New, innovative legislative disappointments

By Andy Juris
President, Washington Association of Wheat Growers

wheat field

New, innovative legislative disappointmentsI was talking to my neighbor about the highs and lows of farming. It got me thinking, what emotion seems to be the most prevalent in agriculture? I’m gonna go with disappointment. I’ve heard of disappointing weather, politicians, equipment dealerships and don’t even get me started on the latest miracle product my agronomist recommends. I think that’s why, just like a group of crows is called a “murder of crows,” a group of farmers is often called a “gripe.”

Now, before all you optimists get on your high horses, I think we need to examine the environment that shapes the mental outlook of your standard disappointed farmer. We exist in a world where almost everything affects us, yet we have almost no control over anything. What little control we do have is along the lines of what socks we’re going to wear. As John F. Kennedy pointed out, farmers buy retail, sell wholesale and pay shipping both ways. Yes, disappointment is a frequent visitor to most of us in agriculture. 

Lately, it seems that our state legislature has been high on our list for producing new and innovative disappointments, not the least of which is the current battle for agriculture’s exemption from cap-and-trade fuel charges. Despite being specifically exempted from these charges in state law, and despite the promises made by many of cap-and-trade’s proponents, we find ourselves paying significantly higher fuel costs this year. Now, the reasons for all of this could take far more than the 600 words my editor allots me each month, but suffice it to say, there is an extreme disconnect between how our governor and his Department of Ecology see markets working and reality. This disconnect not only has led to the current problem — no practical mechanism for the petroleum industry to exempt ag — but also to the inaction (bordering on apathy) by Ecology to develop a fix for this mess. A real disappointment. 

While assembling a gripe of farmers down at the coffee shop (now renamed the local Whinery), it is cathartic to voice one’s disappointments. But so often we stop there. Disappointment turns to anger, and anger seldom leads to real solutions. The late-night philosopher, Conan O’Brien, has said that through disappointment we gain clarity. In the last several years, we have gained exactly that. We see that in Olympia, there are many legislators who need education on economics, agronomics and the effects of poor policy. There are still others who are, or can be, our advocates (some in parties we don’t expect). We need to shrug off the cloud of our personal politics and build relationships with these allies. And disappointingly, there are those driven by pure ideology who will use whatever means necessary to fulfill their vision of what they want. The last three years have shown us who many of these people are, and we can move ahead with a clearer picture of where they stand. 

So, we move on, get involved, come to meetings, provide testimony, take the time to talk to legislators. I’ve heard some very practical solutions for our fuel problem, but they need your support to move forward. When all of us in Washington wheat speak in one voice, we are heard. We may be disappointed, but not disheartened. We are in this together, so let’s work together for a better solution and a more hopeful future for wheat growers in Washington.