Jun 21 2012

Cantwell-Backed Farm Bill Passes Senate, Would Support WA Agriculture Jobs

Bill will strengthen investments in specialty crops, bolster pulse crops and help Washington farmers sell products overseas

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate passed a Farm Bill backed by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), which would strengthen investments in Washington state’s agriculture economy and research, while making substantial reforms to save taxpayers more than $23 billion.

The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (S 3240) passed the Senate Thursday afternoon with a bipartisan majority of 64-35. It included an amendment by Cantwell (number 2370) that would launch a pilot program to include more peas, lentils, beans and chickpeas in school cafeteria menus.

The Farm Bill now goes to the House of Representatives.

“Today is a big win for Washington farming and trade jobs,” said Cantwell. “This bipartisan bill provides the policy road map that will support our agriculture economy and provide billions in savings. This bill invests in cutting-edge research to support increased crop yields for apples, potatoes, cherries, and other specialty crops grown in Washington. And it helps farmers to sell more products overseas through Washington ports.

“I’m especially pleased to see the passage of my bipartisan Pulse School Pilot amendment will help boost peas, lentils, beans, and chickpeas in school meals to make them healthier while supporting Washington’s leading pulse crop growers,” Cantwell continued. “With continued investment in these important programs, we can help ensure that American agriculture and Washington state agriculture products will thrive in a global economy.”   

The final Farm Bill saves more than $23.6 billion dollars by ending the system of direct payments to farmers. It also contains other provisions important to Washington state’s agriculture economy. These include continued investment in export promotion programs like the Market Access Program (MAP) and specialty crops – both programs Cantwell has strongly supported to help Washington state farmers and producers stay competitive.

HIGHLIGHTS OF FARM BILL

Specialty Crop Investments:

  • Continues investments in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program.
  • Increases the Specialty Crop Research Initiative.
  • Provides incentives for the purchase of specialty crops to be used in school lunches and nutrition programs.
  • Extends the Specialty Crop Block Grant program through 2017.

The Farm Bill’s specialty crop programs invest in research and innovative projects to help increase crop yields by investigating invasive pest and disease mitigation and food safety. They also invest in foreign market development by addressing trade barriers like unnecessary non-tariff barriers.

Washington state grows more than 250 specialty crops commercially and ranks number one in production in the nation for 10 commodities, including apples, red raspberries, sweet cherries, pears, potatoes, and hops.

Since 2009 the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program has supported market development in key emerging markets. That work has led to a 129% increase in sales of Washington produce to participating retailers in overseas markets.

Farm Bill specialty crop programs were also used to successfully reduce the cost of exporting to British Columbia. This led to a 41 percent growth in the amount of Washington potatoes exported to the Canadian market. The Washington potato industry directly and indirectly provides $4.6 billion dollars to the State’s economy and an employment impact of 23,500 jobs.

On April 2nd, Cantwell signed onto a bipartisan letter signed by 31 other Senators to Stabenow and Roberts urging the committee to “build on the strong foundation the 2008 Farm Bill created for specialty crop producers across the country.” Cantwell has long been a supporter of the specialty crop program and has fought for adequate funding for the program as a member of the Senate Finance Committee. She fought to make the 2007 Farm Bill – passed in May 2008 – the first to meaningfully address the specialty crops section of agriculture.

Market Access Program Investments:

  • Provides additional investments in the successful public-private MAP partnership.  
  • Extends the Foreign Market Development Program (FMDP) for each fiscal year through 2017.

Since MAP was created in 1985, U.S. agricultural exports have increased by over 400 percent. The program contributed to a $6.1 billion increase in exports from 2002 to 2009.

In Washington state, apple growers have used MAP initiatives to successfully market their product abroad. Even though they face a 50 percent tariff in India, MAP allowed growers to promote the high quality and multiple varieties of Washington apples. That led to an increase in demand from a few thousand cartons to a record 3.3 million cartons last season in India for a $61 million value.

Washington state is a top exporter of agricultural goods. Nearly $11 billion in food and agricultural products were exported through Washington ports in 2009, the third largest total in the United States. The agriculture sector is projected to have a $24.5 billion surplus for FY 2012.

In a letter sent April 19th to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Pat Roberts, Cantwell and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) said key U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) export promotion programs must be maintained at current levels in the next farm bill. Cantwell, a longtime supporter of MAP, has led past Senate letters in support of the program.

Pulse Health Initiative:

  • Cantwell-championed initiative authorizes research grants looking into health and nutrition of pulse crops.
  • Supports technical expertise to help food companies use nutrient-dense pulse crops in their products.
  • Establishes an educational program to expand the consumption and production of pulse crops.

Washington has more than 1,000 farm families producing pulse crops and 22 processors employing over 300 people in Eastern Washington. The value of pulse crop shipments handled via the Columbia-Snake River System reached nearly $50 million in 2011 – up from just over $30 million in 2001. The value of pulse crop shipments handled via the Seattle/Tacoma Port District reached nearly $130 million in 2011 – up from roughly $5 million in 2001.

Cantwell’s Pulse Health Pilot amendment, which passed Tuesday by a vote of 58 to 41, would increase the use of pulse crops in school meals to make them healthier and boost agriculture jobs. Pulse crops -- including dry peas, dry beans, lentils, and chickpeas – are nutritious, inexpensive and support thousands of agriculture jobs in Washington state.

The Pulse Health Pilot would provide the Secretary of Agriculture $10 million through 2017 to purchase pulse crops for the school lunch and breakfast program. Cantwell’s amendment also requires a thorough evaluation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine the program’s effectiveness. After the pilot’s completion, the department would evaluate :if children increase their consumption of pulse crops; which crops are best fit for school breakfasts and lunches; recommendations for integrating pulse crop products into the school lunch and breakfast programs; and, how pulse crops change the nutritional levels in school meals.

On a visit to Spokane on June 3rd Cantwell joined local businesses, farmers and researchers to urge Senate leaders to make the ‘Pulse Health Initiative’ a top priority in the Farm Bill.

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