the film
Commentaries and editorials

Buffers Will Take Unfair Toll
on Family Farmers

by Steve Appel, Guest Comment
Capital Press - April 2, 2004

I’ve been reading some of the declarations from Washington Farm Bureau members that we filed last month with our appeal of a federal court order banning the use of many farm chemicals within 60 to 300 feet of salmon-bearing rivers and streams.

And the more I read, the more upset I become at the audacity of the judge in punishing family farmers and ranchers for a bureaucratic oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency, and for substituting his personal opinion, absent any factual basis, for the judgment of qualified government scientists.

The frustration, worry and bitterness these farmers feel come across in very real, very emotional language. Nobody has even accused these farmers of any wrongdoing, yet they are being made to pay a stiff price.

Conard Petersen, who stands to lose up to 25 percent of his orchards in the Entiat Valley, talks about the economic disaster the buffers will cause Chelan County, where 90 percent of the land is already government owned, and farmers having “no other source of income, except maybe welfare.”

Another Chelan County grower, Dennis Berdan, whose orchard spreads out along both sides of Squilchuck Creek, worries that he could lose his entire cherry crop, even though salmon have never been known to spawn in the creek, if he can’t spray for fruit flies. “Consumers,” Berdan says, “simply will not accept wormy fruit.”

In neighboring Douglas County, Chris Hanson notes that he sells his apples and cherries to a commercial packinghouse, as most family farmers do, and if even one fruit fly maggot is discovered in his fruit, “the packinghouse will deem my whole crop unacceptable.”

Several growers noted there are alternatives to some — but not all — of the banned chemicals.

However, they are less effective, considerably more expensive, and require additional applications, which drives up costs even more. In other words, they aren’t really practical alternatives in an industry that is already struggling to survive.

Ironically, several growers said that imposing no-spray buffers on their farming operations also means they will no longer be able to participate in efforts to care for the environment and improve salmon habitat.

Kevin Eslinger, president of the Kittitas County Farm Bureau, raises timothy hay on land his family has farmed since 1899. He also serves on the Kittitas County Citizens Advisory Board for Salmon Recovery, the Tri-County Watershed Planning Unit and its habitat subcommittee, and other conservation groups.

For the past five years, he has received awards from his local conservation district for the improvements he has made, including more efficient sprinkler systems, replacing open irrigation ditches with pipes, and planting vegetation along more than four miles of streams that wind their way through his fields.

Now, facing the loss of nearly 200 acres of productive land to buffers, Eslinger is putting further habitat enhancements on hold, while he contemplates the likelihood that the hay fields that now support three farm families will have to be sold for development.

Philosophically, Eslinger says, “More farmers are considering this option as farming becomes less and less profitable.”

These farmers, and thousands more, care about the land. They use farm chemicals carefully, according to strict regulations developed by the EPA, and they spend their own time and money to improve salmon habitat.

And what do they get for their effort? A slap in the face by a federal judge who gives them two weeks’ notice that he is taking away tools essential to their ability to continue farming.

In our appeal, we asked the judge to balance the perceived risk to salmon, without any scientific evidence, against the very real risk to family farmers.

According to the Census of Agriculture, Washington lost 4,000 family farms between 1997 and 2002. If the judge doesn’t reconsider his ill-conceived buffers, we could lose another 4,000 farms in the next few months.

We can only hope that he takes the time to read the declarations from our members and grasps the full impact his ruling will have on real families and the future of rural Washington.

by Steve Appel is president of the Washington Farm Bureau. He grows wheat and barley in the Palouse region of southeast Washington.
Buffers Will Take Unfair Toll on Family Farmers
Capital Press - April 2, 2004

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