Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Statement to the ag advisory board Re: Marijuana production on Ag lands

My name is Bruce King.  I’m a full-time farmer in Snohomish county, and I’ve been farming full time for going on 8 years now.  

First, I’d like to thank you folks on the ag advisory board for this service you do for the farming community.  I don’t think you guys get enough recognition for the task you do and I do appreciate your time and attention. 

I have three comments about one of the agenda items for todays meeting; the questions posed by PDS regarding marijuana production on agricultural land.  The first comment is to offer some perspective on how to consider the question.  The second is about how the grows could impact farmland, and the third is about economics and farming. 

To offer the board members a different perspective on how to consider the questions being posed to them, I’d like to say that Marijuana is a word that can have a lot of emotion associated with it; and I’d like the board to consider what it really is:  A flower. 

So when you’re considering questions like “Should agricultural lands be used to produce mj”, one thing you can do is just a simple substitution.  Replace the word “marijuana” with “flowers”, and ask the question again.  “Should agricultural lands be used to produce flowers”.  To take that one step further, the “processing” that most MJ goes through is cutting the flowers off the plant and then drying them.  So instead of “should agricultural lands be used to process MJ”, ask “Should agricultural lands be used to cut and dry flowers” – and the answer should be pretty clear. 

The impact on farmland will be pretty minimal.  Here’s why I say that:  Proposed marijuana grows – or flower grows…. Are limited in size.  The biggest possible grow is only ¾ of an acre.  Most grows will be much smaller than that.  The county is contemplating 200’ setbacks around each grow, and as a result, it’s likely that only properties that are 10 acres or larger will actually have any useable grow area on them, by zoning restrictions.  So even the largest grows will be ¾ acre used on a 10 acre parcel.  But the second limit is the total state-wide grow space allowed, at 2 million square feet.  Now That sounds like a lot of space, but if people license ¾ acre grows, that means we will have a total of 67 of them for the ENTIRE State, or roughly 2 grows per county.  Not much impact or farmland used.   

The economic comment is in two parts:  The LCB expects that 50% of the licensed grows will go out of business in 18 months, and there are counties in this state that would LOVE to have grow operations located there.  Snohomish county will have retail operations that will be selling MJ, and I’d like to see the money generated by those sales stay here, in the local economy, and benefit local farmers.  Most farms in Snohomish county lose money; the USDA ag census says that farms lose an average of $15k a year for the latest year data available.  If we want to protect and preserve farmland as farmland, the best way to do that is to have profitable farms.  MJ production is one possible way for farms that are otherwise economically unviable to make a profit, and if it’s profitable, it’s going to stay farmed.  Isn’t that what we’d all like to see? 

To summarize:  MJ production is basically growing, trimming and drying flowers.  Perfectly consistent with agricultural land.   The total acreage likely to be used in SnoCo by grow operations will be pretty small, and any barriers that we put up will probably just drive that economic activity out of this county.  MJ production is another avenue that small farms can use to make their operations profitable, and it’s pretty much a pure farming venture.  You plant, cultivate and harvest a crop.  Having a profitable crop makes farmland more resistant to conversion to other uses, and keeping the revenue generated here will benefit us all. 

Thanks for your attention and I’m open to any questions you might have. 

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