Farm Bill Listening Session Draws Interest from Southeast Arkansas Farmers and Businesses

    (Arkansas Forest Resources Center U of A System Division of Agriculture)

    The University of Arkansas at Monticello’s Agriculture auditorium
    was near capacity on February 21 as farmers, businessmen, bankers, educators, and other
    stakeholders gathered for a listening session on the 2023 Farm Bill. The session was aimed at
    giving the public an opportunity to air their views and provide input on what should be included
    in the new farm legislation. The listening session featured United States Senator John Boozman
    and Representative Bruce Westerman, who listened to the seven panelists discuss their views
    on various topics, including crop insurance, conservation programs, rural development,
    agricultural research, and nutrition assistance programs. Much of the meeting was filled with
    suggestions for the Farm Bill from the audience.
    The panelists represented diverse professions, including Jim Whitaker-Rice Producer, Wes
    Kirkpatrick-Soybean Producer, Jason Felton-Cotton and Peanut Producer, Jeffery Hall-Crop
    Insurance, Grant Pace-Arkansas Forestry, Sam Angel II- AR Ag Board, Rural Impact of

    Agriculture. Additionally, educators were present to discuss the shortage of veterinarians in the
    state and how funding from the Farm Bill could help attract more people to the field. Another
    professor talked about the need to allow logging truckers without the current two-year
    apprenticeship to obtain driving insurance. One topic that elicited a lot of discussion was the
    challenges of the H2A visa program.
    The Farm Bill, also known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, is a comprehensive
    legislative package that sets the policies and priorities for the nation's agriculture and nutrition
    programs. The Farm Bill is renewed every five years, and the next one is due in 2023. As part of
    the process of creating the new bill, a series of listening sessions are being hosted across the
    country to gather public input on what should be included in the legislation.
    In his remarks, Senator Boozman noted that farmers are facing unprecedented challenges. “ I
    think that the real take-away from this meeting is just re-emphasizing the fact that farmers are
    in a difficult situation right now.  With the high interest rates that have gone up so dramatically
    in the last year or two and then along that their high input costs, the cost of fertilizer, the
    almost doubling of the cost of diesel” Boozman said, “Commodity prices have gone up some,
    but not enough to cover the overhead costs, and you always worry about the impact of costs
    staying up, and the commodity prices falling.” He added, “we need to make sure that we put
    the safety nets in place so that they can go to the bank and get the loans they need to continue
    Senator Boozman stressed that the issues faced by farmers in Arkansas are similar to those
    faced by farmers across the country. “Safety nets are essential to enable farmers to continue
    their operations, and the Farm Bill should focus on improving the quality of life in rural America
    by investing in hospitals, schools, water systems, and broadband infrastructure. The visa
    program that allows farmers to bring in migrant workers to help with chores on the farm while
    picking crops was singled out as one of the most effective programs, given the labor shortage
    faced by farmers,” said Boozman.
    Stephen Carter operates Royal Seed Farms. He described that a problem with the current Farm
    Bill is hiring workers on the visa H2A program. He said, “there is simply too much red tape to
    hire workers at a time when there is no local pool of labor to recruit. Carter said he would like
    to see one H2A contract with staggered entry dates to accommodate seasonal crops.
    Boozman doesn’t disagree. “Today they talked about making it such that, those workers, who
    are doing this repeatedly, we know that they've done a good job, we know that they've kept
    out of trouble, that their background checks were sufficient. Why not make that so they don’t
    have to do that every year for those workers? Not only not only helps the farmer and it makes
    it more efficient, but those people that are doing all duplicating those services, they can do
    something else on the border that would be more productive.”

