Yakima County agriculture, small businesses hit hard by inflation

Rural Yakima County
Credit: Emily Goodell, KAPP-KVEW

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — Local economic officials report Yakima County is being hit especially hard by rising gas prices, high food costs and other inflation due to it being a rural, agricultural community.

“That’s because of how much of our industries are dependent upon exporting, which means there needs to be trucks to get our goods out of the county to the rest of the world,” Yakima County Development Association executive director Jonathan Smith said.

According to GasBuddy, the average price of gas in Yakima County is up to $5.04 per gallon, which is an increase of nearly 17 cents in just the past week.

That means farmers are having to pay more to operate their equipment and trucking companies are having to spend an increasing amount of funds to fill up the trucks that transport the county’s hops, apples, grapes and other crops.

“We have a lot more businesses and a lot more people that are driving trucks here as a percentage of our workforce than other places in the state or in the country,” Smith said.

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YCDA bilingual small business support specialist Yani Cisneros said when the local agriculture industry is doing well, a lot of that money stays in the county and gets invested back into small businesses.

“Whenever our agriculture community is suffering, then those dollars are no longer staying in our community, and hence, we can’t get that new injection of funds into our small businesses,” Cisneros said.

According to the Consumer Price Index, the cost of groceries has gone up 10% in the past year, which is the largest annual increase since the 1980s.

Cisneros said the increase in food costs plus rising are causing a problem for small businesses and particularly for restaurants, which are still struggling with lost revenue from being closed for long periods of time in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“For them to actually be able to continue to come out of this pandemic and continue to grow their business and operate and now they have this inflation that they also have to deal with, it’s just another hurdle that they have to jump over,” Cisneros said.

Inflation is also impacting workers’ abilities to make ends meet. Smith said when gas prices are high, people in rural areas end up paying more because they have to drive further to get what they need.

“We’re thinking grocery stores, hospitals, health care schools, the further spread out those things are, the more disproportionately rises and gas prices are going to impact those communities,” Smith said.

READ: Median rent price spikes by shocking amount in Yakima, followed by Kennewick/Richland

According to a recent study conducted by Stessa, the median rental prices in the Yakima metro area increased 29.7% from 2019 to 2022. The study ranked Yakima as having the fifth-highest increase of all small metropolitan areas in the country.

However, Smith said there is good news for local workers. While Yakima County continues to have lower wages compared to the state average, that gap is starting to get smaller.

“Wages in Yakima County are definitely increasing; we saw that even before inflation kicked in, that it was harder to find workers and so wages were already increasing,” Smith said. “Inflation, I think, is just gonna compound that.”