Sternlicht discusses keeping agriculture sustainable in Skagit County

Thursday, February 28, 2019

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MOUNT VERNON -- EDASC CEO John Sternlicht spoke Feb. 8 about the ongoing need to push for value-added agriculture and other ways to keep agriculture and agriculture land economically viable during the annual Skagit Ag Summit at the Washington State University Research and Extension Center.

Value-added agriculture, put simply, involves increasing the value of an agricultural product. Local examples include Skagit Valley Malting paying farmers premium prices for commodity crops and the recently-unveiled “Genuine Skagit Valley” certification brand strategy created through the Innovation Partnership Zone.

More Skagit County farmers want to become price makers, or those who set the prices of their products, rather price takers, Sternlicht said.

“If we want to preserve agriculture in Skagit County we need to make sure people can make money off it,” Sternlicht said. “One might grow crops and have a wine tasting room. Or maybe someone starts a little cafe to serve scones with homegrown blueberries. We need to support those types of enterprises.”

County Commissioner Lisa Janicki served on the same panel as Sternlicht. She spoke about the current laws and regulations that could be amended to better support value-added agriculture. As it is, Skagit County needs to consider whether and how it can be more supportive of those practices.

One issue that came up during the question and answer session – and that comes up often when talking about value-added agriculture -- is the fear of Skagit County losing its farmland the same way Kent Valley did. Kent Valley is currently unrecognizable compared to the agricultural hub it once was.

Sternlicht said today’s Kent Valley is likely a product of a failure of vision and planning rather than deliberate efforts, something that’s not an issue in Skagit County.

“The Kent Valley didn’t become what it is today because someone sat down with a blueprint and started paving everything,” Sternlicht said. “It happened because no one was paying attention. We have to be aware that change is going to happen. Through economic development, we don’t have to be passive recipients of change.”

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