Whatcom Agriculture’s Efforts to Give Input on Key Regulatory Documents

Whatcom County Farm Bureau has been monitoring the Comprehensive Plan & Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) review process for nearly two years. During that time, we have made many comments on the consequences of proposed language regarding agriculture. Most significantly:

We opposed public disclosure of which farms have farm plans and their locations.

We expressed our concern about the consequences of mandated farm plans for 4H, FFA and other youth club participants, and tried to get a simple exemption for these groups. But because the Council wanted to require an educational piece to receive an exemption, the process became too complex to be workable.

We opposed the farm plan exemption of 1 animal unit per 3 acres as too restrictive to be a viable exemption as so few would qualify. Planning would not entertain an adjustment, though we offered proposals and valid arguments for multiple options. As it ended up, no exemptions for farm plans were written into the CAO.

We brought forward a definition of ongoing agriculture that more accurately described agricultural activities, and eliminated the restriction of land lying fallow for only 5 years before it was not allowed to return to its previous ag classification. This definition was accepted by the council and passed into the CAO update in July, only to be pulled in November as it seemed, to the Planning and the Council, too great a risk for engendering a challenge and a lawsuit.

What we have learned is that though the Growth Management Act mandates equal protection for the environment and resource lands, it does not happen in our county. Despite demonstrable evidence of improving water quality, (http://www.capitalpress.com/Washington/20171121/epa-cant-link-cows-to-fouled-shellfish) and increased use of best management practices, agricultural use is viewed as degradation of land.

We have also learned the power of the lawsuit is greater than the power of reason and good arguments. We did our research and formed cogent arguments for our positions, but fear of repercussions from making any changes to the CAO and thus triggering lawsuits and challenges from the environmental community carried far more weight with the Planning Dept and the Council. They knew who would sue, and they knew it wasn’t the farmers. Decisions were not made on principle as much as they were made to appease the environmental community. It is very sad that our society has come to this; that people who threaten to inflict the most pain are the ones that are accommodated. And the irony is that, often, these are the same people who say they will not tolerate bullies.

We need truth and people courageous enough to declare it despite the consequences. We are going to have to be those people, costly though it may be. Whatcom County Farm Bureau is committed to speaking the truth about agriculture as often as we have opportunity.

We are grateful to our attorney, Dannon Traxler of Langabeer Traxler, for her accurate advocacy of our issues, and her dedicated effort. It is a pleasure working with her. As well, we have been supported financially by Whatcom County Cattlemen, Whatcom Family Farmers, Ag Water Board, Dairy Federation and Washington State Farm Bureau. They have also been great resources for advice and strategy. We look forward to working with them again.

2017 WSFB Annual Meeting

Thank you to delegates  (L-R) Melodie Kirk, Larry & Sharon Helm, Bob & Pauline Van Weerdhuizen, Jason & Debbie VanderVeen, Leslie Honcoop, Troy Lenssen, Corie Kirk,  Percy & Lois Hoekema and Dan Noteboom (not pictured) for representing Whatcom County Farm Bureau at the 2017 Washington State Annual Meeting.

Annual Meeting – Whatcom County Farm Bureau

It is the time for our annual Whatcom County Farm Bureau meeting.

When: Thursday, October 26, 2017
6:30 PM – Business Meeting: Director Elections & Bylaw Changes
7:30 PM – Program & Dessert

Where: Mt. Baker Rotary Bldg. at Northwest Washington Fair – 1775 Front Street, Lynden, WA

Who’s Invited: We invite & encourage all Whatcom County Farm Bureau Members and supporters of agriculture to attend one or both of these meetings. No RSVP needed & no cost to attend.

The speaker this year is Kent Oostra, CEO of Exact Scientific Services Inc. He will speak on tracking pollution sources through DNA testing of water samples. Question & answer time will be included. We’ll also have updates on the past year’s activities of Whatcom Farm Bureau and some of the current issues we face. To read a bit about the DNA testing project here in Whatcom County go here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/…/loc…/article175563101.html

To review the proposed bylaw changes go here.

