Why it matters: Agriculture is Arkansas’s largest industry, adding around $16 billion to our economy every year and accounting for approximately one in every six jobs. Rice, soybeans, cotton, poultry, cattle and timber are particular staples of our state’s agriculture economy.
Where I stand: As a senior member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry Committee, I am committed to advocating for Arkansas agriculture to make certain that farmers and ranchers have the proper tools and assistance to be successful.
Our farmers are dealing with the perfect storm right now. Commodity prices are below the cost of production. Standoffs with critical trading partners have created additional uncertainty that has only compounded worries. A rainy fall and spring have hampered planting season and, in the case of Arkansas, produced one of the worst floods in our state’s history. Together, these troubles have left many of our family farmers and ranchers facing a dire economic outlook.
Arkansas farmers are far from alone. Conditions across the nation are equally challenging. Farm incomes in 2018 were down sharply again for the fifth consecutive year, total farm debt has climbed to levels not seen since the early 1980s and far too many family farms in our rural communities are barely hanging on or have already filed for bankruptcy.
How do we help our producers overcome these difficult times? One solution is to open more markets in which they can sell their commodities. When it comes to agriculture, for every five customers we have in the U.S., 95 customers exist outside our country. We have to give our farmers and ranchers the opportunity to reach them.
To that end, we are making progress. The president recently announced a new trade agreement with Japan that will expand access for U.S. agriculture exports. He and his team worked hard to get Canada and Mexico to the negotiating table to formalize a more mutually beneficial agreement that the Senate stands ready to finalize. We must continue to work toward negotiating new trade agreements with additional partners, such as Cuba, that are fair and beneficial for Arkansas's agricultural community.
We must also ensure that the improvements and reforms included in the current farm bill are properly implemented. These important risk management tools allow Arkansas’s family farms to compete in a high-risk, heavily subsidized global marketplace.
There are a number of additional issues within the Agriculture Committee’s portfolio that are vital to Arkansas’s future, including smart nutrition policies that help fight hunger and important rural development initiatives, including broadband expansion. These will remain priorities for me as we continue our efforts to improve the quality of life in the Natural State.