Cantwell Urges Bipartisan Passage of Farm Bill to Support Whatcom County Growers

Cantwell: ‘By investing in agriculture research, we don’t just grow more berries - we grow more jobs’

BELLINGHAM, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) toured Bellewood Acres farm in Lynden and spoke with Northwest Washington berry growers and agriculture researchers about the need for a new Farm Bill. On the heels of President Obama’s speech last week calling for a Farm Bill by the end of the year, Cantwell urged Congressional leaders to make the completion of a long-term Farm Bill a top priority.

The Farm Bill expired September 30 and has supported research critical to berry growers in Northwest Washington. Last week, the House officially appointed conferees to a House/Senate conference committee. The group will resolve the differences between the Farm Bills. Among the House appointees to the conference is Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-WA-01).

“In Northwest Washington we know the Farm Bill is a jobs bill,” said Cantwell. “Agriculture continues to be a cornerstone of Whatcom County’s economy and berries grown here are in demand around the world. A new Farm Bill will provide certainty for key research programs that support Whatcom crops. By investing in agriculture research, we don’t just grow more berries and apples in Whatcom County – we grow more jobs.” 

A long-term Farm Bill would support research to help increase crop yields and exports for Northwest Washington berry growers. Whatcom County is a hub for the nation’s berry industry. More than 65 percent of the nation’s red raspberries are grown in Whatcom County. The raspberry industry supports 6,000 jobs during the harvest. The county has 102,584 acres of land in farms and nearly $326 million in agriculture production. 

Berries, including raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, make up Whatcom County’s second largest agricultural product. In Whatcom County there are 307 acres of strawberries and 2,600 acres of blueberries which produce 48 percent of the total blueberry crop for Washington state.

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.  

Just last month, Whatcom Farm Friends and the Red Raspberry Commission received $345,000 in Farm Bill grants for berry research through the Specialty Crop Block Grants program. These are the last grants that will be distributed unless Congress passes a new Farm Bill. The Economic Research Service estimates that for every $1 invested in publicly funded research, $10 of economic activity is generated.

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. The expiration of the Farm Bill would also mean the end of new grants for research that increases crop yields by reducing damage from diseases and pests.

Cantwell has been a leading voice in the Senate calling for bipartisan action on the Farm Bill. In August, during visits to Spokane and Vancouver, she urged the House and Senate to begin a conference to work out the differences between each chamber’s Farm Bill. She also hailed the Senate’s passage of a new Farm Bill this past June. Leading up to the Senate vote Cantwell went on a statewide tour in May to urge the Farm Bill’s swift passage. Her tour included stops in Spokane, Pasco, Yakima and Seattle.

The Senate approved a five-year Farm Bill on June 10, 2013, with Cantwell’s support. The House passed its version on July 11, 2013. The proposed Senate Farm Bill would double investment in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative to $50 million by 2017, and it would increase investment in the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program by 30 percent from the current $50 million to $70 million.