Some say economy plays role in Skagit Valley success

09/06/2013 03:10:00 PM
Jim Offner

Skagit Valley growers and shippers say they’re not certain whether the economy has improved.

They say they’re ill-positioned to judge.

“We’re such a supply/demand-driven market, we really never felt the recession,” said Dean Cunningham, vice president of Mount Vernon, Wash.-based Washington Lettuce & Vegetable/Hughes Farms Inc.

The produce industry has its own economic barometers, Cunningham said.

He cited last year’s potato market as an example.

“Last year, the market was so totally depressed because there was such a huge supply out there,” he said.

However, potatoes are such a dietary staple, sales seem oblivious to outside economic forces, he said.

“People are always going to eat potatoes,” he said.

From an economic standpoint, 2013 looks to be positive, again, because of supply-and-demand considerations, Cunningham said.

“This year, of course, the market looks pretty upbeat because of low supplies,” he said.

Diane Dempster, locally grown manager at Seattle-based wholesaler Charlie’s Produce, agreed.

“When things are down, everybody suffers, but produce is something that — it’s not immune to economic downturns, but it certainly doesn’t take the kind of hit that other industries might take,” she said.

Economic malaise may have touched certain formats, although food sales have continued, said Dale Hayton, sales manager at Valley Pride Sales in Mount Vernon.

“What we might have seen is maybe a slowdown in some of the higher-end pack styles, the real premium pack, like small bags,” he said.

But, he said, that was only temporary.

“We’re slowly seeing that come back around,” he said.

Valley growers do feel economic pressures, though, Dempster said.

“I think that urban pressures and other kinds of things that affect farming everywhere is a little exaggerated in that area because it’s so close,” she said.

Urbanization also has brought economic pressures, Dempster said.

“It’s kind of becoming a bedroom community for Seattle, and possibly all those things are higher,” she said.

That means land costs more, Dempster said. She also noted the state’s minimum wage of $9.19 is probably a factor.

“That makes expenses high, but there’s a really strong interest in people buying local in Washington State, and that interest seems to be growing,” she said.



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