Annual growers’ trip to Olympia scores some legislative points

A group of Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) makes their way across the Capitol on the first day of legislative meetings.

More than two dozen wheat growers and staff descended on the state capital last month as part of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ annual Olympia Days trip, landing amidst a flurry of Senate and House activity aimed squarely at two of the group’s highest priorities: resolving the fight over permit-exempt wells and passing the capital budget.

Sen. Mark Schoesler (right) always holds open a block of time for the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) to drop in to discuss their priorities and to hear what the Senate is working on. Jeff Shawver (second from right), vice president of WAWG, and Jim White, a grower from Whitman County, are shown here.

Growers and staff from the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) and the Washington Grain Commission met with more than 40 legislators and agencies during the two-day trip. Meetings were held between House and Senate floor sessions and committee hearings, with legislators able to give the group real-time updates on how negotiations were progressing. Within a day of returning to Eastern Washington, growers learned that legislation temporarily easing restrictions on rural wells had passed, which in turn resolved a stalemate over passing a capital budget.

The group’s other priorities included protecting existing tax policy, opposing a carbon tax and preserving the Snake River dams. To see a full list of WAWG’s 2018 state priorities, click here.

Going over the association’s top priorities with Sen. Curtis King (right) are (from left) Diana Carlen, Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ lobbyist, and growers Gil Crosby and Marci Green.

Another issue wheat growers addressed with legislators was a number of bills that have been introduced regarding pesticide applications. The most onerous of the bills would require four business days advance notice before any pesticide application and would require the Department of Health to develop a list of individuals who have requested notification of pesticide applications on adjacent property. Pesticide users would then need to provide written notice of an intended pesticide application to those individuals. Another bill would require 48 hours advance notice of an aerial application to any school or daycare within ¼ mile. All of the bills would increase the amount of recordkeeping and reporting required by applicators.

Wheat growers explained to legislators that pesticide applications are already closely regulated by the federal government, so these additional restrictions are redundant and unnecessary.

Although the wheat growers weren’t able to meet with Gov. Inslee, they did score a meeting with John Flanagan (right), a policy advisor with the governor’s office. Also in the meeting were (from left) Lexi Deishl, 2018 wheat ambassador; Wysteria Rush, Lincoln County; Michelle Quigley, Lincoln County; Lori Williams, Washington Association of Wheat Growers’ (WAWG) outreach coordinator; and Nicole Berg, WAWG past president.

While the flurry of activity meant that some legislators, including the governor, were unavailable to meet with the group, the meetings that did take place were positive, and the wheat growers’ message was well received by legislators from both sides of the aisle.

“Legislators hear from lobbyists all the time, so being able to have those elected officials sit down and talk with a farmer creates a personal connection to the people who have to live under the rules and regulations coming out of Olympia,” explained Marci Green, WAWG president and a grower from Fairfield, Wash. “This kind of work is at the heart of what WAWG does. We are successful only because growers are willing to take the time away from their farms to make this trip.”

In addition to the legislative meetings, WAWG also held a reception for legislators and their aides.

“Thank you to our growers who participated in this trip, and to our lobbyist, Diana Carlen, who helped organize and schedule all of our meetings,” said Michelle Hennings, WAWG’s executive director. “Our Olympia Days trip is an excellent opportunity to educate legislators from urban districts who don’t always understand how food is grown, processed and shipped to customers.”

Sens. Jim Honeyford and Judy Warnick (on left) listen as wheat growers review their list of 2018 state priorities. In front are Gary Bailey (right), Washington Grain Commission Chairman, and Ryan Poe, Washington Association of Wheat Growers secretary/treasurer. In background, from left, are Lexi Deishl and Kyle Appel, 2018 wheat ambassadors, and grower Mark Booker from Adams County.