Agriculture and aquaculture — and a few of the challenges they face — are a theme of this month’s Coast River Business Journal.
Farming on land and water remains a significant part of the overall economic picture around the Columbia River estuary. Though few of us now live on farms compared to our grandparents’ era, we all still have a personal stake in the success of local food producers.
Particularly in this time when home and restaurant chefs often search out and place a premium on using products produced close to home, it will be excellent news if we can preserve — even expand — the local farms and ranches that grow our food.
Food writers often mention the French concept of terroir, which emphasizes the importance of place-specific soils, climate, topography and other factors in imparting cherished tastes, aromas and textures to what we eat. Originally applied to wine, nowadays terroir can just as easily refer to beef, oysters, berries, artisanal cheeses — really anything we can deeply appreciate eating that has a character rooted in a unique place.
We already have a well-deserved reputation as a world-class place to enjoy the finest seafood. By supporting farming, we can continue building this into a destination that attracts visitors with a taste for excellence.
As some of this month’s CRBJ content describes, farmers have to triumph over troublesome weather, competing species and other traditional challenges. But they also must overcome increasingly complex regulations and consumer expectations. Long-term ranchers like the ones we profile in this issue wonder whether they will be able to continue raising cattle in a place where water quality is of paramount importance. At the same time, shellfish growers worry not only about agricultural runoff, but about agency restrictions that currently delay controlling an expanding population of burrowing shrimp, which wreck oyster beds.
These challenges and others lead people to drop out of food-producing industries. The most recent federal census of agriculture found a drop in Oregon from 38,553 farms in 2007 to 35,439 in 2012. In Washington, the number fell from 39,284 to 37,247.
Sometimes, farms are absorbed into neighboring operations. Often, however, the farmland is converted for residential and industrial development. In western Oregon and Washington, housing is becoming more scarce and expensive. Some farm conversions may be deemed necessary. But we should worry anytime valuable food-producing land is permanently lost to any other purpose.
Similar industry consolidation and loss of land confronts aquaculture — sometimes in the form of shoreline housing.
Farmers and shellfish growers are among the best advocates for conservation and preserving much of what we all love about the Pacific Northwest. All citizens should look for the interests we share with them, and work to ensure that these traditions survive.