Port to lease Wallula-area land for farming

The agreement will put the land into use while industrial tenants are sought.

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WALLULA — A new partnership is cropping up at the Port of Walla Walla’s Wallula Gap property.

The economic development agency will lease the land to a pair of Burbank farmers in an agreement that will use the land until industrial tenants can be found.

Port commissioners have OK’d a lease agreement with Granite Farms LLC operators — brothers Brad and Clint Smith — who are planning to raise corn on rotation at the property off U.S. Highway 12.

The 15-year lease starts March 1 and includes one five-year renewal after harvest 2027.

Located across from Boise Inc. the 1,879-acre property was bought from the paper manufacturing firm in 2007 for about $4 million. The property is prime for industrial development with access to barge, rail and highway, as well as a water right. It’s been eyeballed for development by some major operators, including Procter & Gamble and a polysilicon manufacturer. However, it hasn’t yet landed a major development.

In the meantime, Granite Farms can provide a source of income at the property and build its farming operation at the same time.

“It’s a win-win,” Port Commission President Paul Schneidmiller said during last Thursday’s Port meeting. “It’s great to see this hopefully into production shortly.”

The rental cost for the land will start in the first year at $30 per irrigated acre plus taxes. It will repeat in the second year at the same cost, and ratchet up over the years to $250 per acre plus taxes in the 15th year.

Early termination with 90 days notice will cost the Port $686 per acre in the first year and decrease incrementally to $11.33 per acre in the 14th year.

The Smiths do not anticipate farming all the land in the first year. Much work remains on stump removal and conversion from when the property served as Boise’s tree farm. Under terms of the lease agreement, Granite Farms will present an proposed farming plan to the Port for approval each year. The plan will clearly define the acres that will be planted, including identifying crops, and which acrews will be cleared of tree stumps and slash piles.

The farm plan must provide for clearance and crop production on at least two 130-acre plots of land each year.

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