CNBC on December 21 carried this commentary on the role of clean tech in helping our family farms survive. This is one thing that farmers have been saying for some time to those anti-farm activists who are trying through regulations to push them out of business. Farms are making tremendous progress in addressing legitimate environmental concerns. But give us time, help us, support us, don't destroy us with massive and unproductive regulations.
This article makes a few important points worth noting:
- 97% of our nation's farms are family farms--please note the USDA definition of a family farm. It is where the family owns and operates it. That's the definition we use, not an arbitrary size number.
- family farm income has dropped 45% since a high in 2013. It's something we have been trying to tell Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and RE Sources who are fighting to impose the dairy farm killing regulations: give us a break! We're losing our farm shirts here and you want to pile on regulations that would cost us over $1100 per cow! That would destroy our family farms.
There are a great many examples of innovative farmers employing new technologies to improve operations and reduce environmental risks. We know where most environmentalists stand– solidly behind our farmers who are working hard to do it right. We just need to have them tell their environmental activist groups like Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and RE Sources to work with us instead of working for the end of our family farms.
The sad reality of farmer suicides is made so much worse when you know that those who should be the greatest friends of farmers are causing some of the greatest problems. Farmers are so sad and frustrated that non-profit groups like Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Western Environmental Law Center, and RE Sources are working together to impose completely unnecessary regulations that would destroy virtually all our family dairy farms.
Here is the Guardian story on farmer suicides:
Farmers keep wondering why environmental groups like Puget Soundkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance, RE Sources and Western Environmental Law Center keep trying to force our dairy farms out of business. Shouldn't they be focusing a bit more on urban pollution, the clearly established cause of most pollution?
This new study out of the UK gives a one-two punch to the attacks on farming by these groups. The Osteoporosis society finds that urban pollution from roads contributes to the disease suffered by millions. Then prescribes a diet with dairy products as one of the most important things people can do to prevent this disease.
We think they should have mentioned that perhaps moving to the country would help reduce the exposure to the road-born pollution. Oh wait, we may not have a country-side left if those groups attacking our family farms have their way. And we certainly won't have any more dairy products coming from Washington state.
Something smells here and it isn't rotten fish. The Columbian reported on Oct 5 about the massive sewage spill from the Vancouver, WA sewage treatment plant. About 510,000 gallons of sewage, including 400,000 of raw sewage (feces and the like), went into the Columbia River.
This follows on the massive spill in Seattle when over 150 million gallons (yes, million!) went into Puget Sound.
We understand that accidents happen and no one intended to create these environmental disasters. What we farmers have a hard time with is how easily these things are dismissed as minor, while a teaspoon of cow manure into a ditch or a stream is seen by many as an environmental catastrophe.
Here's what Vancouver's engineering manager said, downplaying the impact: The good news, Swensen said, is all trace of sewage should be long gone. “The volume of the river is such that by now any of the (sewage) has been diluted to a point it’s not a problem and washed down stream,” he said. “There’s nothing really for us to do.”
When the big Seattle spill happened, the environmental groups like Puget Soundkeeper were silent. The Seattle Times finally got a wimpish statement out of them after publishing an editorial about their double standard.
When a dairy farmer accidentally spills even a small amount of manure into a stream, it is a violation of the state's very strict dairy management laws which call for ZERO discharge. The farmer can be cited and fined. One farmer has a very small spill that was long cleaned up when an EPA official from the Criminal Investigation Unit showed up, packing a gun and handed the farmer a business card that said: "Glock Certified Armorer." We wonder what would have happened if the farmer had said something like the Vancouver engineering manager: "Oh don't worry, sir, it's been diluted and washed downstream, there's really nothing for us to do."
What is most annoying is Puget Soundkeeper who purports to work to protect Puget Sound but makes hardly a squeak about these kinds of spills, while at the same time claiming on their website that cows produce manure in quantities "far beyond the capability of farmers to manage" it. That, in farm language is called complete BS. We suggest the leaders read up on the Dairy Nutrient Management Act, and start paying attention to these too frequent "minor" sewage disasters.
On September 22 Seattle Times columnist Brier Dudley wrote about the Transportation Choices Coalition and its lobbying activities. He recommends several things the state should do to increase transparency including broadening the definition of lobbying.
Policy lobbying. The definition of traditional lobbying needs to be broadened in Washington. It currently applies primarily to directly influencing specific legislation, such as a bill in the Legislature. But lobbyists also influence policy before it becomes legislation and after, when it is implemented.
