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Senator Murray Helps Save Millions in Assistance for Yakima, Tri-Cities Asparagus Farmers in Farm Bill

Dec 12 2007

GOP sponsored amendment would have stripped $15 million Murray included in Farm Bill to help struggling asparagus farmers; Eastern Washington asparagus growers will benefit from funding - Murray also works to ensure disaster assistance for farmers remains in Farm Bill -

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) defended $15 million in funding for asparagus farmers nationwide that she included in the 2007 Farm Bill.  The funding Murray included would particularly benefit struggling Asparagus farmers in Yakima and the Tri-Cities. The asparagus funding was put in jeopardy by an amendment sponsored by Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) that would have cut the funding out of the bill completely. Senator Murray joined with many of her colleagues to reject Senator Judd's attempt to cut the funding. The amendment failed by a vote of ­­­­­­­39-56. 

"Our asparagus farmers are hurting now because of competition from growers in Peru," Senator Murray said in a statement included in the Congressional Record. "This program would provide up to $15 million nationwide to help U.S. farmers who still grow asparagus despite foreign competition…striking the market loss program from the Farm Bill would be a step in the wrong direction for our asparagus industry."

In her statement, Senator Murray referenced her November 30th roundtable discussion with farmers in Yakima where this issue was discussed. 

Senator Murray also defended against another of Senator Gregg's amendments that would eliminate the agriculture disaster trust fund from the Farm Bill. The agriculture disaster trust fund ensures that we have a permanent pool of money to help farmers after natural disasters – like the recent storms in Washington state. That amendment has yet to be considered by the Senate. 

Senator Murray recently spoke out on the Senate floor about the overall importance of the Farm Bill to Washington state – Read HERE. The Senate continues to debate the 2007 Farm Bill.

Senator Murray's full statement from today defending asparagus funding and disaster assistance follows:

Mr. President, I’ve come to the floor to talk about two amendments to the Farm Bill proposed by the Senator from New Hampshire.  

These amendments would have devastating impacts on farmers in my home state of Washington, and I urge my colleagues to oppose both of them.  

The first would strike the badly needed Agriculture Disaster Assistance Trust Fund and direct the money to other sources. Under my colleague’s amendment, most of that money would go to reduce the deficit, and some would help low-income residents with their heating bills.

The second would strike the Market Loss Assistance Program for asparagus growers. 

Mr. President, our farmers are the backbone of our nation.  But farming is a difficult business. One bad storm can wipe out a whole crop or a whole herd – and take your livelihood with it. Mr. President, that’s the position that some of the farmers in my home state are in now.  And that’s why it is so important that we have a safety net ready to help them.

We Need a Safety Net for Farmers Hurt in Disasters

Last week, I spoke on the Senate floor about the storms that had devastated western Washington.  Winds and dangerous floods and mudslides washed out roads and homes and cut off power to thousands.  

Mr. President, thousands of people are still coping with the damage.  And our agriculture producers in Southwest Washington were hit especially hard. We won’t know the full impact of this storm for some time. But we’re already starting to hear reports about lost livestock, poultry, farm buildings and equipment. Some reports say that producers lost thousands of animals – and that number may still grow.

The agriculture disaster trust fund in this Farm Bill ensures that we have a permanent pool of money to help farmers after natural disasters – like the storms in Washington state. I appreciate the work of the Finance and Agriculture Committees to add this important program.  And I want to thank Senators Harkin and Chambliss for their leadership on this bill.

I wish this program were already in place.  

If it were, farmers in Lewis and Grays Harbor – two of the counties hit hardest by the flooding – would be able to apply for federal aid to rebuild their herds. For example, the Livestock Compensation Program in the trust fund would pay 75 percent of the value of the dead animal.  

Without a permanent disaster assistance program, we’re left to provide this kind of help on an ad hoc basis.  A trust fund would ensure that money is always there when it’s needed. Our farmers shouldn’t have to depend on political whim when disaster strikes.

And that’s why the amendment to strike this fund would be such a bad idea, Mr. President.  

Now I strongly support the LIHEAP program – I think it’s critical – especially as we head into the winter months.  But I think we can find a better solution that doesn’t eliminate this trust fund.  

And so I urge my colleagues to vote against this amendment by Senator Gregg.

Support Market Assistance for Asparagus Growers

Secondly, Mr. President, I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about the amendment to strike the market loss help for asparagus growers – another program that is vital in my home state.

Historically, asparagus has been a major crop for Washington state farmers.  In fact, it was the first crop harvested in Washington. But our asparagus farmers are hurting now because of competition from growers in Peru. The Andean Trade Preference Act has allowed Peruvian asparagus to flood the market. And unlike most free trade agreements, the act went into effect without a transition period to allow U.S. producers to prepare or adapt.

Mr. President, over the Thanksgiving recess, I visited with a number of farmers in Yakima, Washington, who told me about the devastating impact this trade agreement has had.  

Mr. President, the numbers speak for themselves.  

In 1990, the value of the crop was approximately $200 million.  Its value now is down to $75 million. 

Before the act, more than 55 million pounds of asparagus were canned in Washington state – roughly two-thirds of the industry.  But by 2007, all three asparagus canners in Washington had relocated to Peru.  

I’ve fought to help our U.S. growers.  I’ve tried to get them trade-adjustment assistance and other help. And over the past several years, I’ve secured funding for research on a mechanical harvester to make this labor-intensive crop less expensive to produce.  

And most recently, I worked with my colleagues from Michigan and Washington to include the market loss program for asparagus growers in this Farm Bill.  

I appreciate the leadership of Senators Harkin and Chambliss on this issue as well.

This program would provide up to $15 million nationwide to help U.S. farmers who still grow asparagus despite foreign competition. I hope this program will help growers in my state continue to invest in asparagus.

Mr. President, we modeled this after a similar program for apples and onions, which I helped add to the 2002 Farm Bill. I remember hearing from apple growers about the effects of Chinese imports on our markets.  

That program provided over $94 million for our nation’s apple growers, and it has proven to be a big help to our apple industry. I would note to my colleague from New Hampshire that his state received over $1 million from the apple program.

Mr. President, striking the market loss program from the Farm Bill would be a step in the wrong direction for our asparagus industry.  

And it would have serious impacts on farmers in my home state.

So, I urge my colleagues to vote “NO” on this amendment as well.   

Vote No on Both the Gregg Amendments

“NO” votes on both of these amendments will support the struggling asparagus industry.  

And they will help our farmers and ranchers when disaster strikes.  

These programs are too important to our farmers to be cut.