Insights by Goldie: Thank you PCC members — BIOAg program is funded

by Goldie Caughlan

This article was originally published in May 2006

Bulletin: For the very first time, the Washington State Legislature has appropriated money to support organic and sustainable agricultural research and organic production science as an academic major at Washington State University, our state’s publicly funded land grant university. That’s a major victory!

The Biologically Intensive and Organic Agriculture (BIOAg) Program at WSU was granted $400,000 in the recent 2006 legislative session. Although that’s just half of what was requested, it’s already being put to work and is cause for real celebration by all of us — farmers and consumers alike.

Biologically intensive agriculture focuses on farming practices and systems that emphasize natural biological processes and reducing the use of chemical and synthetic substances. BIOAg is a program of WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The BIOAg funding passed because a growing number of lawmakers now take very seriously what many of us feel passionately about — that our farming communities face serious obstacles to continue farming and making a living for their families. Farming can seem a thankless occupation to consider these days and sometimes appears to have lost appeal with young people.

To change this requires nothing short of a paradigm shift in the thinking of some in the farming communities and among policymakers, researchers and academicians — really, among all of us. We need to be willing to invest in our farmers and their education – which, ultimately, will help ensure a healthier, more vibrant and vital life for all of us.

The WSU BIOAg Program directly addresses many of the challenges facing farmers today. Weather patterns are always a concern to farmers, but extreme global weather shifts add an additional worry.

Farmers are deeply concerned with deteriorating soil quality, whether due to erosion and flooding or the result of artificial fertilizers and other chemical inputs. While pests and diseases afflicting crops and animals are always a worry, we now know that the use of powerful pesticides and other so-called “industrial” responses are part of the problem, not the solution.

As consumers increasingly reject foods produced with agricultural chemicals, choosing more organic instead, many farmers are seeking help to shift their production to be more in sync with consumers’ preferences — and to get a better price for their products. Skyrocketing fuel costs, market access, labor and trade issues are important to farmers — and ultimately, to all of us, as the farmers’ successes and failures directly affect our food supply.

Farmers must rely on solid research regarding organic and sustainable agriculture along with educational programs to help them solve the problems they’re facing, and that is exactly what the BIOAg Program is designed to do.

As BIOAg continues to develop and evolve, it will be tremendously important in strengthening the economic and environmental viability of this state’s agricultural future. BIOAg can help expand access to an abundance of healthful, fresh and regionally produced food.

It also will help ensure that our state’s export crops, and dairy and meat production, benefit from solid scientific research and be more likely to be produced using sustainable production methods that conserve and replenish resources.

Many of you have worked diligently for several years to make this important breakthrough. You helped build the necessary support by directly contacting your representatives and senators in Olympia and key leaders at WSU. You told them that this state must move to decrease dependence upon chemically based agriculture, and focus more on climate-friendly and environmentally sustainable approaches in its research and teaching methods.

You let them know how strongly you feel about the fact that WSU has become the first four-year university in the nation to offer an organic major. You told them that you believe the BIOAg Program is absolutely going in the correct direction — and that it’s time for the Washington State Legislature to recognize it and fund it.

It finally worked this session. Not all of the very important issues we were watching and supporting were passed, certainly, but this did.

We must continue to see to it that our legislators, as well as regional policymakers and the WSU administration, all remain supportive and committed to the success of the BIOAg Program and its goals.

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Also in this issue

News bites, May 2006

Skagit farmland preservation, Teens shopping ethically, Washington Farm Bureau vs. orca whales, and more