In Pasco at Potato Processor, Cantwell Urges Passage of Farm Bill to Support Tri-Cities Jobs

Farm Bill - which expires Sept. 30 - supports agriculture research, export programs key to Tri-Cities economy

PASCO, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined local growers and agriculture researchers and urged Congress to act on the 2013 Farm Bill, which supports agriculture research and exports of Tri-Cities potatoes, fruits and other crops. 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. The current Farm Bill extension is slated to expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on September 30th.

Speaking from Allied Potato Northwest, a processing facility in Pasco, Cantwell highlighted how the Farm Bill would help Central Washington farmers increase crop yields and exports. Research supported by the Farm Bill has also helped local potato growers by investing in research to better monitor and prevent Zebra Chip disease, a disease that discolors potatoes and ruins their value. 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.

The bill includes continued investment in research that helps develop news ways to fight pests and disease, as well as export promotion programs like the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Access Development (FMD) program. MAP has helped Allied Potato Northwest begin shipments to Vietnam, which opened its market to U.S. fresh potatoes in 2010.

“We need to pass a Farm Bill now to support jobs at Allied Potato Northwest and across Central Washington,” Cantwell said. “Here in the Tri-Cities we see that the Farm Bill is truly a jobs bill. Farm Bill programs provide critical support to our local growers and producers and help sell Tri-Cities’ agriculture products overseas. These programs also help fight diseases and pests to increase crop yields and drive job growth. That’s why I am urging Congress to pass a long-term Farm Bill as a top priority.”

Potatoes are Washington state’s third largest agricultural crop. The potato industry in Washington state provides an economic impact of $4.6 billion and supports 23,500 jobs throughout the state. Franklin County has about 33,000 acres of potatoes, while Benton County has about 27,000 acres of potatoes. The Columbia Basin – including Grant, Franklin, Benton and Adams counties – produces $2.4 billion worth of agricultural products from more than 4,000 farms.

Key provisions in the Senate Farm Bill for the Tri-Cities include:

Specialty Crop Research: The bill would increase investment in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. These program have been used at sites like Washington State University (WSU), one of the nation’s leading agricultural research institutions. WSU has received Specialty Crop Block Grant investments to develop new planting and harvesting methods for tree fruit to increase crop yields, protect workers and reduce labor costs. This program awarded a grant in 2012 for the development of an early warning system for Zebra Chip. The Economic Research Service estimates that for every $1 invested in publicly funded research, $10 of economic activity is generated.

Market Access Program: The Farm Bill would invest $200 million in the Market Access Program, 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.

Washington’s wine industry has also used MAP support to boost overseas sales. The Washington State Wine Commission secured MAP investments that helped the commission bring around 65 international wine buyers to Washington state for tours, seminars and tasting. More than 15 countries are usually represented on this tour according to the Washington State Wine Commission. Participating wineries have developed export opportunities in Scandinavia, Canada and China.

Clean Plant Network: The Farm Bill would also fully invest in the Clean Plant Network at $60 million per year. The network provides pathogen-tested plant material for specialty crop growers to better protect their produce from disease and blight. Washington State University’s Prosser Research and Extension Center is the main Northwest center for the Network. The Prosser site provides clean plant material to thousands of grape and hop farmers in Washington state to help increase crop yields.

Today in Pasco, Cantwell was joined by Derek Davenport, general manager of Allied Potato Northwest; Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington Potato Commission; Dr. Jim Crosslin, a plant pathologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service; and Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.