    Carter, who produces a variety of crops including tomatoes and cucumbers, said” I’m
    concerned about protecting the markets that we have right here in the United States. We have
    tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and it's making the shift; some of these other countries like
    Canada and Mexico are shipping so many tomatoes. It used to be anywhere you looked,
    tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes in Southeast Arkansas. Now we are having to look at
    cucumbers, bell peppers and other crops because the Canadian governments are subsidizing
    their greenhouses farmers heavily. They're able to produce their product, ship it down here to
    the United States and sell it cheaper than we can grow and ship it right here close to home.”
    Representing the Arkansas Agriculture Board, Sam Angel II spoke to Boozman about the impact
    the Farm Bill has on rural areas. “There's not a retail business in our communities that is not
    impacted by forestry, poultry, and row crops, from feed and seed to fertilizer to the nail shop.
    They're all impacted by agriculture. Those dollars are generated and driven into our
    Representative Bruce Westerman, who joined Senator Boozman on the panel, clearly offered
    his support to rural Arkansas. Westerman said, “This is about rural America. I’d say the divide
    in our country is probably more urban than rural than it even is Republican and Democrat right
    now. And we've got to make sure that our rural interests are protected across this country, or
    else the whole country is going to suffer greatly.”
    The listening session provided a platform for the panelists and attendees to raise issues and
    voice their concerns. UAM Assistant Professor Dr. Rocky Lindsey addressed the changing
    demographics in his animal science and pre-vet classrooms. “It’s becoming more female in my
    classroom. Minorities are coming on board,” Lindsey told Boozman. Dr. Lindsey told the panel,
    “I consider the changing demographic a win for UAM. We have more job offerings than we
    have students graduating to fill those jobs, so, we need to continue to promote the importance
    of agriculture education here at UAM. “
    University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff forester Joe Friend told thanked Boozman for the
    Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) funding in the current Farm Bill but would like
    to see it expanded. Friend said, “EQIP helps minority forestry landowners with establishing a
    sustainable stand of timber on their property” he said, “many minority landowners didn’t
    realize that their land had value. They just owned the land.” Friend said, “we're helping them
    establish a stand of timber so they can realize income off of the property.”
    Dr. Matthew Pelkki, Director of the Arkansas Center for Forest Business, believes the Farm Bill
    could address a front-line issue for the forestry industry. Pelkki told Boozman that insurance for
    loggers is a huge issue. “We really need to look at log truck drivers as producers. Right now, we
    can't get a log truck driver insured until they’ve got two years' experience. So, while we talked
    about crop insurance being critical to farm producers, insurance for log truck drivers is really
    crucial to forestry production.”

    Dr. Pelkki also offered ways to make forestry more profitable not only in SE Arkansas but the
    nation. Pelkki said, “carbon sequestration markets don't allow us to take credit for wood in
    buildings and other products built of wood, such as furniture, cabinets, and wood flooring. We
    only can sell carbon that's in living trees, so it's really missing the boat in southern forestry
    where we are producing 60% of the lumber in the nation and our production cycle is too short
    to get credit in a carbon market that requires at least 30 years of carbon sequestration. We are
    producing our trees in less than 30 years.”
    Another opportunity Pelkki wants addressed in the Farm Bill is the use of wood pellets. He
    suggested to Boozman that more wood pellets should be used for energy. According to Pelkki,
    “It’s highly recognized that we need markets for small diameter timber. The technology to
    pelletize trees and co-fire pellets with coal. We can immediately green up coal-fired power
    plants just as they have done in the United Kingdom. At the same time as we're greening our
    power, we're improving the health of our forest by removing small diameter trees from
    overstocked forests. “
    Boozman said, “Agriculture is so important in Arkansas; it's about 25% of our economy. But
    when you get outside of any town of any size, it's probably 85 or 90% of the economy.  We
    need to make sure they [farmers] can get the loans that they need, that they can have some
    economic certainty as they continue to do such a good job of providing a safe, affordable food
    supply for us.
    Boozman says he plans to hold two more listening meetings on the Farm Bill later in the month.

    About the College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Arkansas Forest
    Resources Center
    The College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Arkansas Forest Resources
    Center, a University of Arkansas System Center of Excellence, brings together interdisciplinary
    expertise through a partnership between the University of Arkansas at Monticello and the
    University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. The College and Center are
    headquartered at the University of Arkansas at Monticello campus, but their programs range
    statewide with the mission of developing and delivering teaching, research, and extension
    programs that enhance and ensure the sustainability and productivity of forest-based natural
    resources and agricultural systems. Academic programs are delivered by the College of
    Forestry, Agriculture, and Natural Resources through the University of Arkansas at Monticello.
    Through the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, research is administered by

    the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, and extension and outreach activities are
    coordinated by the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
    The University of Arkansas at Monticello and the University of Arkansas System Division of
    Agriculture offer all of their programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex,
    gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran
    status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and are Affirmative
    Action/Equal Opportunity Employers.

    About the Division of Agriculture
    The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture's mission is to strengthen agriculture,
    communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices.
    Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the
    Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation's historic land
    grant education system.
    The Division of Agriculture is one of twenty entities within the University of Arkansas System. It
    has offices in all seventy-five counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
    The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research
    programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation,
    national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any
    other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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