In Vancouver, Cantwell Calls for Congress to Form Conference to Pass Farm Bill

Farm Bill expiring in 45 days, sending U.S. farm policy back to 1949

VANCOUVER – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) met with agricultural leaders in Vancouver and called for bipartisan action on the Farm Bill. Cantwell urged the House and Senate to begin a conference to work out the differences between each chamber’s Farm Bill. 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 Farm Bill’s current extension expires on September 30 – less than 50 days from today. Without Congressional action, the nation would revert to the Farm Bill from 1949. Cantwell detailed the impact that the Farm Bill’s expiration would have on Southwest Washington farmers, including the end of programs that research Washington crops and help ship them overseas to new markets.

“Southwest Washington farmers need Congress to get this Farm Bill passed and on to the President’s desk by September 30th,” said Cantwell, who joined leaders from the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association and the Pear Bureau Northwest. “Agriculture supports 160,000 jobs in Washington state -- and our products end up on dinner tables around the world. Today, I’m calling on Congressional leaders to work together so we can resolve the differences between the Farm Bills, and support jobs across Washington state.”

In Washington state, the agriculture industry employs 160,000 people and represents 12 percent of the state’s economy while generating $40 billion. In Clark County, there are 2,101 farms that generate $53 million annually. The Columbia-Snake River is the nation’s largest wheat export gateway. More than $15 billion in food and agricultural products are exported through Washington ports, the third largest total in the United States.

Without a new Farm Bill, programs that increase agriculture exports and support Southwest Washington’s trade economy, such as the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development Program (FMDP), will cease to operate. Cantwell’s visit today to the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association highlighted its use of MAP investments to help 486 Western state agriculture producers ship their goods to foreign markets like China, Mexico and the European Union.

“The Farm Bill is a jobs bill. These programs help us sell our products in markets like Nigeria and Vietnam and research in the Farm Bill is key to sustaining our opportunities in these markets,” Cantwell said. “Our economy needs the boost in the arm. There are very few working days left, so the time to act is now.”

MAP helped Honey Ridge Farms from Southwest Washington close $19,000 in first-time export sales to China. U.S. Wheat Associates has used MAP and FMDP to double annual wheat exports to Nigeria to nearly 3 million metric tons. Wheat growers have also used the programs to increase wheat sales to Southeast Asia by 40 percent to an average of 3.8 million metric tons in 2010 through 2012. In 2012, the Port of Vancouver handled 4.6 million metric tons of cargo, more than 57 percent of which was grain exports.

New grants from the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and Special Crop Block Grant programs supporting agricultural research that increase yields for cherries, pears and berries are also at risk without a new Farm Bill. For example, the Farm Bill supported research grants at Washington State University to examine emerging planting and growing methods for fruit trees that allows for easier and more efficient harvesting and a much higher yield per acre. Washington State University’s Agriculture Research Center has conducted more than $83 million worth of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) research over the past 5 years. 

Cantwell has been a leading voice in the Senate calling for passage of a Farm Bill to support agricultural jobs in Washington and around the nation. She 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.

The Senate Farm Bill includes two Cantwell provisions that could help drive total farm acres of pulse crops – which include peas, lentils and chickpeas – in Washington state to more than double over the next 5 to 10 years, according to industry estimates. 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.

Cantwell’s Pulse Health Initiative 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 Senate 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.