I am writing this as an addendum to the chair’s report from Luke Moerke in the recent Economic Report in The Chronicle.
It is great to see the Economic Alliance taking an interest in helping agriculture survive and thrive in Southwest Washington. The success of farms and ranches in the entire region has a benefit to Lewis County and Chehalis in particular because Chehalis has been and continues to be the “market town” for the entire region. Chehalis is the market town because of the farm equipment dealers, fertilizer supplier, farm supply stores and a variety of other businesses that provide services to the agriculture industry.
One of the issues area farms deal with is the consolidation nationally of retailers and processors and suppliers. Those quasi-monopoly businesses only want to deal with large-scale growers. National Frozen Foods ending contracting in Western Washington is a prime example of that. When I returned to the farm there were 22,000 acres of green peas under contract in Western Washington. Now there are none. Our area has very good farmland, but it is scattered over a wide area and not practical for very large farms to operate.
The search for profitable crops to grow in the area is too long to explain here, but the result included the forming of the Southwest Washington Growers Co-op, done with the aid of the Northwest Agriculture Business Center (NABC). The co-op is the sales agent for the members selling to Great Western Malting.
The need for the grain storage facility has been fully demonstrated by events this summer. Burlington Northern’s inability to deliver rail cars in a timely manner has been stunning. Barley harvest was stopped for a week as growers waited for cars. That delay interrupted a harvest that could have been finished, but some grain is still in the field. Recent rain brings a potential loss of quality and price.
The grain facility will also be used to bring grain products to the area that are not grown here.
The co-op has a food hub as another division, called a pool. Again, the goal is to work together as growers to find markets and provide the food products for those markets. This year, they have been putting a variety of produce in “food boxes” that can be picked up weekly at a variety of locations. They are also working with regional schools and other institutions to provide fresh food for their kitchens.
From the beginning of this process to replace the loss of pea, corn and bean contracts, the Port of Chehalis has been most supportive. They have a property they would like to be home to the grain project as well as other ag-related business. The co-op is currently in negotiation with the Port for a facility to house their activities.
There are a wide variety of people and organizations that have and continue to help support the effort to make local agriculture thrive. For fear of leaving some folks out I will only name organizations that have helped the process: NABC, Port of Chehalis, Lewis County Commission, Economic Alliance Board, Office of Chehalis Basin, Lewis Conservation District, WSU Thurston Extension, Lewis County Farm Bureau, Valley Agronomics, The Chronicle, The Capital Press, Washington Department of Agriculture, Thurston County EDC, Office of Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, 20th and 19th District legislators and the Legislature (the source of the largest funding pool to date), Great Western Malting and the group of growers that have committed considerable time to further the goals of the co-op and a thriving agricultural economy.
Southwest Washington Growers Co-op Board President