Invest in our agriculture - feed the country and world

Agriculture is the backbone of our region's economy.

And we're fortunate to have a major research facility here in Benton County to help with innovation and information to keep the industry moving forward in the most productive manner.

Things are going so well at Washington State University's extension and research station in Prosser that programs are being expanded and staff is being added in support.

About $750,000 will be spent to add needed office space and facilities.

Two modular buildings will be the offices of AgWeatherNet, a service used by ag producers in the state. A third will house the Center for Precision and Automated Agriculture Systems, which works to create efficiencies for the tree-fruit industry.

Also being added to the campus are three growing shelters for research regarding hops, grapes and tree fruit.

It's great to see WSU holding true to its role as a land-grant university and investing in agriculture. It was just a few short years ago that cuts in the extension programs were being discussed as the state began to grapple with the budget shortfall and made cuts to higher education funding.

While times still are tight when it comes to the state budget, these modular offices are only a temporary solution according to officials at the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center.

WSU will be asking the Legislature for $6 million next month to build something more permanent.

AgWeatherNet is expected to quadruple its staffing from the level it was at just three years ago. Few things in life are more critical to a farmer than accurate weather information, and the service is invaluable to our growers who need frost warnings and other data in real time and on their mobile devices. It monitors more than 140 sites and provides a wide range of data.

The tree-fruit industry gave the Prosser facility $27 million to endow six professorships, two of which already have been filled. Space has become so tight that some employees have had to set up offices in lab spaces.

The temporary office buildings will cost about $225,000 and the growing shelters will be close to half a million dollars.

We know it's a tough time to be asking the state for more money, but investing in agriculture helps to keep our economy chugging along. Agriculture production in the state has an economic impact of $16.5 billion and provides 82,000 jobs. Add to that food-processing plants and manufacturing and the numbers escalate.

Creating jobs and feeding people should be two of the state's priorities.

Our lawmakers would be wise to support the Prosser research facility to contribute to the health of our state and its economy.