BELLINGHAM - Washington's sustainable agriculture community celebrated news in late July from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash, that she has secured $300,000 in the Senate agricultural appropriation bill in Congress for a new organic and biologically-based farming program at Washington State University.
"These funds will jump start a new, precedent-setting program at WSU that will help all types of farmers - organic and non-organic - across the state," said Bonnie Rice, coordinator of the Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network (WSFFN), a broad-based, statewide advocacy group for sustainable agriculture. "We greatly appreciate Senator Murray's efforts to secure funding for organic research in Washington."
WSFFN has been working with WSU for the past year on development and funding of a comprehensive program on organic and biologically-based agriculture that will encompass research, teaching and extension areas of WSU. While WSU faculty have conducted some research and education on organics in recent years, the new program will put a spotlight on organic and biologically-based agriculture and bring a focus that hasn't been there in the past. The federal funds are critical to getting the program off the ground. WSFFN met with several members of Washington's congressional delegation to build support for the program.
"Agricultural research is critical to the prosperity of Washington state's farmers," said Murray. "I was proud to secure funding for the organics research initiative, which will provide important new tools to our state's growers."
Washington state's organic industry is growing rapidly. The number of organic farms has doubled since 1995 to over 500 today with more than 40,000 acres certified organic or in transition to organic. Sales of organic foods in the state top $140 million annually.
"This program is a direct response to the rapidly growing public demand for organic food and farmer demand for such research and educational programs," said Chris Feise, Director of WSU's Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. "WSU can help Washington agriculture take advantage of changing public values and a changing market, and in the process help to increase the economic viability of Washington producers. This is the right direction for WSU."
"Organic farmers need support from WSU, and we're glad to see that the College of Agriculture and Home Economics is recognizing the importance of the industry," said Rice. She also pointed out that many 'conventional' farmers are now incorporating aspects of organic into their farming operations, and therefore will benefit from the program as well.
The new funds will be used to develop certified organic experimental land at WSU for crops including apples, berries and vegetables, to develop organic weed control methods and organic seed production technology, and to study the effect of organic production practices on aspects of food quality such as nutritional content.
Sen. Murray says she expects the appropriations bill to receive final congressional approval by October. WSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics and WSFFN have also developed a proposal for $1.8 million in state funding for the program, though WSU's president has not yet approved its inclusion in the University's budget request for 2003.