Weekly Columns

For those who do not spend their day on the farm, the importance of agriculture may often go unnoticed.  If you think about it, agriculture touches each of our lives every day.  It feeds, clothes, and shelters us and it is a vital component to our state and national economies.  This is especially true in Arkansas, where agriculture is our state’s top industry.  

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.  Unfortunately, as currently written, the Senate version of the Farm Bill does not accomplish that goal. 

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. 

With across-the-board budget cuts looming, the Senate Agriculture Committee did the right thing in fashioning a Farm Bill that attempts to modernize the manner in which we support our farmers, ranchers and loggers.  We included important reforms, and produced a bill that exceeds required committee spending reductions and eliminates duplicative or obsolete government programs.  Unfortunately, we missed the mark on making it equitable. 

The Senate version, as it currently stands, creates an untested, one-size-fits-all plan to replace direct support payments to producers, which almost all agree is no longer viable.  Although there are choices in this revenue plan to meet the needs of several other crops and regions, this proposal falls short of the protection southern farmers need against multi-year price declines.  

The revenue plan is couched in the assumption that we will continue to have these high commodity prices. That makes it attractive when prices are high, but there little in this plan to protect producers from a multi-year price decline.  I simply cannot support a plan that does not provide the safety net that southern farmers need.  

Our nation has a diverse fabric of agriculture with a variety of risks, and we must write a Farm Bill that serves as a safety net for all crops and regions.  We can build the consensus necessary to usher a Farm Bill through the legislative process and see it signed into law this year while preserving the safety net, making reforms, and achieving deficit reduction.  I remain confident that we can craft a bill that we are all proud of, and I am committed to continue fighting for Arkansas producers until an equitable Farm Bill is signed into law.