Olympia Days 2024 Wheat growers take part in annual advocacy trip to advance wheat's priorities

By Trista Crossley


Last month, 19 wheat representatives spent a day and a half visiting 49 state legislators and agencies to talk about the industry’s priorities during the Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ (WAWG) annual Olympia Days trip. Cookies were also involved.

“We had some very good discussions with legislators on both sides of the aisle,” said Michelle Hennings, WAWG executive director. “It’s a short, 60-day session, and hundreds of bills have already been introduced, so wheat growers had their work cut out for them.”

Last month, wheat growers spent two days in Olympia, meeting with legislators to talk about wheat industry priorities. Photo courtesy of the Washington State Legislative Support Services.

Before hitting the hill, growers had a planning meeting with lobbyists Diana Carlen and Mark Strueli to go over WAWG’s priority list. Wheat growers handed out coffee and sugar cookies decorated as wheat stalks in the Capitol Building to legislators and staff. Legislators were also invited to an evening reception at a local restaurant where more informal discussions could be held. “A big thank you to all the growers who braved the weather and traveled to Olympia. Advocating for the wheat industry is a large part of WAWG’s mission, and it makes a huge impact when a legislator can interact directly with a grower,” Hennings said.

The group included the 2024 Washington Wheat Ambassadors, Samantha Holling and Izabella Meyers.

The Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ 2024 trip to Olympia featured more past presidents (and one current president) than ever. In front is Marci Green (2017-18). Second row, from left, is Larry Cochran (2014-15); Kevin Klein (2015-16); Ben Barstow (2010-11); Anthony Smith (2023-24); and Perry Dozier (2000-01). Third row, from left, is Ben Adams (2016-17); Howard McDonald (2021-22); Andy Juris (2022-23); and Ryan Poe (2019-21).

WAWG’s priorities for the 2024 Washington State Legislative Session include:

Carbon policies should ensure Washington state retains its economic competitiveness and does not disadvantage Washington farmers. When the Legislature passed the Climate Commitment Act (CCA), it exempted fuel used on the farm and for transporting certain ag products. However, when the CCA became effective last year, many fuel suppliers began tacking on a carbon fuel surcharge for their compliance obligations under the law. Ultimately, that surcharge was passed onto consumers, including farmers who were supposed to be exempt. Many fuel suppliers and distributors have implemented their own methods of exempting farmers, resulting in a patchwork that does not cover all producers. WAWG supports SB 5783/HB 1887 requiring the Department of Ecology to rebate farmers and haulers of farm products for carbon fuel surcharges they have paid but not been reimbursed for.

WAWG supports keeping the lower Snake River dams intact as they are vital to Washington and the nation’s economy and transportation infrastructure. WAWG also supports funding for maintaining the Columbia River System. Removal of the four lower Snake River dams would significantly increase carbon emissions that contribute to climate change and jeopardize health, safety, and livelihoods in already economically fragile local and regional economies. WAWG supports the findings in the Federal EIS and opposes any state, legislative, or administrative effort to remove or disrupt the Snake River dam system, including the recent U.S. government’s commitments in support of the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative. WAWG is deeply disappointed by the lack of transparency in the mediation process. Despite consistent efforts to engage, Washington’s agriculture industry was effectively excluded from this process even though our members would be directly impacted by significant changes to the river system.

Access to pesticides is essential to keeping Washington agriculture productive and globally competitive. WAWG supports the professional use of crop protection products, which have been shown to be safe and effective through science-based research.

•Agricultural workers became eligible for overtime pay in 2021 after the Legislature removed the agricultural overtime exemption and adopted a phased-in approach. In 2024, overtime kicked in after 40 hours in a week. Unfortunately, Washington’s overtime requirement does not address the seasonal needs of agriculture. In addition, the overtime requirement has had unintended consequences for farmworkers. A recent examination of California’s overtime requirement for agriculture, conducted by a professor at UC Berkeley, found that as a result of the overtime law, California farmworkers worked a total of 15,000 to 45,000 fewer hours and earned a total of $6 to $9 million less. WAWG supports legislation allowing farmworkers to earn money for up to 50 hours per week for 12 weeks of the year before overtime provisions kick in. This legislation will allow agricultural employers limited flexibility to shape work schedules during a narrow window of time to best fit the peaks of labor demand, thereby providing them some ability to weather the unpredictability of agricultural work and ensure that Washington’s second largest industry remains vital and strong while also ensuring security for farmworkers.

WAWG is supportive of voluntary conservation programs which offer flexibility and fairly compensate farmers for riparian protection. WAWG stands in firm opposition to programs that mandate riparian buffers based on Site Potential Tree Height as it threatens the future viability of agriculture by removing significant portions of productive farmland out of production. WAWG supports the continuation of the governor’s Riparian Task Force to continue discussions on protecting salmon while also ensuring the viability of agriculture. WAWG also supports full funding of voluntary conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and the Voluntary Stewardship Program.

Retaining all food and farm-related tax incentives are critical to the agricultural industry. Ag tax incentives are a valuable benefit to our economy and offer farmers a more level playing field with other major ag production states. Incentives are intended to be a long-term state investment into the ag industry.