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Can Skagit County farmlands and ag businesses coexist?

MOUNT VERNON - When a brand-new wedding venue opened up next door to longtime cattle rancher Terry Sapp's place, he saw the potential for serious, perhaps literal, rain-on-parade incidents.

Farming chores the Skagit County farmer used to do anytime he needed - pumping manure or moving cows from pasture to pasture - created a range of problems for wedding guests and the occasional bridal couple, even though the land they stood on had long been designated for farmers.

"Nonagricultural activities taking place in the vicinity of real farming, actual agriculture - there's a possibility they could interfere," said Sapp, who has operated his current farm in Sedro-Woolley since 2008.

The fertile Skagit Valley has long held a special place in the hearts of conservationists who treasure its bucolic pasture and farmland, diversity of crops and a magnificent tulip festival.

Skagit County leaders have worked to protect the unique agricultural land from development for decades. But now, the county is at a crossroads: protect the old-guard farmers and ranchers from encroachment, or protect the economy of smaller agribusinesses struggling to stay afloat.

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