Weekly Columns

For many Arkansans, agriculture isn’t just a rich part of our state’s heritage, it’s their livelihood. Our state is home to more than 45,000 farms with an annual economic impact of $20 billion, and one out of every six Arkansans have jobs connected to agriculture. I’m proud to be a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee where I can be a voice for Arkansans involved in agriculture. 

Earlier this month, I met with the nominee for Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, and shared the importance of agriculture to our state and the hurdles our producers face in providing a safe and abundant food supply that helps feed the world. We discussed the need to ensure the farm safety net works for Arkansas and all regions of the country as we begin crafting the next farm bill and the important opportunity Arkansas’s farmers and ranchers have in the Cuban marketplace. 

Because Cuba imports 80 percent of its food, Arkansas is uniquely positioned to provide Cubans with high quality rice and poultry, staples of the Cuban diet. Unfortunately, regulatory burdens essentially prevent the export of agricultural commodities to Cuba. I believe it’s time for Washington to enact commonsense reforms so Arkansas farmers and ranchers can compete fairly in the Cuban marketplace.

That’s why I recently reintroduced the Agricultural Export Expansion Act with my colleague Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) that would allow private banks and companies to offer credit for agricultural exports to Cuba, and help level the playing field for U.S. farmers. Current law prevents the financing of agricultural exports to Cuba and requires cash payment up front, essentially preventing U.S. farmers from being able to export their products to Cuba.

Newport rice farmer and president of the Arkansas Rice Council Jeff Rutledge believes that selling commodities to Cuba just as easily as farmers can sell to Mexico and Canada would be huge, especially for the rice industry.

Opening up trade with Cuba could have a sizeable impact on Arkansas’s economy. That’s why there is strong support for lifting the ban among our state’s leaders. Governor Asa Hutchinson acknowledged that authorizing credit sales to Cuba is a key component to establishing trade. Arkansas First District Congressman Rick Crawford introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.

Reforming our policies with Cuba will increase opportunities for Arkansas exports. In January 2016, the previous administration loosened export restrictions to allow companies to sell non-agricultural products to Cuba on credit, but statutory restrictions on financing agricultural products are still in place.

When you trade goods and services, you also trade ideas. That's how you change the world. Exposing Cubans to American ideals will improve the relationship between our countries and create jobs here at home.

I’m proud to have the opportunity to be a voice for Arkansas agriculture, and I look forward to continuing to work to improve opportunities for Natural State farmers and ranchers.