Editor’s note: Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach, the author of this guest commentary, is a cotton, corn, soybean and wheat farmer from Manila (Mississippi County).
Arkansas agriculture – our state’s largest industry sector – was thrown into limbo when the U.S. House of Representatives voted down a comprehensive five-year Farm Bill on June 20.
The $16 billion added to our state economy each year, the 20 percent of the state’s jobs that connect to agriculture, and the livelihood of the men and women of agriculture all were dealt a serious blow when the House said voted down the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013.
Three of Arkansas’ four House members – Reps. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro, Tim Griffin of Little Rock and Steve Womack of Rogers – voted for the legislation, while Tom Cotton of Dardanelle did not. We are disappointed in Congressman Cotton’s vote on this important issue.
Certainly, poultry and livestock will be raised and sold, crops will be planted and harvested. But the safety net that underpins American agriculture is in peril because of the decision by the House of Representatives. I believe some in this country have taken our abundance of safe, affordable food for granted.
I have traveled to several other countries and have seen how vital they view their food supply, and the envy in which they see our food production capacity. It as if those other countries place a higher value on food security. Even with this nation’s previous commitments to a world-class food program, there is hunger. In our nation now, as many as 17 million children are struggling with what is known as “food insecurity.” And that is in the United States, the breadbasket for much of the world.
In the world today, with roughly 7 billion people, a child dies every six seconds a child dies from malnutrition in this world, something I find almost unbelievable and utterly offensive. With the world’s population expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050, that issue will only be intensified. Farmers will have to double food production by then to meet food demands.
This will only be accomplished through agriculture research that results in new plant varieties and technologies. The 210,000 U.S. farms – predominantly family owned – will be the leader in that production for both you and the world, but only if they can manage to stay in business.
With regard to this Farm Bill, my concern is we may not have another opportunity to bring a meaningful piece of legislation forward in the House this year. House agriculture leaders started working on this proposal in early 2012, and it has taken 18 months to even get it to a vote. The Senate has an approved Farm Bill, waiting on a countering House version. However that may not be forthcoming given the discord in the House on this subject.
This most recent vote by the House of Representatives leaves so many questions unanswered. We are leaving our farmers and ranchers with no direction on their future. You may recall that farmers and ranchers are now working under a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. Working year to year is far from ideal for farmers and ranchers, who make long-term investment decisions which require some understanding of the rules under which we operate. That uncertainty now extends to financial institutions, seed and feed dealers, equipment distributors, etc., creating a risky situation for the entire agriculture economy, whose tentacles extend deeply throughout rural Arkansas.
This was not a party line vote, either, though it is clearly a political hot potato. There were those in each party who voted for, and against, this bill.
Central to the debate is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and how much money goes into that program. Agriculture understands that our nation must get its fiscal house in order. It’s difficult to stand back and let the safety net that underpins the agriculture economy fall apart, though, because that issue can’t be resolved. This vital legislation must not overlooked.
Arkansas Farm Bureau will continue to work with the leaders of the House Agriculture Committee and with all members of our Congressional delegation to help secure a five-year comprehensive Farm Bill. One of the biggest misconceptions about our nation’s Farm Bill is that it is about farmers.
It’s about food, plain and simple.
The Farm Bill impacts Americans of all walks of life, in every part of our country, regardless of the role agriculture might play in your local economy. One of our country’s foundational pillars is the ability of farmers and ranchers to produce food along with the raw materials for clothing, fuel and shelter for the consuming public at a reasonable price.
The irony of the Farm Bill is that only about 20 percent of its funding is for farm-related programs. But that 20 percent is vital to American farmers. Without the funding provided through support programs, many farmers would probably have to leave the business. The Farm Bill helps mitigate some of the monstrous risk that our farmers and ranchers take every year by providing a “safety net” program for farmers affected by natural disasters like the drought of the last two years or unfair trade practices by other countries that adversely affect prices farmers receive for their crops.
To get agriculture out of limbo, we must pass a comprehensive, five-year Farm Bill. And Congress is the only group who can do that. I encourage them to get to work on that right away.