Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, March 20, 2015, Page 6, Image 6

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March 20, 2015
Editorials are written by or
approved by members of the
Capital Press Editorial Board.
All other commentary pieces are
the opinions of the authors but
not necessarily this newspaper.
Editorial Board
Managing Editor
Mike O’Brien
Joe Beach
Carl Sampson Online:
O ur V iew
Proposed Oregon wage hike good for Idaho
armers and processors in
Eastern Oregon are keeping
a close eye on proposals in
the Legislature that would increase
the state’s minimum wage — now
$9.25 — to as high as $15 an hour
over the next few years.
They say if that happens they
would have to consider moving
operations to nearby Idaho, where
the minimum wage is $7.25.
Owyhee Produce General
Manager Shay Myers said
that type of increase would
make it extremely difficult for
Eastern Oregon farmers and
agribusinesses to compete with
their colleagues across the state
line. A $15 minimum wage would
increase labor costs 62 percent at
his company’s onion packing shed
and farming operations.
“How do we take a 62 percent
reduction in what our earnings are
... and think that we can remain in
business competitively?” he said.
Myers and other producers say
they’d have to cut costs, either
through more automation or
moving labor-intensive operations
to Idaho.
Supporters of a minimum wage
hike say they’ve heard all this
before. Oregon has the second-
highest minimum wage in the
country. Washington state has the
highest. They say there hasn’t
been a noticeable migration of
businesses across the state line.
“We hear these predictions
every time we propose raising
the minimum wage and yet
we don’t see that happening,”
Senate Majority Leader Diane
Rosenbaum, D-Portland, said.
A bill she sponsors would
increase the minimum wage to
$10.90 next year, and to $12.12 in
2017. A separate measure in the
House calls for a hike to $11.50
next year, $13.25 the year after,
and $15 in 2018.
Supporters note that 400,000
low-wage earners in Oregon
qualify for government assistance
that costs taxpayers $1.7 billion a
Rosenbaum said low-wage
earners “work hard at some of the
hardest jobs there are and we think
these people should earn a wage
that is closer to where they can
support themselves.”
We agree that some of the
talk about moving is bluster. The
current disparity hasn’t pushed
many, if any, to move to Idaho.
But there’s a big difference
between $2 and $7.
Farmers and packers are price
takers, not price makers. They
can’t just mark up the price of
the crop to cover a mandate from
Salem — particularly if producers
in the next county have such a
competitive advantage.
O ur V iew
Local food is everywhere
ocal food is great. What’s not to
like? Anyone would agree with
the statement that buying from
the farmer down the road is a good
But during the past decade or
so, since the advent of the term
“locavore,” we have found that “local”
is in the eye of the beholder. While
some consumers assiduously measure
“food miles,” others care only whether
the food was grown within their state.
Still other consumers consider “local”
to be a synonym for a region — the
Pacific Northwest, the West Coast
or even just the West. Others believe
“local” equals “Product of the U.S.”
And so it goes.
That’s why we watched with
interest as the Washington House of
Representatives passed a bill calling
for a “food policy forum” whose job
it would be to promote “local” food.
One legislator stated that local
food will make people slimmer and
And, we should add, it’ll help them
leap tall buildings in a single bound.
The lone advantage of food grown
near the consumer is a smaller fuel
bill for the truck. Beyond that, it’s
difficult to see how food grown across
the region is any better, or worse, than
any other food.
Rep. Vincent Buys, the ranking
Republican on the House Agriculture
Committee, summarized our thoughts.
“To somehow imply our large-
scale agriculture products are unsafe
or not as ... high quality as some
of the locally produced agriculture
products, I think, does a disservice to
the state, and I think is offensive to a
lot of those farmers who work those
long hours and create a high-quality
For the Capital Press
Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press
product. They just don’t do it on a
smaller scale,” he said.
Seasonality is another issue.
