Specialty Crops and Nutrition

May 16, 2008

By: Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)

Excerpt from Congressional Record May 15, 2008:

[F]arming 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…

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 farmer.

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. 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 am 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, farmers in my home State are really eager for this program. Last fall, I held a listening session in Yakima, WA, 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 am especially pleased that this bill includes $20 million for the National Clean Plant Network. 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 am proud that they will be an important part of this national network.

Now, 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…

Now, I have 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, 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 have got to get beyond politics on this. Making sure that our farmers and our kids both benefit from investments in the programs in this bill is absolutely critical. We are not just talking about numbers. These programs can make or break people’s livelihoods.

(Sen. Patty Murray. Congressional Record. 5/15/08. p. S4220).