By Lon Tegels
College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of Arkansas at Monticello
Arkansas Forest Resources Center
U of A System Division of Agriculture
• Senator Boozman and Representative Westerman hold Farm Bill listening sessions.
• University of Arkansas at Monticello host listening session in Agriculture Building
• Row Crop Growers, Business People, Foresters, and Livestock Producers all have say in Upcoming Farm Bill Legislation.
MONTICELLO, Arkansas — The University of Arkansas at Monticello’s Agriculture auditorium was near capacity on February 21 as farmers, businessmen, bankers, educators, and other stakeholders gathered for a listening session on the 2023 Farm Bill. The session was aimed at giving the public an opportunity to air their views and provide input on what should be included in the new farm legislation. The listening session featured United States Senator John Boozman and Representative Bruce Westerman, who listened to the seven panelists discuss their views on various topics, including crop insurance, conservation programs, rural development, agricultural research, and nutrition assistance programs. Much of the meeting was filled with suggestions for the Farm Bill from the audience.
The panelists represented diverse professions, including Jim Whitaker-Rice Producer, Wes Kirkpatrick-Soybean Producer, Jason Felton-Cotton and Peanut Producer, Jeffery Hall-Crop Insurance, Grant Pace-Arkansas Forestry, Sam Angel II- AR Ag Board, Rural Impact of Agriculture. Additionally, educators were present to discuss the shortage of veterinarians in the state and how funding from the Farm Bill could help attract more people to the field. Another professor talked about the need to allow logging truckers without the current two-year apprenticeship to obtain driving insurance. One topic that elicited a lot of discussion was the challenges of the H2A visaprogram.
The Farm Bill, also known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, is a comprehensive legislative package that sets the policies and priorities for the nation’s agriculture and nutrition programs. The Farm Bill is renewed every five years, and the next one is due in 2023. As part of the process of creating the new bill, a series of listening sessions are being hosted across the country to gather public input on what should be included in the legislation.
In his remarks, Senator Boozman noted that farmers are facing unprecedented challenges. “ I think that the real take-away from this meeting is just re-emphasizing the fact that farmers are in a difficult situation right now. With the high interest rates that have gone up so dramatically in the last year or two and then along that their high input costs, the cost of fertilizer, the almost doubling of the cost of diesel” Boozman said, “Commodityprices have gone up some, but not enough to cover the overhead costs, and you always worry about the impact of costs staying up, and the commodity prices falling.” He added, “we need to make sure that we put the safety nets in place so that they can go to the bank and get the loans they need to continue on.”
Senator Boozman stressed that the issues faced by farmers in Arkansas are similar to those faced by farmers across the country. “Safety nets are essential to enable farmers to continue their operations, and the Farm Bill should focus on improving the quality of life in rural America by investing in hospitals, schools, water systems, and broadband infrastructure. The visa program that allows farmers to bring in migrant workers to help with chores on the farm while picking crops was singled out as one of the most effective programs, given the labor shortage faced by farmers,” said Boozman.
Stephen Carter operates Royal Seed Farms. He described that a problem with the current Farm Bill is hiring workers on the visa H2A program. He said, “there is simply too much red tape to hire workers at a time when there is no local pool of labor to recruit. Carter said he would like to see one H2A contract with staggered entry dates to accommodate seasonal crops.
Boozman doesn’t disagree. “Today they talked about making it such that, those workers, who are doing this repeatedly, we know that they’ve done a good job, we know that they’ve kept out of trouble, that their background checks were sufficient. Why not make that so they don’t have to do that every year for those workers? Not only not only helps the farmer and it makes it more efficient, but those people that are doing all duplicating those services, they can do something else on the border that would be more productive.”
Carter, who produces a variety of crops including tomatoes and cucumbers, said” I’m concerned about protecting the markets that we have right here in the United States. We have tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and it’s making the shift; some of these other countries like Canada and Mexico are shipping so many tomatoes. It used to be anywhere you looked, tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes in Southeast Arkansas. Now we are having to look at cucumbers, bell peppers and other crops because the Canadian governments are subsidizing their greenhouses farmers heavily. They’re able to produce their product, ship it down here to the United States and sell it cheaper than we can grow and ship it right here close to home.”
