Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) highlighted the benefits of the Senate Farm Bill for Washington state. The Senate passed its Farm Bill on June 21 by a bipartisan vote of 64-35. The House unveiled its version of the Farm Bill late last week. During the event, Cantwell also called on the House to pass a Farm Bill that supports Washington state exports and specialty crops, like sweet cherries, apples and pears.
"The Senate Farm Bill supports 160,000 agriculture jobs in Washington state," said Cantwell. "It contains the right mix of investments to support farmers with agriculture research and to increase exports of products grown in Washington state. The Senate Farm Bill will help Washington state's agriculture industry continue to thrive if it becomes law."
The Senate Farm Bill contains Sen. Cantwell's new Pulse Health Pilot amendment, which would make school lunches healthier by including more dry peas, dry beans lentils and chickpeas. It also contains key provisions to improve research and exports of Washington-grown crops.
The bill saves $24 billion over 10 years yet increases investments in the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program through 2017. These grants are used to enhance the sale of specialty crops. Washington state farmers grow 250 specialty crops, including apples, red raspberries, sweet cherries, pears, potatoes and hops. Farmers markets in Washington state have received Specialty Crop Block Grants to help increase the sale of specialty crops at farmers markets.
The bill also contains the Market Access Program -- an export-promotion initiative that has successfully increased exports of Washington products overseas.
The Washington Apple Commission 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 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 their overseas sales. The Washington Wine Commission secured MAP investments that helped the commission bring around 65 international wine buyers to Washington state for tours, seminars and tastings. More than 15 countries are usually represented on this tour according to the Washington State Wine Commission.
Since MAP was created in 1985, U.S. agricultural exports have increased by over 400 percent. The program contributed to a $6.1 billion increase in exports from 2002 to 2009. Washington state is a top exporter of agricultural goods. Nearly $11 billion in food and agricultural products were exported through Washington ports in 2009, the third largest total in the United States. The agriculture sector is projected to have a $24.5 billion trade surplus for fiscal year 2012.
These increased agricultural exports have supported growth at Washington ports, including the Port of Seattle and the Port of Tacoma.
The number of Washington farmers markets has grown by more than 150 percent over the last decade. Farmers markets now support 1,400 farms in Washington state with more than $45 million in sales.
At today's event, Cantwell was joined by Judy Kirkhuff, Ballard Farmers Market Master, Washington State Farmers Market Association Board Member; Mark Strueli, Policy Assistant to the Director, WA State Department of Agriculture; Marshall Jett, Co-Owner, Veraci Pizza; and Clayton Burrows, Farm Director, Alm Hill Gardens.