Questions – contact Leslie at 360-354-1155 or Melodie at whatcomfarmbureau@gmail.com

Proposed Changes to Bylaws

Article l – MEMBERS

Section 1. QUALIFICATIONS

Only persons, families and partnerships, unincorporated associations and corporations organized for agricultural purposes, actively engaged in the production of agricultural products, or in agribusiness, including lessees and tenants of land used for the production of such products: lessors and landlords who receive as rent, $2,500 either in kind or cash, all or part of the crop raised on the leased or rented premises are eligible for a voting membership in this organization.

(Agribusiness is defined as an entity engaged in the manufacture or distribution of farm equipment and supplies, the processing, storage, or distribution of farm commodities.)

Other persons, partnerships, unincorporated associations or corporations interested in agriculture may make application to become either a non-voting associate or business member in this organization. (Approved by Board on 9/19/17) 

Article II – BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Section 1. ELECTION OF BOARD OF DIRECTORS

All voting members are eligible to be nominated for the position of director at the annual meeting and then elected by the voting members present. Up to 2 director positions may be filled by agribusiness voting members. There shall be nine director positions. (Approved by Board on 9/19/17)

Section 2. TERMS

Length of terms shall be three years with three directors coming up for election every year. Term limits for directors are three terms of three years each with a year off before becoming eligible again. Terms begin and end on the date of the Whatcom County Annual Meeting. (Updated and approved 10/27/15)

Section 3. QUORUM

Five or more board members shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business of the Farm Bureau. A majority of the Board members in attendance shall in the presence of a quorum, decide its action.

Section 4. VACANCY

In case of any vacancies in the Board of Directors or officers through death, resignation, disqualification, or otherwise, the remaining members of the Board of Directors may elect a successor, having the qualifications herein prescribed for directors, to hold office for the unexpired portion of the term of office of director or officer whose place shall be vacant.

Section 5. MEETINGS

The Board of Directors shall normally hold regular monthly meetings.  The president may call Special Meetings.  Special meetings may be held via email, conference call, or other forms of communication in order to address time sensitive decisions. (Updated and approved 10/27/15)

Section 6. DIRECTOR RESPONSIBILITIES

Each Director must keep their Farm Bureau membership current. (Approved by Board on 6/20/17)

Section 67. FALURE TO ATTEND MEETINGS

In the event of continued failure on the part of the member of the Board of Directors to attend regular or special meetings of the Board, the member shall be notified by the president of the automatic suspension from the Board after missing three consecutive meetings without just cause.

Section 8. REMOVAL OF DIRECTORS

Any Director can be removed from their position by a two-thirds vote of the Board of Directors. (Approved by Board on 6/20/17)

Article III – OFFICERS

Section 1. OFFICERS

The officers of this organization shall be President, First Vice-president, Second Vice-President, Secretary-Treasurer or Secretary and Treasurer and such other officers as may be deemed necessary, such other officers to be created by resolution of the Board of Directors. The President and First and Second Vice-President must be members of this organization in good standing whose principal occupation and interest is farming. (Approved by Board on 9/19/17)

Click here to view current our bylaws.

Requiring Farm Plans – Pending County Law – Information Meeting

Thursday, October 19 at 7 PM – 9 PM

Mt. Baker Rotary Bldg.  Northwest Washington Fair

1775 Front St. Lynden, WA 98264

We, along with 5 other agricultural organizations, have been working on giving County Council feedback on their changes to the Critical Areas ordinance since last fall.

A major issue has come up in the last couple of weeks in the County Council’s review of the Critical Areas Ordinance. Per Whatcom County Planning and Development staff’s suggestion, the County Council has adopted wording that would require anyone who has more than one animal unit (1000lb) per three acres of grazable land to obtain a farm plan.

We need you to speak up and tell County Council how this will effect you. This meeting is an opportunity to come and learn more about where things are at, what you can do now, and much more. We will have our lawyer who has been helping us in submitting the comments and keeping on top of what County Council has been doing there as well.

Come to learn and take action.

Call to Action for Livestock Owners

A major issue has come up in the last couple of weeks in the County Council’s review of the Critical Areas Ordinance.

Per Whatcom County Planning and Development staff’s suggestion, the County Council has adopted wording that would require anyone who has more than one animal unit (1000lb) per three acres of grazable land to obtain a farm plan.

A steer, for example, often weighs over one thousand pounds, so two steers would not be allowed on three acres without a Farm Plan.

