When it comes to jobs in Washington, you may automatically think of Amazon or Microsoft. Given Washington’s technological reputation, there’s a natural tendency to think about the urban “tech jobs” of Redmond and Seattle. What you may not think about right away is the economic importance of agriculture to the state. We’re not just talking apples, milk is the second leading commodity in the state and is doing wonders for the economy.
Washington is home to more than 400 dairies with nearly 275,000 cows, primarily in the Northwestern and Central part of the state. The state is a national leader when it comes to milk yields due to highly productive cows. In 2016, 6.650 billion pounds of milk were produced right here.
Getting milk from the cow to your fridge takes a lot of work. For each 100 cows, it takes an average of 1.9 employees to get the milk from farm to table. And this work goes beyond just the farmers managing the farms and employees milking the cows. The total economic impact of dairy is about $5.201 billion, including numbers from dairy farming, manufacturing, and processing.
Dr. J. Shannon Neibergs, Extension Economic Specialist and Associate Professor with Washington State University, has been studying dairy’s influence on the economy and job market for more than a decade. In 2013, Neibergs led a study that showed the dairy community supported 18,066 jobs in Washington.
Jobs impacted by dairy range from milkers to cow nutritionists, and even restaurant owners. The study broke these types of jobs into three categories: direct, indirect, and induced jobs.
Direct effect jobs provide about 7,500 employment opportunities, which include the production of dairy (on-farm employees) and the processors. About 90% of milk produced in Washington is processed in-state. Darigold has plants in Seattle, Sunnyside, Issaquah, Chehalis, Spokane, and Lynden, which not only keeps dairy products local, but provides jobs in local communities.
Scott Burleson, Darigold Operations Senior Vice President, explains the impact Darigold has on the local and state economy.
“Hardworking farmers and dedicated employees make Darigold what it is by bringing service and quality to everything they do,” said Burleson. “Our six Washington processing plants provide jobs for more than 700 people, and these people are all part of communities. It’s all a big cycle—these employees work in dairy, but also are consumers who are putting money back into the economy.”
Indirect effect jobs make up about 7,100 of the 18,000 occupations. These are jobs associated directly with the farms such as, veterinarians, feed suppliers, equipment suppliers, and milk truck drivers. These jobs play a large role in maintaining healthy cows to provide quality products.
Lastly, induced effect jobs are responsible for nearly 3,500 jobs. Induced effect impacts in the form of local goods and services purchased by people using salaries and wages earned contributing to the productivity of the dairy community. A few examples of induced effect jobs are retailers, loan officers, health professionals, grocery store clerks, restaurant employees, and gas station attendants.
What would happen to the Washington economy without dairy? Dr. Neibergs hopes we never see that day.
“Initially, unemployment would be a devastating problem. Dairy farm employees are very hard working and dedicated to what they do, so they’ll find other jobs, but not easily,” Neibergs stated. “When a dairy goes out of business, it causes turmoil for more than just the farmer. His employees are out of work, the processor takes a hit, their vet loses a client, etc. It affects everyone down the line as explained by the direct, indirect and induced employment effects.”
Also, without Washington dairy farms, consumers would have to buy milk and other dairy products that had been processed in another state, and then have to be shipped in.
Nationally, the number of dairies have been on a steady decline, but the number of cows on the farm is increasing and dairy farmers continue to face economic challenges. Despite the challenges, dairy continues to have a significant impact on the Washington economy.