Washington senators weigh in on Farm Bill

Washington’s U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray this morning welcomed passage of the Farm Bill, saying it contains numerous benefits for local farmers.

“To be sure, this legislation is a compromise, and nobody got everything they wanted, but I’m proud that we were able to secure critical wins for Eastern and Central Washington’s agricultural industries,” Murray said in a release.

Cantwell said that for the first time, “the Farm Bill makes long-term investments in research programs for specialty crops grown in Central Washington — including apples, cherries, pears, potatoes and grapes. The bill also continues critical export programs that Central Washington farmers use to ship produce around the world.”

But Murray criticized cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that provides food stamps to families in financial straits.

“I’m very disappointed that this compromise makes harmful cuts to nutrition programs for low-income families in Washington state,” Murray said. “Food assistance was there for my family when we needed it, and now is not the time to leave behind families and children who need help putting food on the table.”

Agriculture programs slated to receive continued or even increased funding include the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which funds key research projects for fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops, and the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program, both of which help keep Washington farmers competitive in the global marketplace.

Murray said another victory was $410 million for a one-year extension of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program. She said the program is a “critical lifeline” for rural counties by allowing them to offset property tax losses caused by nontaxable federal land within their boundaries.

The bill will also allow increased funding for the National Clean Plant Network, which supports the Clean Plant Center Northwest based at Washington State University in Prosser. The center ensures nurseries can provide safe, virus-free plant materials to orchards, vineyards, and other growers.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill on Friday.