The sixth annual Skagit Ag Summit, which highlights issues and opportunities in the local agriculture industry, took place online Friday.
Sessions focused on topics such as water, strategies to help farms remain profitable, and innovation and technology.
In a morning session, which was attended by about 45 on Zoom, former Skagit County Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt talked about a campaign he is working on called Buy Washington.
He hopes to place Buy Washington labels on items such as wine, beef, produce and seafood, with the goal to help consumers make more informed choices at grocery stores.
The label would promote products made with higher standards in terms of water quality, pesticides and labor, he said.
“I think there’s a good message we could have with the people in the state,” Dahlstedt said. “If they want fresher food, we’ve got it. If they want safer foods, we’ve got it.”
Dahlstedt said the label could help farmers and fishermen stay in business, and avoid having to compete with cheap foreign goods on the commodity market.
“If we don’t buy and support one another, we’re not going to be successful,” he said.
There is already a program, Genuine Skagit Valley, that was launched in 2019 to label and promote Skagit-grown food.
Blake Vanfield, the program’s marketing coordinator, said Genuine Skagit Valley is working on establishing an in-store display of Skagit Valley foods that could be used in Seattle-area stores.
She said customers would be able to scan a QR code and watch a short video of a Skagit Valley producer, with the goal to connect them with Skagit farmers and learn how food is grown and produced.
In a session in the afternoon, two ag-tech companies gave presentations on how data and technology can assist farmers.
Steve Mantle of innov8.ag, a Walla Walla-based ag start-up partnering with Microsoft, said the company is focused on bringing together data on weather, irrigation, soil, disease and more to help farmers make decisions.
“Our vision is about pulling all the data together in one place, and simplifying it for growers,” he said.
Data comes from sources such as satellites, drones and apps such as Washington State University’s AgWeatherNet.
The start-up is part of a project with Washington State University researchers called Smart Orchard.
As part of the project, an all-terrain vehicle outfitted with cameras and light detection and ranging sensors is driven up and down rows in an orchard, taking photos and collecting data, Mantle said.
Images generated from the data show the density of apples or height of trees in a particular area, and other information, he said.
“(Growers can) understand where they might be able to augment nutrients, water or shading to get to the right levels,” he said.
Mantle said the startup has primarily focused on grapes and apples, but the technology could be used with Skagit County crops, such as blueberries.