Why Environmentalists Should Support Farmers

by Gerald Baron

Farmers and farming are good for the environment. Like any other group, there can be careless farmers, accidents and lapses in enforcement of rules. But the net benefit to the environment is positive and much better than the alternative.

It’s hard for farmers to understand why some who say they are for the environment, like some in our own community, have joined the anti-farm bandwagon. Environmental protection is a high priority for Whatcom County residents and beyond. So here are the top ten reasons why environmentalists should support farmers:

In future issues of Whatcom Watch, we’ll explore these topics in more detail. But here’s a quick summary.

1. Farms are an essential part of our state’s environmental restoration plan. Heard of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda? It’s our state’s primary plan for protecting and enhancing Puget Sound. Preserving the economic viability of farms and farmland is one of the priorities. Activists working to harm farms are acting counter to this important plan.

2. Farms and farmland are better for the environment than the alternative. Whatcom and Skagit counties are the last remaining areas in Western Washington with viable farm communities. But these two counties are under increasing urban pressure. Sixty percent of Puget Sound farmland has already been lost. When farmers quit, development most often follows. And urban development is known by environmental experts to the primary cause of environmental degradation.

3. Farmers are saving more water all the time. Some say we are in a water crisis and need to tax farmers to use water. Whatcom County is blessed with an abundance of water and farmers are saving more water all the time. Almost all berry farms using very efficient micro-irrigation, and dairy farmers have reduced water used per gallon of milk produced by 60 percent in the past 50 years. State laws affect even more efforts at water conservation.

4. Farmers are actively restoring and improving fish habitat. Water in streams is critical for fish, and farmers in the Bertrand area have been working for years to increase flow in this stream. Sadly, court decisions are preventing further progress on this important environmental effort. Many other efforts by farmers protect streams with buffers.

5. Farmers’ efforts are resulting in cleaner water. Did you know our water quality is improving? Somehow, good news like this is hard to get out. Nitrate levels are lower in 40 percent of county wells, and only 4 percent of wells showing an increase. Bacteria counts are improving as well, but we still have major contamination coming to us from Canada.

6. Wildlife thrive on farmland. Notice all those wintering birds? Easier to see than the beavers, foxes, coyotes, deer and lots more that call our farm fields home. Birds especially add to water quality issues that are often focused on farms, but we’re happy to provide a home for them.

7. Existing regulations are working. Some have said farmers are unregulated. Farmers are highly regulated by federal, state and local rules. Washington state has one of the most stringent dairy farm regulations in the nation. These are helping to ensure that all farmers do the right things.

8. Farmers don’t stop at regulations. Regulations may be good to ensure all farmers do good by the environment, but most of our farmers go far beyond regulations to protect water, habitat and the environment. We’re a national leader in using bio-gas digesters, which convert manure to power and by-products while removing pathogens.

9. Farmers add diversity to our communities. Environmentalists often also support diversity. Did you know we have over 100 East Indian berry farmers in Whatcom County? More than that, farm families contribute much to our communities with values, ideas and priorities that add to our community life.

10. Environmentalists eat, too, and like local food. Last time we checked, everyone eats and a lot more folks are paying attention to where their food comes from. More farmers are selling direct to stores, farmer’s markets and direct to consumers. If you care about where your food comes from, you can come visit a farm and know for certain.

Gerald Baron is media director for Whatcom Family Farmers.

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