Farm Bureau president estimates flood damage will top $200 million, pledges fight to keep state tax exemptions

by Roby Brock (roby@talkbusiness.net) 370 views 

Flooding on the Black River in Northeast Arkansas. (photo courtesy of Lauren Geurin)

Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach fears flooding damage to the state’s agriculture sector will top $200 million and that’s one justification for keeping millions of dollars in tax exemptions on Arkansas’ books.

Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Veach, a farmer in Manila, Arkansas, said rice will be the hardest hit crop in the state.

“Out of the acres that are affected, 50.1% of those are rice acres, and 90% of the rice, over 90%, and over 90% of the corn was already planted, so you can see where those acres are,” he said.

Veach added that soybeans and cotton are other row crops that will be affected, and he noted that a lot of cattle ranchers will face dire straits.

“We’re between $175-$200 million right now, and it could even go over that. We still don’t have all the water off,” said Veach. “There’s going to be a lot of infrastructure after it’s gone — roads and bridges, farm-to-orchard roads and stuff like that to be repaired. So, losses all over.”

On Monday, the Arkansas Tax Reform and Relief Legislative Task Force meets for the first time. Lawmakers are expected to try to flatten Arkansas tax rates and reduce income taxes. The panel’s leaders also say it will review all exemptions currently in the state’s tax code. A sizable amount of those tax exemptions benefit agriculture, and Veach says they’ll fight to keep them all.

“We’re going to fight those exemptions. We’re going to hold on to those exemptions if we can at all. We’re certainly concerned about those,” he said. “I think that most of our state senators and representatives understand the importance of agriculture and our governor does, and I think that those exemptions are needed for the state’s economy. I think that especially coming off of this disaster with the flooding and everything.”

Agriculture is a $20 billion industry in Arkansas, according to Veach, yet farmers have been hit hard by disasters in recent years as well as world economics that have negatively impacted commodity prices. Veach offers a reminder of what’s happened to farmers’ pocketbooks.

“Since 2013, net farm income has dropped 60%. And so, we’re looking at all of this as kind of a perfect storm for agriculture. So those exemptions are extremely important to us to keep the largest industry in our state going,” Veach said.

Last week, U.S. Secretary for Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced his support for loosening credit restrictions for Cuban trade, a move that would benefit Arkansas’ agricultural community.

Watch Randy Veach’s full interview on this subject and more in the video below.

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