February 10, 2006

Boost Sustainable WA State Agriculture On The Cheap

These days, it isn't just computing and aerospace jobs that are vanishing overseas. The food and agriculture industry, which represents a fifth of Washington State's economy, has been under the same pressures.

The cost competition that's driven down the prices growers get paid has accompanied an increase in the cost of farming inputs, petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, seeds and machinery. The current business climate favors large businesses that grow one crop (monoculture, monocropping) over a large area.

Monocropping attracts pests, encourages weeds and drains the soil. It leads directly to a greater need for fertilizer and pesticide inputs that eat into the bottom line.

Small and medium sized farms have to pay more attention to soil quality out of necessity, while even conventional small farms are more likely to grow a wide variety of foods and promote local biodiversity. And the smaller the operation, the less likely they are to carelessly or wastefully apply chemical inputs, which decreases the amount of potentially harmful runoff into waterways. In fact, it seems only fitting that one of the best ways to promote healthy ecosystems in agricultural areas is to promote a healthy diversity of small enterprise. Yet around the globe, food production is being concentrated in fewer hands and into fewer, larger farms.

Washington State University has developed an environmentally and socially responsible program that addresses these issues at the state level. The Biologically Intensive Agriculture & Organic Farming program, BIOAg, has proactively looked for good business solutions for growers, making their work and research freely available to the community [pdf].

Faculty both at WSU's main Pullman campus and at their research and extension sites work hard to adapt high-value crops to local climate and soil conditions, perform consumer education and research, provide 'tech support' for local growers' land management issues, have developed several inexpensive sustainable means of pest control and fertility management, and offer continuing education for farmers with respect to both farming practices and marketing their products. Some conventional farms have even adopted the environmentally sound management techniques developed through BIOAg because of the cost savings they represent.

The benefit to the state at large is a healthier environment, a stronger economy and fresher, locally produced food in our grocery stores. More small farms get to stay in business because they gain access to better paying markets for organic or high-value foods. All this for the bargain basement price of $800,000 a year in state funding.

Go here for all the information you need to take immediate action on behalf of the BIOAg program with state legislators. The House has already included BIOAg in their planned budget, however the Governor's and Senate's budgets have overlooked it. For maximum impact, please contact your state legislators by next Tuesday.

Posted by natasha at February 10, 2006 06:14 AM | WA Politics | Technorati links |

Excellent. Excerpted this morning on my own blog.

Posted by: Arthur at February 10, 2006 06:41 AM