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The 2018 harvest crew on the Robert Plucker Farm
in Touchet.

Photo by Derey Edmonds






A new type of business could supplant some of DNR's grazing, crop leases

November 2018
By Trista Crossley

In the last year, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has seen increasing interest in state lands from a new sort of lessee—solar farm companies.

According to Kathryn Mink, DNR’s agriculture assistant region manager for the southeast region, the interest is coming from both in state and out of state companies. Those companies have identified approximately 30 parcels of DNR-managed, state-owned land with solar farm potential—about 16,000 acres—that also have easy access to the electrical grid. The land is located in Adams, Asotin, Douglas, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln, Whitman and Yakima counties. In many cases, the solar farm companies are also interested in surrounding parcels that are privately owned, Mink said. Out of the 16,000 acres, less than 2,000 acres are currently in dryland wheat; the majority is in grazing. DNR has sent a letter to the current lessees of those 30 parcels notifying them of the solar farm potential. Read more


New CRP payment rates leave many Eastern Washington growers scratching their heads

November 2018
By Trista Crossley

Earlier this year, some Washington producers got a shock when they went to renew their Conservation Reserve Project (CRP) contracts. The rates had changed, and in many cases, not for the better. One farmer in Franklin County reported that his rate dropped by more than $20 per acre. In Asotin County, farmers saw their rates drop by more than half from last year.

The cause appeared to be twofold. First, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) changed their soil rental rates, but not all Washington county rates went down. Some even went up from last year (see Chart 1). The second change, and the one that might have hit harder, was the FSA’s change in their soil productivity factors. See more

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. See more

'Roots' tour stops by Washington

'Sonny' weather during ag secretary's Pacific Northwest visit

August/September 2018
By Trista Crossley

To be a farmer means living with uncertainty. But over two days at multiple events last month, Washington state growers made sure to impress upon U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that uncertainty in trade threatens their livelihoods.

Perdue was visiting the Pacific Northwest as part of his “Back to Our Roots” tour. Besides Washington, he also spent time in Idaho, Oregon and Alaska. While in Eastern Washington, he held a breakfast and fireside chat hosted by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) in Spokane, ate lunch with producers at The McGregor Company in Colfax and toured Washington State University’s (WSU) agricultural research facilities. The next day, before heading to Oregon and the ports in Vancouver, he and Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) held a farm hall breakfast in the Tri-Cities hosted by the Washington Farm Bureau. See more

Powered by water

August/September 2018
By Trista Crossley

In a very literal sense, the Columbia River System fuels life in the Pacific Northwest—growers rely on it to water their crops, and residents depend on it to help power their homes and businesses. As Columbia River Treaty (CRT) renegotiations between the U.S. and Canada continue, two more industries with distinctly different vested interests are closely watching.

Watts up?

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) is a nonprofit federal agency that markets wholesale electrical power from 31 federal hydroelectric dams throughout the Columbia River Basin, including Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams on the Columbia River and Lower Granite and Ice Harbor dams on the Snake River. Created in 1937, BPA currently provides approximately 28 percent of the electricity used across 300,000 square miles in eight western states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. It also owns more than 15,000 miles of transmission lines and employs almost 3,000 people full time. While there are other power generating companies who are directly impacted by the CRT, BPA is arguably the biggest, not only in terms of size, but also because it is directly responsible for fulfilling one of the basic conditions of the treaty, the Canadian Entitlement. See more

Going with the flow

Treaty's results have steered development of navigation, transportation industries

July 2018
By Trista Crossley

It’s accepted wisdom that rivers shape the landscape, but in the case of the Columbia River, that landscape includes more than just rock and dirt. It has also shaped the commercial and urban environment that has grown up around it. This is especially true for the navigation and transportation industries.

For more than 50 years, the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) between the U.S. and Canada has regulated the river’s flow by storing water behind Canadian dams in the spring as the snow melts and releasing that stored water in the fall when the river level tends to drop. That regulated flow has given the river system some predictability that it otherwise wouldn’t have, reduced flooding and allowed both nations to maximize hydropower production. The treaty has also allowed the navigation and transportation industries to develop their business infrastructure to take advantage of a more predictable river system. See more

Looking for solutions 60 years in the past

Is now the time for the federal government to finish the Columbia Basin Project?

