The fate of a long-term farm policy bill lies with the Republican-led House.
If the House doesn't act soon, the fallout could harm livestock producers, researchers and produce exporters. The existing bill expires Sept. 30.
The U.S. Senate passed its version of the farm bill, which continues funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, a source of money for work done in the Mid-Columbia.
That program is the source a $4 million grant for research on stemless cherries awarded to Washington State University's Irrigated Agriculture Research & Extension Center in Prosser.
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The grant expires in August 2013, and researchers are hoping for continued funding from the competitive grant program.
"If you want to keep competitive in agriculture, just like in other areas of business, you have to have research," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, who voted for the farm bill.
Washington is a hotbed for specialty crops, with more than 250 grown here. Our state is the nation's top producer of apples, red raspberries, sweet cherries, pears, potatoes and hops.
The Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Specialty Crop Block Grant are key to the continued success of Washington's farmers. WSU alone has received $17.1 million from the research program and $2.7 million in block grants since 2008.
Some other Washington-grown crops would benefit from new research dollars in the bill, including lentils, peas and chickpeas. A test program using those crops in school lunches also would be funded, with the nutritious and inexpensive cost of those foods being highlighted.
As Americans expand their taste for more exotic foods, demands increase. And that is just what has happened with the chickpea, known by many as the garbanzo bean. It's the main component for hummus and as demand for the Middle Eastern spread has grown, chickpea acreage in Washington has increased from 10,000 acres to 80,000 acres since 2000.
The Marketing Export Program is another great tool for Washington farmers. Russia has increased its consumption of Washington apples because of that effort, and the U.S. Potato Board has made use of the program to promote our potatoes around the world.
The Senate bill also includes $200 million for the Market Access Program, which requires matching money but helps the potato board and other commodity groups leverage money for international marketing.
Efforts to sell potatoes are different from country to country but can include recipes that mix potatoes into the country's normal diet, feature them in store displays, provide chef training and more to encourage consumption of Washington spuds.
The Senate bill ends direct payments to farmers whether they plant a crop or not, creates new crop support programs and reduces federal debt by $23 million over 10 years.
The House is likely to look for further savings in the food stamp program, if they take up the bill at all. Republican leaders have said they plan to focus their time on bills dealing with jobs, regulatory matters and spending, though they have not ruled out action on a farm bill.
Without a new bill in place, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sees danger looming. Of particular concern are livestock producers contending with fires and droughts.
Programs assisting with livestock disasters expired last year and won't be renewed without a new bill. Vilsack also fears confusion about trade promotion programs and a lack of vision for conservation programs without a bill in place.
With so many ramifications for our state's agricultural industry, we hope the House moves forward with a farm bill and keeps our country at the forefront of feeding the world.