Sen. Boozman said new Farm Bill to pass around end of year

by George Jared ([email protected]) 761 views 

The $1.5 trillion Farm Bill expired on Oct. 1, but U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., believes that a new bill will be passed by the end of the year or early next year he said Tuesday (Oct. 10) at the Rotary Club of Downtown Little Rock meeting. Boozman was joined by Arkansas Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward and Newport farmer Hallie Shoffner.

Boozman, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, noted that the programs within the bill, which is passed every five years, are still funded through the end of the year so there won’t be any disruptions in services or programs.

“The Farm Bill is a contract we make with our farmers every five years … it’s a complex thing. It’s an important thing,” he said.

Shoffner, whose family founded SFR Seed in 1988, which is a soybean and rice research farm, said she hopes there will be provisions in the bill that will financially aid farmers that want to start environmentally-friendly or rejuvenated practices on farmland. Some of those practices include no till or limited till.

Her company creates and tests genetically diverse varieties of soybeans and rice in an effort to reduce the use of chemicals and to create crops that are more resistant to climate change.

More money needs to be spent on research, she said. Chemists, geneticists, and agronomists will play a key role in the agriculture industry in the coming decade, she added.

“When we think about conservation, the first thing we need to think about is saving money,” she said. “It’s also environmentally friendly. Costs on the front end are an issue.”

Many issues plague the farm community, Ward said. Commodity price fluctuations, supply chain issues, and labor shortages are among the many challenges that producers face. Global events have serious impacts as well, he said.

“Today to be a farmer or a producer, you have to be a business person … sometimes you practically have to be a lawyer,” he said.

Shoffner agreed with Ward about how global events impact farming. She noted that Arkansas is the leading rice producing state and that more than half the rice grown is exported to other countries.

Only 14% of the Farm Bill or about $300 billion is dedicated to the farm community, Boozman said. The rest is dedicated to food programs such as SNAP. He said that programs like SNAP need to be protected and the majority of people in that program have one or two low-paying jobs.

One hope Boozman has is that the next Farm Bill will have expanded provisions for training that will allow those people to find better paying jobs and the SNAP rolls will decrease due to a lesser need.

Another part of the bill that needs to be addressed is farmer retention and programs that will help younger farmers get into the industry, he said. Farming is an expensive endeavor and it’s difficult for young farmers to get started, he added.

Shoffner agreed. Her family has been farming for generations and if you don’t inherit land or other resources, the path to starting a farm is difficult.

Farming is the rare vocation where the participants have no idea what the prices will be when the crop is harvested, she said. Much of it is a guessing game that relies on market pressures, pests, disease, weather, and other factors that are beyond the control of the farm community.

“Farming is a unique business. We borrow money on something we haven’t produced yet … we don’t know what the prices will be when we harvest it,” she said.