Cantwell Hails Senate Passage of Farm Bill That Supports Eastern WA Jobs, Healthier School Meals

Bipartisan bill includes Cantwell’s ‘Pulse School Pilot’ to improve health of school meals

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) hailed the Senate’s bipartisan 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 a stop in Spokane Valley. During her visit to Spokane Seed Company’s processing facility, Cantwell highlighted how two of her provisions in the Senate Farm Bill – the ‘Pulse School Pilot’ and ‘Pulse Health Initiative’ – could help drive total farm acres of pulse crops in Washington state to more than double over the next 5 to 10 years, according to industry estimates. Nationwide, pulse crop production could also double in the next eight years.

"We are one step closer to having more high-fiber, high-protein options for school lunches with the new Pulse School Pilot program,” said Cantwell. “Lots of beans, lentils and chickpeas added to school lunches could provide healthier food options for kids. And a new research program in the Farm Bill will also help us come up with new food products made out of these super-foods. The bipartisan passage of this Farm Bill 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 would provide the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) $10 million through 2017 to purchase pulse crops to use in school breakfasts and lunches. Pulse crops are an excellent, cost-effective source of fiber, potassium, protein and other essential vitamins and nutrients. At the conclusion of the Pulse School Pilot, the USDA would 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.

The bill also includes the Cantwell-backed Pulse Health Initiative, which would support $25 million per year over five years in pulse crop health research grants 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 disease. 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.

"Passage of the 2013 Farm Bill by the U.S. Senate moves us one step closer to the reforms we need to address the changing needs of U.S. Agriculture and the citizens we serve,” said Tim McGreevy, CEO of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council. “The American Pulse Association and the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council are especially pleased that the Senate bill includes the establishment of the Pulse Health Initiative (PHI) in the research title and the School Pulse Food Pilot (SPFP) program in the nutrition title. Passage of these two measures sends a message that the U.S. Senate is serious about finding solutions to the Obesity, Global Food Security and Sustainability issues facing this nation and the global community.

“The Pulse Health Initiative will increase research on pulse crops -- dry beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas -- which are recognized as low-cost, nutrient-dense foods that could positively impact the health of our citizens and our environment,” McGreevy continued. “The School Pulse Food Pilot program would introduce these healthy pulse crops to our school age children which are struggling with epidemic increases in obesity.  We are pleased that the Senate has completed its work and we look forward to the House passing the farm bill in the near future as well."

Spokane County has 2,502 farms – the second highest number in the state. Agriculture in the county generates $587 million in annual economic impact and supports 1,576 jobs. The market value of crops grown in Spokane, Lincoln, Adams, Whitman and Stevens counties is more than $800 million. As a whole, agriculture is a $40 billion industry in Washington state. 

Washington state has 1,000 farm families producing pulse crops and 22 processors employing more than 300 people in Eastern Washington. Chickpea acreage in Washington state has exploded from less than 10,000 acres in the year 2000 to nearly 80,000 acres in 2012. 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 increase to $250 million in 2013, up from $192 million in 2007 and $5 million in 1997. The value of pulse crop shipments handled via the Columbia-Snake River System reached nearly $50 million in 2011 – up from just over $30 million in 2001.

The 2013 Farm Bill contains other provisions important to Washington state’s agriculture economy. These include continued investment in specialty crops as well as export promotion programs like the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Access Development program, which have helped increase overseas sales of Washington state agriculture products like wheat and wine. Cantwell has consistently supported these programs to help Washington state farmers and producers stay competitive.

The legislation would also invest in agriculture research to help lead to the discovery of new ways to increase crop yields and reduce losses from pests and diseases. The Economic Research Service has estimated that for every $1 invested in publicly-funded research, $10 of economic activity is generated.

Washington State University is a national leader in agriculture research and utilizes the Farm Bill’s research investments. The Farm Bill’s Agricultural Food and Research Initiative supports the university’s research to develop varieties of wheat that use less water and grow in more diverse climates. The initiative also supports research into how wheat can better resist ‘stripe rust,’ a fungal infection that strikes Washington state wheat.