Farm Bill Vital to Northwest WA Growers and Farm Researchers Passes Congress

Cantwell-championed bill increases specialty crop research by 50 percent

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) hailed Congressional passage of the Farm Bill, which supports agriculture research and exports of Northwest crops. The bill will for the first time make a long term investment in specialty crop research programs that provide critical support for Northwest Washington crops including berries, potatoes and apples.

The Cantwell-championed legislation was approved in the Senate by a vote of 68-32 and the House by 251-166. It now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature. Ahead of today’s vote, Cantwell gave a speech on the Senate floor urging her colleagues to quickly pass the bill.

View a video of her remarks here.

In the Senate, Cantwell has led the push for passage of the Farm Bill that supports agriculture jobs in Northwest Washington and across the nation. In 2012, she and Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) led a bipartisan letter with 44 senators urging action on a Farm Bill.

On October 13, 2013, Cantwell toured Bellewood Acres in Lynden and spoke with Northwest Washington berry growers and agriculture researchers about the need for a new Farm Bill.

“The Farm Bill is a jobs bill for our nation and for Washington state,” Cantwell said in a floor speech today. “It maintains our investment in research and exports so that American farmers can thrive and win in the expanding global marketplace. And it helps get more goods to market – whether that’s a farmers market around the corner or a new market in South Korea.”

Cantwell has been a Congressional leader in fighting to increase investment in specialty crop research. This Farm Bill makes a long-term commitment to two key specialty crop programs and increases investment by more than 50 percent. This will 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’s berry growers are delighted that a new 5-year Farm Bill is in place,” said Henry Bierlink, Executive Director of the Whatcom County Farm Friends. “The uncertainty surrounding continued Farm Bill extensions has made it very difficult for wise, long term investments in our berry crops.  We appreciate the fundamental investment that Congress is making into research and production efficiencies that help keep our farmers profitable and sustainable.”

The agriculture industry employs 160,000 people and generates $40 billion for the Washington state economy. Washington state grows more than 250 specialty crops and ranks number one in production in the nation for 11 commodities, including apples, red raspberries, sweet cherries, pears, and hops. The state is also the third highest recipient of Specialty Crop Block Grants in the nation behind California and Florida.

“Knutzen Farms is a family-owned and operated agribusiness in the Pacific Northwest spanning 6 generations, specializing in red, white and yellow potatoes,” said Konnie McCutchin, a 5th generation Skagit Valley potato farmer with Knutzen Farms. “Being family owned and operated is beneficial allowing us to personally nurture our crops from planting to packaging. The potatoes grown in Washington State are known worldwide for their premium quality. Potatoes represent $4.6 billion dollars in direct and indirect economic benefit while supporting 23,600 jobs.”

“The potato industry of Washington State and other specialty crops, rely on specialty crop research and block grant programs that have been funded by the Farm Bill,” McCutchin continued. “These programs assist with keeping us on the cutting edge of research and remain competitive on a domestic and international scale. The Farm Bill helps farmers like us to remain profitable and competitive for generations to come.”

“The Farm Bill has in the past funded research that has helped even a small orchardist like me to minimize chemical applications, and research new pests,” said John Belisle, co-owner of Bellewood Acres in Lynden. “It has also funded studies examining storage procedures for fruit. Without this funding I would not be as profitable, my fruit would be of a lower grade, and American agriculture would feed far fewer people. And not to mention SNAP and its importance of it to my daughter, her children, and many others suffering difficult times in their lives.”

Key provisions in the Farm Bill for Northwest Washington include:

  • Specialty Crop Research: The bill will for the first time make a long term investment in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The Specialty Crop Research Initiative will be funded at $80 million a year and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program will be funded at $72.5 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014-17 and $85 million for FY 2018. That represents a more than 50 percent increase in investments for both programs from levels in the 2008 Farm Bill. 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.

In September 2013, 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. The Economic Research Service estimates that for every $1 invested in publicly funded research, $10 of economic activity is generated.

  • Clean Plant Network: The Farm Bill will also invest in the Clean Plant Network at $62.5 million per year through FY 2017 and then $75 million in FY 2018. The network provides pathogen-tested plant material for specialty crop growers to better protect their produce from disease and blight. 
  • Market Access Program: The Senate Farm Bill will 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. MAP has been used by Allied Potato Northwest and other Washington state potato growers to increase their shipments to Vietnam, which opened up to U.S. fresh potato exports in 2010. 

Cantwell has been a leading voice in the Senate calling for bipartisan action on the Farm Bill. In August 2013, 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 on June 10, 2013. Leading up to the Senate vote Cantwell went on a statewide tour in May 2013 to urge the Farm Bill’s swift passage. Her tour included stops in Spokane, Pasco, Yakima and Seattle.