Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Yakima Valley fruit growers, researchers and the local chamber and highlighted the benefits of the new Farm Bill for Central Washington. During her visit to Zirkle Fruit in Selah, Cantwell also released a new report detailing the Farm Bill's support of jobs in Yakima County and Central Washington.
The Senate passed a Farm Bill on June 21 by a bipartisan vote of 64-35. The legislation is now in the House.
Yakima County is the largest, most diverse agricultural county in the Pacific Northwest. There are over 1.6 million acres of farmland and the average farm size stands at 466 acres. Crops grown in Yakima County have a market value of $1.2 billion and support over 23,000 jobs. The county is also a leading producer of pears, sweet cherries and apples. Overall Washington state farmers grow more than 250 specialty crops. As a whole agriculture is a $40 billion dollar industry in Washington state that employs 160,000 people.
"This bill is a win for Central Washington farmers and the jobs they support," said Cantwell. "In Yakima, we know the Senate Farm Bill is a jobs bill because it supports 23,000 jobs here. It contains the right mix of investments to strengthen our crops and give farmers the tools they need to find customers in new markets. We can continue to grow our agriculture economy and fuel Central Washington job growth if this bill becomes law."
Cantwell's report notes how Central Washington and Yakima County would benefit from the Farm Bill. In particular the legislation would:
Invest in agriculture research so researchers can discover new ways to increase crop yields and reduce losses from pests and diseases
Bolster production and exports of cherries, apples and other products
Support the growing wine industry
The Economic Research Service estimates that for every $1 invested in publicly funded research, $10 of economic activity is generated. The Senate Farm Bill increases investments in the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program through 2017. This program has 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.
Another specialty grant project led by WSU researchers is working with the cherry supply chain -- from producers to consumers -- to find the best ways to improve the efficient delivery and consumer appeal of cherry products. The bill also contains other provisions important to Washington state's agriculture economy. These include continued investment in export promotion programs like the Market Access Program (MAP), a program Cantwell has strongly supported to help Washington state farmers and producers stay competitive.
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 tasting. 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 surplus for fiscal year 2012.
In a letter sent April 19th to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Pat Roberts, Cantwell and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) said key U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) export promotion programs must be maintained at current levels in the next farm bill. Cantwell, a longtime supporter of MAP, has led past Senate letters in support of the program.