News Releases

Murray Helps Pass Best Farm Bill for Washington State in Years

May 15 2008

Bill provides substantial help for Washington's fruit and vegetable growers; contains nutrition programs for families, conservation efforts for state lands, and help for struggling fishermen

 Video

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) announced passage of the Farm Bill in the U.S. Senate. The Farm Bill - H.R. 2419 - will benefit farmers in Washington state through a variety of agriculture, food, conservation, energy and rural development programs. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 81-15 after passing the House of Representatives yesterday by a vote of 318-106. The bill now goes to the President who has threatened to veto it. Senator Murray delivered a speech on the importance of the bill on the Senate floor today. 

"This Farm Bill will help keep our state healthy and strong," Murray said. "It will help farmers find markets for their crops here and abroad and it will help fund research to ensure they have healthy and safe crops in the future."

Murray also addressed the President's threatened veto in her speech:

"I am so disappointed to hear President Bush say that he plans to veto this bill. I hope we get beyond politics on this. Making sure our farmers and kids benefit from the programs in this bill is so critical.  We’re not just talking about numbers.  These programs can make or break people’s livelihoods."

Important provisions included in the Farm Bill:

Specialty Crops  

The Farm Bill contains over $3 billion for farmers who grow fruits and vegetables – which are referred to in the bill as specialty crops. Washington ranks third in the nation for specialty crop production overall.  Washington is first in the nation in the production of several individual specialty crops, including apples, red raspberries, sweet cherries, pears, and Concord grapes.  

"The biggest victory for Washington state in this bill is the more than $3 billion to help farmers who grow apples, cherries, grapes, potatoes, asparagus, and many other fruits and vegetables," Murray said in her speech. "This is the first time Congress has passed a farm bill that includes comprehensive provisions addressing the needs of specialty crop farmers."

Important Specialty Crops Provisions

(note: all figures are over 5 years, unless otherwise noted)

  • National Clean Plant Network - $20 million -- The National Clean Plant Network is a new program funded in the Farm Bill that will 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.   Washington State University at Prosser will be an integral part of the Network.
  • Asparagus Market Loss Program - $15 million -- Funding is included to establish an asparagus market loss program to help compensate U.S. asparagus producers for losses suffered due to imports. The program will help these producers invest in more efficient planting and harvesting equipment to increase their ability to compete in the domestic asparagus market. Click here for Senator Murray's speech on the importance of assisting asparagus growers.
  • Specialty Crop Block Grant program - $466 million (over 10 years) -- These grants will help support state programs encouraging the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops and enhance the competitiveness of the specialty crop industry.
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program - $1 billion (over 10 years) -- This program helps increase children’s access to healthy food options, reducing their risk of obesity and improving their overall health, so they are ready to learn.  This increase in funding will allow the program to serve 3 million children and also benefit specialty crop growers.
  • Specialty Crop Research Initiative- $230 million -- This establishes a specialty crop priority focused grant program, awarding grants to eligible public and private entities to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of U.S. specialty crop producers.
  • Plant Pest and Disease Programs - $377 million (over 10 years) -- This provision will direct the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to create a program determining and prioritizing foreign threats to specialty crops’ production, such as bio-terrorism and will help protect the specialty crop industry from pests and diseases.
  • Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative – $78 million --This initiative will provide competitive grants to research institutions to conduct important research in organic production and marketing.
  •  National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program – $22 million --Organic agriculture is rapidly expanding and this program assists farmers and processors overcome barriers in the transition and certification process.

Nutrition

The Farm Bill also contains over $10 billion in funding increases for important nutrition programs.

It sends $9 million in nutrition program funding to Washington state next year alone, and it will provide $164 million to Washington state over the next 10 years.

These programs ensure that low-income families can put a nutritious meal on the table, help food banks provide emergency food assistance to low-income citizens in critical need,  and ensure that our students are getting fruits and vegetables in school so that they stay healthy and ready to learn.

"A lot of people don’t realize that the farm bill isn’t just about farmers – well over half of this bill authorizes funding for school lunches, food stamps, and other nutrition programs," Murray said today. "And since obesity is one of the biggest nutrition challenges we face in this country, this bill specifically targets funding to ensure that families receiving food stamps, and kids getting school lunches will have more access to fresh fruits and vegetables."

  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program) - $5.4 billion (over 10 years) This funding increase will end the benefit erosion, which will strengthen the food purchasing power of low-income Americans in a time when putting food on the table has become more difficult.
  • Eliminates the Child Care Deduction Cap – Participants in the Food and Nutrition Program can deduct child care costs, and this bill eliminates the cap on that deduction. This is especially important to low-income recipients in Washington, which has the nation’s third-highest cost of infant care and the fifth-highest cost of preschool care.
  • The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) - $1.256 billion (over 10 years) This funding is critical for food banks, soup kitchens, and other providers supplement the diets of low-income needy people. The Farm Bill funding increase nearly doubles the current funding for this program.

