Farm bill holds many benefits for Valley
All of a sudden, our representatives in Washington, D.C., are getting the message that they need to work together in order to get things done. One result is legislation that could bear huge benefits for Washington state and the Yakima Valley.
The Senate earlier this month approved 64-35 a complicated measure that changes how money is allocated to the agricultural sector. The bill would cut, over the next 10 years, agriculture programs by $23.6 billion, mostly by ending direct payments to growers of crops like corn, soybeans, sorghum and cotton. In place of those payments, growers would be eligible for insurance- reimbursement rates based on near-record high prices.
Critics have complained these payments go to wealthy, well- connected farmers and corporate entities that don't need the help. Redirecting these benefits is somewhat akin to turning an aircraft carrier at sea, so any reallocation marks a major long-term change, and this one is for the better, both in process and policy. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called it "one of the finest moments in the Senate in recent times in terms of how you pass a bill."
On the policy end, more of those benefits will head the Northwest's way. New to the bill -- via an amendment by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. -- is support for research in crops like apples, cherries and potatoes that are the very heart of Central Washington's agricultural identity.
Senators also kept funding to help commodity groups market crops overseas, a crucial component as Valley growers compete in the global economy. The program provides matching dollars to promote apples, pears and cherries; the Senate defeated a floor amendment that would have ended the program. "All in all, it is a very good product the Senate passed," said Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council of Yakima. Earlier this year, 4th District Rep. Doc Hastings, a Republican, argued for expanded specialty-crop research and for increased export assistance.
While helping producers, it also helped low-income consumers. About $80 billion a year, or 80 percent of the farm bill spending, goes to food stamps. That total has doubled in the past five years, reflecting the impact of the nation's economic recession on the country's poorer residents. Conservatives, concerned about the growth in expenditures over the past few years, had targeted the outlays, and the Senate did find $4 billion in cuts by tightening eligibility requirements and cracking down on benefit trafficking. But basic elements of the program remains. Food stamps provide an important safety net in areas like the Yakima Valley; recipients also are customers of Valley businesses.
Both of Washington state's senators, Cantwell along with Patty Murray, supported the bill. The bill goes to the House, where critics who were thwarted in the Senate may hold more sway. The bill is a compromise, meaning anybody can fault anywhere in it. But note the role of Democrat Cantwell and the praise from Republican McConnell. The Senate's bipartisan approach and its fairer allocation of funds make it a vast improvement over past farm bills. They also make the bill worthy of the support of Hastings and his House colleagues.
Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.