Cantwell Hails Senate Passage of Farm Bill that Supports Central Washington Jobs

Legislation supports agriculture research, export programs critical to Central Washington farmers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) hailed the Senate’s passage of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954). Cantwell supported the legislation, which was approved by a vote of 66-27. The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

Cantwell has been a leading Senate voice calling for passage of a farm bill to support agriculture jobs in Washington state and around the nation. In 2012, she and Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) led a bipartisan letter with 44 senators urging action on a farm bill.

Cantwell recently called for passage of the Farm Bill during a statewide tour that included stops in Pasco and Wapato. She visited the U.S. Department of Agriculture lab in Wapato where researchers use Farm Bill grants to support agricultural research and met with growers at Allied Potato Northwest’s processing facility in Pasco who use the bill’s export-promotion programs.

“Today the Senate passed legislation that will support growers and farmers in Central Washington,” said Cantwell. “It’s finally time that specialty crops grown in Central Washington get the recognition they deserve. For the first time, this Farm Bill makes a long-term commitment to specialty crop research and reauthorizes important export programs that help farmers and growers produce and sell more crops. I urge my colleagues in the House to move quickly on this jobs bill so we can send it to the President’s desk.” 

The Senate Farm Bill for the first times makes a real long term commitment to specialty crop research by doubling investment in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative to $50 million by 2017 and increases investment in the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program by 30 percent from the current $50 million to $70 million. In Central Washington, scientists have used Farm Bill grants to research methods to better monitor and prevent Zebra Chip disease, which discolors potatoes and reduces their value. The Senate Farm Bill also continues support for the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development program, which help increase agricultural exports. MAP has helped Pasco’s Allied Potato Northwest increase its potato shipments to Vietnam, which opened to U.S. fresh potato exports in 2010.

"We applaud the U.S. Senate for its approval of a new Farm Bill,” said Christian Schlect, President of the Northwest Horticultural Council. “This legislation will help ensure that our state's apples, pears, and cherries growers--as well as our nation's general economy--will  continue to benefit from important federal agricultural research, export marketing programs, and general nutritional assistance. Senator Cantwell's active support of this long-awaited measure is much appreciated."

The 2013 Farm Bill includes Cantwell’s Pulse School Pilot provision, which would provide the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) $10 million through 2017 to purchase pulse crops to use in school breakfasts and lunches. Flours made from pulse crops could be added to breads, tortillas and pastas to enhance their nutritional value. Pulse crops are an excellent, cost-effective source of fiber, potassium, protein and other essential vitamins and nutrients.

Key provisions in the Senate Farm Bill for Central Washington include:

  • 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. WSU has received Specialty Crop Block Grant investments to develop new planting and harvesting methods for tree fruit to help increase crop yields and protect workers. The Economic Research Service estimates that for every $1 invested in publicly funded research, $10 of economic activity is generated.
  • Market Access Program: The Senate 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 over $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. More than 15 countries are usually represented on this tour according to the Washington State Wine Commission. Participating wineries have developed export opportunities in Scandinavia, Canada and China.

  • Clean Plant Network: The Senate Farm Bill would also invest in the Clean Plant Network at $60 million per year. The network provides pathogen-tested plant material for specialty crop growers to better protect their produce from disease and blight. WSU’s Prosser Research and Extension Center is the main Northwest center for the network. The Prosser site provides clean plant material to thousands of grape and hop farmers in Washington state to help increase crop yields.

Potatoes are Washington state’s third largest agricultural crop. The potato industry in Washington state provides an economic impact of $4.6 billion and supports 23,500 jobs throughout the state. Franklin County has about 33,000 acres of potatoes, while Benton County has about 27,000 acres of potatoes. The Columbia Basin – including Grant, Franklin, Benton and Adams counties – produces $2.4 billion worth of agricultural products from more than 4,000 farms.

Yakima County is one of Washington state’s largest and most diverse agriculture economies. The county holds more than 1.6 million acres of farmland with a market value of $1.2 billion. Yakima County is a leading producer of pears, sweet cherries and apples in the state.