and before that, she was the first female president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) in 1990/91. But even before all those titles, she was a Whitman County farm girl who wanted nothing more than to raise crops.

“Agriculture has been my whole life. I’m a fourth-generation farmer myself. Some of the oldest memories I have are walking out across the fields in February and March with my dad to see the condition of the winter wheat,” she said. “I remember jumping across erosion ditches that were part of the wheat-fallow rotation we had and hearing him talk about how bad those were. As the wheat grew bigger and we did the spring planting of crops, I could hardly wait to get home from school, change into pants and see if I could ride a tractor. Agriculture is in my blood.” See more

Covering crop insurance

Convention panel discusses threats to farmers' safety nets

January 2017
By Trista Crossley

Folklore says things happen in threes, so perhaps its no surprise that an expert in defending crop insurance has identified three areas where the program is likely to come under fire.

Tara Smith, vice president of federal affairs with Michael Torrey & Associates, a governmental affairs firm in Washington, D.C., that represents the crop insurance and reinsurance bureau, said private sector delivery, means testing and cuts to the premium discount are the areas she expects to see targeted in the coming year.

“I think as we look at the budget process and the appropriations process next year, we see three big buckets where you could end up seeing attacks to crop insurance, because, for better or worse, this isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve seen these attacks on crop insurance in the past, so we sort of know where those hits are going to come,” she explained. See more

The ties that bind

Eastern Washington legislator works to defend small businesses, agriculture

January 2017
By Trista Crossley

Although Washington Sen. Judy Warnick isn’t primarily a producer, she has deep ties to the agricultural industry, and she’s known throughout the state as a stalwart champion of farmers.

Warnick (R-Moses Lake) first entered public service in 2007 when she was elected as a state representative for the 13th District. In 2014, she ran to fill the state senate position being vacated by Janéa Holmquist Newbry. Warnick easily won the seat with more than 80 percent of the vote. The 13th District includes all or parts of Grant, Kittitas, Lincoln and Yakima counties. Warnick and her husband, Roy, own a small business in Moses Lake, and it was that business, she said, that propelled her to first run for office.

“A lot of regulatory issues that the government decides impact our small businesses. That was the first thing that got me interested in state government and going over to Olympia to advocate for small businesses,” she explained. “Since I’ve been there, I’ve realized how the ag community is really impacted as well. We are in need of legislators that understand what farming is all about.”

Warnick’s ties to Washington agriculture began with her maternal great-grandparents who homesteaded in the late 1800s near Edwall. That farm remained in the family until the 1980s, and Warnick, herself, grew up on a small farm in Deer Park. Besides their small business, the Warnicks also own a farm in Grant County that they lease out. That background, Warnick said, gives her a connection to agriculture. She referenced a drawing she has hanging in her office of her uncles bringing in grain in horse-drawn wagons in the 1920s. See more

Crop insurance fight goes on

WAWG joins with Oregon, Idaho grower organizations, industry supporters and legislators to ask RMA to waive reporting rule in some low falling number cases

November 2016
By Trista Crossley

For many producers, finding out they had low falling number wheat was only the first punch in a double whammy. The second blow landed when they brought their elevator receipts to their crop insurance agents. It turns out that those falling number discounts from the elevators were going to be counted against growers’ actual production history, even if no crop insurance claim was made.

“Things are tough in the wheat industry right now,” said Michelle Hennings, Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ (WAWG) executive director. “With the price of wheat so low, many producers are already struggling to stay afloat. Then you add falling number (FN) discounts on top of low prices, plus getting dinged at the crop insurance level, and it hurts. For some farmers, the crop insurance issue might be the last straw because with the possibility of a declining actual production history (APH) from year to year, crop insurance becomes a less effective risk management tool.” See more

RMA explains falling number policy

Wheat Life reached out to the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to help clarify questions regarding RMA’s falling number policy. The questions and RMA’s answers are below. See More

A different perspective

The Washington Policy Center brings a credible, free-market approach to policy issues

August/September 2016

When it comes to agriculture and food, even the most scientifically solid argument can be choked by an emotional response to the messenger. Fortunately, Washington state’s farmers and ranchers just got a heaping spoonful of good fortune.

