Bud Hover, Washington’s new agriculture department director, met with tree fruit industry representatives in Wenatchee, Washington, today (April 29) to hear their concerns, which included labor shortages, overregulation, and potential overproduction.
Hover, who took office in March, said he has appointed Ignacio Marquez, WorkSource area director with Employment Security in Yakima, to a new position at the department that will involve visiting growers throughout the state to learn about the issues they face. His responsibilities will include labor relations, community outreach, and some economic development work, Hover said.
Marquez will try to work with the industry to find out what the department can do to help ensure there’s an adequate labor supply. He’ll also work to try to bring people in urban and rural areas together, Hover said. “Fewer and fewer people are being raised on the farm, so you lose that connection, so what we want to do is reestablish the connection so people understand where their food comes from.”
Marquez begins work with the Department of Agriculture on May 15.
West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, emphasized the importance of trying to boost exports in view of increasing apple production in Washington State and other areas of the country.
Frank Lyall, a grower in Grandview, pointed to the tremendous decrease in the number of farmers over the past 20 years and urged Hover to help avoid further reducing the competitive advantage of the small-to-medium growers through overregulation.
“The law’s the law, and I can’t change that,” Hover replied. “There are laws we have to follow but there are ways of doing it where you can work with folks in the industry to come up with corrective actions.”
Hover noted that agriculture seems to be an easy target for some state regulators.
“They tend to dismiss a lot of other contributors to the problem. Let’s look at it in a comprehensive way, using the best available science. You don’t have to use a hammer on it every time.
“I want to make this agency an agency that’s responsive to the people it’s serving,” he concluded. “If there’s a problem, let me know.”