February 10, 2013 in Opinion

Farming key to our future

Kevin Dudley

When Paul Harvey’s voice mesmerized Super Bowl viewers as he narrated the “God Made a Farmer” ad for Dodge Ram, it seemed a cheer coming from Eastern Washington could be heard. Farming and agriculture are ingrained in the region’s being, and have been for some time.

In the spring of 1887, a group of citizens organized the city’s first “Board of Trade,” which sponsored the first Fruit Fair, the precursor to the annual Interstate Fair. The purpose was to highlight the agriculture industry in the area. The Spokane Chamber of Commerce – now Greater Spokane Incorporated – has been involved in the industry since that first Fruit Fair.

That celebration continued last week, as the second annual Ag Week filled the Spokane Convention Center and the adjoining DoubleTree Hotel. Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum – the main attractions – have taken place for 36 and 58 years, respectively.

More than 5,000 people attended Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum this year, and more than 250 companies exhibited. A number of agriculture-related associations and companies also chose Spokane to hold their annual meetings in conjunction with the Expo.

Celebrating the agriculture industry in our region is something we do every time we eat. Every edible food product and many nonedible items begin as a crop – wheat, corn, barley and soybeans, to name a few. There are agribusinesses of every type that help bring those foods and products to market, creating jobs in towns and cities.

The business the various events brought to Spokane was great. The business farms and ranches experience throughout the year has a greater importance. If you think farmers and ranchers are just people living out in the sticks with little contact to the real world, think again. The agriculture industry in Washington is responsible for 160,000 jobs, which is on par with our major industries in the state, like aerospace. Exporting materials and goods is also important business in our state.

Thirteen percent of Washington’s economy is represented by the agriculture industry. Whitman County has been able to boast as being the nation’s top wheat-producing county since 1978. Farms and ranches are businesses, often rich in land but not always rich in money.

The world has an appetite, and its population recently passed 7 billion and is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. More people will rely on the hard work the agriculture industry provides. Developing communities in other parts of the world will also rely on the agriculture industry, much like our nation did in its infancy.

An increasing world population also means research at our area institutions like Washington State University and the University of Idaho will be even more important.

Our weather can also be beneficial to the industry, which has experienced a good couple of years recently. Farmers and ranchers in other parts of the country haven’t been as fortunate because of bad weather, droughts and poor harvests.

While the need for food and materials is growing, the amount of land available is not. The challenges that await the farming industry are many. But those in the industry have never been ones to back down from hard work.

God made a farmer, indeed. We should all be thankful tonight as we sit down for dinner.

Kevin Dudley is the marketing and communications coordinator for Greater Spokane Incorporated.

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