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Farm Bill is Good News for Arkansas

Ask most Americans the first word they think of to describe Washington and the most common responses are words like “dysfunctional” or “gridlock.” Well, at least the answers that can be printed in this column.

That’s understandable. Whether its failed efforts to get the economy moving or reform our health care system, the policies pushed by the Obama Administration often take the country in the wrong direction. Instead of making things better for the people of Arkansas, Washington has a knack for making it worse.

So it’s refreshing to be able to highlight some good work Washington achieved in the form of a new five-year Farm Bill. As I write this column, President Obama is signing it into law. This accomplishment is good news for Arkansas.

Agriculture, food processing, and related service industries account for nearly one-quarter of Arkansas’s economic activity. Arkansas’s farmers, ranchers and loggers work 33 million acres across the Natural State. Our 49,000-plus farms rank us in the top 12 nationally in total farm receipts. One out of every six jobs in Arkansas is tied, either directly or indirectly, to agriculture.

The industry’s $9-plus in annual wages account for about 15 percent of the state’s total labor income. If we had to survive solely on food grown in state, you wouldn’t have trouble finding variety. We’re among the nation’s top ten producers of rice, chicken, catfish, turkey, soybeans, and eggs. We could also conceivably cloth and shelter ourselves from fiber grown in Arkansas as we are third in the nation in cotton production and fifth in the nation in timber production.

These statistics underscore the importance to ensure our national agriculture policy safeguards Arkansas’s farmers, ranchers and loggers.

Now, no one is going to say this bill is perfect. It is, however, a good, fair bill that achieves real savings in mandatory spending, reduces and streamlines government programs and provides much-needed reform for the food stamp program. At the same time, this bill ensures the continued safety, affordability, and reliability of our food supply while protecting the most vulnerable members of our communities.

When you really get down to it, the Farm Bill is a jobs bill. Just like any other industry, family farms and agribusinesses need certainty in order to plan for future development and growth. Without that, the last thing they’re going to do is rush out and hire more employees or buy more equipment.

That economic impact is felt by more than just our farmers. If a farmer can’t go to a bank, get a loan, and get that tractor or other equipment they need, the implement dealer doesn’t make money. Rural Arkansas, where many make their living off the land, can’t afford this process to continue to drag on. Last year, when I was appointed to serve on the conference committee tasked with resolving the differences between the Senate and House versions of the Farm Bill, the fate of the bill remained in limbo.

I’m pleased with the agreement we reached. It establishes a strong safety net for all agriculture producers; reforms the food stamp program; provides regulatory relief to farmers, ranchers and loggers–and does so while saving taxpayers $23 billion.

We need more cooperation on policies that make life better for Americans. It’s a much better feeling when I can use this column space to share how Washington is creating opportunities to improve our economic outlook.

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