Exactly. The What's Upstream campaign was an overt lobbying campaign, designed from the beginning to pass legislation, regulations or a citizen's initiative. Even the organizing activity including signature gathering for a planned citizen's initiative was included in the plan and later dropped. All this lobbying was done with taxpayer money using an environmental grant from the EPA to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. The tribal employee who ran the campaign defended himself from prosecution of state campaign law violations by saying he was immune from state laws. The Office of Inspector General determined that the campaign was a Washington State lobbying campaign, but since it didn't involve specific federal legislation it didn't break federal campaign rules. But our Public Disclosure Commission and Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office refused to enforce the law on the flimsiest of grounds, but including the statement the nearly $500,000 (taxpayer funded) campaign didn't reference a specific bill so wasn't really lobbying. This despite the fact that the same tribal official had gotten a bill introduced to do what the campaign was aimed at.
We agree with Brier Dudley, something must be done. We do think that the law is pretty clear that this violated state campaign laws but for political reasons (look at the AG's campaign contributions) the AG decided not to enforce, even while running his political campaign on vigorous campaign law enforcement actions. If it is not clear enough to prevent this kind of abuse, it needs to be changed. While we are at it, we need to address this issue of tribal compliance with our campaign laws. As it stands, according to the EPA, once they give a tribe taxpayer money they have no control over it and according to the PDC and the Attorney General, tribes can use that taxpayer money for political purposes without accountability, transparency or legal consequences.
Dr. William Rolleston is a farm leader in New Zealand. This country is a global leader in dairy farming and so has been facing some of the same anti-dairy activism we see in Washington state. A recent speech to a New Zealand institute was titled: "Science in a Post-Truth Era." In it, he made some very valuable observations and offered spot-on advice for farmers in our area. Here are some comments but I encourage you to read the whole article:
On the "war on farming"
“We’ve watched the war on farmers grow since the coining of the phrase ‘dirty dairying’ by Fish and Game some 15 years ago. Even in the last few days I’ve heard farming leaders talk about the hatred directed at farmers, and that NZ has a ‘cowphobia’ and that this election has created an urban-rural divide as big as it ever has been.”
How anti-farm activist misuse science
“Those who work to change public perception in spite of the evidence use a number of tactics,” he says. “They cherry-pick data, they drive fear, they oversimplify, they take data out of context. They deliberately confuse correlation with causation and they undermine trust.”
Cost of regulation and what farmers need to do
“We have seen constant ramping up of regulation with costs borne by the farmers. Perhaps society should consider how our positive [effects] such as the ecosystem services farmers provide every day can be recognised.”
Farmers need to take charge of the narrative. It looks like they are behind the game on water quality, when in fact they are ahead. Given ownership of the problems, they would find solutions that were reasonable, practical and affordable, he said.
Exactly! Save Family Farming's mission can be defined as farmers taking charge of the narrative rather than allowing the lies against farmers to stand.
Interesting article on how Maine is attempting to protect small farmers from federal regulations. It's interesting how issues of farming, particularly small farming, are bringing people across the political spectrum together. Where progressives might favor more regulation and more government involvement, that works against the growing locavore food movement when they see how regulations affect farming. With that concern there can be common cause with farmers of all sizes who have to deal with more and more regulations that are increasingly forcing farmers out or threatening to force them out. In Washington, Ecology's new CAFO permit is a burdensome, expensive and unnecessary new regulation on dairy farmers, but those seeking more and stronger regulation have been pushing it to an extreme that few dairy farmers could survive. To such farmers, the effort by Maine to push back against federal regulations can be an encouragement.
Representative Dan Newhouse is one of Washington family farmers greatest advocates in our nation's capital. Here's a report on his work in expanding available farm labor through the H2A program from MorningAgriculture from Politico.com. Note the labor opposition. The reason is simple – the severe labor shortage experienced by farmers is desired by labor unions to press for union contracts as happened at Sakuma. It was the family farm's decision to use H2A to fill the labor shortage that triggered the organized labor opposition to this long-time family farm – not abuse of workers as they falsely claimed.
H-2A PROGRAM MAY BE EXPANDED THROUGH APPROPS: The House Appropriations Committee adopted on Tuesday an amendment to the fiscal 2018 homeland security spending bill, which could help dairy producers and other farmers who need year-round labor. The amendment, offered by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), would expand the range of businesses that can apply for the H-2A visa program for temporary or seasonal agricultural workers, as well as nullify that stipulation that the work be short term. The measure was agreed to by voice vote with bipartisan support, including by Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Pete Aguilar (Calif.), who spoke in favor of the provision during the markup.
"This amendment is a small starting point of relief we can provide our farmers who need access to workers," Newhouse said in a statement. Newhouse, a Republican from Eastern Washington who farms 600 acres of hops, tree fruit and grapes, emphasized that the measure did not change the limit on how long a worker can stay in the country (three years with renewals), nor would it change the fact that farmers must first seek U.S. workers.
