Preparing for the 2012 Farm Bill

Our First Congressional District is home to a variety of agricultural interests. In the fertile Mississippi River Delta we grow cotton, rice, corn, soybeans, wheat and even peanuts. In stark contrast to the Delta stand the Ozark Foothills where we have poultry, cattle, dairy and timber producers. More rice is produced in our district than any other district in the nation. In fact, farm families in our district grow half of all rice produced in the United States. Annually, agriculture in Arkansas is a $16 billion economic juggernaut that employs over 260,000 Arkansans.

Of all the members on the House Agriculture Committee, I am the only representative from the Mid-South. I take seriously my responsibility to voice the concerns of Arkansas farmers and educate members of the Agriculture Committee from others corners of the country about the challenges our producers face. Just as manufacturers face competition from overseas, farmers also feel the pressure from foreign markets. I am proud that American farmers produce the safest, most reliable, most abundant supply of food on the planet. To maintain that distinction, Congress must write a responsible Farm Bill that works for all farm families.

Farming in the Arkansas Delta involves unique production methods. The Mid-South largely uses irrigation methods, which reduces production risk and yield variability. However, farmers in our district grow crops that face tremendous market uncertainty where if prices swing too far in one direction, it could be enough to put a farmer out of business. The Farm Bill must be reflective of the farmer’s production risk – whatever that may be. Unfortunately, my colleagues in the U.S. Senate are debating a bill that takes a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to agricultural production, and applies a Midwest insurance risk-management model to the entirety of U.S. agriculture. The House Farm Bill must be fair to every region of the United States – not just a single region.

The Farm Bill also represents an important opportunity for me to carry out one of the main reasons my constituents sent me to Washington – cutting federal spending. The Farm Bill accounts for nearly a trillion dollars of spending over a decade – nearly three-fourths of which goes to the food stamp program. Since President Obama assumed office, food stamp spending has doubled and continues to grow. Within the program, loopholes exist that have allowed bad actors to take advantage of the program who would otherwise be ineligible. In April, the Agriculture Committee took an important step to eliminate waste and abuse in the food stamp program. I am hopeful that we can incorporate some of these reforms in the final Farm Bill. Opportunity also exists to make other common sense cost-saving reforms in farm program spending by streamlining crop insurance, putting conservation acres back into production, and reducing eligibility for commodity programs to actual planted acres.

Unpredictable weather, an ever changing market place and the continued need for investments in technology make farming a difficult job. Many farm families are just one crop failure away from being out of business. On the Agriculture Committee, I will stand up for Mid-South farmers and work with Democrats and Republicans to produce a Farm Bill that provides certainty for Arkansas farm families.

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