Agriculture accounts for nearly one-quarter of Arkansas’s economic activity. One out of every six jobs in Arkansas is tied, either directly or indirectly, to agriculture. Arkansas farmers, ranchers and loggers work 33 million acres across the Natural State.
If we had to survive solely on food grown in state, you wouldn’t have trouble finding variety. We are among the nation’s top ten producers of rice, chicken, catfish, turkey, soybeans, and eggs. We could also conceivably cloth and shelter ourselves from fiber grown in Arkansas as we are 3rd in the nation in cotton production and 5th in the nation in timber production.
These statistics underscore the important need to ensure our national agriculture policy protects Arkansas’s farmers, ranchers and loggers.
For these reasons, the recent reauthorization of the Farm Bill is good news for our agriculture community.
The Farm Bill defines and authorizes funding for agriculture’s safety net. Programs authorized by this law are vital to ensuring that we do not become dependent on other countries for our food supply—in the vein that we have of our energy needs—and allow Arkansas’s family farms to compete in a high risk and heavily subsidized global marketplace.
No one is going to say the Farm Bill is perfect, but it is a good, fair agreement that achieves real savings in mandatory spending, reduces and streamlines government programs and provides much-needed reform for the food stamp program. It establishes a strong safety net for all agriculture producers; reforms the food stamp program; provides regulatory relief to farmers, ranchers and loggers–and does so while saving taxpayers $23 billion.
It replaces existing subsidy programs with revenue and price protection programs that are triggered only when farmers need assistance. As a result, Arkansas’s farmers and ranchers will continue to have access to the risk management tools they need to weather difficult times when the ability to thrive on their own in good times is compromised.
The Farm Bill includes more than $8 billion in savings from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as the food stamp program, and includes more reform to the nutrition title than has been produced in any previous version.
By closing loopholes like those that enable college students without dependents to enroll in SNAP, adding work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries without dependents, and requiring income verification for applicants, the agreement reduces fraud and waste in the food stamp program while ensuring those truly in need of assistance will have access to resources to not go hungry.
The conservation title of the Farm Bill is critical for enabling our farmers and ranchers to continue to be our best stewards of the environment, keep our air and water clean, and preserve critical habitat for wildlife. However, over the years we have learned that there is duplication and excess in our current conservation program framework. By working with conservation and environmental groups, the agriculture committees were able to reduce the number of conservation programs by more than half while continuing to meet all of our conservation needs over the next five years.
The delicate compromise of the Farm Bill is meaningless unless our farmers have markets for their products. Pending trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia and Panama will open new markets for Arkansas farmers so I will be working to ratify those while I am serving you in the U.S. Senate.
While opening new markets is one way that the federal government can help Arkansas’s farmers, over-regulating is one way it can harm them. This is why I have fought against programs like a National Animal Identification system or an increased mandate of fuel production from food based commodities such as corn, the latter of which creates an artificial demand for corn that drives up the cost of feed for Arkansas's livestock producers and groceries at the store.
At every turn, the Obama Administration has sought to expand the federal government’s reach into the family farm. For instance, the President has pushed for unprecedented expansion of the Clean Water Act that would make it nearly impossible for farmers to make a living. The proposal to delete just one word—'navigable'—from the original law would make nearly every puddle of water subject to federal regulation. It is an unprecedented overreach that must not be forced upon our farming communities.
Perhaps the most egregious and destructive proposed government regulation is “Cap and Trade,” a radical policy that would drive up the cost of gas and energy devastating our farmers and rural communities. Arkansas's farmers already facing skyrocketing costs for energy, fertilizer, and other inputs, a “Cap and Trade” scheme would effectively mean the end of the family farm.
I believe there is still a lot to be done legislatively to help promote America's agricultural industry. I remain committed to building infrastructure in our rural communities, reducing the tax burden and energy costs on our farmers, continuing to open new markets for their products, and protecting them against outrageous government power-grabs.