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Murray Calls on Republicans to Stop Blocking Farm Bill that Benefits Washington State Farmers

Dec 06 2007

With $2.2 billion for specialty crop farmers, 2007 Farm Bill will help Washington state's Ag industry remain strong; Republicans threaten bill's passage with insistence on unrelated amendments

(Washington D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) spoke on the Senate floor to urge Senate Republicans to end blockage of the critically important 2007 Farm Bill. The bill includes strong provisions that will benefit Washington state farmers, particularly specialty crop 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. 

Senate Republicans have insisted on offering unrelated amendments that threaten to kill this legislation that our farmers need and deserve. 

This Farm Bill helps Washington state farmeres stay strong by investing in programs that help them find markets for their crops here and abroad – and that will help fund research to ensure farmers have healthy and safe crops in the future. The Farm Bill funds a wide variety of programs, including nutrition, commodity price and income support, agricultural conservation, research and rural development. The Congress considers the Farm Bill every five years.

Read more on how this Farm Bill assists specialty crop farmers. 

The full text of Senator Murray’s statement on the Senate floor is below:

Mr. President, I’ve come to the floor today to talk about why it is so important for us to pass the 2007 Farm Bill.

Mr. President, when many people think about my home state of Washington, Seattle, Boeing, and Microsoft usually come to mind. But farming is a vital part of my state’s economy.  Washington is the 11th-largest farm state.  We are the third-largest producer of fruits and vegetables – also known as specialty crops.  And this bill will help keep my state healthy and strong.

In fact, Mr. President, farming has been a big part of my life. My grandfather moved his family to the Tri-Cities – in central Washington – to take a job with Welch’s in the early 1900s.  My dad grew up picking asparagus.  My hometown of Bothell, Washington, was surrounded by berry farms, and we grew up with a clear understanding of how important family farms are to Washington state’s economy. So I know personally that passing the legislation before us is critical for our farmers who grow apples, cherries, peaches, grapes, asparagus, potatoes, and many other crops. This isn’t a perfect bill, but it is the best farm bill in years for Washington state farmers – largely because of what it does for specialty crops.  

Mr. President, my home state – and our nation – can’t be strong unless farmers are doing well.  This bill helps them stay strong by investing in programs that help them find markets for their crops here and abroad – and that will help fund research to ensure farmers have healthy and safe crops in the future.

Republicans are blocking this bill

So we have an opportunity to move a good bill forward.  But unfortunately, we have become bogged down because Republicans have insisted on offering unrelated amendments that threaten to kill the help our farmers need and deserve.

Well, Mr. President, I want to be clear about what’s happening here:  Republicans have been complaining in the last several days about the need to move legislation forward.  But they are the ones blocking this bill. Now, I really hope we could eventually make progress.  So I want to talk about what this farm bill can do, and what we are losing if we don’t move forward.

This Farm Bill Does Great Things For Our Farmers

Mr. President, the biggest victory in this farm bill for Washington state is the $2.2 billion to help specialty crop farmers.   This is the first time we’ve addressed specialty crops in a comprehensive and meaningful way.

The money helps carry out programs I have been pushing for in the last several years.  It includes: 

  • $270 million in block grants, which will allow local growers to increase the competitiveness of their crops.

  • And $15 million in badly needed aid for asparagus farmers, who are really struggling to compete in the global marketplace with a flood of cheap asparagus being imported from Peru.

  • This bill helps farmers compete in an increasingly global marketplace and find new markets abroad for their crops.

    For example, it increases funding for the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program, which helps our farmers overcome barriers that threaten our exports.

    Mr. President, this is so important in my home state.  Just last week, I held a listening session in Yakima, Washington, where I heard from cherry farmers who are trying to develop a new market in Japan. This bill would help them with that program.

  • And this bill will help ensure that nurseries can continue to have access to safe, virus-free plant materials.

    Apples, peaches, and grapes are particularly vulnerable to viruses.  And a single plant or grape vine can infect and wipe out an entire established orchard or vineyard.

    Washington State University-Prosser is doing national research on this topic, and they will be an important part of this national clean plant network.

Nutrition Programs

Mr. President, I think a lot of people don’t understand that well over 50 percent of our bill goes to nutrition programs.  This is something I think is so important.

The programs in this part of the bill would help kids get access to fresh fruits and vegetables in their school lunches.  And it also would help people who receive food stamps and other assistance to get access fresh, nutritious food.  It will help end benefit erosion in the food stamp program.  This is a key program that helps low-income families. Too use an old cliche, this is a win-win because it helps children and adults fight obesity – and it helps specialty crop growers.

Finally, Mr. President, 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 bill holds them harmless, and that was important. As I said earlier, this is a very good bill for Washington state.

Republicans are Blocking Progress on the Farm Bill

So Mr. President, we have an opportunity to do a lot of good for our farmers.  But Republicans have refused to work with us to get this done. 

Democrats have given Republicans repeated chances to work out an agreement.  But instead, Republicans have insisted on offering extraneous, irrelevant amendments to this bill that do nothing but hold up progress.

Let me give you a few examples: Republicans have offered amendments that deal with fire sprinklers, and tort reform, among others.

Well, Mr. President, this is a Farm Bill.  And it’s too important to our nation’s health and economy to use it as a vehicle for political games.

Only once in modern history has a non-relevant amendment been added to a Farm Bill.  Each and every other time, the Majority and Minority have worked out a reasonable agreement that clears the path for this important bill.  But this Republican Minority has clearly decided to throw out the history books, continue their record setting pace of obstruction, and kill the help our farmers need and deserve. 

Today when many families are struggling with rising gas prices, energy prices, the mortgage crisis, and health care costs, making sure that our farmers and our kids both benefit from investments in these programs is absolutely critical.

These aren’t just numbers in a bill.  These programs can make or break people’s livelihoods.  And I urge Republicans to get their ship in order, agree to come to the table with a reasonable plan to move forward, and let’s get this bill passed.