Conservation Programs

The Farm Bill boosts funding by $7.9 billion for conservation programs that are critical to Washington agricultural producers, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Reserve Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program.

Senator Murray also included a provision to make Puget Sound a priority area under the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, which will provide assistance to producers and their partners to carry out water conservation activities focused on water quantity and quality.

Commodities Safety Net

The Farm Bill continues to provide a safety net for Washington's wheat, pea and lentil growers. 

Fisheries Disaster Assistance

The Farm Bill contains $170 million for fiscal year 2008 for the National Marine Fisheries Service to distribute to commercial and recreational members of the fishing communities affected by the salmon fishery failure in the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. Senator Murray worked to include this funding at the request Governor Gregoire and struggling fishermen throughout the state.

"Our commercial and recreational fishing industries are facing closures because of record-low salmon populations," said Senator Murray.  "This funding will help to support our fishing industry which is so critical to our state's overall economic health."

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Senator Murray's full remarks (as prepared):

Mr. President, farming is a critical part of the economy in my home state of Washington.  Many people don’t know it, but Washington is the nation’s 11th-largest farm state.  And we are the third-largest producer of fruits and vegetables – which are also known around here as specialty crops.  So the farm bill we are considering today will help keep my state healthy and strong.  It will help them find markets for their crops here and abroad – and it will help fund research to ensure they have healthy and safe crops in the future.

Mr. President, this isn’t a perfect bill.  But it is a very good bill for Washington state farmers. 

And that is why I rise today.

This Farm Bill Does Great Things for Our Farmers

Mr. President, the biggest victory for Washington state in this bill is the more than $3 billion to help farmers who grow apples, cherries, grapes, potatoes, asparagus, and many other fruits and vegetables.  This is the first time Congress has passed a farm bill that includes comprehensive provisions addressing the needs of specialty crop farmers.  This legislation will really help our farmers by carrying out programs that I have been pushing for over the last several years.  And I want to thank my colleagues, Senators Harkin, Conrad, Chambliss, Baucus, and Grassley for their hard work on this bill.

Mr. President, the Farm Bill conference report includes $224 million in block grants, which will allow local fruit and vegetable growers to increase the competitiveness of their crops, and $15 million in badly needed aid for asparagus farmers. 

Mr. President, asparagus farmers in my home state – and elsewhere – are struggling to compete with a flood of cheap asparagus being imported from Peru.  I worked very hard through conference negotiations to make sure that this market loss program stayed in the bill, and I’m very grateful to our conference chairs for keeping it in. 

This bill helps farmers find new markets abroad for their crops, which will allow them to better compete in the global marketplace.  For example, it increases funding for the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program, which helps our farmers overcome barriers that threaten our exports.  And, Mr. President, farmers in my home state are really eager for this program.  Last fall, I held a listening session in Yakima, Washington, where I heard from cherry farmers who are trying to develop a new market in Japan.  And this bill would help them build on those efforts.

I’m especially pleased that this bill includes $20 million for the National Clean Plant Network.  Mr. President, farmers who grow apples, peaches, and grapes depend on this program to ensure we have a source of clean plant stock to help prevent the spread of viruses.  A single infected plant or grape vine can wipe out an entire established orchard or vineyard.   So this is very important.  Washington State University has been leading the effort to ensure our farmers have virus- and disease-free plant stock.  And I’m proud that they will be an important part of this national network.

Nutrition Programs

Now, Mr. President, a lot of people don’t realize that the farm bill isn’t just about farmers – well over half of this bill authorizes funding for school lunches, food stamps, and other nutrition programs.  And since obesity is one of the biggest nutrition challenges we face in this country, this bill specifically targets funding to ensure that families receiving food stamps, and kids getting school lunches will have more access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  My home state of Washington would get $9 million in nutrition program funding next year alone.

And finally, this bill will be a lifeline for food banks and other emergency food providers, which have struggled with rising food prices and the downturn in the economy.

Wheat Farmers

Mr. President, as I have said from the beginning, this bill isn’t perfect.  I wish that we were able to include important improvements to the safety net that is so critical to our wheat farmers.  I’ve been working for several years with wheat farmers in Washington state to improve the counter cyclical payment program to really make it work for them.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t make significant changes in this bill.  But I’m happy that it continues to provide a safety net for our wheat growers.

Disappointed in the President

Now, Mr. President, I’ve just walked through numerous examples of how this Farm Bill is good for my state – and for the nation.  And that is why I am so disappointed to hear President Bush say that he plans to veto it. 

At the end of the day, Mr. President, none of us got everything we wanted in this bill – including the Administration.  But the conference report does do a lot of good.  It helps farmers, who are struggling as gas prices soar and foreign competition threatens their livelihoods.  And it helps millions of low-income families, who are struggling just to put food on the table. 

Mr. President, we’ve got to get beyond politics on this. Making sure our farmers and kids benefit from the programs in this bill is so critical.  We’re not just talking about numbers.  These programs can make or break people’s livelihoods. Thank you.