Failure to pass farm bill could damage state exports

By:  The Puget Sound Business Journal – Steve Wilhelm
Source: The Puget Sound Business Journal

Failure to pass the federal farm bill could chop exports of Washington-grown cherries in half, from last year’s $460 million.

That’s the view of Keith Hu, director of international operations for the industry organization Northwest Cherries, and the reason why he and other agricultural leaders gathered in Seattle Thursday in support of the bill.

The current extension of the farm bill expired in September, and all remaining funding will run out at year’s end, said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who led the Seattle event. When that happens, federally supported marketing of Washington agricultural exports will halt, giving competing countries room to take market share from Washington.

“If not enacted by the end of this year, cuts to programs vital to Washington state will actually take effect,” she said, adding that Washington exports about $15 billion in agriculture products yearly, with exports accounting for 37 percent of the industry’s yearly revenue.

Democrats and Republicans have deadlocked over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program portion of the bill, with the Republican-dominated House passing $4 billion in cuts to food stamps and similar programs, while the Senate passed $400 million in cuts.

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, also is on the committee seeking to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill. 

"One of the most important things we can do for the economy, is to pass a farm bill and give certainty," she said at Thursday's event.

Without the federal marketing assistance, cherries, potatoes and apples will lose ground against competitors from other countries, said several agricultural leaders at the event, at the F. C. Bloxom Co. produce-handling warehouse in Seattle.

Last year, Northwest Cherries spent $3 million marketing cherries, mostly in Asia, to take advantage of the six week season. The federal government paid half of that through the farm bill, Hu said.