June 2018
By Trista Crossley

From the very beginning, concerns about the cost of surface water have dogged the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project and sent invested parties scrambling for funding alternatives. One group of farmers think they’ve found a viable lead by going back more than 60 years—asking the federal government to finish the Columbia Basin Project.

In 1943, Congress authorized the Columbia Basin Project (CBP), which was intended to use Columbia River water to irrigate 1.1 million acres of cropland in central Washington. To date, only 671,000 acres have access to that water with the rest of it relying on deep-water wells that tap the Odessa Aquifer. That aquifer is now running dry, threatening not only irrigated cropland, but towns and residents who rely on it for drinking water. The Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project (OGWRP) hopes to move more than 87,000 acres off those wells to relieve the pressure (see related article on page 22), but there are fears that the project will be too expensive to meet its goal. See more

State funnels funds to irrigation project

Capital budget included $15 million for Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project

June 2018
By Trista Crossley

When the state legislature passed last year’s capital budget in January of this year, it included a $15 million funding boost for the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Project (OGWRP).

The funding will be split, with $5 million earmarked for increased delivery capacity in the first distribution system slated for construction, the 47.5. The other $10 million will be used to continue East Low Canal expansion work, specifically the two Kansas Prairie siphons, said Mike Schwisow, director of government relations for the Columbia Basin Development League, a nonprofit group that advocates for development of the Columbia Basin Project. See more

Ecology settles Hangman Creek lawsuit

Agreement likely to bring extra scrutiny to Spokane County growers

May 2018
By Trista Crossley

A recent agreement between the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) and the Spokane Riverkeeper will likely bring a renewed focus on agriculture as a source of nonpoint pollution in the Hangman Creek Watershed in southern Spokane County.

The agreement settles a lawsuit brought by the Spokane Riverkeeper in 2015 that claimed Ecology wasn’t doing enough to clean up the Hangman Creek Watershed fast enough. In 2009, Ecology published a report setting total maximum daily loads for the watershed to bring it into compliance with the state’s water quality standards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed off on the report and Ecology’s plan to address the watershed’s problems. The lawsuit claimed that Ecology couldn’t provide reasonable assurances that it could meet the standard in the clean-up plan.

“There’s certainly been some work done in the watershed,” said Chad Atkins, Ecology’s acting watershed unit supervisor for the Hangman Creek Watershed. “But some of that work takes a long time to see in terms of water quality benefits in-stream. It takes time for trees to grow; vegetation to get established; and some tillage practice improvements to show up in the water column. It’s also fair to say that progress has been slow to date. This provides an opportunity to work with our partners and make some additional progress.” See more

AMMO: Counting on crop insurance

Ag economist Art Barnaby emphasizes importance of harvest price option

April 2018
By Trista Crossley

While Dr. Art Barnaby, an ag economist from Kansas State University, addressed a wide variety of topics related to crop insurance at the second of 2018’s Agricultural Marketing and Management seminars, it was the potential impact of losing the harvest price option (HPO) that he wanted to drive home.

“If that option is taken out of insurance, it affects this part of the country because they are settling their claims based off Portland prices, and you can’t effectively do that with hedging on the board. There’s not enough of a relationship between those two numbers,” he said in an interview after his presentation. “These guys are farmers, and they are all well aware of how these things work, so it’s a pretty easy group to explain to why the harvest price option is important to them. I wish it were that easy to explain to the policymakers who are talking about removing it.” See more

Taking the helm

New FSA state executive director brings passion for agriculture to the job

February 2018
By Trista Crossley

Brian Dansel has had a lot of titles in the past eight years: Ferry County commissioner, state senator, special assistant to the U.S. secretary of agriculture. In November 2017, he added one more: state executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA).

Dansel grew up in Republic, Wash., where he still lives with his wife and son. His first foray into public service, prompted by a property rights issue, happened in 2010 when he was elected as a Ferry County commissioner.

“I got into public service because I did not like the Growth Management Act, and I wanted to make some changes,” he explained. “I never felt really super political. I was a more of a mind-my-own-business type of person, but when other people stuck their nose in my business, then it was time to get involved.”