Representing the Arkansas Agriculture Board, Sam Angel II spoke to Boozman about the impact the Farm Bill has on rural areas. “There’s not a retail business in our communities that is not impacted by forestry, poultry, and row crops, from feed and seed to fertilizer to the nail shop. They’re all impacted by agriculture. Those dollars are generated and driven into our communities.”
Representative Bruce Westerman, who joined Senator Boozman on the panel, clearly offered his support to rural Arkansas. Westerman said, “This is about rural America. I’d say the divide in our country is probably more urban than rural than it even is Republican and Democrat right now. And we’ve got to make sure that our rural interests are protected across this country, or else the whole country is going to suffer greatly.”
The listening session provided a platform for the panelists and attendees to raise issues and voice their concerns. UAM Assistant Professor Dr. Rocky Lindsey addressed the changing demographics in his animal science and pre-vet classrooms. “It’sbecoming more female in my classroom. Minorities are coming on board,” Lindsey told Boozman. Dr. Lindsey told the panel, “I consider the changing demographic a win for UAM. We have more job offerings than we have students graduating to fill those jobs, so, we need to continue to promote the importance of agriculture education here at UAM. “
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff forester Joe Friend told thanked Boozman for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) funding in the current Farm Bill but would like to see it expanded. Friend said, “EQIP helps minority forestry landowners with establishing a sustainable stand of timber on their property” he said, “many minority landowners didn’t realize that their land had value. They just owned the land.” Friend said, “we’re helping them establish a stand of timber so they can realize income off of the property.”
Dr. Matthew Pelkki, Director of the Arkansas Center for Forest Business, believes the Farm Bill could address a front-line issue for the forestry industry. Pelkki told Boozman that insurance for loggers is a huge issue. “We really need to look at log truck drivers as producers. Right now, we can’t get a log truck driverinsured until they’ve got two years’ experience. So, while we talked about crop insurance being critical to farm producers, insurance for log truck drivers is really crucial to forestry production.”
Dr. Pelkki also offered ways to make forestry more profitable not only in SE Arkansas but the nation. Pelkki said, “carbon sequestration markets don’t allow us to take credit for wood in buildings and other products built of wood, such as furniture, cabinets, and wood flooring. We only can sell carbon that’s in living trees, so it’s really missing the boat in southern forestry where we are producing 60% of the lumber in the nation and our production cycle is too short to get credit in a carbon market that requires at least 30 years of carbon sequestration. We are producing our trees in less than 30 years.”
Another opportunity Pelkki wants addressed in the Farm Bill is the use of wood pellets. He suggested to Boozman that more wood pellets should be used for energy. According to Pelkki, “It’s highly recognized that we need markets for small diameter timber. The technology to pelletize trees and co-fire pellets with coal. We can immediately green up coal-fired power plants just as they have done in the United Kingdom. At the same time as we’re greening our power, we’re improving the health of our forest by removing small diameter trees from overstocked forests. “
Boozman said, “Agriculture is so important in Arkansas; it’s about 25% of our economy. But when you get outside of any town of any size, it’s probably 85 or 90% of the economy. We need to make sure they [farmers] can get the loans that they need, that they can have some economic certainty as they continue to do such a good job of providing a safe, affordable food supply for us.
Boozman says he plans to hold two more listening meetings on the Farm Bill later in the month.
About the College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Arkansas Forest Resources Center
The College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Arkansas Forest Resources Center, a University of Arkansas System Center of Excellence, brings together interdisciplinary expertise through a partnership between the University of Arkansas at Monticello and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. The College and Center are headquartered at the University of Arkansas at Monticello campus, but their programs range statewide with the mission of developing and delivering teaching, research, and extension programs that enhance and ensure the sustainability and productivity of forest-based natural resources and agricultural systems. Academic programs are delivered by the College of Forestry, Agriculture, and Natural Resources through the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Through the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, research is administered by the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, and extension and outreach activities are coordinated by the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
The University of Arkansas at Monticello and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offer all of their programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and are Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employers.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of twenty entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all seventy-fivecounties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.