A bill that would have authorized the creation of an Arkansas Department of Agriculture failed to pass the Arkansas House by one vote on March 21. Supporters of a new department vow to bring the bill (HB2774) — or one of several other similar bills (SB45, HB1199) making the rounds through the current session of the legislature — up for a vote again.

“We need an Arkansas Department of Agriculture,” says John Alter, Dewitt, Ark., rice producer who recently testified before the legislature. “I don't know if people have noticed or not, but things aren't going so well for farmers in this state. Something's got to change. Let's start with this.”

Fifty members of the House agreed with Alter when the vote was taken (51 votes were needed for passage). Interestingly, through the course of debate and votes last week, 57 representatives voted for such a department — just not at the same time. The March 21 tally showed 50 votes for, 30 votes against with 20 representatives not voting. Roll call also showed that five representatives switched from a yes vote to not voting, three representatives switched from a no vote to not voting, four switched from not voting to no votes, two switched from yes votes to no votes, six switched from not voting to yes votes, and 13 switched from no votes to yes votes.

Supporters believe that the three bills making the rounds at the current session, to some degree, are cannibalizing each other.

“This is just the way our government is set up. You debate and vote. I'm not complaining about that. I just hope that the supporters for all the bills can hook up and figure something out that's acceptable to everyone,” says Alter.

There is real hope among proponents that a new department will be realized. The day before losing by only one vote, a tally for the same bill shows it failed by 13 votes.

“We're making progress,” says Alter. “There's life left in the idea of this department and it can be done.”


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com.