(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) applauded the 2007 Farm Bill approved Thursday by the Senate Agriculture Committee. The bill includes strong provisions that will benefit Washington state farmers, who grow more than 250 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops. Washington is ranked first in the nation in the production of several specialty crops, including apples, red raspberries, sweet cherries, pears, and Concord grapes. The 2007 Farm Bill is now headed to the full Senate for consideration in the coming weeks.
The specialty crop subtitle of the bill reflects legislation introduced earlier this year in the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act (S. 1160), which Murray and Cantwell co-sponsored. The provisions provide approximately $2.2 billion for Specialty Crop Block Grants, marketing assistance, research, and pest and disease mitigation, among other programs. The Senate Finance Committee, of which Cantwell is a member, approved an additional $850 million to be set aside for specialty crops in a disaster relief trust fund. The tax package is expected to be added to Farm Bill during floor consideration.
“I am thrilled that for the first time the Farm Bill includes specialty crops in a comprehensive and meaningful way,” Senator Murray said. “Specialty crop growers contribute greatly to making agriculture Washington’s largest industry. I am pleased that our efforts to include specialty crops were successful, and that we were also able to ensure that a safety net for Washington’s wheat and pulse crop growers remains in place.”
“Specialty crops like Washington’s apples, cherries, and asparagus are huge economic drivers for our state – providing for over 50 percent of our agriculture economy,” Cantwell said. “My top priority in this year’s Farm Bill was working through the Finance Committee to make sure that our local farmers got the help they need. We were able to fully fund the highly targeted Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which has been incredibly successful in our state, so Washington’s small farmers can compete in an increasingly competitive global market. There’s a lot in this bill that will help our state, and I’m particularly pleased by the gains we made for our specialty crop growers.”
“We would like to thank Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Chambliss for including these important provisions in the Farm Bill, and we would also like to thank Senator Stabenow for leading the efforts with the Committee,” Murray and Cantwell said.
Washington state’s specialty crop growers will benefit from several provisions in the bill, including:
- Increased funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, which will allow state agriculture departments to partner with local stakeholders and assist local growers with the specific investments that will increase the competitiveness of their crops.
- A research grant program that will allow producers to increase their efficiency and remain competitive in the global marketplace.
- Increased funding to enhance specialty crop exports, including the Market Assistance Program and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops.
- A number of programs to prevent and eradicate invasive pests and diseases, which can devastate specialty crops. This funding is included through the Finance Committee-passed package.
- Increased funding to expand a pilot program that ensures fresh fruits and vegetables are available in schools nationwide. The program is designed to improve the overall health of children, fight obesity, and improve academic performance.
- A new program to compensate asparagus growers in Washington, Michigan, and California, who were harmed by the Andean Trade Preference Act.
- Increased payments to growers for tree removal and replacement after a natural disaster. This funding is included through the Finance Committee-passed package.
- A new program to ensure safe, virus-free plant materials are available to orchards, vineyards and other growers. A single plant or grape vine has the potential to infect an established orchard or vineyard, and crops such as apples and grapes are particularly vulnerable to viruses.