Stuhlmiller: Opposition to terminal expansions harms agriculture, trade

January 23, 2015 –

This piece originally ran in the Capital Press

The private investment in Washington’s port and rail infrastructure that will come through proposed export terminals in the Northwest is desperately needed.

As forecasted, Washington state has seen an uptick in the shipment and export of all types of commodities. Washington state produces many goods that require transport to the marketplace, both domestically and internationally. Suppliers rely on rail mobility and port capacity to stay competitive. Right now, what you’ll hear many farmers say is something to the effect of: we have a high volume of products, but insufficient or unreliable means to get them to their destination.

This hindrance is very real for growers and sellers — anyone whose jobs depend on a robust agriculture industry that demands efficient channels to trade. For those growers whose crops have a particularly short shelf life, backlogs in shipment can mean devastating losses in profit.

Our most recent data show 13 percent of Washington’s economy is tied to the agriculture sector. Agriculture products rank second in the total volume of goods exported from our ports this year. And most of the crops that are grown and transported through Washington will be sold abroad. A paper released last year by Western Washington University professor Steven Globerman reinforces this notion, finding that there will be ample “opportunities for increased bulk commodity exports originating in Washington state, in particular agricultural products.” Our seaport industry enables us to break into these burgeoning markets, and the opportunity to expand is right at our fingertips.

The private investment in Washington’s port and rail infrastructure that will come through proposed export terminals in the Northwest is desperately needed, and will guarantee growers and shippers can offer their goods to existing markets, as well as untapped ones — regardless of whether their commodity is being shipped down the shore to California or thousands of miles away.

Opposition to these projects has mostly arisen in the form of misplaced information about one of the many commodities expected to ship through the terminals — coal.

First, and most importantly, these projects should not ever be thought of as merely “coal” terminals, as they will increase our ability to export and import all products from the Northwest and beyond. Commodities like timber, grain, and other agricultural products will make their way through Washington via these projects. This is critical for the long-term economic prosperity of a state like Washington, which has the most trade-dependent economy in the country. Second, if there is no global marketplace for coal, why then did West Shore Terminals Investment Corporations in British Columbia recently announce an agreement with Cloud Peak Energy to increase Asian coal exports by 2 million tons effective through the year 2024?

Regardless of coal’s place in the global energy economy, here in Washington, we need to expand our trade capacity so that we can carry on our region’s legacy as a vital trade gateway. Doing so safeguards the livelihoods of Washington’s farmers and all those whose economic well-being rely on trade, and will help ensure a prosperous farming economy for future generations.

John Stuhlmiller is CEO of the Washington Farm Bureau Federation.