Legislature approves Muzzall bill to save farm internship program

The House of Representatives gave its unanimous approval Wednesday to legislation sponsored by state Sen. Ron Muzzall, R-Oak Harbor, to extend a valuable farm internship program. Clearing its final hurdle, Senate Bill 6421 now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.

“I’m pleased that we’ve been able to revive this successful and innovative program. Given the current state of farming, it’s one that is desperately needed,” Muzzall said. “Keeping this program alive provides more career options and opportunities to get a younger generation engaged in farming. It will also be a significant help to support smaller farming operations around the state.”

The pilot project, which is primarily geared toward supporting small farms, would remove regulatory barriers to employ interns who will receive training and other benefits such as housing while they may be starting their own farming operations. The state Department of Labor and Industries, which oversees the program that began in 2010 and has involved 20 of Washington’s 39 counties, can now re-establish the program that expired in 2019.

“Farms across the country are facing challenges recruiting the next generation of farmers. That is a big problem for our state since agriculture is such a driver of Washington’s economy,” Muzzall said. “We have to get creative to ensure that agriculture has the workforce needed to be sustainable. This legislation is a positive step in that direction.”

The program, which would go into effect immediately, is set to expire at the end of 2025 with a report to the Legislature due the year prior.