Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) applauded Agriculture Committee approval of continued investment in export promotion programs and specialty crops -- both programs Cantwell has strongly advocated for in recent months that help Washington state farmers and producers stay competitive. In recent weeks, Cantwell has sent letters to Agriculture Committee leadership urging continued investment in both the export promotion and specialty crop programs in the next farm bill.
The Agriculture Committee approved the 2012 Farm Bill Thursday in a 16-5 vote, which includes level funding for key export promotion programs and increased funding for specialty crops. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
Washington state grows more than 250 specialty crops and ranks number one in production in the nation for 10 commodities, including apples, red raspberries, sweet cherries, pears, and hops. Washington state is also 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 U.S.
"We are pleased to see key programs we fought for in the last farm bill receive continued support this year," Cantwell said. "Investing in these programs helps Washington state farmers and producers compete in an increasingly competitive global market. I will continue urging my colleagues to support our agricultural economy as the bill comes to the full Senate for consideration."
Cantwell has advocated in recent weeks for continued investment in both the export promotion and specialty crop programs in the next farm bill. 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. USDA export promotion programs including the Market Access Program, Foreign Market Development Program, the Emerging Markets Program, and the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program all help sell American products in foreign markets. Cantwell, a longtime supporter of MAP, has led past Senate letters in support of the program.
The farm bill marked up by the Agriculture Committee yesterday includes $200 million for MAP and $34.5 million for the Foreign Market Development Program for each fiscal year through 2017, which represents neither an increase nor a decrease from 2008 Farm Bill funding levels.
And on April 2nd, Cantwell signed onto a bipartisan letter signed by 31 other Senators to Stabenow and Roberts urging the committee to "build on the strong foundation the 2008 Farm Bill created for specialty crop producers across the country." Cantwell has long been a supporter of the specialty crop program and has fought for adequate funding for the program as a member of the Senate Finance Committee. She fought to make the 2007 Farm Bill -- passed in May 2008 -- the first to meaningfully address the specialty crops section of agriculture.
The farm bill approved yesterday includes $70 million for the Specialty Crop Block Grant for each fiscal year through 2017, which represents an increase in funding from the 2008 Farm Bill. It also includes flat funding or increases for several other specialty crop and organics related programs.