The Port of Chehalis doesn’t currently have a hand in the agriculture industry, but executive director Randy Mueller wants to offer farmers support moving forward. At the Port of Chehalis Commission meeting Thursday, Mueller discussed a grain storage facility, as well as a “transload” facility for farmers to ship specialty grains.
“We need to do some coordination and some planning,” Mueller said. “Up in Thurston County, the Port of Olympia supported the ag business park in Tenino. That has been a big regional project as far as this new agricultural business park. We talked about our grain storage facility and other folks talked about their projects, and really quickly it became apparent that it would be a good idea to get everyone on the same page.”
Mueller referred to the project as an “agricultural industry support facility” and has already begun working with organizations in both Thurston County and Grays Harbor County.
Various organizations and agencies in the three counties want to form a “regional agricultural planning partnership,” which would be an informal partnership. Mueller told commissioners that the next piece of the project they will notice is that he will begin to approach potential partners. Mueller speculated there won’t be anything contractual, but more likely a quarterly planning meeting.
“There has been a long-standing interest in having a grain storage facility,” Mueller said. “The idea being that there is a limited amount of grain being grown locally. A lot of hay, but not too much in the way of grain. But there are farmers and if they had somewhere to store and then transload and export grain, that would be able to boost their operations — make more money growing grain instead of hay and do more. So there has been this interest in a grain storage facility.”
Originally, Lewis County Farm Bureau invited Mueller and Lewis Economic Development Executive Director Matt Matayoshi to meet and discuss local farmers’ needs.
Then last summer, WSU Extension completed two surveys — one for grain growers in the region (Lewis County, Thurston County, Grays Harbor County) and their need for a facility for export or transload, as well as a grain-users survey. Tansloading involves moving a product from one transportation system to another.
“We took a look at those surveys and the preliminary results would seem to show what the farmers were telling us at the Farm Bureau meeting was right and there is a demand for some sort of grain facility,” Mueller said.
Mueller noted that the profit for small growers would be in specialty grain, such as grains for microbrews or grains to make artisan bread.
“Where Lewis County is really different from, say, Eastern Washington is the farms in Eastern Washington are more like 1,000 acres, or 600 acres and ours are more like 60, or 100, or 200,” Mueller said. “When you have a smaller farm, you can’t compete necessarily in price on what’s commodity grain.”
Mueller said that he has been working closely with WSU Extension, Lewis EDC, Thurston EDC and Lewis County Farm Bureau, as well as other organizations or agencies related to boosting local agriculture.
“If there was a transload facility here at the port, not only could that be used for any regular port projects … but also it could be used for the grain transloading facilities,” Mueller said. “There’s really that broader planning idea that the partners who have all been working together are now going to go back to their organizations and try to get something a little more structured so we can approach this comprehensively.”