SUNNYSIDE — The delicate blooms on John Kilian’s apples trees are in full bloom. His crew are out every day getting the nutrients needed for the blooms to transform into luscious fruit.
Meanwhile, the warehouses where he takes the apples for processing have been temporarily closed, adjusting for social distancing and workers’ safety.
Looking at the marketing news on the state and national front gives him pause as he moves through his day in the orchards, but he just keeps going.
“We are moving full steam ahead. We’re in hopes everything works out,” the second-generation Bethany Road farmer said.
West of Sunnyside wine grape grower Kathy Shiels of Cote Bonneville is watching the market which fluctuates daily causing worry about future sales.
“There is a lot we don’t know, and that uncertainty is worse,” Shiels acknowledged.
“Crops are going to grow, but what is of major concern is the possible disruption in the food supply, she confessed.
State growers’ councils and commissions fear Central Washington producers of specialty crops face shrinking and disappearing markets, as well as a lack of international demand.
Farmers like Killian and Shiels are also facing changes in the direct-to-market and direct-to-table markets they depend on as the nation’s restaurants and school closures continue, despite talk of some states opening their closed restaurants.
While Kilian’s workers continue to spray, water and clear the orchards and grape yards, he is reliant on lawmakers, like Congressman Dan Newhouse to look out for his best interests.
As the season advances, efforts to keep the food supply going has found Rep. Newhouse of Sunnyside leading a campaign calling for proportional aid for specialty crop producers affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Newhouse, along with Reps. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif), Fred Upton (R-Michigan), and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) wrote to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue Tuesday, April 14 asking for the departments consideration of funding relief for the farmers who put food on America’s tables.
Letters to the USDA secretary are welcome by grower groups like the Northwest Horticulture Council.
“We’ve been in conversation with Newhouse trying determine that our farmers and packers are going to need moving forward,” Northwest Horticulture Council President Mark Powers expounded.
“We are trying to educate Congress and the USDA about what we really are going to need,” Powers explained.
“All of what we are facing now is frankly breathtaking. There are just so many challenges, from dwindling retail sales to increased needs of food banks,” Powers noted.
“We have to see what programs are going to make sense,” he commented, saying he is pleased with Newhouse’s letter to Secretary Perdue.
Powers noted the producers are urging the USDA as it develops its relief plan for the funding included in the CARES Act, that aid for specialty crop producers be commensurate with their eventual damage.
“Given the catastrophic drop in demand for certain products, many growers are being asked to cut production well below recent purchase commitments and historical production levels. In many cases, growers have already purchased inputs, prepped the ground, and in some cases, planted crops (thousands of dollars per acre) that suddenly no longer have a market,” Newhouse and his fellow letter writers asserted.
“In other instances, growers who have stored their perishable 2019 crop are in jeopardy of losing tens of millions of dollars because food service and institutional demand is nonexistent for the foreseeable future.”
For Kilian, as a farmer there is no unemployment paycheck for him.
“This is my income for the whole year,” he said looking out over his trees.
“Right now, there is no safety net for me. I do hope that USDA can see its way clear to help us out,” he added.