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News / Clark County News

Clark County farmers say Farm Bill vital to climate-smart agriculture, urge Congress to pass funding

U.S. House Committee on Agriculture expected to begin discussions on the federal Farm Bill later this month,

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 3, 2024, 6:02am
5 Photos
Clark County Councilor Sue Marshall, right, fields questions about farming and climate change during a Thursday news conference at Second Mile Marketplace and Food Hub in Vancouver.
Clark County Councilor Sue Marshall, right, fields questions about farming and climate change during a Thursday news conference at Second Mile Marketplace and Food Hub in Vancouver. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

With the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture expected to begin discussions on the federal Farm Bill later this month, farmers and leaders from Clark County and farther afield gathered at the Second Mile Marketplace in Vancouver to talk about what could happen if funding for agricultural programs is cut.

“We’re all here to urge Congress to reauthorize the Farm Bill, including robust funding for the climate-smart agricultural programs,” Clark County Councilor Sue Marshall said. “I think, as farmers, we’re among the first to see and experience impacts of climate change.”

The House is considering cutting or diverting funding from the Farm Bill because the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act already set aside billions of dollars for farmers, particularly programs intended to mitigate the impacts of climate change. However, farmers say these programs have been critically underfunded in the past.

Marshall and her husband primarily grow hazelnuts, apples and pears on their 27-acre farm near Ridgefield. Marshall said the impacts of climate change, especially extreme shifts in temperatures and rainfall, have definitely taken a toll on their farm in recent years.

Marshall said more than 6 inches of snow fell in mid-April 2020, killing off most of the just-blooming pears.

“Normally, we would get 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of pears. That year, we got 800 pounds. We got 10 percent of what we would normally get,” Marshall said.

The following year, a deadly “heat dome” brought record-breaking high temperatures to the Pacific Northwest from late June into early July. Marshall said her hazelnut trees, even with irrigation, were unable to transport enough water from their roots to the leaves because of the extreme heat.

“As farmers, we are on the front line of climate change,” said Mo McKenna from MoMo Flower Farm in Ridgefield.

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McKenna said the Pacific Northwest is one of the best flower-growing regions in the world. While the region may be best known for roses, tulips and dahlias, McKenna said her small farm grows more than 400 varieties of flowers.

Having a local source for cut flowers just makes environmental sense, McKenna said. She said the most recent estimate is that about 78 percent of flowers sold in the U.S. are imported, adding that needs to change. Having a local flower farm means fewer emissions from transport, but there are other climate benefits, too.

“We have the potential to sequester carbon. We have the potential to provide wildlife habitat and save water,” she said.

McKenna said she has been paying close attention to the climate change debate for years.

“I knew climate change was going to be an issue for me back in 2017 when I watched ash rain from the sky from the Eagle Creek wildfire and ruin a bride’s perfectly white dahlias,” McKenna said.

In 2021, her farm was again impacted when temperatures soared above 100 degrees for four consecutive days.

“We lost our entire crop of roses,” she said.

MoMo Flower Farm is one of several farms to receive federal grant funds. She said the funding has helped the farm make needed climate-smart investments.

“We have invested in shade cloth and drip irrigation … and we’ve invested in no-till (farming) and cover cropping,” she said. “These investments are expensive in both time and money. Not only do we need investment from the federal government in these programs, but we also need technical assistance, we need research in order to understand how to farm in these difficult conditions.”

Washougal farmer John Spencer from Get To-Gather Farms cautioned that “getting into farming is not easy.” Spencer has also benefited from federal funding.

“I’m going solar. I’m doing the cover cropping. I have purchased literally miles of drip irrigation systems. I’m doing everything I can to make this work,” Spencer said.

The end goal, Spencer said, is to provide people with good organic produce that makes them healthier and to contribute to the local economy. If Congress doesn’t reauthorize the Farm Bill or reduces funding, he said, that may not be possible.

“I urge Congress to reauthorize the Farm Bill, safeguard the crucial environmental aspects and help us implement climate-smart ag practices. … We need climate solutions today,” he said.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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