IFB Young Leaders tour diverse ag industry in Washington state

Dependence on irrigation an eye-opener for Illinois farmers.

John Wyss, of Gebbers Farms in Brewster, Wash., discusses apple and cherry production with participants of the Young Leader Ag Industry Tour while overlooking thousands of acres of orchards. YLs pictured around Wyss include, from, Parker Flamm, Mark Ruschhaupt, Gary Reavis, Emily Newcomer, Austin Flamm, Patrick Henry and Michael Long. (Photos by Jenny Webb)

By Daniel Grant

Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leaders, who recently toured the ag industry in Washington state, say they’re impressed by the crop diversity out west and have a new appreciation for water availability back home.

Young Leaders on the trip toured Gebbers Farms (one of the top apple growers and cherry producers); Avila Dairy and its large rotary parlor; Wild Horse Wind and Solar, which features 149 turbines; Dry Fly Distillery where local grain creates vodka, gin and whiskey; the Grand Coulee Dam, which provides much of the water for irrigation; and local farms across Washington, among other stops.

They also met with Washington state Farm Bureau members and staff, including president Mike LaPlant.

Mike Hajny, right, of Hajny Trading Company in Ellensburg, Wash., demonstrates to IFB Young Leaders how much 60-pound, compressed bales for export expand when cut open.

“I was blown away by this tour,” said Krista Lottinville, who represents District 6 on the IFB State Young Leader Committee from Sheldon (Ford-Iroquois Farm Bureau).

“It seemed almost every farmer we met out there raises five, six or seven crops and has livestock,” she noted. “And there’s a lot of vertical integration. They package and ship a lot of their own products overseas.”

Matt Belusko, a Young Leader from Litchfield (Montgomery County) who serves as an ag teacher at Ramsey High School in nearby Fayette County, was impressed by Washington farmers loading shipping containers on their farms with everything from produce to hay.

Washington is a major cherry-producing state, but it also grows a lot of other diverse crops and produce. One county in the state produces at least 150 different crops, according to a participant in the recent IFB Young Leader Ag Industry Tour.

“It was definitely an eye-opener,” he said. “When you get out there, the first thing that catches your eye is the scope of everything. Their operations seemed a lot larger and dependent on irrigation (compared to Illinois).

“They also have a tremendous amount of crop diversity,” he noted. “One county we visited grows more than 150 different crops.”

Washington, the Evergreen State, has nearly 36,000 farms and 14.7 million acres of farmland, about half of which is cropland (51 percent), with the other large portions in pasture (31 percent) and timber ground (14 percent).

Some portions of the state receive adequate precipitation, while areas on the eastern side of the state receive less than 10 inches of annual precipitation, Belusko noted.

“If it wasn’t for irrigation, a lot of places would be covered by sagebrush,” he said.

But, with water a scarce resource in some areas of the Pacific Northwest, it’s also quite valuable. Lottinville was surprised at the added production cost of irrigation.

“I work for FBFM (Illinois Farm Business Farm Management) in Watseka, so I’m always thinking about costs and profit,” she said. “Because water is such a scarce resource (in Washington), they have to pay water districts to get irrigation. Sometimes it’s an extra $100 an acre.”

Washington state farmers are also nearly as dependent on trade as they are irrigation due to their location.

“They have extreme concerns (about ongoing trade wars) and hope things get straightened out soon,” Lottinville said.

Belusko and Lottinville both previously participated in the Young Leader Ag Industry Tour to Canada and highly recommend the annual tours.

“I’ve had wonderful opportunities through Young Leaders to see how others in agriculture are doing,” Belusko said. “Young Leaders also provides great opportunities to meet new people around the state.”

Check out more photos from the tour on the Young Leaders Facebook page at this link.