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Updated 10/2013

Washington Agriculture and the Economy



The protection of farms and farmlands is good economic policy; farms are businesses that provide jobs. According to the State Department of Agriculture in 2011, Washington’s $35 billion food and agriculture industry employed 160,000 people and contributed 11 percent to the state's economy. Washington has approximately 39,000 farms, and apples are the state’s top commodity, representing 55 percent of U.S. production.

Statistics about Farming

The following are several useful sources of statistics about agriculture in Washington State:

Economic Benefits of Agriculture

There are many ways to measure the impact of agriculture on the economy. Traditionally, the farming sector was considered to include only economic production and employment associated with crops and livestock. Today, most economists take a broader approach and include food processing and marketing as part of the agricultural and food-related sector. Some consider restaurants as part of the overall agriculture and food-related sector.

Agricultural commodity commissions play a key role in marketing and conduct economic impact studies.

General Economic Development Programs and Strategies to Promote Farming

Agricultural economic development includes a range of loan and grant programs, the development of high-value agricultural products and services, direct marketing of farm products, and diversification.

Agricultural Economic Development Planning

Agriculture and related rural development issues can be integrated into local and regional economic development planning efforts.

Federal and State Economic Development Programs and Funding

These include programs at the federal and state level designed to assist farmers and preserve farmland through grants, loans, incentives, or other programs.

  • Family & Small Farms Program, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA - Competitive and non-competitive funding programs that support the work of farmers and ranchers across the U.S.
  • Farmland Preservation Grants, Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office - Provide funding to cities, counties, and others to buy development rights on farmlands to ensure the lands remain available for farming in the future
  • Grant Opportunities, WSDA - Also includes information on USDA grant programs
  • Rural Development Grant Assistance, USDA - Some grants are for rural economic development and farm-related activities

Direct Marketing

Direct marketing involves marketing strategies in which the farmer or producer sells products directly to the consumer. It generally means activities in which farmers are engaged in personally selling their products and avoiding the use of a broker or wholesaler.

Farmers Markets, Public Markets

Farmers markets are an integral part in the urban/farm linkage. They are businesses that contribute to local economic development and offer a tourism attraction. Farmers markets have risen in popularity, mostly due to the growing consumer interest in obtaining fresh products directly from the farm.

Community-Supported Agriculture

Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is a form of food production, sales, and distribution aimed at increasing the quality of food and the quality of care given the land, plants, and animals – while reducing potential food losses and financial risks for the producers. It is also a method for small-scale commercial farmers and gardeners to have a successful, small-scale, often local, market. CSA’s focus is usually on a system of weekly delivery or pick-up of vegetables, fruit, and other produce.

Eat Local Movement

The local food movement is a collaborative effort to build locally based, self-reliant food economies, which involves sustainable food production, processing, distribution, and consumption. It is part of the concept of local purchasing, a preference to buy locally produced goods and services.

Agricultural Tourism

"Agricultural tourism" refers to the act of visiting a working farm or any agricultural, horticultural, or agribusiness operation for the purpose of enjoyment, education, or active involvement in the activities of the farm or operation.

Wineries, Tourism, and Economic Development

Washington is the second largest wine producer in the U.S., and the state had more than 650 wineries and more than 350 wine grape growers in 2010. Local governments are interested in the economic development potential of the wine industry, especially in wine tourism.

Need more information?

Feel free to Ask MRSC. Washington cities, counties, and our contract partners can call or email MRSC for more information and advice - free of charge.