The State of Skagit Agriculture Today
With over 150 years of farming history, the Skagit Valley is now recognized as one the most important agricultural valleys remaining in Puget Sound.
The Skagit Valley saw its first crop of cultivated potatoes planted in 1853 on March Point.1 In circa 1870 the first commercial production of oats was sent to markets in Seattle and by 1908 the Skagit Delta was producing more oats and hay per acre than any other place in the United States at the time.2 Skagit farmland and Skagit farmers have been supplying the region, state and world with nearly every crop imaginable for over 150 years.
Today the Skagit Valley is supplying nearly 95% of the U.S. supply of table beet seed, 75% of the U.S. supply of spinach seed and approximately 8% of the spinach seed used throughout the world. Skagit Valley farmers are producing approximately 25% of the world’s cabbage seed and 50% of the world’s beet seed.3 More tulips, daffodils and iris bulbs are produced in the Skagit Valley than in any other county in the United States. Additionally, approximately 50 million cut flowers are grown in greenhouses and fields in the Skagit Valley and approximately 95 percent of the red potatoes grown in Washington State are from Skagit County.4
The value and importance of Skagit agriculture extends beyond the direct economic food and fiber benefits. The environmental goods and services provided by the agricultural lands include the relationship of farmland to climate control, flood control, water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, open space and quality of life.
While other agricultural valleys in Puget Sound are being paved over, the farmland in the Skagit Valley is one of the principal reasons why the Skagit Valley supports one of the nation’s last strongholds that contain all five species of salmon. The Skagit Valley hosts the largest chum and pink salmon populations in the entire lower 48, as well as the most abundant population of wild Chinook salmon in Puget Sound.5
- Skagit Farmland is the reason the Skagit Delta has one of the largest and most diverse concentrations of wintering raptors on the continent.6
- Skagit farmland is the reason why the Skagit Delta supports 70 percent of Puget Sound’ shorebirds during migration.7
- Skagit farmland is the reason why the Skagit Delta is one of the most important waterfowl wintering areas in the Pacific Northwest, supporting over 90 percent of the waterfowl wintering in western Washington.8
However, the Skagit Valley is threatened by continued population growth and the vise of sprawl, caught between two major metropolitan areas: Seattle to the south and Vancouver, BC to the north. As the population in Puget Sound continues to grow and urbanization spreads, you now have to drive a little farther out to find farmland. Slowed by traffic, through tangled intersections, past rows of houses that seem to have sprouted from the farm fields themselves, finally, you begin to see it.
Since the 1950’s, farmland in the United States has been the answer to growth; we are converting our working farmlands for roads, houses, malls, soccer fields, parks and now, more recently, for habitat restoration, off-site mitigation and open space projects. Continued conversion of our farmland has put the agricultural industry in Puget Sound and in Skagit Valley at serious risk.
- Puget Sound region has lost 60% of its farmland since 1950. 9
- Since the passage of the Growth Management Act (GMA) from 2001 to 2006 approximately 4,300 acres farm land has been converted to impervious surfaces in Puget Sound.10
The good news is there is renewed recognition that our farmed lands supply scenic open space, foster tourism, provide forage and shelter for wildlife, and help filter impurities from our air and water. In recent years community leaders have finally acknowledged what the agricultural community has advocated for years, that farmland is key to the health of Puget Sound and that protecting and preserving farmland is a strategic part our action plans for improving the health of Puget Sound and the recovery of salmon.11
It makes no social, economic, ecological or food security sense to continue paving over our best farmland. Instead, we have a social if not a moral responsibility to protect one of our most valuable resources for future generations. In most cases where urban growth and related development activity occurs, alternative actions would have avoided or minimized the loss of these prime lands in our agricultural areas.
Decisions to protect our remaining farmlands must be made today in order to balance public policies that currently have a bias toward using farmland as the consumptive land base for all other land uses – residential, commercial, industrial, habitat restoration, etc. If you eat, you have a stake in the future of agriculture in the Skagit Valley and throughout Puget Sound.
- Skagit County Historical Society. Chechasos All. The Pioneering of Skagit. Mount Vernon: Skagit County Historical Society, 1973.
- The Coast December 1902: p.367
- Congressman Rick Larson, Letter, April 12, 2011
- Washington State University Skagit County Extension. Skagit County Agriculture. Web. 2013
- Pacific Coast Watershed Partners. The Skagit River Basin at a Crossroads. Web. 2004.
- The Nature Conservancy. Farming for Wildlife. Web. 2013.
- Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife. Guidance on WDFW’s Vision for Conservation and Land Acquisition for the Skagit Delta. 2009.
- Losing Ground: Farmland Protection in the Puget Sound Regions. (pp 6.). American Farmland Trust. 2012.
- NMFS, 2006 Puget Sound Chinook Salmon Recovery Plan –Implementation Status Assessment Final Report, 2011, page 6.
- Shared Strategy for Puget Sound, Chapter 6, Habitat: Proposal for the Prosperity of Farming and Salmon (pp 411-419); Puget Sound Partnership Action Agenda, Section A.4.1 (p 41) and Table 4.2 (p 97).