(The Center Square) – Expanding domestic market access and promoting exports of American farm products are among the provisions being endorsed by U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., as Congress considers reauthorization of the nationwide Farm Bill.
“Trade continues to be critical for American farmers and ranchers, and American agricultural products are a key part of the global food supply,” Newhouse told the House Committee on Agriculture during testimony last week. “The Farm Bill must ensure that agricultural exports are prioritized in market promotion and that U.S. food aid continues to support American producers.”
Newhouse represents the 4th Congressional District of central Washington, where agriculture is an economic mainstay. He is a former state director of agriculture and his family operates a third-generation farm near Sunnyside in the east Yakima Valley. He currently chairs the Congressional Western Caucus and is a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.
Washington state itself has 15 million acres of farmland which produce 300 crop commodities that are exported to markets all around the world, and food manufacturing is the state’s second-largest manufacturing industry after aerospace. In 2022, the value of Washington’s agricultural production totaled $12.8 billion, shattering the previous record of $10.4 billion set in 2015, according to a report issued this October by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
In his comments, Newhouse said the House agriculture committee should reauthorize and consider expanding the Market Access Program, which is the primary program helping producers boost exports of American agricultural products. Newhouse also cited the Foreign Market Development Program, the Emerging Markets Program, and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops as playing important roles in establishing new international markets.
In January, he introduced a bill, H.R. 648, the Agriculture Export Promotion Act of 2023, that would extend the MAP and FMD programs “to ensure that American farmers and ranchers have the support they need to grow their businesses.”
He and other committee members also introduced H.R. 5973, the Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act, because of their concern over “the lack of urgency and collaboration from the USDA in updating organic standards.”
The proposed legislation calls for establishing a five-year repeating process in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its advisory board would work with stakeholders to ensure evolving market data is included in modern organic practices.
Newhouse noted that central Washington is home to a significant number of organic growers, and that consumer trust in organic produce “relies on strong and consistently updated voluntary standards that reflect the latest facts on environmental and ecological data, consumer demands, and innovative best practices.”
Another concern for growers, said Newhouse, is a trend by some states to begin regulating pesticides in a manner inconsistent with “decades of scientific guidance” from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
To address that, Newhouse said U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-South Dakota, has introduced H.R. 4288, the Agricultural Labeling Uniformity Act, which calls for uniform pesticide labeling at the federal level while barring states and local governments from adopting inconsistent labeling or packaging.
In addition to those issues, Newhouse spoke of a need to preserve “premiere research institutions” – alluding to such land-grant schools as Washington State University – and improving “forest health” to prevent catastrophic wildfires.
“The Farm Bill impacts all Americans, and this legislation must be carefully crafted to … ensure the long-term success of America’s agriculture industry,” he told the committee.
According to the USDA, the current Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, commonly called the Farm Bill, consists of 12 titles covering a wide range of policy areas related to food and agriculture. The Congressional Budget Office has projected the total cost of the act at $428 billion over the five-year period to 2023. Last month, President Joe Biden signed H.R. 6363, the Further Continuing Appropriations and Other Extensions Act 2024, which extended the 2018 Farm Bill through Sept. 30, 2024.
Nutrition programs account for about three-fourths of the total expenditure, with allocations for crop insurance, loans, conservation, commodities, and disaster assistance representing nearly all the rest.