The letter below is from Sen. Maria Cantwell to a Vote Hemp supporter in reply to a letter asking her to support Sen. Ron Wyden's industrial hemp amendment to the Farm Bill.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
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June 8, 2012
Thank you for contacting me about agriculture priorities for the next farm bill. I appreciate hearing from you on this important matter.
Washington State's geographic diversity and access to ports makes it one of the most productive areas of cultivation in the country. Washington's $38 billion dollar food and agricultural industry employs 160,000 people and contributes 12 percent to the state's economy. Our state ranks among the top producers in the country for a diverse array of crops, including apples, wheat, potatoes, cherries, grapes, and hops. I have consistently worked to promote agriculture and to open foreign markets to Washington goods.
As you know, the farm bill is the legislative package that reauthorizes the federal government's many agricultural and food programs. Much of the current farm bill, which was enacted in 2008, expires on September 31, 2012. On April 26, 2012, the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry passed its draft legislation of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012.
I am pleased that this legislation maintains funding for key programs I have championed, such as the Market Access Program, the Specialty Crop Block Grant, the Farmers Market Promotion Program, and the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program. Washington growers depend on these programs to market their products locally and abroad, enhance the competitiveness of their crops, and to aide sustainable farming practices.
This legislation also makes significant changes to our food and farm policy framework and saves $23 billion over ten years. It would eliminate direct payments, end farm payments to millionaires, and would establish a new risk management program to mitigate the need for ad-hoc disaster relief. The bill would also consolidate 23 existing conservation programs into four central programs, while maintaining the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Conservation Reserve Program, and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
I am also pleased that the legislation maintained current level funding for other key nutrition programs such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, the Emergency Food Assistance Program, the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program. The legislation also authorizes the Healthy Food Finance Initiative, a new initiative that combats "food deserts" in low-income communities. However, I am concerned that the legislation cuts $4.5 billion from the $770 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Representing the majority of farm bill spending, federal nutrition programs cut across rural and urban communities, benefitting millions of people who are food insecure in our country.
Please be assured that I will be listening to Washingtonians during this process and will work to defend programs that are important to our state and our producers. As the U.S. Senate moves forward in consideration of the next farm bill, I remain committed to supporting balanced and sustainable agricultural practices, and will keep your suggestions related to farm bill programs in mind.
Thank you again for contacting me to share your thoughts on this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of further assistance.
United States Senator
For future correspondence with my office, please visit my website at http://cantwell.senate.gov/contact/