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WORDS FROM WASHINGTON: Our national policies need to reflect needs of local farmers

Central Washington farmers are working harder than ever to produce some of the world's finest and most diverse agriculture products. From apples to cherries, potatoes to asparagus, and beef to wheat - our region is known for producing a wide variety of top-quality agricultural products that are enjoyed by consumers worldwide. In a state known for companies like Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks, some find it surprising that our state's number one industry is actually agriculture, netting over $9.5 billion for our state's economy. This mostly comes from east of the Cascade Mountains. Central Washington's fertile soil, dry and warm climate, irrigation and abundance of sunshine offer one of the most productive and diverse growing regions in the world. Agriculture is also a big reason that Washington state is the most trade-dependent state in the nation, with a significant percentage of our crops in high demand overseas. When people think of Washington state agriculture, the first thing that comes to mind for many is apples. To be sure, Central Washington produces by far the most apples of any state in the nation. However, some may be surprised to learn that we are actually a top producer of 11 different products, including sweet cherries, pears, sweet corn, processed carrots, mint and hops. We are number two in potatoes and wine grapes to name a few, and our region is a rising star in blueberry production. The House of Representatives recently passed the farm bill with my support, which provides certainty to rural America while bringing a fiscal sense to the federal government. While far from perfect, this bill continues the important investments to Central Washington, including agricultural research, specialty crops, pest management and trade programs that are critical to ensuring our growers and processors remain competitive in the global marketplace. The Senate passed its version of the bill earlier this year, and I look forward to working to resolve the differences between these two bills so that these important reforms and investments are not jeopardized. It is important that our national policies reflect the needs of our local farmers and agriculture producers. From fighting against the threat of over-burdensome food safety regulations that could put our tree fruit growers out of business, to advocating for a workable guest worker program that provides our growers with the workers they need to grow and harvest their crops, I will continue to advocate for policies that allow our farmers to continue to do what they do best - support our local economy and provide high-quality food to people worldwide. Like all farmers and ranchers, our growers have faced many challenges over the years. Agriculture is one of the most volatile industries to work in, depending heavily on the whims of everything from changing markets, and the fluctuating costs of doing business, to the weather. In spite of these challenges, our growers have kept Central Washington on the map as a leader in agriculture production and I commend their hard work and dedication to producing world-class products. - U.S. Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents the Fourth Congressional District.

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