AGRICULTURE, RURAL DEVELOPMENT, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2007 -- (Senate - December 05, 2006)
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Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, I have come to the floor today to discuss a critically important issue to Washington's farmers and ranchers--disaster assistance.
I support the agriculture disaster assistance legislation that is before us here on the floor and am proud to be an original cosponsor of the bill.
Washington's agriculture economy is supported by small and medium-sized family farms. Our farmers are a key economic engine for the state, producing more than 300 different commodities on 15.3 million acres valued at over $6.4 billion every year. And in our state, agriculture alone supports more than 300,000 good paying jobs.
Washington's farm families understand hardship. They understand that when you are in the business of farming, you have good years and you have bad years.
Recent years have been particularly hard for them. Many are struggling just to make ends meet as they face low commodity prices, an influx of commodities grown abroad, and high fuel and fertilizer prices stemming from the hurricane disasters of last year.
Unfortunately, in recent years, many producers have also had to cope with crops lost to adverse weather. Over the last three crop years, inclement weather, wildfires, and flooding have exacerbated the already difficult challenges farmers in my state face.
In 2004, 32 of Washington state's 39 counties received disaster declarations. In 2005, it was 13 counties.
So far this year, 24 counties in the State have received disaster declarations.
Once assessments have been completed on the damages sustained from recent flooding throughout Puget Sound and across the Olympic Peninsula, I am confident even more counties will receive declarations.
This year many producers lost their crops or had their crops severely damaged due to adverse weather. Others lost livestock or had herds displaced due to wildfires.
This summer, I visited with farmers in central Washington after the region sustained significant crop losses from hail, wind, and rain in June and July.
I saw firsthand the damage that many of Washington's apple, pear, and cherry orchards incurred. I saw the fruit that was no longer salvageable. I saw the losses that these orchards sustained.
Individual orchards throughout much of the tree fruit-growing regions in north central Washington state--in counties like Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan--lost significant portions of their crop. Some farms were decimated by the storms and lost their entire harvest.
These losses threaten the continued viability of many of these family farms and orchards.
The losses also affect the rural communities and economies these farms help support. Agriculture is the primary, and in some cases the only, economic driver in many rural communities throughout Washington state.
Packing houses, processors, dusters, shippers and other small businesses depend on the harvest almost as much as the producers themselves. Many of these businesses had to lay off hundreds of workers this year because there simply was no fruit to pick or pack.
The agriculture disaster legislation currently before the Senate contains important provisions that will provide desperately needed relief for our farmers and ranchers as they begin to recover during this difficult time. It also contains economic assistance grants to help the small businesses that support our farming communities.
We must act now to provide assistance and ensure the continued viability of American farmers and farm families who lost their crop to disaster. Without it, many will not survive.
I urge my colleagues to join me today in making a commitment to help our farm families and the communities in which they live by providing them the assistance they desperately need.
Voting for the Conrad amendment is to vote for funding that will come to your state and help your farmers stay viable. I urge my colleagues to support the Conrad amendment.