Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told the Arkansas Farm Bureau Wednesday (Dec. 4) that he will ask the Legislature to increase permanent funding for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture by $1.8 million.
Speaking at the Farm Bureau’s 85th Annual Convention, he said the General Assembly provided the division $1.2 million in increased base funding this year, which he supplemented with $1.8 million in discretionary funds after a request by the Farm Bureau. His budget during the next legislative session will seek to make that $1.8 million increase a permanent appropriation.
The division researches agriculture and houses the Agriculture Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service.
Hutchinson spoke at the end of what he called “a tough year for Arkansas farmers” because of trade disputes with foreign markets and record-breaking flooding. Regarding the trade disputes, he said the timing of future trade agreements is uncertain, but he has tried to ensure Arkansas is “first in line” for rice, poultry and beef exports when the markets do open.
Arkansas experienced historic flooding in May and June when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Oklahoma relieved swollen reservoirs in that state, sending water rushing down the Arkansas River. Hutchinson recalled the day he found out the water was coming.
“I’ll always remember that call that I got from the Corps of Engineers’ chief engineer from the Tulsa district that called me on a beautiful sunny day similar to this and said, ‘Get ready. There’s going to be a record amount of flooding coming your direction because all of our impoundment lakes are full, we’re releasing, and you’re going to have record flooding you’ve never seen before,’” he said.
The flooding damaged Arkansas’ levee system and called attention to the need for more investments in that infrastructure. Hutchinson noted that he had created a levee task force and authorized the use of $10 million in discretionary funds to repair the levees.
Hutchinson also told Farm Bureau members he had provided $1 million for the University of Arkansas’ Anthony Timberland Center for Design and Materials Innovation, and also $2.5 million for capital improvements at the Camp Couchdale FFA camp near Lake Catherine. That last expenditure was done at Farm Bureau’s request.
He told attendees that Arkansas has received a $3.4 federal grant for feral swine eradication and control.
He also touted his proposed extension of a half-cent sales tax for highways that will be on the ballot in November 2020. He is asking voters to permanently extend the tax, which they passed in 2012 but which expires in 2023. He said the proposal is not a new tax and that if it fails, cities and counties each will lose $43 million in funding.
Hutchinson also touted his Arkansas Rural Connect grant program, a $25 million grant program administered by the Arkansas State Broadband Office meant to increase deployment of high-speed internet services into rural communities. He announced the creation of that program this summer.