Our Voice: Pasco Chamber aims spotlight at Washington agricultural leaders

Agriculture is a cornerstone of our state's economy.

And much of that activity is happening in our backyard, from potato fields to processing plants to haystacks to locally owned agricultural businesses with international customers.

The annual economic impact of agriculture production in our state is $17 billion. Add processing and that figure doubles. And that means jobs and food on the table, two of the main drivers of a stable and healthy community.

We see many of the visible signs of agriculture in the region every day but all too often fail to comprehend its importance.

The Pasco Chamber of Commerce helps remind us each year with the Mid-Columbia Ag Hall of Fame. The newest crop of inductees joined the ranks Thursday night at the annual banquet and awards ceremony.

This is the 13th year for the Ag Hall of Fame, which has honored 67 people over the years. Many of the names are easily recognizable, but just as many are everyday people who have made a difference in our community and agriculture without a lot of fanfare.

This year's inductees are Alex McGregor, CEO of McGregor Co.; the late Donald Cresswell, a longtime Franklin County farmer; Lori and Scott Hayles, owners of Circle H Farms, and Ramona Rommereim, a longtime 4-H leader.

McGregor heads a family business with deep roots in the Mid-Columbia. More than 100 years ago, McGregor's family raised sheep in the Colfax area, then expanded to wheat. Research into commercial fertilizers in collaboration with what was then Washington State College eventually led the McGregors to their primary family business. The McGregor Co. has evolved into a fertilizer and farm supply business with 42 outlets in three states.

Alex McGregor received the Visionary Award, given to those who have had an extraordinary effect on agriculture in our region.

Cresswell was born into a pioneering Benton County farm family in 1905, the same year the county was formed. Cresswell went on to be a founding member and vice president of the National Grape Cooperative Association, the grower organization that has owned Welch's since 1956. By combining the growing of juice grapes with processing and marketing, the National Grape Co-op brought price stability to what had been a boom-or-bust crop. He also served as Department of Agriculture manager in Franklin County for two decades.

Cresswell, who died in 1968, was honored with the Pioneer Award.

Lori and Scott Hayles represent the other side of the generational equation, receiving the Young Agribusiness Couple of the Year award. Soon after marrying in 1997, the couple started a custom hay-squeezing business. The business evolved to include their farming operation, Circle H Farms, which has grown to 1,000 acres in eight years.

The Hayles have been very involved in their community, serving on boards and working to promote agriculture. Lori was instrumental in the formation of Franklin Fire District 5, which now provides protection to an area that previously had no fire service. Scott is a volunteer firefighter and co-chief, and Lori serves as a volunteer emergency medical technician.

Rommereim has worked with youths and agriculture in our community for years. She has been a leader of the Clover Kids 4-H Club for 17 years, and has been instrumental in the production of the Franklin County Farm Bureau's Farm Fair event each year. Farm Fair is an annual two-day learning experience for 1,300 fifth-grade students in the Mid-Columbia.

She also has served the Farm Bureau as secretary-treasurer, as newsletter editor, as a member of the Agriculture Education Committee and the Farm Bureau-CBC Scholarship Committee, and she has led the Legislative Committee.

Rommereim received the Agriculture Mentor Leadership Award.

We're fortunate to live in one of the world's premier agricultural regions. We probably don't adequately appreciate the contribution the industry makes to the Mid-Columbia's quality of life.

Kudos not only to this year's inductees but also to the Pasco Chamber of Commerce for helping to bring some well-earned attention to this important part of our community.