U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Spokane-area agricultural leaders at a processing plant Tuesday to detail two new provisions in the pending Senate Farm Bill that could make school meals healthier, boost pulse crop research and Eastern Washington agriculture jobs.
Additional demand for pulse crops could drive business growth among Eastern Washington’s 22 pulse crop processors and support Washington state’s 1,000 farm families that produce pulse crops.
Cantwell toured Spokane Seed, a pulse crop processor in Spokane Valley, and urge congressional passage of the Farm Bill, before it expires on Sept. 30.
Joining Cantwell was be Tim McGreevy, CEO of the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council and local chickpea farmer; Andrew Fontaine, V.P. sales and marketing, Spokane Seed Co.; and Kim Elkins, state Public Policy and Legislation chairwoman, Washington State School Nutrition Association.
The Farm Bill is currently pending in the U.S. Senate. It includes two key Cantwell provisions for pulse crops.
Cantwell’s Pulse School Pilot would make school meals healthier by increasing their use of pulse crops. The pilot would provide the Secretary of Agriculture $10 million through 2017 to purchase pulse crops for the school lunch and breakfast program. These crops are excellent, cost-effective sources of fiber, potassium, protein and other essential vitamins and nutrients.
Cantwell’s Pulse Health Initiative would support research grants to quantify the health and nutrition benefits of pulse crops. This information would help food companies use nutrient-dense pulse crops in their products as well as establish an educational program to encourage the consumption and production of pulse crops.
These two initiatives could help drive pulse crop production nationwide to double over the next eight years. In Washington state alone, the total farmed acres of pulse crops could more than double over the next five to 10 years, according to industry estimates.
Washington state is the top chickpea producer in the nation and third in the nation for pea and lentil production, and stands to greatly benefit from additional demand for pulse crops. Eastern Washington food processors employ more than 300 people in the region.