Cantwell, DelBene: Congress Must Pass Farm Bill to Support Washington Jobs

At Seattle exporter, Washington agriculture leaders highlight impact to trade economy without Farm Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-WA-01) joined Washington state agriculture and trade leaders at a Seattle produce export company to call for the passage of a Farm Bill that supports Washington jobs.

The Farm Bill expired September 30, reverting much of American agriculture policy to the 1949 Farm Bill. Last week, the House officially appointed conferees to a House/Senate conference committee to resolve the differences between the farm bills. DelBene is among the House appointees to the conference committee.

Today, Cantwell and DelBene toured F.C. Bloxom Company, an export company in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood that ships produce using the Market Access Program (MAP). The expiration of the Farm Bill meant the end of agriculture trade programs like MAP that have helped send more Washington apples, potatoes and wheat through Washington ports and around the world.

“The Farm Bill is the most important jobs bill for Congress to pass,” said Cantwell today. “Congresswoman DelBene and I are ready to act on this bill that will help grow more crops and grow more jobs. It’s time for Congress to come together and finish this bill that invests in Washington’s agricultural economy and keeps American products competitive in the global marketplace.”

“Congress must act quickly to pass a Farm Bill,” said DelBene. “As the Conference Committee begins formal negotiations, I will work tirelessly for investments that benefit our local farmers, families and food supply. Getting this done is going to require members of Congress to work past partisan politics and focus on finding real solutions. Senator Cantwell and I are working to urge our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together and get the job done. Washington’s farmers, families and our economy are counting on it.”

Cantwell and DelBene were joined by Keith Hu of the Washington State Fruit Commission and Konnie McCutchin of Knutzen Farms, a 5th generation Skagit Valley potato farmer. They highlighted the impact of research and export programs to Washington state agriculture.

“I’m an owner of Knutzen Farms representing the fifth-generation of farmers,” McCutchin said. “The Farm Bill is vital to the survival of family farms. I urge you to pass the Farm Bill, allowing farmers like myself to remain profitable and competitive for generations to come.”                                                                                                                                         

Export programs like MAP increase sales of Washington apples and potatoes overseas. Washington exports 30 percent of its apples and 20 percent of its potatoes to overseas markets. Washington’s $7 billion apple industry supports 56,650 jobs, while the 4.6 billion potato industry supports 23,500 jobs.

“At F.C. Bloxom, we export produce to 20 countries across the world,” said Bill Bloxom, owner and operator of F.C.Bloxom. “The Farm Bill’s Market Access Program has helped us make connections with overseas companies that are interested in buying Washington state produce. So, the Farm Bill isn’t just about farmers. It also helps businesses like F.C. Bloxom Company that export fruits and vegetables all over the world.”

Exports are crucial to Washington state’s $40 billion agriculture industry and 160,000 agriculture-related jobs. Washington state is the third largest agriculture exporter in the U.S. with more than $15 billion of agriculture exports going through the state’s ports.

Agriculture products make up nearly 50 percent of the Port of Seattle’s total exports, totaling $4.3 billion, and are key to the employment of 22,000 port workers. Nearly 40 percent of Washington jobs are dependent on trade.

The Washington Apple Commission has used MAP support to increase awareness of Washington apples among consumers and businesses in India. As a result, demand has increased from a few thousand cartons of apples to a record 3.3 million cartons of apples during the last season, valued at over $61 million. Promotional programs backed by the Market Access Program for Washington pears have helped open up new markets in India, Russia and New Zealand. Between 2008 and 2011, exports increased from 380,000 boxes to more than 500,000 boxes of pears.

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.  

New grants from the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and Special Crop Block Grant programs supporting agricultural research that increase yields for cherries, pears and berries are also at risk without a new Farm Bill. For example, the Farm Bill supported research grants at Washington State University to examine emerging planting and growing methods for fruit trees that allows for easier and more efficient harvesting and a much higher yield per acre. Washington State University’s Agriculture Research Center has conducted more than $83 million worth of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) research over the past 5 years.