Cantwell-Championed Farm Bill Passes Congress, Supporting Washington State’s 160,000 Agriculture Jobs

Cantwell led bipartisan letter with 44 Senators calling for Farm Bill action; Farm Bill now headed to President’s desk

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) applauded final Congressional passage of the Farm Bill, which makes critical investments in export programs and research initiatives key to Washington state crops from apples to wheat. The bill also includes a pilot program authored by Cantwell to make school lunches healthier with more peas, lentils and chickpeas on the menu.

The Farm Bill, long championed by Cantwell, was approved in the Senate today by a vote of 68-32. It previously passed the House 251-166. The bill now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

In the Senate, Cantwell has led the push for passage of the Farm Bill that supports agriculture jobs in Washington state and across the nation. In 2012, she and Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) led a bipartisan letter with 44 senators urging action on a Farm Bill.

Today, Cantwell delivered a floor speech encouraging her colleagues to support the Farm Bill. Video of that speech is available here.

Washington’s agriculture economy is worth $40 billion and supports 160,000 jobs. The bill continues critical trade programs – such as the Market Access Program – that expand markets for Washington-grown crops. Washington state is the third largest agriculture exporter in the United States with more than $15 billion of agriculture exports going through the state’s ports. Agriculture products make up 50 percent of the exports through the Port of Seattle and about 40 percent of exports through the Port of Tacoma; $4.3 billion in agricultural goods go through the Port of Seattle and $4.2 billion go through the Port of Tacoma.

“The Farm Bill is a jobs bill for our nation and for Washington state,” Cantwell said in a floor speech today. “It maintains our investment in research and exports so that American farmers can thrive and win in the expanding global marketplace. And it helps get more goods to market – whether that’s a farmers market around the corner or a new market in South Korea.”

“The Farm Bill’s Market Access Program has helped us make these connections with overseas companies that are interested in buying Washington state produce,” said Bill Bloxom, CEO of F.C. Bloxom Company, an exporter in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood. “Each year, this program brings potential buyers from around the world right here to Seattle on trade missions to meet with our company and others in the state.  Just this July, we met with prospective buyers from Mexico, Central America and Southeast Asia. So the Farm Bill isn’t just about farmers – it also helps businesses like F.C. Bloxom Company that sell and ship fruit and vegetables all over the world.”

The bill also contains Cantwell’s Pulse School Pilot provision, which will provide the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) $10 million through 2017 to purchase pulse crops to use in school breakfasts and lunches. This could include raw beans and lentils as well as foods made from pulse crops, such as hummus. Flours made from pulse crops could also be added to breads, tortillas and pastas to enhance their nutritional value.

Last year in May, Cantwell visited Dearborn Park Elementary school in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood to highlight how her ‘Pulse School Pilot’ amendment in the Farm Bill could make school meals healthier by incorporating protein-rich pulse crops – which include peas, lentils and chickpeas – into breakfasts and lunches.

“The pulse crop initiative is important to ensure that students at high poverty schools continue to be provided the vegetable and legumes they are accustomed to eating on a regular basis,” said Angela Sheffey-Bogan, the principal at Dearborn Park Elementary in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. If a student’s brain is fed they are more likely to have high academic achievement to excel to be competitively prepared citizens.”

“This is a great opportunity to research and develop pulse crops into kid-friendly foods.  Currently schools are offered canned and dried whole beans, lentils and peas through USDA Foods,” said Kim Elkins, state Public Policy and Legislation Chairwoman of the Washington School Nutrition Association. “It can be a struggle without the right equipment and the labor to make these into kid-accepted meals.  For schools to possibly have burritos, hummus, tortillas and other items already made from pulse crops that kids are familiar with and like will be a great way to add low-cost, nutrient-dense foods to our menus.”

At the conclusion of the Pulse School Pilot, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will determine the program’s effectiveness by measuring increases in student consumption of pulse crops, identifying pulse crops students prefer and determining how pulse crops change nutritional levels in school meals. The Pulse School Pilot is modeled after the successful 2008 Whole Grains Pilot program, which helped the USDA purchase five million pounds of whole grain pancakes and tortillas for schools.

Washington state is the top chickpea producer in the nation – producing nearly half of the nation’s total – and third in the nation for pea and lentil production. Pulse crop production in the state supports thousands of jobs – including those in transportation, port facilities, equipment manufacturers, crop advisors, insurance, supplies and other services. Washington state has 1,000 farm families producing pulse crops. The value of pea, lentil and chickpea shipments handled via the ports of Seattle and Tacoma reached nearly $130 million in 2011 – up from roughly $5 million in 2001.

