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U.S. House passes Farm Bill

WASHINGTON D.C. - The House of Representatives approved the final version of the Farm Bill yesterday (Wednesday) with the support of Congressman Doc Hastings, who said he has been working for several years to ensure that it meets the needs of local farmers and Central Washington's agriculture dependent economy.

While speaking on the House floor, Hastings noted that while it is "far from perfect" he supports the Farm Bill because it includes several long-sought Central Washington priorities.

"While this bill is far from perfect, it provides more support for Central Washington specialty crops than any other Farm Bill in history," Hastings said. "It includes several priorities that I sought, including the research dollars and trade promotion programs that matter most to our local farmers."

National Farmers Union President Tom Buis echoed Hastings sentiments.

"This is a good bill that addresses many of the challenges Americans face every day," Buis said. "Today's vote is a demonstration of the widespread support for this bill and I am pleased to see the House take this important step to move the farm bill toward enactment."

Buis said the 2008 Farm Bill will create a permanent disaster assistance program, a top National Farmers Union priority that will strengthen the safety net by providing a predictable and stable program to help those affected by weather-related disasters.

"America's farmers and ranchers can do many things but they cannot control the weather. This is a vital provision to protect against circumstances out of their control," Buis said.

Additionally, the bill will allow for mandatory country of origin labeling to go into effect after years of delay, and interstate shipment of state inspected meat will be allowed.

The House of Representatives approved the Farm Bill by a vote of 318 to 106. It must now be approved by the Senate.

Provisions in the bill of importance to Central Washington include:

• Funding for agriculture research - including $230 million for the Specialty Crops Research Initiative, $59 million in technical assistance for Specialty Crops, and $466 million for Specialty Crop Block Grants

• $200 million annually for the Market Access Program to help American farmers expand access to overseas markets

• $15 million to assist asparagus producers, who have been hurt by the Andean Trade Preferences Act that favor Peruvian asparagus growers

•$20 million for the National Clean Plant Network, which provides clean planting stock for fruit and nut trees as well as grapevines - work for the National Clean Plant Network is conducted at the USDA research station in Prosser

• $1.02 billion to expand the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program for school children in all 50 states.

• Provides funding to assist rural communities in maintaining water supply and sanitary sewer systems that comply with federal regulations.

"It's important to note that more than 73 percent of the bill is for nutrition programs," Buis said. "As a farmer, I find it appalling that anyone in this country goes to bed hungry. The farm bill takes the necessary steps to ensure that this won't happen."

The Farm Bill will also spur development of home-grown renewable fuels with provisions to accelerate production of cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels.

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