Cantwell: New Farm Bill Would Mean Jobs in Eastern WA, Healthier School Meals

Cantwell’s ‘Pulse Health Initiative’ and ‘Pulse School Pilot’ set to drive demand for peas, lentils, chickpeas, and support Washington agriculture jobs

SPOKANE VALLEY, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Spokane-area farmers urged Congress to act on the 2013 Farm Bill, which could help make school meals more nutritious, increase research into peas’ and lentils’ health benefits, and support Eastern Washington jobs. The Senate is currently debating the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 (S. 954), which passed the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on May 14.

Speaking from Spokane Seed Company’s processing facility, Cantwell and growers of ‘pulse crops’ – which include peas, lentils and chickpeas – highlighted how two Cantwell provisions in the Farm Bill 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.

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. Thousands of jobs in Washington state are supported by the growing pulse crop industry, including 43 at Spokane Seed.

“We need to pass a Farm Bill now to support jobs at Spokane Seed and across Eastern Washington,” said Cantwell. “Peas and lentils aren’t just the gateway to better health for America’s children – they’re also the gateway to more jobs right here in Eastern Washington. Washington state is already the top chickpea producer in the nation. With the right investments, acreage of chickpeas, peas and lentils could double and support even more jobs in the state.”

The 2013 Farm Bill 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. On a visit to Spokane on June 3, 2012, Cantwell joined local businesses, farmers and researchers and urged Senate leaders to make the ‘Pulse Health Initiative’ a top priority in the Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill also includes Cantwell’s Pulse School Pilot amendment, 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. This could include raw beans and lentils as well as other foods made from pulse crops, such as hummus, pizza dough fortified with pea flower, or baked beans. 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.

At the conclusion of the Pulse School Pilot, the U.S. Department of Agriculture 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.

Washington state has 1,000 farm families producing pulse crops and 22 processors employing more than 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.

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. This increase has supported thousands of jobs in Washington state, including 43 at Spokane Seed Company.

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 (MAP) and the Foreign Market Access Development (FMD) 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. On July 5, 2012, Cantwell joined Spokane-area wheat farmers to highlight the benefits of the Farm Bill for Washington state wheat research and production.

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.

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.

Today, Cantwell was joined by Peter Johnstone, CEO of Spokane Seed; Tim McGreevy, CEO of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council and a local chickpea farmer; Andrew Fontaine, V.P. Sales and Marketing for Spokane Seed Co.; and Kim Elkins, Public Policy & Legislation Chair for the Washington State School Nutrition Association.