Chickpea acreage in Washington state has exploded from fewer than 10,000 acres in the year 2000 to nearly 80,000 acres in 2012. According to the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, Washington state’s acreage of dry peas, lentils and chickpeas increased 20 percent from 2010 to 2011. A main driver of increased demand for chickpeas in the last decade has been increased demand for hummus. Retail sales of hummus are projected to have increased to $250 million in 2013, up from $192 million in 2007 and $5 million in 1997. This increase has supported thousands of jobs in Washington state, including at 22 processors in Eastern Washington.

The 2013 Farm Bill also includes Cantwell’s Pulse Health Initiative, which would support $25 million per year over five years in pulse crop health research to help increase public demand and drive job growth. The research would look into the health and nutrition benefits of pulse crops, including their ability to reduce obesity and associated chronic diseases. The initiative would support technical expertise to help food companies use nutrient-dense pulse crops in their products as well as establish an educational program to encourage the consumption and production of pulse crops.

“This Pulse School Pilot program will kick-start high-fiber, high-protein options for school lunches,” said Cantwell. “This initiative couples with a new research program in the Farm Bill that will study the health benefits of these foods. This is a win-win for Washington state: it means jobs for our agriculture producers and keeps our students healthy and ready to learn.”

“The Pulse School Pilot Program will expand opportunities for school meal programs to access and incorporate Washington grown items such as chickpeas, peas, beans and lentils in our breakfast and lunch menus,” said Wendy Weyer, Director of Nutrition Services for Seattle Public Schools.  “From hummus to lentil chili, the Pulse Pilot Program is a wonderful opportunity for students across the country to be exposed to these nutritious food items.”                                                         

Cantwell called for passage of the Farm Bill in tours across the state over the past 3 years, during which she visited with local producers, growers and exporters. In October, Cantwell joined Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-WA-01) at F.C. Bloxom to detail how Farm Bill trade programs have helped send more Washington apples, potatoes, and wheat through Puget Sound ports and around the world.

Other key provisions in the Farm Bill for the state of Washington include:

  • Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program:  The Farm Bill provides $100 million of mandatory funding over 5 years up from $33 million over 5 years in the previous Farm Bill. The program helps improve and expand farmers markets and local food infrastructure. The Washington State Farmers Market Association in Seattle received a grant in Fiscal Year 2012 to train market managersto utilize wireless food stamp technology at farmers markets, and study the use of food stamps at farmers markets.
  • Market Access Program: The Farm Bill would invest $200 million a year in MAP, which the Washington Apple Commission has used to reach consumers and businesses in India. These efforts increased the number of Washington apples being sold there from a few thousand cartons to a record 3.3 million cartons worth more than $61 million last season.

Washington’s wine industry has also used MAP to boost overseas sales. The Washington State Wine Commission secured MAP investments that helped the commission bring around 65 international wine buyers to Washington state for tours, seminars and tasting. Before the grant, these tours attracted only about 15 international buyers, according to the Washington State Wine Commission. Participating wineries have developed export opportunities in Scandinavia, Canada and China.

  • Specialty Crop Research: The bill would for the first time make a long-term investment in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.  The Specialty Crop Research Initiative will be funded at $80 million a year and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program will be funded at $72.5 million in FY 2014-17 and $85 million for FY 2018. That represents a more than 50 percent increase in investments for both programs from levels in the 2008 Farm Bill.. WSU has received Specialty Crop Block Grant investments to develop new planting and harvesting methods for tree fruit to help increase crop yields and better protect workers. The Economic Research Service estimates that for every $1 invested in publicly funded research, $10 of economic activity is generated.

Washington state grows more than 250 specialty crops and ranks number one in production in the nation for 10 commodities, including apples, red raspberries, sweet cherries, pears, and hops. The production of Washington state specialty crops was worth more than $3.3 billion in 2011.  

“Apple, pear, and cherry growers will benefit from passage of the Farm Bill,” said Chris Schlect,  president of the Northwest Horticultural Council. “Agricultural research, export market promotion, nutrition programs, and other aspects of the bill will help all of specialty crop agriculture, including our area's tree fruit industry. We thank Senator Cantwell for her strong support of these provisions and her vote for this important bill.”