Washington's farmers and ranchers bring some of the world's finest fruits, vegetables and livestock to market, and they're essential to the state's economy. Whether it's wheat fields outside Colfax, potato farms in the Skagit Valley, or apples from Wenatchee, Maria works hard to keep Washington agriculture strong.
Opening markets throughout the world for Washington producers is one of Maria's top priorities. She has been a leader in supporting the Market Access Program, which currently promotes Washington state's fruit, wine, potato, and hop industries to compete globally. After Maria met with Cuban government officials in 2003, the island nation saw Washington apples, peas, and lentils for the first time in over 50 years. Maria has also fought to expand Washington products across North America, working to remove trade barriers in Mexico to open the country to exports of Washington potatoes and working to ensure British Columbia's shelves are stocked with wine from Washington wineries. Additionally, Maria lead the charge in defeating attempts to strip the Asparagus Market Loss Program from the 2008 Farm Bill, which provides $15 million in assistance to help offset losses to Washington asparagus farmers due to the Andean Trade Preferences Act.
In addition to promoting Washington products abroad, Maria has worked to ensure the state's agriculture is protected at home. She's fought to level the playing field against unfair foreign cherry and pear imports, and made sure Washington's farmers have federal support in case of crop failure. In 2003, after BSE, also known as Mad Cow disease, was discovered in a calf brought into the state from Canada, Maria worked to improve tracking of Canadian cattle and targeted the causes of BSE infections. Her work to restore confidence in American beef and reopen markets, such as Japan, helped make 2010 the best year for American beef exporters on record.
Washington state is ranked first in the nation in the production of several specialty crops, including apples, red raspberries, sweet cherries and pears. Through her role on the Senate Finance Committee, Maria fought to fully fund the highly targeted Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which helps Washington state's farmers thrive. Among several other projects in 2010, this program helped assess the potential increase in sales volume that would come from allowing Washington state farmers to accept credit card payments at Farmers' Markets for the first time. Another successful project backed local farmers' fresh products sold in twenty school districts across the state- a profitable and kid- health friendly venture.
Maria has been a staunch supporter of Washington biofuels and co-authored the 2007 renewable fuels standard promoting accelerated biofuel production. Since then, she has successfully fought for extension of that standard and expansion of biofuels for use in military and commercial aircraft. In July 2011, Maria proudly announced that the USDA would work with Seattle-based AltAir Fuels to boost production of aviation biofuel with non-food crops grown by Washington state farmers, an effort expected to generate up to 265 full time jobs.