Congress must compromise on farm bill

By:  Seattle Times – Lynne Varner
Source: Seattle Times

Will the umpteenth time be a charm for the House and Senate as lawmakers begin ironing out differences on a half-trillion dollar farm bill? I hope so. While both sides are in agreement on some parts of the five-year program – for example, eliminating $5 billion subsidy paid to farmers and landowners whether they grow crops or not – ugly battles over steep cuts to the food stamps program stalled past talks.

Not to mention the government shutdown. With that madness over, cooler heads ought to prevail on a compromise that sets smart, economical farm and nutrition policy for the next five years.  Failure could mean higher milk prices and other food-related consequences outlined in this Seattle Times story. Also at stake is Washington state’s $40 billion agriculture industry, the third largest exporter in the nation and the source of 160,000 local jobs.

Conversations west of the Cascades have centered on the school nutrition program. That’s certainly a big deal to large and urban school districts, but jobs supported by the farm bill should resonate in the Seattle area as well.  Nearly 40 percent of Washington jobs are dependent on trade. Agriculture products make up nearly 50 percent of the Port of Seattle’s total exports (totaling $4.3 billion) and support 22,000 port workers, according to a joint press release from Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene.

This New York Times piece lays out the many contentious issues negotiators will tackle this week, including inspections to bolster American catfish farmers and  whether international food aid programs ought to buy their food from U.S. farmers or be allowed to purchase abroad, closer to aid recipients.

Back to Washington state, though. Important grants are at risk. The Specialty Crop Research Initiative and Special Crop Block Grant, for instance, fund important work being done to increase yields for cherries, pears and berries. The 1,000-page farm bill is filled with similar food and agriculture-related policies.

Time for lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle to push for what’s important and compromise on the rest. We need a farm bill.