Strategy: Advance Agricultural Systems
Locally produced food is essential to the health, security and economy of our community. However, the same rapid growth that has impacted our ecosystems, salmon and water quality has also resulted in the loss of over 70% of Pierce County’s farmland since 1950. Today we’re losing roughly 1,000 acres of valuable farmland each year and with it, some of the most productive soils in the country. By working to preserve farmland and helping agricultural producers manage their farms in an ecologically sustainable way, we also help increase the productivity of their soils, providing a multi-benefit approach that improves both the local economy and local ecosystems.
For over 70-years, we have worked with farmers to help improve soil health and keep farming an integral part of our local food system, economy and culture, a core part of our mission that we remain dedicated to. In addition to development pressures, farmers also face challenges with drainage in the spring, when too much rain floods their fields and prevents them from planting their crops; increasing drought in the fall when not enough rain is forcing them to irrigate more; and major infrastructure challenges that impacts distribution and therefore local food access for consumers.
The challenges facing farmers and agricultural lands are complex and intertwined. Those same challenges present opportunities though, not just to make farming more viable for our community, but to implement multi-benefit approaches that can also help address climate change, flood risk and salmon habitat restoration. We’ll develop a holistic approach by “collaborat(ing) with partners to development and implement a strategic plan for Pierce County agriculture”. This plan will identify infrastructure needs as well as conservation needs and we will work with partners to support efforts outside of our scope, while addressing issues that fall within our purview, such as “evaluat(ing) community needs for shared farm equipment” and helping create a tool library to reduce the capital costs for local farmers.
While not the sole cause of the challenges facing local agriculture, the local impacts of climate change are rapidly exacerbating issues such as drainage and drought. To improve soil health and water storage capacity, while mitigating the broader impacts of climate change, we will “develop the District's best practices for implementing carbon storage and other climate adaptation measures on farms and apply those practices throughout Pierce County.” These efforts include, “bringing our cover crop and direct seeding programs to scale across Pierce County,” which help reduce stormwater runoff during the winter months, improving local water quality, and by building organic matter back into the soil, both store carbon and improve drainage. We will also “develop and implement an irrigation efficiency program,” which will help farmers reduce costs associated with irrigation, while also helping keep water in the streams in fall when salmon are returning.
Coupled with our ongoing efforts, the key actions we’ve identified in our plan will help us keep agriculture viable in Pierce County, yet all of these efforts are for naught if there’s no one to farm the land. The average age of a farmer in Pierce County is nearly 60-years old, and so we must also focus our efforts on helping the next generation of farmers be successful. In these efforts we will, “further develop a Farm Incubator program to train the next generation of farmers and give them the skills, resources, and connections they need to be successful; and “continue to develop the Latino Farmer Outreach Program so that the Latino agriculture community trusts and looks to PCD for assistance and resources.” Working with partners to give these new farmers access to land, business training to be successful, and training in ecologically friendly practices will help ensure farming continues to play a vital role in the health and well-being of our community long into the future.
The work is never done though, and towards the end of this 5-year plan, we will renew our prioritized efforts and evaluate our progress, starting with a “reassessment of the 9-priority sub-basins to determine impacts and future focus areas.” Taken collectively, these key actions will help us Advance Agricultural Systems, leading to outcomes that get us closer to our goal: “by 2040, Pierce County’s farmers are part of a thriving and sustainable local agriculture community, both economically and ecologically. They are valued partners in protecting natural resources, providing healthy food to local communities, and maintaining market share for generations to come.”
- Geographic area (priority sub-watersheds) of land user outreach, education, planning and conservation implementation
- Number of land users implementing Best Management Practices (BMPs)
- Health of the local agricultural economy - number of farmers in business, land in farming, economic viability
Collaborate with partners to develop and implement a strategic plan for Pierce County agriculture
Q1 2022 - Q4 2025
Continue to collaborate with partners on the Drainage Task Force to develop priority actions to improve county-wide drainage management systems.
Q1 2021 - Q4 2025
Bring our cover crop and direct seeding programs to scale across Pierce County.
Q1 2021-Q4 2025
Partner with WSU Puyallup Research Extension to run additional research trials on cover crop methods and varietals to identify most effective methods for local farm conditions.
Q1 2022-Q4 2025
Develop District's best practices for implementing carbon storage and other climate adaptation measures on farms and apply practices throughout Pierce County
Q1 2022 - Q4 2025
Integrate Sustainable Farms and Fields initiatives into cover crop work
Q1 2024- Q4 2025
Explore feasibility of a scalable Biochar project
Q1 2024- Q4 2025
Evaluate community need for shared farm equipment
Q1 2021 - Q4 2021
Increase PCD's equipment/tool library and/or assist community group in organizing in order to purchase equipment/tools.
Q1 2022 - Q4 2022
Improve availability of farm equipment to the community in order to improve productivity, increase economic viability, and increase best practice implementation on their operations.
Q1 2024-Q4 2025
Develop and implement an irrigation efficiency program.
Q1 2023-Q4 2025
Work with AgWeatherNet to install 2 tier 2 stations
Q1 2023-Q4 2025
Continue to develop the Latino Farmer Outreach Program so that the Latino agriculture community trusts and looks to PCD for assistance and resources.
Q1 2023- Q2 2025
Perform needs assessment of Latino farm community
Q1 2023- Q2 2025
Further develop a Farm Incubator program to train the next generation of farmers and give them the skills, resources, and/or connections they need to be successful.
Q1 2022- Q4 2023
Provide on farm education program to recruit and train a diverse future generation of farmers
Q1 2021- Q4 2025
Farm education program is integrated and recognized within the Pierce County Ag Community.
Q1 2023-Q4 2024
Reassess the 9-priority sub-basins to determine impacts and future focus areas
Q1 2024 - Q4 2024
Identify priority resource concern in each priority sub-basin
Adapt technical and financial assistance programs to target work accordingly
Q1 2025 - Q4 2025