BY DOC HASTINGS
Here in Central Washington, we are blessed with great soils and climate, powerful rivers to provide water and clean low cost hydropower, a great diversity of agriculture products, and a strategic position for trade with the Americas and Asia. This has helped make the agriculture sector one of the largest economic forces in our state. Agriculture is a $29 billion industry in Washington, and our state's largest employer.
Despite our successes, however, there are numerous challenges on the horizon-increasing pressure from foreign competition, labor shortages, and water and environmental hurdles to overcome. From a federal policy standpoint, the upcoming renewal of the farm bill presents a good opportunity to address some of these issues.
As the conversation about the next farm bill begins, there are five priorities I will be focused on.
First, we must make sure that commodity programs work as intended for the wheat, barley, lentil and other program producers in Washington. These programs should be cost-effective and respond to the realities of the global agriculture market.
We must ensure fairness for specialty crops. The Specialty Crops Block Grant program must continue. This program brings funding back to the local level through the state departments of agriculture, and provides critical support for growers of specialty crops such as asparagus, pears, potatoes and apples.
The next farm bill needs to be more responsive to our trade challenges. I worked to more than double the funding for the Market Access Program under the current farm bill, and I am committed to making sure this successful program is maintained. These kinds of trade promotion programs are essential if we are to expand overseas markets.
We need conservation provisions that will better help farmers address environmental challenges. Conservation programs should be as responsive as possible to water needs and endangered species issues.
Finally, the energy section of the farm bill must be strengthened if we are to truly engage the agriculture sector in the national effort to achieve energy independence.
While it is still very early in the process, it's critical that farmers, ranchers and members of the agricultural community remain engaged in order to ensure the next farm bill addresses the needs of Washington agriculture.
I encourage those who are interested to share your views on the farm bill with me by contacting my office at 543-9396 or emailing me through my website at www.hastings.house.gov
Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central Washington's 4th Congressional District.