New study shows agriculture is Grant County's biggest money maker

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CBH Columbia Basin Herald Local News

MOSES LAKE - Compared to other industries in Grant County, agriculture and agriculture manufacturing are collectively the largest economic contributors in the county, according to a recent study.

In 2011, direct and indirect revenues from the two sectors totaled $4.3 billion, which represents about 38 percent of the county's total. Additionally, the two sectors contributed $1.3 billion in returns to labor, capital and payment of taxes that same year, or 42 percent of the county's total.

The agriculture sector employed about 10,139 workers in 2011, and the agriculture manufacturing sector employed about 7,027 workers. Together, the two sectors employed about 40 percent of the county's total workforce that year.

The two sectors paid a collective $509 million in direct and indirect wages in 2011, which represents 34 percent of the total wages paid in the county that year.

The figures come from the recently released Grant County, Washington Irrigated Agriculture: Economic Impact Analysis study. The study was funded by the Ag Water and Power Users of Eastern Washington.

Author Elizabeth Sieverkropp, of Moses Lake-based Sieverkropp Consulting, said the study shows a bigger picture of the impact agriculture has on the county.

"We know how important agriculture is in Grant County, but at the same time we don't realize just how big it is," she said.

According to the study, 63 percent of acres in Grant County are used for farming, 43 percent of which are irrigated.

That equates to about 1,403 farms, or 75 percent of county farms, having irrigated ground.

Grant County's 469,790 acres of irrigated farmland make it the largest irrigated county in the state, according to the study.

In addition, more than 40 different crops are grown in Grant County, Sieverkropp said.

"It's amazing to start looking at where we rank compared to other counties," she said.

Sieverkropp said the study compared the economic contributions of 10 major sectors in the county, including manufacturing, construction, trade, service and government, among others.

She said some sectors may have contributed more in direct revenues, wages, employment and contributions of returns to labor, capital and payment of taxes than the agriculture and agriculture manufacturing sectors.

However, once the indirect contributions were accounted for, agriculture and agriculture manufacturing beat out the other sectors, she said.

The study also highlighted the importance of agricultural exports to the county.

"Exports are an important economic driver of any region," read the report. "Exports bring in new money from outside Grant County and fuels purchases and job creation from within the county or stimulate additional county imports."

According to the study, the county's agriculture sector exports about 75 percent of what it produces. Agriculture was Grant County's largest exporter in 2011, with exports of about $1.2 billion.

Fruit and hay were the main exported crops that year.

The county's agricultural manufacturing sector also does a lot of exporting, according to the study. Nearly 90 percent of its output is exported.

Frozen food manufacturers export 97 percent of their product and fruit and vegetable drying operations export 95 percent of their product.

Multipliers are used to measure the economic impact of exports.

A large multiplier means large amounts of output are generated from exports, according to the study.

Grant County agriculture has an economic impact multiplier of 2.65, which means that for every dollar of agricultural products sold or exported, an additional $1.65 of economic impact occurs within the county.

The standard agricultural multiplier is 2.51.

According to the study, irrigated agriculture in the county is expected to continue to evolve and expand over the next few years. Sieverkropp said one example of that evolution can be seen in the shift of traditional crops to orchards.

"We're already seeing a lot of traditional crop acres being torn up and put into higher valued crops, like fruit farming," she said.

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