Unless you live in California, try
finding a locally grown strawberry in
January. Other than what’s available
from a greenhouse, locally grown
strawberries — or many other types
of produce — are available only
a portion of the year, usually late
summer and fall. Some fresh fruits
and vegetables store well and are
available year-round, but the list is
In the meantime, a cornucopia
of produce, products and meats are
available, no matter what season it is,
at the neighborhood grocery store. It
is part of a “food system” that offers
a vast selection of fresh produce and
meats at reasonable prices and is the
envy of the world.
Yet some legislators insist that
“local” means “better.” It’s ironic for
For more than 40 years we
have celebrated National Ag
Day as a time to pause and
honor the American farmer.
Today, our farmers are the
most productive and efficient
in the world with each one
helping feed more than 144
people. We thank you, as well
as everyone who plays a role
in producing the food, fiber
and fuel our country and the
world depends upon.
This year National Ag
Week is March 15-21 and was
highlighted by National Ag
Day on Wednesday, March
And there is another very
important date in March we
want to remind farmers about
this year. March 31 is the last
day to make several important
choices on federal safety net
programs that could make a
New approach
for supporting ag,
protecting resources
anyone, especially legislators, to say
that in a state such as Washington,
which exports a huge percentage of its
crops and products to Asia, Europe,
Africa and elsewhere. By arguing that
local is better, they are implying that
Washington agriculture’s overseas
customers are in some way getting an
inferior product.
Legislators are well-meaning when
they chatter about supporting local
agriculture, but it should be done in
the context of the real world. They
need to recognize that wheat and
potatoes grown in Eastern Washington
are “local” there. Likewise, cherries,
apples, pears and hops grown in
Central Washington are “local” there,
too. All contribute greatly to the
“local” Washington economy.
Washington legislators would do
best to support all of the state’s farmers
and ranchers. That’s because “local”
food is everywhere.
Honoring America’s farmers on National Ag Day
For the Capital Press
Raise the wage high enough
and large operators will find a way
to reduce labor costs — move or
automate. Small operators and
their employees will be forced out.
The way to raise wages is to
increase demand for labor, not
reduce it. Eliminate the barriers
for existing businesses to hire, and
on new business from starting in
the first place. Put more people to
work, and the market will increase
their worth.
The emotional appeal of a
higher minimum wage is easy
to understand. Unfortunately,
it doesn’t hold up to the laws
of economics. The government
cannot mandate prosperity.
Phil Ward
big difference for their farms
through 2018.
The U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s Farm Service
Agency is urging farmers
and landowners across the
nation to finalize their deci-
sions by March 31 on updat-
ing crop yield histories and
reallocating base acres for
new safety net programs es-
tablished by the 2014 Farm
Bill, known as Agriculture
Risk Coverage (ARC) and
Price Loss Coverage (PLC).
Updated yields and base acre
reallocations could help im-
prove a farmer’s potential
to recover payments when a
weather disaster or unexpect-
ed changes in the market-
place negatively affects their
March 31 is also the last
day to decide which program
— ARC or PLC — is the right
one for their operation. Each
program provides unique pro-
tections. The best choice will
depend on factors specific to
their individual farm.
FSA, in cooperation with
a number of universities, has
provided online web-based
tools, found at www.fsa.usda.
gov/arc-plc to help make this
important decision. The on-
line tools have already helped
more than half a million farm-
ers so far.
If you have not yet con-
sidered your PLC or ARC
options, take the time today
to explore the web tools and
then contact your FSA county
office if you have questions.
Celebrate Ag Day and Ag
Week with the peace of mind
knowing your farm will be
protected as you make plans
to enter the fields this spring.
If you don’t make a deci-
sion by the March 31 dead-
line, then you will be as-
signed Price Loss Coverage,
the default program, and lose
payments for losses incurred
in 2014. However, if you
complete your ARC or PLC
election by the deadline, you
will be protected against 2014
price or revenue losses.
Don’t let this opportunity
slip by. Finalize your yield or
base acre decisions, complete
those conversations between
landowners and producers,
and conduct your final re-
views to determine how ARC
or PLC can help you. Avoid
that end-of-the-month rush,
and make an appointment to-
day. Your Oregon FSA county
staff is standing by ready to
Phil Ward is state exec-
utive director of the Oregon
Farm Service Agency.
new and revolution-
ary project is un-
derway in Thurston
County, Wash., aimed at cre-
ating a better way to support
local agriculture and con-
serve natural resources.
