Murray Calls for USDA Aid for Asparagus Farmers

Jul 30 2003

Pushes USDA to purchase Washington asparagus, requests cash assistance for farmers hurt by foreign imports

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Patty Murray is standing up for local asparagus farmers by seeking direct financial assistance for farmers hurt by increased foreign imports and is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to buy more of the Washington state vegetable.

In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman, Murray called for the immediate release of Congressionally-approved assistance for farmers.

Last year, Congress approved $90 million in Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) as part of the Andean Trade Preference Expansion Act of 2002, because of concerns that cheaper produce from South America could harm U.S. farmers.

In fact, the Del Monte company has begun purchasing cheap Peruvian asparagus, which has devastated Washington state farmers.

Murray also requested that the USDA purchase Washington state asparagus for the various federal food programs run by the agency. These government purchases would help stabilize demand for asparagus while farmers identified new markets for their produce.

Murray criticized the Bush Administration for delaying for nearly a year the implementation of the TAA program which could help the state’s asparagus farmers.

She warned that further Administration delays could jeopardize $90 million in farmer assistance, since the fiscal year ends on September 30th.

“Our asparagus farmers are hurting, and I will continue to stand up for these hardworking men and women to help them get through a difficult time,” said Murray. “I helped secure the assistance to help our farmers, but for nearly a year the Bush Administration has ignored their plight. Our farmers deserve immediate attention, and I will continue to work to get them the assistance they deserve.”

Under the TAA that Murray helped approve, each farmer would be eligible for up to $10,000 in federal assistance. Washington state is the second-largest asparagus producing state in the nation.

A copy of the letter is attached.

July 29, 2003

Secretary Ann Veneman
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Secretary Veneman:

I write to bring to your immediate attention the economic crisis confronting the asparagus industry in Washington state and to express my frustration over the lack of progress and the length of time that it has taken to implement Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for farmers. Additionally, I encourage the Department of Agriculture to consider immediate steps to help asparagus farmers injured by imports including USDA asparagus purchases.

As you know, a new TAA program for farmers was signed into law by the President as part of the Andean Trade Preference Expansion Act of 2002 almost a year ago. It is unconscionable that the USDA and the Administration have taken a full year to implement this program that was a significant factor in Congressional consideration of the trade legislation.

I am especially concerned about the program's implementation because of the possible benefits which it may provide to the asparagus growers of Washington state. The Washington state asparagus industry has been devastated by the decision of the Del-Monte company to purchase asparagus from Peru and other countries and the company's decision to close their asparagus processing facility in Toppenish, Washington.

Farmers and producers injured by imports should not have to wait more than a year for USDA to implement a program that enjoys bipartisan support in Congress and was signed into law by the President. The TAA for Farmers implementation delay at the USDA jeopardizes $90 million in funding for fiscal year 2003 which ends in a few months. Failure to implement this program as soon as possible will deny benefits to injured farmers in my state and across the country that they are eligible to receive. If this money is to be used, your department must implement the program within weeks.

Washington asparagus farmers need immediate attention and assistance from the USDA to find and develop new markets for their crop or to transition to other production. While TAA for farmers is one program that will help, I encourage the USDA to look into additional ways to help these farmers. The purchase of asparagus by the USDA will also buy these farmers valuable time to find new markets.

Once again, I urge the Department of Agriculture to immediately explore immediate assistance to the Washington state asparagus industry. I look forward to your prompt reply to this request and USDA advocacy for asparagus farmers.


Patty Murray
United States Senator