Farm bill passage means funding for specialty crop research in Whatcom County

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 4, 2014 

Raspberry harvest Whatcom County

Maria DeGollao sorts raspberries on a berry harvester during the first picking on the Ehlers farm Thursday, June 27, 2013, north of Lynden.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

One aspect of the federal farm bill that will benefit Whatcom County is funding for specialty crop research.

After years of setbacks, the Senate on Tuesday sent the nearly $100 billion-a-year measure to President Barack Obama. The White House said the president will sign the bill on Friday in Michigan, the home state of Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow.

The bill included funding for block grants, which are important to local farmers, especially those who grow raspberries and blueberries, said Henry Bierlink, executive director of the Washington Red Raspberry Commission and Whatcom Farm Friends.

Last fall Whatcom County agencies received about $345,000 in block grants for a variety of research projects, including work on improving raspberry cane management and reducing the amount of chemical residue from sprays that protect blueberries from insects.

"We rely on those (grants), especially for the research that can help the berry industry," he said.

Another key aspect of the farm bill, passed by Congress Tuesday, Feb. 4, replaces the cash payment system for farmers with crop insurance. Bierlink said that's not something that happens often in Whatcom County, but Whatcom Farm Friends will help farmers understand the changes.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," Bierlink said. "Farmers are already talking about it, so that's a good sign."

The Senate passed the bill 68-32 after House passage last week. The bill provides a financial cushion for farmers who face unpredictable weather and market conditions. It also provides subsidies for rural communities and environmentally-sensitive land. But the bulk of its cost is for the food stamp program, which aids 1 in 7 Americans. The bill would cut food stamps by $800 million a year, or around 1 percent.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Read the Business Blog at bellinghamherald.com/business-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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