WSU's Organic Cropping Research and Education for the Northwest program
February 28, 2002
Representative Brian Baird
U.S. House of Representatives
1721 Longworth House Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative Baird:
We are writing to ask for your support of a new program at Washington State University (WSU) that will benefit Washington's growers, rural and urban residents, and environment.
The "Organic Cropping Research and Education for the Northwest" program, included in WSU's 2003 budget request ($510,000), is an innovative proposal that has substantial, broad support across Washington state. For the past year, the Washington Sustainable Food & Fanning Network (of which many of us are members) has been working in partnership with WSU's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources to develop this proposal, as part of a comprehensive program focusing on organic production. The Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network is a diverse, statewide alliance of individuals, organizations, and businesses working to improve the long-term sustainability of agriculture in Washington state.
Sustainability is emerging as a major public policy thrust in Washington state as well as nationally and internationally. Governor Gary Locke has recently proposed it as a central theme for Washington. Nationally, agricultural policies have come under close scrutiny in the face of declining farm income, the loss of family farms, sagging rural economies, and perceived threats to food security. Such challenges have led to a growing recognition of the need to focus on sustainability as a guiding principle for agriculture in the future. Farmers, researchers, and educators are all working to address agricultural sustamiability in concrete terms by developing new knowledge and techniques to improve the environmental, economic, and social performance of food and farming systems. One approach to enhancing both the environmental and the economic aspects of farming systems can be described by terms such as biologically-based or biointensive agriculture. Organic fanning is the best-known example of this.
Organic is currently one of the brightest spots in agriculture. Organic food sales in the U.S. have increased approximately 20% per year for the past eight years, with the accompanying increase in organically fanned acres. Certified organic cropland more than doubled in this country between 1992 and 1997. According to the USDA, U.S. producers are turning to organic techniques in record numbers "in order to lower input costs, to conserve nonrenewable resources, to capture high-value markets, and to boost farm income, especially as prices. fall for staple commodities."
Within Washington state, there are some 30,000 acres of certified organic land, producing nearly $140 million of food products annually. Significant additional acreage is in transition to organic status. Organic farming offers growers the potential to increase profits, diversify markets, reduce environmental impacts, and improve the sustainability of their farms.
Conventional growers are also benefiting from the innovative ideas and practices that have been developed for biologically-based and organic agriculture, and are able to effectively reduce pesticide applications and recycle biological by-products within the region. For example, several growers in the Columbia Basin are transferring mechanical cultivation techniques developed in organic crop production into conventional fields where they have had difficulty dealing with, herbicide resistant weeds. Others are reducing their use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers through the use of compost teas, which are commonly used in organic production.
While WSU faculty have done some excellent work on organic in the past, it has been a piecemeal approach. Additionally, there is virtually no infrastructure in place to support organic programs. For example, only two acres out of over 5,000 available research acres are certified organic. There has been no focused effort on organic that encompasses the research, teaching, extension and outreach components of the University.
The time has come for a comprehensive approach to organic and biologically intensive agriculture at WSU. There is a tremendous opportunity for WSU to serve the growers of Washington State with this program. Additionally, this program will greatly benefit farm workers, Washington state residents, and the environment through reduced exposure to pesticides, enhanced soil and water quality and greater biodiversity. A cutting-edge program on organic and biologically intensive agriculture will also undoubtedly attract new students to WSU.
The Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources is highly committed to an organic program, and high-level WSU administrators including College of Agriculture and Home Economics Dean Jim Zuiches, Agricultural Research Center Director Ralph Cavalieri, and Cooperative Extension Dean Michael Tate are all supportive of the organic program.
We would greatly appreciate your assistance in securing funds for the "Organic Cropping Research and Education for the Northwest" program at WSU. In conjunction with the federal funding request, the Network is also working with WSU on a state funding request for the 2003/4 biennium for this program.
Thank you for your consideration of our request. If you have any questions, please contact Bonnie Rice at (360) 527-9426.
