When the world thinks of Washington state and business, most of the attention focuses on the state’s high-tech and manufacturing sectors. And for good reason; this state’s businesses for decades have set the standard in computers, airplanes and coffee connoisseurship.
But down on the farm — Washington state’s many farms — an agricultural powerhouse long ago took root. Recent numbers point to the continued statewide importance of the ag industry, in which the Yakima Valley performs a prominent role.
Figures late in 2012 indicated the value of state agricultural production was on its way toward exceeding the 2011 record of more than $9.1 billion. Milk and wheat each contributed more than $1 billion in value in 2011, and a record 22.7 million boxes of cherries were shipped in 2012. But the biggest of them all is the iconic fruit of the state and the Valley: apples.
That fruit’s value hit $1.8 billion in 2011, and figures from 2012 have the crop heading for a record 129.7 million boxes, almost 19 percent above the previous record set in 2010. Each box of apples weighs 40 pounds. And frost damage in other parts of the country last year worked to the benefit of Northwest growers, who enjoyed favorable weather deep into November.
All these numbers are more than a matter of pride. They make up a critical economic component of Washington state.
All that shipped fruit goes somewhere, much of it to westside ports that help make Washington the most trade-dependent state in the country. During the recent national recession, Central Washington’s relatively stable economy helped even out the rough patches seen in other parts of the state. So Western Washington has a stake in an ag industry even if much of the value is tilted toward east of the Cascades.
The continued growth of this $9 billion industry requires public officials who understand the industry’s importance and the issues that drive it. Increased water storage is a crucial component for future ag growth east of the Cascades, as are freight mobility across Snoqualmie Pass, access to international markets and an understanding of ag’s particular labor issues. With talk in Congress of immigration reform, lawmakers from states like Washington need to keep ag’s labor needs front and center in the debate.
Fiddling with sprinklers down on the farm may not carry the same buzz as coding software at a high-tech startup in the Seattle suburbs. But the $9 billion ag industry provides a diverse economic boost to the rest of Washington, a state that has a stake in assuring that one of its major industries continues to thrive.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.