Arkansas Farm Bureau chief Randy Veach warned months ago that details of a federal farm bill could be devastating for Arkansas.
On Thursday (June 21), Veach said a Senate-passed farm bill doesn’t come close to protecting Arkansas farmers.
“As written, the legislation eliminates direct payments to farmers, and that will take $244 million out of the Arkansas economy on Day 1, with nothing in the bill that replaces that money,” Veach said.
“The purpose of the Farm Bill, historically, has been to provide a safety net for farmers and ranchers, and help them through difficult times,” said Veach. “This version of the Farm Bill passed by the Senate offers no safety net for much of southern agriculture.”
The legislation approved by the U.S. Senate would cut agriculture programs by $23.6 billion over 10 years, mostly by ending direct payments to growers regardless of commodity prices, the biggest policy change in decades, according to a Bloomberg report.
The measure was approved today 64-35. While the bill ends direct payments, farmers would be protected partly by expanded crop-insurance programs and aid for so-called shallow losses when prices drop or crops fail.
The bill is “about standing up for our farmers, our small business, our exporters, our manufacturers,” Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said before the vote. “This represents significant reform.”
The bill sets policy for U.S. agricultural programs for a five-year period. The measure is a prime target for budget cutters because of near-record farm profits and the highest-ever expenditures on food stamps, the Department of Agriculture’s biggest expense.
Net farm income this year will be $91.7 billion, the second-highest ever, according to the USDA. Spending on food stamps reached a record $75.7 billion last year, double the level of four years ago.
Veach said rice farmers, in particular, will be harmed by provisions of the $969 billion measure.
“Rice, in particular, is left without any programs that help farmers manage their risk. That, alone, makes this legislation unacceptable to us, though it is far from the only issue we find with this Farm Bill. We fear this could destabilize southern agriculture and could affect food prices,” he said.
“Despite our best efforts to get some amendments included that might improve this legislation, we were unsuccessful. We hold out hope that the U.S. House of Representatives can pass a Farm Bill that fulfills its purpose and allows for regional commodity differences,” Veach added.
U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., voted against the Senate legislation. Pryor said the plan will compromise tens of thousands of jobs in Arkansas and billions in economic activity.
“I am also frustrated that the bill no longer contains an important safety inspection measure meant to protect Americans from contaminated catfish imported from overseas,” said Pryor. “Not only does this action put our safety at risk, it allows contaminated and cheaper imports to disrupt the Arkansas catfish industry.”
Pryor pledged to work with House members to address his concerns.
Boozman said the bill did not include a safety net for the diverse agri industry in the U.S.
“Although the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill includes a number of important reforms, the commodity section of lacks vital protection for southern farmers, especially rice and peanuts. I cannot support a Farm Bill that does not have a strong safety net for all crops and regions,” Boozman said in his statement. “This nation has a diverse fabric of agriculture with a variety of risks, and we must write a Farm Bill that serves the country as a whole. As the process moves forward, I feel confident we can come to an agreement that creates an equitable safety net for all crops and regions.”
Agriculture accounts for about $17 billion annually to the Arkansas economy, according to statistics kept by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. It accounts for more than 10% of the state’s GDP.