Torres bill to expand farm-internship program signed into law

Thanks to a measure sponsored by Sen. Nikki Torres, more young people will soon be on their way to becoming the next generation of Washington farmers. Senate Bill 5156, which was signed by the governor on Thursday in a ceremony at the Capitol, expands the state’s successful farm-internship program statewide and also makes the program permanent.

“The big tech companies in Seattle might take a lot of the limelight, but it is our ranchers and growers who form the core of our economy, and feed people here and around the globe,” said Torres, R-Pasco, who represents the largely rural and agricultural 15th Legislative District, which includes parts of five central Washington counties.

“Many in our agricultural community are struggling to maintain their businesses, and face a host of challenges from foreign price manipulation and a lack of access to markets to extreme weather patterns and limitations on financial capital.

“This new law expands the successful farm-intern program across the state and makes it permanent, helping those would-be farmers who currently want to participate, but who have been ineligible because of the county in which they happen to live. These eager applicants will now have the opportunity to learn not only how to farm, but also how to successfully run a farm in today’s challenging environment.”

Substitute Senate Bill 5156 requires the state Department of Labor and Industries to certify that the participating farms would allow interns to participate in career and technical education or other educational content with courses in agriculture. The bill also defines a small farm as one with annual sales of less than $265,000, rather than less than $250,000, as it is currently. In order to be eligible to participate in the farm intern program, a farm must have at least one intern who has, or whose parent or grandparent has, direct experience working as a migrant farmworker.

SB 5156 contains an emergency clause, meaning the law created by the bill took effect immediately upon the governor signing the legislation.