Approved farm bill supports Prosser center, local research

By:  Tri-City Herald – Kristi Pihl
Source: Tri-City Herald

Washington’s tree fruit, hops, grape and chickpea growers all stand to benefit from the newly passed farm bill that was three years in the making.

The Senate passed the Agriculture Act of 2014 in a 68-32 vote Tuesday. The House of Representatives already approved the act last week.

The five-year farm bill is heading to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it into law.

The approved bill increases funding for the National Clean Plant Network, which supports the Clean Plant Center Northwest at Washington State University’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser.

The Prosser center is dedicated to keeping grapes, fruit trees and hops virus-free, a protected block of fruit trees since the 1950s and similar quarantine areas for hops and grapes since the 1960s.

Fruit trees included in the center’s programs include apples, cherries, pears, apricots and peaches. It’s one of 17 such facilities nationwide that form the National Clean Plant Network.

The programs have been revitalized in the last decade because of the increased demand that new orchards and vineyards be started with pest-free plants, officials say. Nurseries rely on the center for healthy cuttings and starts they use to supply Northwest growers.

The approved bill also includes $10 million over five years to create the Pulse School Pilot Program and authorize the Pulse Health Initiative, both spearheaded by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA. That will bring pulses, which include chickpeas, lentils and dry peas, into school meals.

The farm bill sets aside $25 million a year for pulse research, said Tim McGreevy, CEO the American Pulse Association. That research will include nutrition, yield and disease benefits, and finding ways to increase the nitrogen benefits of pulse crops. Check back later for updates