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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Wendy Powers and Derek Sandison: As Farm Bill talks continue, look to Washington’s contributions to food production, safety and security

Wendy Powers and Derek Sandison

From the iconic apples of Wenatchee to the rich wines of Walla Walla, Washington’s agricultural prowess extends far beyond local farmers’ markets. Our farms and ranches feed millions and contribute to food security and safety in an ever-changing global landscape, underscoring the critical need for a robust and inclusive Farm Bill to support this essential industry.

As Farm Bill deliberations continue, Congress should look to Washington state as an example of how the country can take a stronger approach to agricultural issues.

Rich soils, diverse climates and large-scale irrigation make Washington one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, allowing the production of more than 300 different crops. And while other states are reducing food production and processing, Washington’s role in feeding the world could elevate with proper support and investment.

Washington is a powerhouse of agricultural production. The state’s crops and commodities not only feed millions but also contribute to our economy, supporting jobs and communities. Agriculture and food manufacturing operations in the state support more than 171,000 jobs, and the industry generates more than $21 billion in revenue annually from food processing. International export of agricultural products contributes more than $7 billion, annually, for the state.

Issues of food safety and security are front and center as Congress debates the Farm Bill. Many consumers are unaware of the lurking threats to the U.S. food supply that foreign governments and people seeking power pose to our food and water supplies. In Washington, researchers at Washington State University and the Washington State Department of Agriculture recognize the importance of expanding capacity to address these potential threats.

One emerging threat is the increasing vulnerability of our agricultural infrastructure to cyberattacks. As the use of automation and computer-assisted technology – from GPS-guided tractors to digitally controlled irrigation systems and the implementation of supply chain management software – is on the rise, a cyberattack on these systems could disrupt planting, harvesting and distribution, leading to shortages and economic loss. In a world where digital security is as critical as physical security, ensuring the resilience of our agricultural systems against such threats is paramount.

The growing trend of foreign-owned farmland, food production and food processing facilities, as well as agriculture supply companies, adds another layer of complexity to security. As international entities acquire increasing amounts of U.S. agricultural land, concerns rise about the control and availability of domestic food resources. Identifying potential solutions to combat these threats will require continued investment in agriculture research to address food distribution, affordability and access issues.

We were pleased to see funding for the Research Facilities Act in the House version of the Farm Bill, $500 million per year through 2029, as time and deferred maintenance are catching up at our research centers, where much of this important work with industry is taking place. For example, at WSU, facilities are 70-80 years old, and some are nearly 100 years old. Maintenance and critical upgrades are often impossible with dated construction and the rarity of the parts needed for antiquated infrastructure systems.

In recent years, Washington farmers have faced unprecedented challenges leading to the loss of 3,717 farms since 2017. Programs within the Farm Bill like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Reserve Program help farmers adapt to the changing landscape. Additionally, nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, not only support families in need but also create a dependable domestic market for agricultural products. This synergy between agriculture and nutrition strengthens the entire supply chain.

The importance of passing the Farm Bill extends beyond its economic and environmental dimensions– it’s about sustaining a way of life that is central to our identity. Farming in Washington is often a family affair, with deep roots and traditions that span generations. These families are stewards of our land, the innovators driving agricultural advancements and the providers of our most fundamental needs. The Farm Bill is not just a policy – it’s a lifeline that preserves the legacy and future of Washington agriculture.

We are fortunate in Washington state to have steady, reliable leadership on agriculture issues in Washington, D.C., and are grateful to our delegation for their continued leadership and efforts on behalf of industry and research.

Washington state has a rich history of leadership in agriculture, and is well-positioned to inform how the industry, and the country, will tackle 21st century challenges and beyond. We hope the Farm Bill will acknowledge the much-needed work necessary to build a safe, secure food system.

Wendy Powers, Ph.D., is the Cashup Davis Family Endowed Dean of Washington State University’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. Derek Sandison has served as director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture since he was appointed in 2015.