In Focus: Washington’s agriculture centers on trade infrastructure

Agriculture is one of the many important industries in Washington and is woven into the fabric of our state’s heritage. As part of that heritage, modern agriculture in our state embodies our responsibility to the environment and economy. We have more than 37,000 farms powering a diverse agricultural economy, and as a lawmaker it is my duty to make sure the future of farming and ranching in Washington is protected.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the value of Washington’s 2013 agricultural production reached $10.2 billion, setting a new record high for the third consecutive year. The state’s $49 billion food and agriculture industry employs approximately 160,000 people and contributes 13 percent to the state’s economy. Washington needs to take advantage of this momentum and one sure-fire way to do so is to support the trade infrastructure and freight mobility that makes this all possible.

A healthy trade economy opens Washington to new opportunities to reach expanding global markets.

This is critical to the well-being of the agriculture industry — Washington’s second largest export industry. More than $15.1 billion in food and agricultural products were exported via Washington’s rail and port system in 2013, the third largest total in the U.S. With the availability of new markets, increased private investment in vital trade infrastructure will follow.

Washington alone benefits from more than $115 million in private railroad investment annually and proposed export terminal projects are slowly coming to fruition. U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that every $1 invested in rail infrastructure results in about $3 for the overall economy. It’s a substantial payoff. Therefore the success of maintaining these investments is directly linked to that of Washington’s international trade future.

Undoubtedly, freight mobility, transportation and trade are the keystones of Washington’s agricultural sustainability, and to remain competitive, we must be mindful of this as we make policy. Yet with Washington’s ports and rail system supporting the vitality of a large portion of our economy, there are opponents who have launched an aggressive campaign which will restrict trade-based industries such as agriculture. Governor Inslee and Department of Ecology’s current regulatory approach for reviewing and approving infrastructure development projects has created an environment of uncertainty for our state and the companies that wish to invest in our trade future.

An overly expansive and in many ways unnecessary regulatory regime threatens our ability to gain investments and grow our local economy. We are setting the expectation that any product, from airplanes to wheat, could be subject to the same lengthy and bureaucratic review process. In a trade-dependent state, that could be nothing short of disastrous.

That is why I have joined with several of my fellow lawmakers in the formation of a Competitiveness Caucus in Olympia. This bi-partisan group from all over the state, understands the importance of our trade infrastructure and believes the regulatory schemes that manage them need to provide certainty and predictability. We intend to focus this session on efforts and policy that will foster a regulatory environment that encourages investment in Washington.

Washington needs new investments in our ports and railroads to continue growing and expanding trade. Our regulatory system should promote — not hinder — such opportunities. And it is the job of the caucus to remind our fellow lawmakers and other decision makers in Olympia that misplaced regulatory policies will drive up the cost of doing business in Washington and put not only our farmers and ranchers at a competitive disadvantage, but a large majority of the Evergreen State at risk.