Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Cherry Institute Luncheon
January 7, 2000
Thank you, George Allan, Master of Ceremonies, for that kind introduction. I'm really pleased to be here. Agriculture is a fundamental part of our economy and way of life here in Washington, and as you saw in the video, I'm quite a cherry fan.
Washington is home to 37,000 farms covering over 15 million acres-that's over 37 percent of our land. Our farms generate almost 6 billion dollars worth of products every year and keep over 100,000 Washingtonians employed and able to provide for their families. We produce half of the apples consumed in the United States and virtually all exported apples. And we produce almost half of the sweet cherries consumed in the United States. And I'm proud to say our family is responsible for a good portion of that cherry consumption. So for all you do-both for my family's eating pleasure and for the whole of Washington-thank you.
One of my favorite parts about my job is when I get to go to schools and visit our Reading Corps Program where volunteers are working with struggling children to teach them how to read. Another favorite part when I go on trade missions to other countries to introduce Washington products and industries.
And a key part of our trade mission is to showcase our superior agricultural products. I don't have to show them charts or graphs or pictures or reports. I just hand out cherries and say: taste for yourself.
Just this fall I went to Mexico. I attended meeting after meeting to discuss trade over a span of five days. But you know what the most successful thing I did was? I walked into a Wal-Mart with crates of cherries-Washington cherries, that is. And I just walked up to people with a tray of cherries in my hand and said: would you like some Washington cherries?
I did the same thing in Taiwan the year before. I went into this huge department store with literally dozens of crates of Washington cherries. And in Taiwan, cherries-especially Washington cherries-are a delicacy. Cherries are like truffles to them. And let me tell you-they loved our cherries.
So when I go out and try to get other markets to understand that Washington produce is truly superior, all I have to do is show them the fruit. The smell, the texture, the taste-it's obvious. Washington Cherries are where it's at.
And we are behind you. From my office and my Director of the Department of Agriculture, Jim Jesernig, to every employee in the Department of Agriculture, all of the way to Chris Lin and Scott Hitchman-our agricultural trade representatives in Taiwan and Japan-we are committed to the success of Washington farms and orchards by expanding markets.
And I'm pleased at how well we have been working together. The working relationship between the Washington Fruit Commission, the Department of Agriculture, and the cherry industry is a good example of how the public and private sectors can work together to achieve a common goal-the common goal of successful cherry marketing in Taiwan, Japan, China, Mexico.
As I've mentioned, I've been on trade missions to all of those countries. And I'd just like to recognize some of the people who worked tirelessly during those trade missions. Director of Agriculture Jim Jesernig was instrumental. And our representatives from the agricultural industry-Steve Lutz of the Washington Apple Commission and Eric Melton from the Fruit Commission were indispensable. Eric went above and beyond the call of duty on every step of the way to make these trade missions successful. He did everything from setting up videos to hiring photographers to hauling crates of cherries.
And we've had some stunning success as a result of these trade missions. In 1999, Japan approved import of five new apples and two additional cherry varieties-Lapins and Sweethearts. During the 1998 marketing season, Taiwan was the number one overseas market for Washington cherries with sales of over $23 million. And then in 1999 despite the downturn in the Asian economy, with a crop that was 28% smaller, export sales were up 40% and the estimated sales were again at $23 million. And in terms of Mexico, the WSDA International Marketing and the Northwest Cherry Growers have a three-year joint project to increasing sales in Mexico.
You're doing a great job, and I understand the pressures you face. You are responsible not only for feeding our citizens and the citizens of the world, but also for the livelihood of your workers and your land. You are integrally involved in lives and land. So today I want to talk a bit about lives and land.
In terms of lives, I want to thank you for your concern and commitment to reducing the number of farmworkers who are homeless and living on the riverbanks and sleeping under bridges. We have made significant progress, but we all know we need to do more.
As you know, the state of Washington faces an acute shortage of housing for migrant farmworkers. This is especially true during the cherry harvest. Approximately 16,000 migrant workers harvest our cherry crops. And at our best effort, we've been able to provide 2,000 licensed beds for these migrant workers.
We must do more; with you're help we are all doing more.
Last year, the Legislature approved my proposal on a comprehensive farmworker housing strategy.
The backbone of the strategy is a $40 million, 10-year commitment to build migrant and permanent low-income housing for farmworkers.
This state money, leveraged with private and non-profit dollars, will provide housing for more than 10,000 farm workers.
And we are already making progress. Last year, the state provided funds to build, using prison inmates, the first community migrant unit (the Esperanza project) in Mattawa. This unit allows 300 farmworkers who had previously lived on the riverbanks to sleep in beds with roofs over their heads. Next growing season we will add more units to the Esperanza project and house almost 100 more workers.
We have also allocated $600,000 to help growers build infrastructure such as water, sanitation and electricity, and to provide more housing. I know that in the past you've been frustrated by the lack of certainty and flexibility in the law. We have centralized the regulation and enforcement of temporary worker housing into one agency. And the Department of Health is currently working with Department of Labor and Industries, the Federal Department of Labor, grower organizations and farmworker advocates in adopting more flexible joint rules for the cherry harvest. The rules will be formally published in March.
Last year we also started the rent-a-tent project, where growers can rent WISHA/OSHA approved tents from community action councils. Last year, 28 tents provided shelter for 400 people during the cherry harvest, and this next growing season we hope to have as many as 200 tents. This year, we want all 200 tents used out there to house workers. But in order for this to happen, we need all of you to get involved.
Providing housing for farmworkers is not just a grower's problem and it's not just the state's problem. I hope that we can continue our successful private/public partnership in providing shelter for the thousands of workers who help make our agriculture industry strong.
I said I would talk about lives and land. So on to the land. We all know that most, if not all cherry orchards are irrigated. We also know that no state has been more greatly affected by the Endangered Species Act listings than our state of Washington. And we also know that agricultural activities, regardless of all of our best efforts, have contributed to the degradation and loss of salmon habitat.
As with our farmworker housing problems, the solution relies on partnership. So agricultural groups, along with federal agencies, tribes, local governments and environmental organizations, are working together to create an Agriculture, Water and Fish Agreement just as was done within the timber industry. The goal is to create a voluntary agreement on the development and implementation of improved on-farm practices and standards and guidelines for irrigation districts.
The parties that met in Spokane on December 9th to initiate the AFW Process are committed to an 18-month time frame to arrive at an agreement. It will take the collaborative effort of all of these people to achieve the goal of improving agricultural practices necessary for salmon recovery. The local, state and federal agencies will provide technical, regulatory and financial support, but we recognize the bulk of the work to conserve, protect and restore salmon habitat will be done by the local landowners and irrigation districts themselves.
So once again, I ask for your partnership. As long as we work together, we can reach our goals of maintaining our prosperity, strengthening our agricultural industry, expanding markets, helping those who harvest the crops, and protecting our environment. We've got to look at the big picture here, folks. What are we trying to accomplish? First, we're trying to walk through the minefield of balancing so many complex issues. But we also need to be architects of our own future. We need to control our own destiny. If we do nothing, all we are doing is handing over the power to federal agencies. I feel very strongly that local people need to make the decisions, not some judge in San Francisco or Portland or an administrator in Washington, D.C. or even Olympia. So we must work together to maintain control over our own destiny. I know I can count on you.
Finally, I just want to thank every single one of you, for everything you do to help make Washington a better place to live, to work, and to raise a family. Keep up the great work!
Thank you all very much.