By a vote of 49-0, the Washington State Senate has passed legislation expanding Washington state’s farm internship program.
Substitute Senate Bill 5156 expands the pilot program that allows students to experience farming activities and practices to all counties in the state, as well as removing the program's expiration date.
Passed Jan. 25, the bill is meant to grow Washington’s agricultural sector in order to decrease food insecurity and hunger in the state.
Agriculture makes up about 12 percent of the state’s overall economy, per the Washington Farm Bureau, and is Washington’s second-largest export category.
According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the state’s top commodities are apples, milk, cattle, wheat, potatoes, hay, hops, cherries, grapes and blueberries.
“This is a great opportunity for those who want to learn how to farm or learn how to run a farm,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Nikki Torres, R-Pasco, in a news release. “This will be a big boom for those who want to work in the hop industry, given that more than 70 percent of the nation’s hops are grown in central Washington, specifically, the 15th District.”
The rural 15th Legislative District Torres represents includes parts of five central Washington counties where agriculture dominates.
The state’s production of hops is valued at $482.2 million, the WSDA says.
“This bill will help expand the farm intern program across the state and make it permanent, helping those would-be farmers who currently want to participate, but are ineligible because of the county in which they happen to live,” Torres said.
SB 5156 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.