County staff and the Council seem to believe that most small or hobby farms will fit into this exemption category, but we believe that this ratio is unlikely to exempt very many animal farmers. We also believe that the 1 Animal Unit to 3 grazable acres ratio is overly restrictive. There is no way that one cow or horse will generate enough nutrients to overload even one acre of grazable pasture.

Farm Plans will be an extra cost for small animal farms and will discourage people from keeping livestock. They are also unnecessary where there are no problems with nutrient management and runoff into waterways.

We need to let the Council know this policy is overly restrictive and will affect many.

What can you do?

• Share this information with your neighbors and friends.
• Email the County Council at council@co.whatcom.wa.us
• Come to the County Council meeting at the Council Chambers on Oct. 24. Tell them how this will affect you and ask them to remove this requirement.

Words Matter

Currently, we are learning how much words matter as the County Council reviews the Critical Areas Ordinance. Every 10 years, this document must be reviewed and changes can be made at that time.

Right now, your County Council is deciding what is considered an agricultural activity and what is not. They are deciding how to determine when a piece of land goes out of agricultural use because there is no longer appropriate agricultural activity happening there. They are proposing a time limit of only 5 years for land to be without defined agricultural activity before they reclassify the use of that property to no longer be available for agriculture.

Sometimes, there are reasons beyond the farmer’s control that land lies fallow. It could be a market collapse that makes his crop unprofitable. It could be that grandpa retires, but still lives on the farm for some time before the next generation resumes farming.

It could be that the definition of agricultural activity is so narrow that certain typical agricultural practices are excluded from the code.

That’s why words matter – and why we are paying close attention to the definitions that are proposed by the County Council.

We need the farming community, and our community supporters to defend the best definition of Agricultural Activities and Ongoing Agriculture. The County Council must know that farmers and farmland are important to our economy and our community identity.

Whatcom County Farm Bureau supports the adoption of this definition for the Critical Areas Ordinance:

“AGRICULTURAL ACTIVITIES” means agricultural uses and practices including, but not limited to: Producing, breeding, or increasing agricultural products; rotating and changing agricultural crops; allowing land used for agricultural activities to lie fallow in which it is plowed and tilled but left unseeded; allowing land used for agricultural activities to lie dormant as a result of adverse agricultural market conditions; allowing land used for agricultural activities to lie dormant because the land is enrolled in a local, state, or federal conservation program, or the land is subject to a conservation easement; conducting agricultural operations; maintaining, repairing and replacing agricultural equipment; maintaining, repairing, and replacing agricultural facilities, provided that the replacement facility is no closer to the shoreline than the original facility; and maintaining agricultural lands under production or cultivation.

Even better would be the adoption of this definition as “Ongoing Agriculture” as this would eliminate the 5 year limit.

Either option protects farmers’ use of their land, but we need to defend this definition before the Council and let them know that these words matter to us… a lot!

Please let your County Council Member know that you are concerned about this issue today!

Contact them at here via email.

New Law Provides Greater Liability Protection On Your Farm

This notice is courtesy Washington State Farm Bureau

Do you allow the public onto your farm?

A new law may provide increased liability protection for you.

We have exciting news to share with you regarding a new law approved this year by the state Legislature that provides additional liability protections for farmers who allow members of the public to visit their farms.

While Senate Bill 5808 provides new liability protection to agritourism professionals who provide recreational, entertainment or educational opportunities for the public "to view or enjoy rural activities" on their land.

The scope of these activities is broadly defined, and may very well apply to you. These activities include:

  • Farming
  • Ranching
  • Historic, cultural and on-site educational programs
  • Recreational farming programs that may include on-site hospitality services
  • Guided and self-guided tours
  • Petting zoos
  • Farm festivals
  • Corn mazes
  • Harvest-your-own operations
  • Hayrides
  • Barn parties
  • Horseback riding
  • Fishing
  • Camping

The new law states the agritourism professional "is not liable for injury, loss, damage, or death of a participant resulting exclusively from any of the inherent risks of agritourism activities", with certain exceptions.

The bill also states that no participant or participant's representative may pursue an action or recover from an agritourism professional for injury, loss, damage, or death of the participant resulting exclusively from any of the inherent risks of agritourism activities. Again, some exceptions do apply.

This new law went into effect on July 23, 2017. To read the new law, click here. To read a description about the new law, click here.

