-Out of about 1400 farmers only about 300 are full time professional farmers

-Approximately $300 million in farmgate value produced annually

-$900 million to $1.8 billion in economic impact using a three to six multiplier (USDA Economic Research Service uses a multiplier of six at the national level)

-Greatest economic impact is on jobs with many larger berry farmers, for example, hiring 50 to 100 year-round workers and over 500 seasonal workers

-Today’s farmers operate like general contractors relying on many sub-contractors to support the farm operations creating a community or network of farm support businesses and independent contractors

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About 94 dairy farmers – highest concentration of dairy farmers in the Northwest according to AP story in Washington Times

Whatcom dairy farms are typically smaller than other farm areas averaging about 450 cows

Dairy farms produce about $175 million in farmgate value–the $1.86 million average per farm considerably less than the state average of about $5 million for dairies, reflecting smaller average herd size


Seed potatoes are a high value crop with Whatcom farmers known nationally and internationally for high quality potatoes

Four seed potato farmers produce approximately $20 million in farmgate value and up to $120 million in economic impact

Seed potatoes require an isolated growing area to prevent disease – no commercial potatoes can be grown in Whatcom County

Approximately 2500 acres are in seed potato production, but almost 10,000 acres of grass and corn crops are needed to support the required three to four year crop rotation


Land prices in Whatcom County are exceptionally high for a productive farming area with land suitable for growing berries priced at $30,000 to $35,000 an acre. Some of this is driven by arrival of berry farmers relocating from Lower Mainland of BC where farmland is being sold for $70,000 an acre and more. This high cost limits expansion of dairy and potato farmers leaving consolidation only option for growing farm operations in these sectors

Urban growth is causing additional pressure on land prices caused by rapid growth across the border and by anti-growth policies in Bellingham that have forced areas such as Ferndale and Lynden to grow seven times faster than the City of Bellingham


With numerous water rights applications suspended since the 1970s, farmers are increasingly concerned about limited access to water threatening the future of farming. Over 50% of farmers have inadequate legal access to water.

For over 20 years, Whatcom farmers particularly in the Bertrand watershed, have been working to help ensure adequate stream flows through transfer of rights from surface to groundwater and to use groundwater to supplement stream flows at critical times. Court rulings and state position on hydraulic continuity are hindering these efforts at supporting tribal treaty rights.

Water conservation efforts continue despite the state’s relinquishment law which is a disincentive for conservation. About 90% of berry farmers have implemented high efficiency micro-irrigation and dairy farmers use 60% less water per unit of milk produced than in the 1950s.

The state and courts’ position on hydraulic continuity represents significant threat to future of farming, based as it is on inadequate data. Groundwater Modeling, supported by the Watershed Improvement Districts, needed to establish solid basis for connectivity of ground to surface water. Restrictions on permitting for farmer’s efforts to supplement streamflows with groundwater should be removed to protect tribal treaty rights.

Farmers through the Ag Water Board, the coordinating board of the six Watershed Improvement Districts, are working with tribal leaders to address water quality issues related to dairy farms and hope to extend progress in this area to address water access and tribal treaty rights issues.


The County’s 78 raspberry farmers produced 74 million pounds of raspberries in 2016 – a new record and 23 million pounds more than 2015

Whatcom County produces about 80% to 90% of the nation’s frozen raspberry crop

Blueberries are the fastest growing segment of farming in Whatcom County

About 100 mostly East Indian or Punjabi farmers now grow blueberries on about 4000 acres in Whatcom County, producing about 35 million pounds

Berry farming is supported by excellent soil and weather conditions but also by generations of expert farmers who develop their own new varieties, operate nurseries to provide berry plants, process on the farm and ship to customers around the world


The six Watershed Improvement Districts provide a basis and structure for Whatcom farmers to work cooperatively to resolve water, environmental and other issues on a drainage basis. They provide an effective means of government-to-government engagement with tribal, federal, state and local agencies and leaders, as well as enable a unified public voice on issues of concern to farmers.

Over 100,000 acres are currently being farmed in Whatcom County. While the County has committed to maintaining farmland and viable farming, numerous pressures that threaten farming include environmental activism, legal threats, regulations and legislative actions harmful to the economic viability of farmers.


1998 Dairy Nutrient Management Act resulted in significant water quality improvement in Whatcom County, leading to re-opening of Lummi shellfish beds. Fecal coliform counts were down 86% in 2002 compared to 1998.

Washington State Department of Agriculture reported that 97.1% of Whatcom County’s 29,000 acres of dairy farmland was in compliance with nutrient management regulations – highest compliance level in the state

Water quality is major concern of farmers, particularly with the closure in 2014 of Portage Bay shellfish beds. Farmers are working through Watershed Improvement Districts and with tribal leaders to improve monitoring, better understand and address the multiple causes, and employ best management practices to minimize bacteria contamination from farms.

Water quality monitoring demonstrates primary contributors of fecal coliform contamination in the Nooksack river drainage are contaminated water flowing from Canada, urban stormwater runoff, residential septic systems, wildlife and continuing contributions from farms. Bacteria counts are significantly affected by weather conditions.

Nitrates above EPA established level exist in approximately 29% of wells in Whatcom County. High nitrates have been tested for over 40 years indicating residual levels from earlier farm activities.


Washington farmers are highly regulated. The state Department of Agriculture reports that the 172 dairy farmers of the Northwest region were inspected 1506 times from 2007 to 2015. 2% of inspections resulted in discharge violations.

In 2016 the WSDA reported 97.1% of Whatcom dairy cropland was in compliance with nitrate requirements.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) regulations as drafted by the Department of Ecology may result in the decline of many smaller dairy farms, depending on final version. A Spring 2015 survey of state dairy farmers found:
47% would stop farming or move if regulations cost $250/cow
77% would stop farming or move if regulations cost $500/cow
99% would stop farming or move if regulations cost $1000/cow

Yakima farmers subject to EPA consent decree and litigation experienced costs that, if asked of other farmers, would result in nearly all farmers leaving. The cost of the synthetic lined manure lagoons exceed $420/cow alone. Activists/lawyers are threatening litigation if the state does not require this unnecessary measure of all farmers.

Whatcom Family Farm Information Sheet for Download