In Yakima Valley at Ag Research Lab, Cantwell Urges Passage of Farm Bill to Support Yakima Jobs

Farm Bill - which expires Sept. 30 - supports agriculture research, export programs key to Yakima Valley farmers

WAPATO, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Yakima Valley farmers and researchers and urged Congress to act on the 2013 Farm Bill, which provides a critical source of support for the Yakima Agricultural Research Laboratory and Central 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 the U.S. Department of Agriculture research facility in Wapato, Cantwell detailed how the lab would lose a critical source of support if Congress doesn’t extend the Farm Bill currently slated to expire at the end of the 2013 fiscal year, on September 30. The lab receives about 10 to 15 percent of its research budget from the Farm Bill, which it uses to help farmers across Central Washington increase crop yields by identifying ways to reduce crop damage from pests and disease. The lab received $2.5 million in Farm Bill grants between fiscal year 2010 and 2013. These investments were used to help reduce crop damage from flies and other insects and manage Zebra Chip disease in potatoes. The lab has nine research scientists and up to 80 staff during the summer months.

Yakima County is one of Washington state’s largest and most diverse agriculture economies. The county holds more than 1.6 million acres of farmland with a market value of $1.2 billion. Yakima County is a leading producer of pears, sweet cherries and apples in the state.

“In 2011, the value of Washington agriculture products was more than $9 billion – higher than ever before,” Cantwell said. “We need to support research that helps create agriculture jobs and supports farmers across Central Washington. The current Farm Bill will expire on September 30. That’s why I am urging Congress to pass a long-term Farm Bill as a top priority.”

Key provisions in the Senate Farm Bill for Yakima include:

Specialty Crop Research: The bill would increase investment in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. These programs 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. 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 continue investment in 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 cherries, apples and wine.

The Washington Apple Commission has used MAP 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 investments have also boosted exports of pears to markets like India, Russia and New Zealand from 380,000 boxes in 2008 to over 500,000 boxes in 2011. Cherry exports have also received MAP support that has produced a 41:1 return on every dollar spent.

Washington’s wine industry has also used MAP support to boost overseas sales. In Yakima County, the wine industry supports 3,149 jobs and pays nearly $114 million in wages. The Washington 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.

Cantwell has consistently supported these programs to help Washington state farmers and producers stay competitive. On July 6, 2012, Cantwell joined Yakima Valley fruit growers to highlight the benefits of the Farm Bill for Washington state apples, cherries and pears.

Today in Wapato, Cantwell was joined by Dr. Peter Landolt, research leader at the Yakima Agricultural Research Laboratory; Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council; and Jim Doornink, grower and chair of the Tree Fruit Research Commission.