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Guest Commentary

Area faces drought

 

July 8, 2021



As the extremely hot temperatures have reminded us, much of eastern Washington, including our wheat-growing regions, is in the middle of a drought. This is a huge concern for me and other wheat growers in the area. Two wheat-industry officials, Washington Association of Wheat Growers President Ryan Poe and Washington Grain Commission Chairman Mike Carstensen, sent a letter on June 15 to Governor Inslee asking him to declare a drought emergency, which would provide affected farmers with access to needed resources.

Part of the letter reads:

“Deepening drought conditions are spreading throughout Washington – particularly in counties known for producing high quality wheat. While we have benefitted from having hardy varieties to match each region’s growing conditions, the lack of moisture we are experiencing year to date will ultimately result in significant quality concerns and a sharp reduction in yield. Complete crop loss is also a looming reality for some dryland growers.”

Later it reads:

“We implore you to coordinate with the Department of Ecology, and, considering the current conditions, announce a drought declaration in all wheat counties of Washington state. A drought declaration will open the doors for growers to access critical resources needed during these challenging times of economic hardship.”

The response from the governor’s administration was less than what one would hope. A June 24 letter from state Department of Ecology Director Laura Watson to the two Washington grain officials basically turned down the request for a drought-emergency declaration. In her letter, Watson did provide information on how wheat farmers could seek federal assistance. But it was disappointing to see that a key official with the Inslee administration was not willing to offer more help from the state at a time when many dryland wheat farmers are going to be devastated due to this terrible drought.

Fortunately, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack recently sent a letter to Inslee in which Vilsack said he is designating 14 Washington counties as primary natural disaster areas due to the recent drought, including Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman and Yakima. I appreciate the USDA for stepping up to help our region in its time of need.

What’s especially galling to me is that while our governor apparently isn’t willing to go to bat for Washington’s world-renowned wheat industry during what is shaping up to be a true crisis, he’s more than happy to spend time and energy exploiting the recent heat wave for his own campaign needs and political agenda.

It’s no surprise Inslee capitalized on the record-breaking heat in two campaign fundraising letters that were sent out this week. Inslee also found time, in an op-ed piece published by The Seattle Times, to try connecting the heat wave to climate change, even though atmospheric-sciences professor Cliff Mass says it’s played only a very small role.

Our state’s governor is turning his back on wheat farmers and a key part of Washington agriculture when wheat crops might be a total loss this year. It’s shameful.

All of agriculture is struggling with this drought, not just wheat but every other commodity. Every segment of ag is suffering. The outcome could be disastrous for the many who work in agriculture, and it could have a serious impact on our state’s economy. The governor needs to focus more on ag and less on fundraising.

-Schoesler is from Ritzville and represents the 9th District in the Washington State Senate.

 
 

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