Cantwell Joins Wheat Growers to Highlight New Farm Bill’s Impact on Spokane-Area Jobs

Senator releases report that demonstrates Farm Bill’s benefits to Eastern Washington’s $800 million agriculture industry

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Spokane-area wheat farmers to highlight the benefits of the new Farm Bill for Eastern Washington. The Senate passed a Farm Bill on June 21 by a bipartisan vote of 64-35. The legislation is now in the House. During her visit to the Co-Ag Grain Facility Cantwell also released a new report detailing the Farm Bill’s support of jobs in Spokane County and Eastern Washington.  

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 dollar industry in Washington state.  

“This bill is a win for Eastern Washington farmers and the jobs they support,” said Cantwell. “Markets around the world want Washington products, especially wheat. This Farm Bill gives our wheat farmers and other growers the tools they need to find those new customers. We can continue to grow our exports and fuel Eastern Washington job growth if this bill becomes law.”

Cantwell’s report notes how Eastern Washington would benefit from the Farm Bill. In particular the legislation would:

  • Invest in agriculture research so researchers can discover new ways to increase crop yields and reduce losses from pests and diseases
  • Bolster exports of wheat, wine and other products
  • Build upon pulse crop initiatives that will increase sales of peas, beans and lentils

The bill’s grants would support local research, such as work done at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Research Service station in Pullman, which is researching new varieties of wheat that can better grow in multiple climates and need less water. It also contains other provisions important to Washington state’s agriculture economy. These include continued investment in export promotion programs like the Market Access Program (MAP) something Cantwell has strongly supported to help Washington state farmers and producers stay competitive.

Since MAP was created in 1985, U.S. agricultural exports have increased by over 400 percent. The program contributed to a $6.1 billion increase in exports from 2002 to 2009. Washington state is a top exporter of agricultural goods. Nearly $11 billion in food and agricultural products were exported through Washington ports in 2009, the third largest total in the United States. The agriculture sector is projected to have a $24.5 billion surplus for FY 2012.

In a letter sent April 19th to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Pat Roberts, Cantwell and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) said key U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) export promotion programs must be maintained at current levels in the next farm bill. Cantwell, a longtime supporter of MAP, has led past Senate letters in support of the program.

Cantwell also backed the Pulse Health Initiative, which authorizes research into health and nutrition of pulse crops. Washington has more than 1,000 farm families producing pulse crops and 22 processors employing over 300 people in Eastern Washington. 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 value of pulse crop shipments handled via the Seattle/Tacoma Port District reached nearly $130 million in 2011 – up from roughly $5 million in 2001.

The Farm Bill includes Cantwell’s Pulse Health Pilot amendment to increase the use of pulse crops in school meals to make them healthier and boost agriculture jobs too. Pulse crops -- including dry peas, dry beans, lentils, and chickpeas – are nutritious, inexpensive and support thousands of agriculture jobs in Washington state.

The Pulse Health Pilot would provide the Secretary of Agriculture $10 million through 2017 to purchase pulse crops for the school lunch and breakfast program. Cantwell’s amendment also requires a thorough evaluation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine the program’s effectiveness. After the pilot’s completion, the department would evaluate :if children increase their consumption of pulse crops; which crops are best fit for school breakfasts and lunches; recommendations for integrating pulse crop products into the school lunch and breakfast programs; and, how pulse crops change the nutritional levels in school meals.

On a visit to Spokane on June 3rd Cantwell joined local businesses, farmers and researchers to urge Senate leaders to make the ‘Pulse Health Initiative’ a top priority in the Farm Bill.