The Voluntary Steward-
ship Program was enacted
by the Legislature in 2011
to address the rising cost of
administering Washington
State’s Growth Management
Act and the counties’ critical
area ordinances. VSP autho-
rizes counties to create a vol-
untary process as an alterna-
tive to regulation which will
protect critical areas while
maintaining the viability of
agriculture and reducing the
conversion of farmland to
other uses (see Chap 36.70A
RCW). This is revolutionary
in at least three ways.
First, counties that “opt
in” to VSP agree to ask land-
owners for their help and
then work with them in de-
veloping options to conserve
natural resources and sup-
port agriculture. Counties
can resort to regulation and
enforcement if voluntary ac-
tion does not work, but only
as a second choice.
Second, VSP provides
counties with flexibility and
encourages them to develop
innovative resource conser-
vation approaches, which
address site-specific issues.
This flexibility increases
the likelihood of voluntary
action and better, long-term
Third, VSP puts natural
resources and agriculture on
a co-equal basis as a mat-
ter of public policy. It then
directs the county to place
each on one side of a scale
respectively and make sure
that a balance is maintained.
Thurston County “opt-
ed in” to VSP in 2012 and
designated all five of its wa-
tersheds as priorities. It was
then selected by the Legis-
lature in 2013 as one of two
counties (Chelan being the
other one) that would re-
ceive funding to create VSP
pilot projects.
In 2014, Thurston Coun-
ty kicked off its pilot proj-
ect by appointing a working
group of local stakeholders
and turning the responsibil-
ity of writing a VSP “Work
Plan” over to them. These
stakeholders, which include
representatives of agricul-
ture, environmental orga-
nizations, Native American
Tribes and other organiza-
tions, began their work last
May and are using the
USDA Natural Resources
Conservation Service “Nine
Points of Conservation
Planning” and other source
material as a basis for the
VSP Work Plan.
The Thurston Conser-
vation District has also
stepped forward as a tech-
James Goche’
nical resource to assist the
stakeholders and offer its
decades of experience in
helping local farmers devel-
op “conservation plans” and
then find grants or low-cost
loans. A first draft of the
Work Plan should be avail-
able by the end of June.
In short, VSP creates a
major and much-needed
paradigm shift for conserva-
tion planning by making the
process collaborative rather
than adversarial. By enact-
ing VSP, the Legislature has
re-emphasized the impor-
tance of local farming and
acknowledged the declining
effectiveness of adversarial
approaches to environmen-
tal protection. It is therefore
asking counties to rethink
their use of regulations and
enforcement actions.
It seems that Thurston
County has heard the Leg-
islature’s message. By opt-
ing in to VSP, the County
has agreed to do a better job
of treating land owners as
partners and asking for their
help in meeting Growth
Management Act and criti-
cal area ordinances goals.
One last benefit of VSP
is that it will help build
community. By creating
a voluntary process, VSP
challenges us to have the
wisdom to work together
and the courage to believe
that we can do so. It stands
for the proposition that there
is no “them and us” when it
comes to a clean environ-
ment or fresh, wholesome
food. Indeed, when we find
common interest with our
neighbors and then do a bet-
ter job of working together
toward mutual goals, we
can more effectively sup-
port farmers, protect our
environment, and make our
community a better place to
A description of VSP can
be found on the Washing-
ton Conservation Commis-
sion website at http://scc. voluntary-steward-
ship/ and the Washington
State University Extension’s
Associate Director for the
Division of Governmental
Studies and Services, Chris-
tina Sanders (360-480-5978 is a
contact for the VSP Stake-
holder process.
The author runs a small
family farm north of Olym-
pia, Wash., and serves as a
stakeholder representative
on Thurston County’s VSP
Work Group. In a former life
he was a deputy prosecu-
tor who helped Snohomish
County, Wash., enforce land
use and environmental reg-
ulations under the Growth
Management Act and other