Weekly Columns

Every five years, Congress sets out to write and pass a new farm bill, the cornerstone of our nation’s agriculture policy. It is a daunting undertaking. However, passing farm bills in this manner offers an opportunity to see what policies are working for our agricultural, nutrition and rural communities, and which ones need updates to better serve their needs. 

The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, on which I serve as the lead Republican, kicked off this process earlier this year holding a field hearing in Michigan, the home state of the committee’s chair. 

Then it was Arkansas’s turn to shine.  

From the stage at Riceland Hall of the Fowler Center at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, 11 Arkansans shared the story of agriculture in The Natural State. Witnesses discussed commodity programs, safety nets and risk management. They talked about how to help rural communities and families, how to support wildlife habitat and conserve natural resources, why research at our universities is crucial to advancing agriculture, and ways to help those who struggle with food insecurity. 

The testimony they shared with the committee, and their candid responses to questions we posed, will help inform our decisions and identify the issues we will consider as we write a new farm bill. 

We are in an unprecedented time as we begin this undertaking. The pandemic, the war in Europe, historic and widespread inflation, and now serious concerns about a recession—it just feels different. 

And yet many of the same challenges that come with each farm bill, such as balancing the different needs of each region of the country, remain true this time around. 

I believe we have an opportunity in this farm bill to put in place the tools necessary to strengthen American agriculture for any situation we face in the future. If we do that, our farmers will continue to do what they have always done: provide the most abundant, lowest cost and safest food supply in the world. 

I know Arkansas’s farmers and ranchers are ready to meet the challenge.

However as much as the farm bill is a safety net for those who supply our food, it’s also a safety net for rural America. For many of these communities, agriculture is all that is left.  

Agriculture is Arkansas’s largest industry, adding around $21 billion to our economy every year and accounting for approximately one in every six jobs. 

Yet, 53 of Arkansas’s 75 counties lost population in the last census, something that is far too common in rural counties throughout the United States.  

We all lose when rural America loses. 

To stem this loss, we must ensure our farm families and rural residents have access to affordable electricity, high speed internet and safe drinking water. Those forms of infrastructure are essential services that, with proper investment, can measurably increase quality of life.

It is imperative for rural Arkansas’s future that we address these shortfalls in the next farm bill. Our rural communities depend on agriculture and agriculture depends on this critical infrastructure. If we keep that in mind, while continuing to ensure our producers have programs that offer strong support that meet the needs of all commodities, then we will have a farm bill that provides that safety net for both agriculture and rural America.