Dansel moved on to the state legislature in 2013, becoming a senator for the 7th District. While in the Senate, he was an advocate of agriculture, serving on both the Senate Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Agriculture Committee. In January 2017, Dansel resigned his Senate seat to take a position as a special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture as part of the Trump Administration’s initial “beachhead” team. He said he spent much of his time in Washington, D.C., focusing on rural infrastructure. See more

Drowning in water issues

Convention breakout session puts Snake River dams, other water concerns in spotlight

January 2018
By Trista Crossley

While breakout sessions at the annual grain growers convention cover a myriad of topics, farmers can usually count on at least one session being focused on water. This year, the 2017 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention in November put the Snake River dams at the center of that current.

Todd Myers, director for the Washington Policy Center’s Center for the Environment, gave a breakout session titled, “Dams and Wells: The Future of Water and Farmers.” As Myers said, breaching the Snake River dams is a topic that never goes away. A 2016 federal court ruling directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to look at scenarios to protect salmon and steelhead, including tearing down four dams on the lower Snake River, despite the fact that fish counts are slowly increasing.

While some irrigation and flood control is provided by the dams, they are used mostly for navigation and to generate electricity. Myers said that most parties recognize there are economic problems involved in tearing down the dams. See more

Weed concerns

A year after leases terminated, Benton County DNR land is sitting idle

December 2017
By Trista Crossley

In the year since several Benton County farmers had their leases terminated early by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), little progress has been made in turning the land to a “higher and better use.”

According to Katie Mink, assistant region manager for DNR’s southeast region, the project was put out for auction in April of this year, but received no qualified bids. DNR has been reaching out to parties who had expressed interest in the project but didn’t submit a bid in an effort to understand those parties’ concerns. In most cases, Mink said, the cost of the project was the primary obstacle. DNR estimates that the cost for installing the pipeline and related on-farm infrastructure to be upwards of $17 million.

“We are in conversations with a few parties who have expressed interest in working with us to make this project happen in a manner that is beneficial to both them and the school trust,” Mink said.

At this time, DNR hasn’t set another auction date. See more

A harvest of a different sort

November 2017
By Trista Crossley

Mike Poulson is a familiar face in Eastern Washington agricultural circles, but the crops he harvests don’t come from seeds. Instead, Poulson gathers information, passing the concerns and worries of farmers to his boss, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).

Poulson, the agriculture and natural resource policy director for McMorris Rodgers, hasn’t always been in the business of politics. His father, a veteran, moved the family to a Columbia Basin farm when Poulson was 14, and he grew up like every farm kid, helping out before and after school. He attended Washington State University before returning to the farm full time.

“My second grade teacher thought I should be in math or physics,” Poulson recalled. “I told her I wanted to be a farmer, and that never changed. When you grow up on a farm and your dad farms, then there’s a strong likelihood you’ll end up farming. I’ve heard people say that farming is a way of life, and I guess that’s true.” See more

Different sides, same struggles

Tour gets legislators out of Olympia and onto the farm

November 2017
By Trista Crossley

There aren’t many places in Eastern Washington that can compare to the climate (30” to 35” of rain) and the range of crops (80 different ones) that are grown in the Skagit Valley, but the struggles farmers face are the same on both sides of the state.

In September, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) participated in a legislative ag tour that brought elected officials and aides out of their offices and onto the farm to help them understand the real-world impacts of legislation. A team of WAWG officers and staff participated in the tour along with representatives from the potato, shellfish, dairy and wine industries; Washington Friends of Farms and Forests (WFFF); and the Western Washington Agricultural Association, among others. Despite a long day that began with a 5 a.m. flight, the WAWG representatives returned home having found solid common ground with western Washington farmers.

“When I look around the state, we grow different crops and our farming practices are different, but the frustrations and issues we face are similar,” said WAWG Vice President Marci Green. See more

Under cover

RMA adds triticale, uninsured third-party damage to crop insurance

August/September 2017
By Trista Crossley

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) has rolled out two new types of coverage for the 2018 crop year that will have some farmers sighing in relief: coverage for triticale and relief from uninsured, third-party damage.


Sales closing date for fall- and spring-planted triticale for the 2018 crop year is Sept. 30. The new coverage is a result of a private development under the Federal Crop Insurance Act’s 508(h) process and is available in select counties in seven states across the nation. In Washington state, coverage is available in Adams, Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Douglas, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Klickitat, Lincoln, Okanogan, Skagit, Spokane, Walla Walla, Whitman and Yakima counties. Counties not currently covered will not be eligible to be covered under written agreement, said Ben Thiel, director of RMA’s Spokane Regional Office, which covers Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. See more