Jody Aliesan, President and Operating Officer
Puget Consumers Co-op (PCC) Farmland Fund
Reverend Paul Benz, Director
Lutheran Public Policy Office
Bob and Shelly Berryman
Twin Springs Farm, Rice
Fran Bessermin, Owner
PHRANIL Foods, Spokane
Terry Carkner, Owner
Terry's Berries, Puyallup
CWRay Farm and Forest Products LLP
Member, WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources Advisory Board
Grace Cox, Merchandising Coordinator
Olympia Food Co-op
Joan Crooks, Executive Director
Washington Environmental Council
Chris Curtis, Director
Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance
U-District, West Seattle, Columbia City, Lake City Farmers Markets
Dr. Bill Dean
Judel Farms, Basin City
Organically Grown Company (distributor)
Diane Dempster, Organic Produce Department Director
Charlie's Produce (distributor)
Mary Embleton, Executive Director
Cascade Harvest Coalition
Steve Evans, 2001 Chair
Western Washington Horticulture Association
Scott Exo, Northwest Regional Director
The Food Alliance
Jeff Fairhall, Owner
Essential Foods/Essential Baking Company, Seattle
Charles and Rose Ann Finkel of Finkel Design
Convivium leaders for Slow Food Northwest
Saul Fortunoff, Owner
Valerie Foster, Chair
Friends of Family Farms, Pierce County
Stormy Mountain Ranch, Chelan
Elsa Golts, Board Chair
Abundant Life Seed Foundation
Karen Gordon, Owner/Manager
Douglas Hanson, Western U.S. and Canada Division. Manager CROPP Cooperative (includes Organic Valley, producers of nationally distributed organic dairy and meat products)
Dr. Steven Harper
Member, National Organic Standards Board
Jeff Herman, President
Washington Tilth Producers
Benchmark Farms, Ephrata
Jahn Farm, Davenport
Francis and Carol James
Café Ambrosia, Seattle
Eugene Kahn, President and CEO
Small Planet Foods (A division of General Mills)
Kim Leval, Consortium for Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
Rob Martin, General Manager
Central Co-op's Madison Market, Seattle
Nick McCrery, Managing Partner
Rainier Natural Bakery
Rick and Lora Lea Misterly
Quillasascut Cheese Company, Rice
Darryl Miller, Market Manager Tony's Coffees & Teas, Inc.
Reverend Jim Mulligan, Executive Director
Mark Musick, Farm Consultant
Pike Place Market, Seattle
Gordon Brothers, Inc., Pasco
Michael Neuwirth, Corporate Communications Director
Acirca, Inc., (maker of Walnut Acres and other fine certified organic foods and beverages)
Jasper Nyberg, Chair
Vashon Island Growers Association
Aaron Ostrom, Executive Director
1000 Friends of Washington
Owner, Olympic Nursery
Chair, King County Agriculture-Commission
7E Ranch; Othello
Bonnie Rice, Coordinator
Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network
Douglas Y. Roby, Regional Vice President
Tree of Life/Gourmet Awards Foods (distributor)
Bob Rose, Executive Director
Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland
Sakuma Brothers, Burlington
Gregg Small, Executive Director
Washington Toxics Coalition
From My Garden, Spokane
Spokane Tilth, a Chapter of Washington Tilth Assoc.
Don Stuart, Regional Director
Pacific Northwest Regional Office
American Farmland Trust
Washington Beekeepers Association
Northeast Washington Small Farmers Association
Kathleen Tehada, Director of Sales
Mountain People's Warehouse (distributor)
P&T Farms, Quincy
Earth Cycle Farm, Edwall
Tracy Wolpert, CEO
Puget Consumers Co-op Natural Markets (a retail co-operative representing 40,000 member households in Seattle, Kirkland and Issaquah)
cc President Lane Rawlins, WSU
Dean James Zuiches, WSU CAHE
Director Chris Feise, WSU CSANR