Farm bill to benefit local forests, farmers
From timber to spinach seed, local stakeholders say the $400 billion farm bill passed Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives will be largely beneficial.
The bill, which was passed by the Senate and now awaits the president’s signature, is expected to benefit the Skagit County timber industry, dairy farms and agricultural research and development.
Between farming subsidies, nutritional assistance, tariff relief and support grants, Washington State University Skagit County Extension Director Don McMoran said there are millions of farm bill dollars at play in the county.
McMoran said the extension alone receives about $1 million from the bill. The new bill makes some slight changes to the extension’s grant programs, including some additional reporting requirements, but makes no major cuts.
Michael Frazier, executive director of Viva Farms, said the bill delivered a mixed bag for the organization — with some of its grant programs benefiting and others suffering.
The bill includes permanent funding for Value-Added Producer grants, which have helped county farmers invest in the infrastructure needed to generate new products and marketing opportunities, according to a news release from Rep. Rick Larsen.
Funding for global market access and development was maintained in the bill, which Larsen highlighted as a win for the county.
The county’s dairy, berry, seed and grain farmers rely most heavily on the ability to export their products, McMoran said previously.
Specialty crops, which includes the county’s $2-million-a-year seed industry, also maintained funding in the bill.
The finalized farm bill did not include the tighter work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) included in earlier versions of the bill, which McMoran and Frazier heralded as a win.
Funding for SNAP accounts for 80 percent of the 2018 farm bill dollars, according to the release.
The bill reduces the cost for dairy producers to sign up for support programs, which may aid struggling dairy farms in the area.
A measure promoting innovative uses for wood as building material was also passed in the bill.
The “Timber Innovation Act,” which was introduced by Rep. Suzan DelBene, is expected to have environmental an economic benefits.
The act promotes research and development for the use of cross-laminated timber (CLT) in construction.
In addition to being cost-effective, the material uses less wood than products traditionally used in construction and does not produce the carbon footprint of materials such as metal, said Rob Janicki, owner of Janicki Logging and Construction.
Jefferson Elementary School in Mount Vernon has the first classroom in the state built with CLT.
Janicki said the main barrier to using CLT has been getting approval from city and county planning departments. He’s been hoping to use the material in some area projects, and said he hopes the act will make its use more common.
The material has the potential to resurrect the timber industry, which has declined rapidly since the mid-20th century, according to a University of Washington article.