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sunset orchard

Background
Starting this past December, I began my new adventure here at 2nd Sight Bioscience. My name is Dawson Lack, and I am taking over for Monika. Monika was an incredible employee and resource, and I have some big shoes to fill, but I would first like to formally introduce myself to our customer base and peers. I am a Spokane native born and raised. I graduated from EWU with a BA in finance and received my MBA just over a year later. I don’t have much experience with agriculture, but I am a quick learner. I am beyond excited to build relationships within the agricultural community because I admire the work ethic and authenticity of the farming community. As all of you know, our job here at 2ndSight is to make your lives easier. I am young, eager, and available, and I will strive to be there for you regardless of the date or time.

The World As We Know It
In my short tenure here, I have experienced the frustration of the current world situation, the long lead times, and the shortages of items that seem essential for business. I have been trying my best to pull every string possible to get in the essential products so we can be of service to you through harvest season – whether in sales, repairs, customer support, or whatever else may be needed to help make your lives easier. With perseverance and pluck, we will get through these trying times together.

Getting Through This Together
As I learn more and more about the everyday grind and struggle of farmers, the more respect I have for you, our customers. You toil from the earliest of days to the latest of nights, while having to deal with external factors that are completely out of your control such as extreme weather, pests, and other potentially catastrophic scenarios that can hinder your harvest. I am very excited to move forward with all of you, and, more importantly, I am excited to help you guys have the most efficient harvest yet.


sunset orchard

Over seven years ago, I started at 2nd Sight. At that time, we had some new ideas and an office building that needed a little elbow grease. Born and raised just north of Seattle, I knew very little about agriculture in Washington State. Well, I knew that we grow apples. I had a lot to learn about the specialty crop industry. As I begin my next career endeavor in a new industry, I wanted to take this opportunity in my last blog post to summarize a few thoughts about working in Ag.

Farmers Have a Lot of Rules to Follow
Regulations are important; however, there are a lot of things a farmer must think about to stay compliant. From pesticide/fertilizer applications, food safety tracking, and labor, it can be difficult for growers to follow all the rules, even with good intentions to do so. Since I started in the industry, Washington State has even seen changes to how existing labor laws are interpreted in agriculture (rest breaks and overtime, for example). A moving target is hard to hit! There can also be a disconnect between the folks making the rules and reality in the fields and orchards that can be frustrating for many growers.

Farmers Face Many Challenges
Speaking of frustrations…. The Ag industry continues to face challenges including labor shortages, increased regulations, rising input costs, international trade disputes, heightened pressures from pests, extreme weather events, and COVID-19 complications. Although growers may not be the fastest to adopt new technology, they are forced to get creative to keep their farms and orchards afloat. Although it sounds bleak, farms continue to become more efficient and productive which is impressive and commendable.

Farming is Still a Family Affair
Although consolidation is the direction of the Ag industry, many 2nd Sight customers are family farms. From the 10-acre plot to the 1000-acre operation, these farms are run fully or partly by the same families, passed down from generation to generation. When you bite into a Washington sweet cherry, apple, or pear, there is still a good chance that that piece of fruit has a story behind it.

Farmers Work Hard
Most look forward to the summer months, taking off a little early on a Friday to head to the lake, vacationing with the family, getting lost in the woods fishing, hiking, or camping… for farming, summer means business. When harvest is in full swing, growers work seven days a week, from dawn ‘til dusk. I can tell you from those early morning support calls that cherry harvest in Washington starts at about 4:30am. Mother nature never takes a day off and timing is critical. A farmer’s work schedule is not for everyone.

It has been a pleasure and honor to work in an industry that feeds our country and the world. I will miss working with great people who are giving it their all to grow quality produce and nursery stock. It is important to spread the word that fruit and vegetables do not come from grocery stores. Our produce is the fruits of labor of many hardworking people who strive to perfect the science and art of farming. 


The Capital Press released an article last month detailing the top ten crops in Washington State by value in 2020 according to NASS statistics. The total production value was $10.2 billion, an impressive figure! This blog post is a spotlight on agriculture in Washington as we wrap up another “fruitful” year of farming.

Here are the stats:

1. Apples: $2.1 billion
2. Milk: $1.19 billion
3. Wheat: $949 million
4. Potatoes: $753 million
5. Cattle: $693 million
6. Cherries: $562 million
7. Hay: $500.74 million
8. Hops: $444.9 million
9. Grapes: $302.1 million
10. Eggs: $220 million

 

There is no question that the official state fruit should remain the apple. Red Delicious, Gala, and Fuji varieties still make up half of the total production. However, more and more “boutique” and club varieties are making their way onto grocery store shelves. If you haven’t tried an Ambrosia, Opal, Lemonade, or SugarBee, those are a few of my favorites.

Production value may have risen by 7% from 2019 to 2020, but expenditures rose 15% over the previous year. That is a significant jump! As for many industries and businesses, labor costs topped the charts for Washington growers as the number one expense, making up 27% of expenditures, according to NASS.

As a farm labor software provider, we try to keep up with the rules related to agricultural workers One challenge is every state plays by different rules. The second biggest challenge, these rules seem to be constantly changing. Our Washington farmers are up against complex employee labor laws—especially if they pay workers piece rate. Starting January 1, 2021, agricultural operations in the Evergreen Statue must track the following:

Minimum Wage

Washington State will top the nation with the highest minimum wage. In less than two months, minimum wage will jump from $13.69 to $14.49, a 5.8% increase. Back in 2012, just 10 years ago, the state minimum wage was only $9.04. In a decade, the minimum wage increased by 60%!

Paid Breaks

Many growers are now accustomed to tracking paid break time for piece rate workers to ensure that they are getting compensated for rest breaks. This calculation can get complicated since the rate of pay varies per employee. The rest break pay is based on the worker’s average weekly hourly piece rate. The logistics of having employees log break time is a challenge itself. Accurately tracking break time and performing the complex calculations can make payroll a headache. For farms that have not upgraded to digital tracking and comprehensive payroll software, it can be a real nightmare!

Nonproductive Time

Tracking nonproductive time applies to piece rate workers. When fruit pickers, for example, must move to a different field or perform work related to the harvest that does not directly earn them pieces, the farm must compensate them for this time at the state’s minimum wage rate. This time must be tracked separately, adding another layer to track for field and office staff.

Overtime

Starting January 1st, Washington State farms must start paying all agricultural workers for overtime. Any hours that exceed a 55-hour work week will be compensated at time and a half. The new rule will phase in over three years. They ensure overtime pay for any time worked over 48 hours a week in 2023 and 40 hours a week by 2024.

Washington farms and orchards are up against a lot. In recent months, fertilizer prices and other input costs have increased dramatically as well. Labor is only one piece of the puzzle, and growers will have to get more creative and efficient to meet the new and continued challenges of farming. However, I am impressed, and proud to live in a state that provides so much food for the country and even outside of our borders. At 2nd Sight, we hope to support and collaborate with farms of all sizes to ensure the success of the industry as we move forward.


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