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Guest opinion: Congressional action on beneficial farm measure urgent

Washington’s Legislature met this fall to craft incentives to keep Boeing Co., a major Washington employer, in the state. Meanwhile, Congress is debating a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that has as much or more importance for Washington. Congress has an important opportunity to create jobs and grow the economy by passing a long-term, comprehensive bill.

The provisions in the Food, Farm and Jobs Bill deal with everything from financing for beginning farmers to export programs that help the state’s $2 billion apple industry. Jobs are created in rural communities and at urban ports and processing facilities.

The legislation is crucial to maintaining a strong agriculture sector, which is a vital part of Washington’s economy. In 2012, the state’s farmers and ranchers produced $10 billion worth of crops and livestock, a 6 percent increase from the previous year. The added value of processing, packaging and transporting these products created additional jobs throughout the state. Another sector of the economy is built around providing seed, fertilizer, equipment and other inputs farmers and ranchers use.

To produce the abundant food supply that benefits all Americans, Washington’s farmers and ranchers rely on agricultural research, conservation programs, marketing assistance, disaster relief and financial credit. These are services and programs authorized largely by farm bills, or a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill.

A new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would provide a strong crop insurance program, reauthorize the now-expired disaster assistance programs, and provide conservation incentives. By reforming the safety net to eliminate the direct payment program – which pays producers whether or not they are in need of assistance – the Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would also save billions of dollars in the next decade.

A Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would provide the Farm Service Agency, a primary lender to beginning farmers, with the tools to extend additional farm credit in Washington. It would allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue export promotion efforts that have led to the best five-year period in agricultural trade in American history.

A new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would make important investments in nutrition programs that provide critical assistance to vulnerable Americans, including children, seniors, people with disabilities who are unable to work, and returning veterans. It would help support the networks needed to bring healthy foods to schools.

The Farm Bill is also a job-creation bill that would empower USDA to partner with rural communities to grow, expand and support new businesses. Through USDA low-interest loans and grants, small towns can strengthen the infrastructure needed to maintain and grow thriving communities. These and many other efforts could continue with a new Farm Bill.

All of these efforts strengthen our nation. A new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would continue the job growth we’ve seen in recent years and help grow the rural economy.

This is a prime opportunity to give America’s farmers and ranchers the certainty they need about the next five years of U.S. farm policy, while investing in the rural communities that stand at the heart of our values. The Farm Bill has stood as a model of bipartisan consensus for decades and it is time that both Democrats and Republicans come to a compromise on this new Farm Bill.

It is my hope that Senate and House conferees will reach a consensus quickly and move a Farm Bill forward as soon as possible.

Judy Olson is the Washington state executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.


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