PULLMAN, Wash. – Consistent, increased funding for Washington State University’s research on tree fruit, clean energy, vegetables and other specialty crops, as well as increased support for the National Clean Plant Network, are just several vital components of the farm bill signed by President Obama today that will strengthen WSU’s ability to support and stimulate the state’s food and wine industries.
The bill also lifts previous restrictions on growing industrial hemp, allowing states where it is legal to grow it for research purposes. Lawmakers in Olympia are considering legislation to study the viability of an industrial hemp industry in the state.
“The farm bill allows WSU to continue building Washington’s agriculture and clean energy economy,” said WSU President Elson S. Floyd. “It supports our traditional mainstay crops and creates opportunities to explore the possibilities of new, emerging crops.
“I appreciate President Obama’s signing the bill and the work of Congress in its development,” he said. “I thank the members of the Washington state delegation who supported these efforts.”
Key ag initiatives
The bill stabilizes or increases opportunities for several initiatives where WSU competes for federal funds to support Washington’s $40 billion agriculture industry:
• Increased funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which helps fund large projects addressing complex agricultural problems for some of Washington’s signature crops, including tree fruit.
• Increased funding for the National Clean Plant Network, which supports the Clean Plant Center Northwest based at WSU’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser.
• Increased funding for Specialty Crop Block Grants, which benefit producers of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and nursery crops – all key components of Washington’s agricultural industry.
• Reauthorized funding for the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, with a focus on reducing the costs of producing sugars from cellulosic biomass – a primary element of WSU’s work in developing aviation jet fuel from woody biomass. WSU is co-lead, along with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, of the Federal Aviation Administration’s newly designated Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet Fuels and the Environment.
Specialty crops, clean planting stock
WSU scientists have competed for and been awarded more than $25 million since 2008 through the Specialty Crops Research Initiative. That investment in their research has led to major advances for Washington growers, from enhanced use of weather data to forecast pest outbreaks to improved harvest mechanization to breeding new apple and cherry varieties.
WSU researchers also have developed control procedures for diseases and insects in grapes, hops, potatoes and tree fruits. In total, specialty crops represent a $3.2 billion industry in the state.
During the same time period, the Clean Plant Center–Northwest has received more than $4 million from the National Clean Plant Network to provide pathogen-tested planting stock for the grape, tree fruit and hop industries. These industries, situated primarily in central Washington, rely on the Prosser-based center for high quality, disease-free material to start their orchards, vineyards and hop yards.
“The value of planting material free of known pathogens and pests has been demonstrated to far exceed the cost to growers of damage caused by these pests and pathogens,” said James Moyer, director of WSU’s Agricultural Research Center.
Industrial hemp potential
The new farm bill, which is in force until 2019, also loosens restrictions on growing industrial hemp for research and industrial purposes. Hemp is a version of Cannabis sativa L. that is low in THC, the key ingredient in recreational and medicinal cannabis.
Hemp is one of the longest and most durable natural fibers. Its commercial uses include textiles, foods, papers, body care products, detergents, plastics, building materials and a feedstock for biofuels.
“It is an exciting time to be in agricultural research in Washington state,” said Moyer. “There are many details to be finalized and policies to be developed before any research on industrial hemp can be conducted; but, as always, we will work to align our research efforts with the economic needs and potential of our state.”
Glynda Becker, WSU federal relations, 202-340-5844, email@example.com
Kathy Barnard, WSU University Communications, 509-335-8055, firstname.lastname@example.org