Washington’s agricultural abundance provides an opportunity to build bridges

Apr 27, 2020

Milk dumping. Vegetables unharvested. Labor questions. Grocery shelves left empty. These are all experiences and concerns throughout the United States in recent months. 

It is important for consumers to bear in mind these occurrences are not indicative of agriculture shutting down.

During the last several generations, agriculture has become a global economy, dependent upon trade, consumer demand, and food trends as much as any other retail-driven business. As economies have slowed to a near halt in the face of COVID-19 shutdowns around the globe, agriculture is left with the difficulty of being in the business of marketing products with a shelf-life.

In Washington state, trade is crucial to the agricultural economy. Our state ranks 11th in the nation in agricultural exports and we depend upon our trade partners for much of our income. In 2017, Washington fruit growers exported $1.4 billion in fresh and processed fruits according to the U.S. Trade Representative, ranking our state second in each category that year. We ranked third in the nation in processed vegetable exports in 2017, sending $344 million abroad, and fourth in wheat exports with $481 million.

Trade markets appear to be tightening as some countries choose to direct their own locally grown food supplies to their citizens and others are choosing to close their borders to anything from “outside” sources. 

The current situation creates a unique opportunity for consumers and agriculture alike – an opportunity to build bridges.

Washington state produces more than 300 different commodities and leads the nation in the production of numerous fruits including apples, plums, cherries, and raspberries. Additionally, our farmers produce much more including milk and dairy products, poultry, fish, beef, potatoes, corn, beans, and other various vegetables. While Washington state farmers, dairy producers, and ranchers are dependent upon trade to keep the bulk of their products sold, they also offer an array of products that can be purchased locally.

Now is an ideal opportunity for Washingtonians to begin looking to their local producers for items they are missing at the grocery store. Farm stands and farmers markets are not quite ready to open but meat, poultry, egg, and dairy product producers may have items available either through local markets or their own direct sales pursuits. 

If we can pull together as a community of Washingtonians, it will help us recover more quickly and effectively from the quarantines of COVID-19.