Industry tour and study illustrated far-reaching economic effects of farming and supporting industries
During this past year, the local farming community felt they were under attack due to new local and state government policies and overregulation. Why were these decisions made? Because policy makers did not truly understand the economic contributions of local farming, that it encompasses more than simply the growing of crops, the milking of cows and the transporting of product to the grocery store. And if you do not have the big picture, how can you make good policy decisions?
To enlighten both policy makers and the business community in general, the Whatcom Business Alliance (WBA) commissioned the Whatcom County Agribusiness Sector Analysis, a 22-page overview of farming and related industry sectors supported by farming, collectively referred to as ‘agribusiness’. It’s imperative to understand that policy and regulations do not just affect the family farm, but all of the businesses that rely on local agriculture for their survival.
On Thursday, August 24, the WBA, in collaboration with Whatcom Family Farmers, hosted the Agribusiness Industry Tour. The 5-hour event featured lunch, a recap of the study, a guided bus tour of local agribusiness, guided tours of two farms – Enfield Farms/ NW Plant Company and Edaleen Dairy – and ended with an ice cream social.
Attendees included representatives from local and state government and the Port of Bellingham, as well as representatives from Sustainable Connections, the Whatcom County Farm Bureau, the local ag industry and WBA members. At the conclusion of the tour, 85 attendees walked away with a much clearer understanding of economic contributions of agribusiness in Whatcom County and the numerous issues that affect farming and supporting industries.
Highlights of Agribusiness Sector Analysis
The event kicked off with a picnic lunch, sponsored by Haggen’s Market Street Catering,
along with a half-hour presentation by Hart Hodges and James McCafferty with the Western Washington University Center of Economic and Business Research, which conducted the study.
According to the study, farming and related agribusiness contribute:
- 1.4 Billion locally in Revenue
- $377 million in annual wages
- 8,405 jobs in farming and jobs supported by farming (plus an additional 2,000 seasonal berry-related jobs)
- approximately 11% of the jobs in Whatcom County
In terms of commodities sold:
- Milk is the county’s leading agricultural commodity in terms of production value
- Whatcom County is the country’s leading producer of raspberries
- 85% of Washington’s frozen red raspberries and 65% of frozen red raspberries nationally are supplied by Whatcom County
Local farming supports jobs in a variety of industry sectors, including:
- Cold storage
- Electric power generation
- Equipment repair
- Equipment retailers
- Feed manufacturing & distribution
- Fertilizer production
- Financial services
- Process & harvest equipment manufacturing
- Transportation services
The study also noted that local farmers and owners of farm-related businesses are concerned with the impacts of regulation on farming – not the idea of regulation itself, but how regulations were designed or imposed/implemented. Farmers also want the opportunity to work with environmental and advocacy groups to help them understand impacts on farming and ensure regulations are appropriately implemented.
Tour Showcased Local Agribusiness
After the luncheon, which featured locally sourced foods, attendees separated into two
groups and hopped aboard buses from Bellair Charters, a local bus charter and airport transportation service provider. The tour consisted of a 45-minute agri-tour to highlight a sampling of the businesses supported by the local farming community and two hour-long farm visits.
The guided agri-tour included businesses from diverse industries including equipment dealers Washington Tractor, Scholten’s Equipment and Farmer’s Equipment, CHS Northwest Fertilizer, farm equipment manufacturer Oxbo International, Dairigold’s Lynden dairy plant, Twin Brook Creamery and Rader Farms berry processing facility. Tour guides explained how each business’s function was linked to local agriculture. Guides also explained the importance of crop rotation, the advantages of anaerobic digesters and local companies that benefit from bi-product they produce and challenges farmers currently face, such as water quality issues.
“The tour was a real eye opener. You really have no idea just how many businesses financially rely on local agriculture,” said Maggie Stafford, marketing and events project manager for the WBA. “For instance, 50% of Perry Pallet’s business comes from the local agricultural industry.”
At Enfield Farms, attendees toured the farm, their world-class individually quick frozen (IQF) packing facility fabricated by Andgar, which freezes and packs 15 million tons of berries yearly for distribution both nationally and internationally and the farm’s NW Plant Company, a state-of-the-art research and development facility focuses on developing top quality, disease-free raspberries and blackberries.
The tour of Edaleen Dairy featured a farm tour and a presentation by Eric Powell of Regenis, manufacturer of the farm’s anaerobic digester,
which captures methane gas and turns it into energy and removes harmful bacterial to create fertilizer and bedding for the animals – all renewable resources used by the farm. Some of the energy produced is also sold to Puget Sound Energy as energy credits.
The Takeaway for Attendees
At the conclusion of the tour, attendees were treated to an ice cream social with ice cream and berries provided by Edaleen Dairy.
While the tour offered a day of camaraderie and culminated with one of America’s favorite frosty treats, the takeaway for attendees was a much greater understanding of how local agribusiness benefits our community, provides long-term jobs, includes a closely integrated network of industries that rely on each other for support and is actually more tech savvy than most of us probably realize.
“For policy makers, the goal of the tour was to provide them the bigger picture, so they understand what they are making policy for to help them make better decisions,” explained Tony Larson, WBA president. “They can make policy that can have damaging affects, both short and long term. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By working together, positive regulations can be established, rather than just laws that were not informed nor thought out prior to passing them.”
To learn more about the Whatcom County agribusiness industry, download the study today.
Did you know the WBA holds quarterly industry tours? The Agri-Tour was the final tour of 2017. Be sure to check the event calendar on the website to participate in upcoming tours in 2018. Tours are FREE to WBA members.
Not a WBA member? Join today!