Pierce County: Farmer feels squeezed
Kawada; The News Tribune
Pierce County, WA - 1/3/03 - Ron Inglin plans to move his dairy farm
near South Prairie to Eastern Washington next year because continuing
his family business in Pierce County has become too expensive.
It means that Inglin's youngest son, 2-year-old Paul, won't be a
fourth-generation Pierce County dairy farmer, and that the county
could lose another 340 acres of productive farmland.
Such consequences could have been avoided if Pierce County had farmland
preservation programs that King and Thurston counties have adopted,
said Monty Mayhan, manager of Pierce Conservation District.
"Generally, Pierce County is the last one to pass conservation
measures," Mayhan said.
Interest in farmland preservation has grown nationwide since a 1997
U.S. Department of Agriculture census, which experts say surprised
many people because it showed farmland disappearing at an alarmingly
The census showed that the nation lost 13.7 million acres of farmland
between 1992 and 1997. During the same period, Pierce County lost
7,882 acres of farmland, or 4.3 acres daily.
Since the census, local and state governments nationwide have pumped
public money into buying farm development rights to save the land
from getting paved. Preserved farmland increased by 85 percent since
1998 to 1,135,941 acres nationwide.
It's a different story in Pierce County, which has spent public money
to preserve just two farms in its history: a 48-acre farm on Anderson
Island and a 12-acre farm in Edgewood.
King and Thurston counties have spent public money to preserve 12,880
acres and 940 acres, respectively. Most of the preserved land is in
the Green, Sammamish and Snoqualmie river valleys and on the Enumclaw
Plateau and Vashon Island in King County, and in the Nisqually Valley
in Thurston County.
Efforts to bring farmland preservation programs to Pierce County are
under way. Pierce Conservation District is urging the Pierce County
Council to tax property owners a minimum of $5 per parcel annually
to buy development rights of existing farms. It would be called Resource
"It's going to be just a drop in a bucket," said Rich Hines,
outreach coordinator for American Farmland Trust. "But we would
be doing something."
The Inglin farm
More than 40 years ago, Inglin's grandfather began the family farm
with 40 cows. The herd grew to 100 cows during his tenure. Then Inglin's
father took over, and he had 400 cows when Inglin took it over 1 1/2
Inglin increased the herd to 450 cows, but sold 100 of them in August
to pay the bills.
"It's getting so tough around here," he said.
A combination of falling milk prices and stricter environmental
regulations has made Inglin's dairy farm unviable.
His milk sold for $17 per 100 pounds when he took over the business
in June 2001. It is down to $10.60 per 100 pounds. Inglin said there's
too much milk on the market.
On top of it, the state Department of Ecology requires that Inglin
install a $120,000 lagoon to prevent cow manure from running into
South Prairie Creek, which abuts his farm. He also would lose 22 acres
along the salmon-bearing creek as a buffer zone.
Inglin said he has to make his operation bigger to compete with larger
farms, and his current farm doesn't have the capacity to do so. In
Eastern Washington, he could run a bigger farm cheaper.
After he purchases land in Eastern Washington, Inglin plans to use
his South Prairie farm for a few years after he leaves to raise his
heifers. But he doesn't know how long that could last.
"Probably, if I move out of here, it'll never be a dairy farm
again," he said. "With a right deal, we might sell (the
land). In 10 years, it'll be all developed."
Pierce County had more than 100 dairy farms in the early 1960s. It
is down to 10.
Resource conservation fee
The Pierce County Council is expected this year to review the Resource
Conservation Fee proposal, which will tax property owners $5 per parcel,
plus 10 cents per acre for parcels bigger than one acre.
The fee would collect about $433,000 annually. Half of it is earmarked
for purchase of development rights of farms, and the other half
is designated for agricultural support programs for farmers.
Mayhan said this money could have helped Inglin either stay in Pierce
County or, at least, preserve his farmland after he leaves.
The fee also would collect about $253,000 for six salmon recovery
projects in Pierce County.
The cities of Tacoma, University Place, Lakewood, Fircrest and Puyallup
so far have passed resolutions urging that the county adopt the program.
Puyallup is the only city that showed specific interest in farmland
preservation, Mayhan said.
If adopted, the fee would bring in federal matching money. Congress
passed the Farm Bill in 2002, which would dole out $10 billion in
the next 10 years for purchase of development rights.
But the money won't come to Pierce County without the proposed conservation
"I'm not convinced that the entire amount should be levied,"
said county Executive John Ladenburg.
He said purchasing development rights doesn't help farmers. In
King County, in fact, some preserved farmlands are not active because
farmers retired anyway.
"That doesn't make sense to me," Ladenburg said. "Let's
preserve farm business."
Ladenburg's idea calls for the county to buy development rights on
a year-to-year basis as long as farmers are in business. And he wants
to spend money on helping farmers run their business.
The County Council in December adopted "Right to Farm" ordinance
to protect farms located in urban areas. For example, an existing
farm cannot be sued as a nuisance.
Why some care
Doug and Donna Tait of Buckley placed conservation easements on their
64-acre farm about two years ago, and made arrangements with Cascade
Land Conservancy to preserve it as an agricultural property.
The couple did not donate the land for preservation. They gave
the conservation agency the authority to enforce the restrictions
they put on the property's deed. And they donated $25,000 to the conservancy
for possible litigation to protect the land.
The restrictions prevent a future land owner from subdividing the
farm or building a nonagricultural structure there.
"They are not making any more land," said Doug Tait, a retired
physician, when asked why he placed the easements on his property.
"This used to be a beautiful county years ago."
In Puyallup, preserving farmland means preserving the city's heritage,
said Darrell Barstow, a city councilman.
"We don't want to lose that, and we want to hang on to it as
long as we can," he said.
To promote agriculture and local produce, Puyallup plans to build
a farmers' market building downtown and boost its already-successful
Saturday morning events.
"Our present society has a busy lifestyle," Barstow said.
"When you can have farmland and open space, it helps to have
calming effects for the whole community."
Whether a person is in a farm or outside a farm looking at it, preserving
farmland is all about lifestyle for those who care.
"It's not a job; it's a lifestyle," said Inglin, who vows
never to go out of farming, wherever his farm would be. "This
is the only thing I've done."
Eijiro Kawada: 253-597-8633