Dairy groups pumped: National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern lauded the move on Tuesday. "This amendment recognizes that we need to create new approaches to addressing the needs of dairy employers for a legal, reliable supply of farm workers," he said. "Dairy farmers, who have cows that need to be milked every single day of the year, have not been able to utilize the H-2A visa program because of how the Department of Labor interprets the rules, which restricts the program to supplying only the temporary and seasonal labor needs of employers."
The Farm Bureau is still evaluating the specifics of the amendment, but a representative tells MA that the group is supportive because producers across the country are facing devastating labor shortages.
Could the provision survive a House vote on the bill? The odds seem decent at the moment. Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) said the House Judiciary Committee was "not opposed" to its inclusion.
Labor isn't on board, however. United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez called the existing guest worker program "deeply flawed" and said he was "stunned" that two Democrats supported the measure. The nonprofit advocacy group Farmworker Justice also blasted the amendment, saying it did nothing to fix the H-2A program, which it described as "rife with abuses resulting from unscrupulous employers that take advantage of the vulnerable guest workers, displacing U.S. workers and undermining U.S. workers' labor standards."
The debate will continue today when the House Judiciary Committee's Immigration Subcommittee holds a hearing on agricultural guest workers. Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) will testify, as will business owners and Giev Kashkooli, vice president of United Farm Workers. Read more about the amendment here, see the amendment itself here and watch today's hearing here.
The Capital Press story tells of the slow but almost certain death of a once thriving strawberry industry in Washington state.
Like most youngsters growing up in Western Washington, my first real work experience was picking strawberries. Mom would pack our lunch and bring us to the field, or if you live in the “big city” you rode the school bus. Some days were hot, some cold and rainy, but the weather didn’t matter because you had a job. We ate too many, threw them at brothers, sisters and friends, but a few made it into the flat as we inched our way down the rows. There was a sense of accomplishment as we picked up a full flat, got our crumpled ticket punched and at the end of the season got our well-earned check. It was our money, earned by our hard work.
Those days are gone, a victim of well-intended laws to protect young workers. In the view of many, more was lost than gained by these laws. Other solutions could have been found to protect against the little abuse there was. Employers routinely talk today about the loss of work ethic among the young.
Now the industry is all but gone. Labor costs are without question the primary reason. Despite the fact that a skilled, hardworking picker can earn $30 per hour and more, today’s growers cannot compete against foreign labor – particularly Mexican – where workers are paid more like $10 per day.
Sakuma Brothers Farm in Skagit County provides a sad lesson. The family farm has been in the Japanese-American family since the early 1900s and the entire family endured the Japanese internment camps in World War II. For the past several years it was ground zero for the effort to unionize farm workers. Many of the 400 or so pickers that Sakuma employed were local, had worked there for many years and depended on the much needed income boost that the seasonal work provided. Outside labor agitators came in and with lies, distortions, complicit media reporters painted the “corporate farm” as wage robbers and worse. Funded by union organizing dollars from California and beyond, the organizers recruited local university students who were given class credit and free rides on taxpayer paid buses to protest in front of Costco and other retail stores. Despite paying its workers guaranteed pay above the state’s minimum wage and the strong workers as much as $50 per hour for their production, the agitators won. Acres of strawberries were plowed up, and the few acres that remain will not likely last long. How can they against the extremely low labor costs paid by competing farmers in Mexico and China?
The union organizers staged rallies in downtown Seattle to protest Sakuma. I wonder about those cheering crowds. Did they understand they were forcing berry farmers out or to mechanize at accelerating rates--meaning that few if any small farmers could possible survive? Did they understand they were supporting the lower food safety standards and much, much lower worker pay from foreign farms? Did they know that those farms don’t have anywhere near the same environmental and pesticide regulations as our Washington state farmers have? Did they know that the taste of a very sweet Western Washington berry would become a distant memory? Did they think about what it means to have their berries (assuming they can afford them) come from thousands of miles away rather than from local farms?
Perhaps farmers are to blame. It’s easy to blame the media such as the Seattle TV stations so eager to carry the story that the organizers told and so reluctant to show there was much more to the story. But if farmers, farm supporters and farm organization leaders don’t speak out about these kinds of issues and tell those Seattle folks who are so far from the farms what is really going on, can we blame them?
While much of the news in mainstream media and much on social media about dairies focuses on the accusations of anti-farm critics (much of it false as we often cover here), the real story is the continuing progress toward sustainability and environmental performance.
Here are some excellent examples from these award winners from the Innovation Center for US Dairy. However, Washington dairy farmers (which includes several past award winners) are often at the forefront of these innovative changes. Congrats to all the winners and all those farmers working hard to do the right things.
Save Family Farming
We're working to build public understanding of the environmental stewardship of our family farmers.