To benefit from this new liability protection, you must post a sign with the exact language shown in the sample above.

The signs must be posted in a clearly visible location at the entrance to your farm or agritourism business and at the site of each agritourism activity.

To help you access these signs in time for this fall's activities, WA Farm Bureau is making signs available that are 3' X 4'.

You can also show this email to your local printer or sign maker and have them made locally. However, we believe our bulk-order price will be far cheaper than what you will be able to find on an individual order.

These signs are available in a high-quality polycarbonate plastic.

Prices for these signs:
WA Farm Bureau Members - $30
Non-Members - $40

Please Note
The Washington Farm Bureau will place the bulk order for the signs once we have received commitment for at least 250 signs. So don't delay - order your signs today.

We will not process your check or credit card payment until we have received requests for at least 250 signs and the bulk order is placed with the printer.

Although shipping can be arranged, it's expensive. To save you that expense and for your convenience, we're establishing convenient pick-up sites around the state.

Questions - Contact Tom Davis at tdavis@wsfb.com.

We must receive your order form by August 21 - Order Today!

To place your order, click here to print the order form, fill it out and mail or email your completed order form to:

Washington Farm Bureau
Attn: Jenni Budde
975 Carpenter Road NE
Lacey, WA 98516

or

jbudde@wsfb.com

Whatcom Election Endorsements From WA State Farm Bureau PAC

Washington State Farm Bureau PAC has endorsed the below candidates for the August 1st Primary Election. Be sure to get your ballot filled out and returned before August 1, 2017.

Daniel Collick

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Daniel Collick for Whatcom County Council District 2

Tyler Byrd

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Tyler Byrd for Whatcom County Council District 3

Dan Robbins

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Dan Robbins for Port Of Bellingham District 1

Ken Bell

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Ken Bell for Port of Bellingham District 2

Saving Farmland at the Cost of Farmers

Farmland in Whatcom County. Photo Credit Elisa Claassen. Used By Permission.

Since Spring 2016, the Whatcom County Farm Bureau has been engaged in tracking Whatcom County’s Comprehensive Plan and Critical Areas Ordinance review. These documents will have a large impact on our ability to farm our land; and we wanted to be sure that the agricultural perspective was represented.

A year later, we are still involved in this effort. With the help of an attorney, and partnership with other farm organizations, we have submitted many comments to the Council and Committees on their proposals that will reduce our ability to farm profitably.

We believe that we have fairly and accurately represented the concerns of the agricultural community to our County Council. However, we have had limited success with their responses.

We could give you many details of issues we have opposed and countered, but the bottom line is this: the majority of the County Council assume that agriculture is harming the land and the water. The policies that they are pursuing will have the result of reducing the practice of farming. Council members will say they are concerned about farmland, but proposed increases in regulation, affecting profitability, and their push to reclassify Ag land to critical areas shows they are not concerned about farming.

There is much to be lost if we, as farmers, do not express our objection to their assumption. The Council is working to make Farm Plans mandatory for every farm, requiring a costly process to comply, and years of monitoring with mandated updates. Also, they propose to make the allowed time for Ag land to lie fallow only 5 years, after which the land is reclassified as a Critical Area and must comply with those buffers (much larger) and regulations. These are just two issues of many that adversely affect farming.

The County Council must know that we object to their assumption, and their proposals. And they need to hear it from THE FARMERS THEMSELVES! Our comments in person, our presence at the meetings, and other communications must be made to have any hope of influencing laws and policies that affect our agricultural industries.

It is always busy on the farm, whatever the season – and summer is probably the worst time to consider taking time away from the farm to attend meetings. But engaging the Council members now, before the detrimental changes are adopted is an investment that will inevitably save time when we have to battle their implementation.

For your consideration:

  • Attend the meeting when the Council of the Whole discusses the changes: Tuesday, August 8, 9:30 am. We will probably not be allowed to comment, but our presence is valuable both for our education and the Council’s awareness of accountability.
  • Speak at the August 8 County Council meeting during Open Session. Council meeting starts at 7pm. Open session follows any public hearings scheduled: can occur as early as 7:15, or much later. We will track what hearings are on the agenda and give you an idea of the time.
  • Attend the August 8 County Council Meeting in support of the farmers.