The Washington Policy Center (WPC), regarded by the public, legislators, stakeholders and the media as an organization that can be relied on to research and report on issues from a nonbiased, fact-based standpoint, recently created a position to investigate Washington’s agricultural issues and policies. The agricultural research arm joins six other key areas of research focus including education, environment, government reform, health care, small business and transportation. Chris Cargill, WPC’s Eastern Washington director, took a moment to answer some questions about WPC’s mission and its new ag position. See more

Agriculture beginning to plan now for 2018 Farm Bill

June 2016
By Trista Crossley

Battle scars from the last farm bill debate have just barely faded, but according to industry representatives, it’s already time for agriculture to start thinking about the next farm bill, due in 2018.

“It didn’t seem like agriculture had a loud enough voice in negotiations on the last farm bill,” explained Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG). “We need to bring all the commodities together and figure out what agriculture needs for the next one, which is right around the corner. We need to start telling our story now and educating decision makers in order to defend what we currently have and fight for any changes that should be made.” See more

Drift Details

Ag group hopes to change the conversation about pesticide applications in Washington state

May 2016
By Trista Crossley

For the past few years, the pesticide application conversation going on in Olympia has been drifting in the wrong direction, but a group of agricultural stakeholders is making plans to put it back on course.

“The last three years, the House committee on health care has held work sessions on pesticide drift, and every time, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) gets up and says the number of drift incidents that are exposing people to pesticides is not decreasing. This year, legislators came to me and said ‘you aren’t fixing your problem. You’d better fix it or we will fix it for you,’” explained Heather Hansen, executive director of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests (WFFF). “That’s the conversation we need to change.” See more


State agency attempts to put a price tag on 2015 water shortage

March 2016
By Trista Crossley

A recently released report from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) is attempting to put a price tag on how much last summer’s drought cost farmers.

Back in the spring of 2015, WSDA calculated that the drought’s worst-case scenario could cost the state $1.2 billion, a number touted by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee when he made a statewide declaration of drought in May. At that point, about one-fifth of the state’s rivers and streams were at record lows, the snowpack was nonexistent, and many areas of the state were already experiencing hotter-than-normal temperatures. By the last week of August, at the peak of the drought, 85 percent of the state was categorized as being in “extreme drought.” To add fuel to the fire, the state was experiencing wildfires on a historic scale, and exports were still recovering from a midwinter port slowdown. Agriculture, it seemed, was taking hits from all sides, and except for WSDA’s worst-case scenario estimate, the true impact of the drought was still up in the air. See more

WSDA reworks pesticide rules

Stakeholder workgroup offers advice on potential changes

February 2016
By Trista Crossley

Editor’s note: Throughout this article, we use the term “pesticide” to include herbicides.

Rules and regulations seem to be the bane of growers, so when the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) announced they were planning on consolidating and simplifying the use-restricted pesticide rules, stakeholders took notice.

Joel Kangiser, policy assistant in the WSDA’s Pesticide Management Division, said the current rules are complex, confusing and out of date. In fact, some sections are so out of date that applicators can’t follow a pesticide label and still be in compliance with the rules. So even though the department hasn’t seen an uptick in problems or incidents involving use-restricted pesticides and sensitive crops, they’ve decided the time is ripe to review current regulations. See more

A familiar face

Long-time political activist Mary Dye takes on a new role

January 2015
By Trista Crossley

Mary Dye might be (relatively) new to the Washington State Legislature, but with more than 20 years of political activism behind her, she’s already a name to be reckoned with in most Eastern Washington GOP circles.

Dye was appointed to fill Susan Fagan’s 9th District House seat last May and was re-elected in November’s general election.

From the time she was young, growing up in southeast Idaho, Dye said she’s loved all things agriculture. After graduating from the University of Idaho with an agronomy degree, Dye spent several years in Thailand with the Peace Corp before landing back in the Pacific Northwest as a fieldman for a crop development company. It was during this time she met her husband, Roger Dye, and became part of his family’s wheat farm near Pomeroy.

“They knew I was going to stick around when we had his and hers tractors. For a wedding present, he got me a new Morris HR 36 Culti-Weeder,” Dye said, laughing. See more