The United States is going in the red so fast that by the end of this decade it will take half of all government revenues just to pay interest on the national debt, says Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark.

“We cannot continue to do this,” he said at the 75th anniversary field day of the Cotton Branch Experiment Station at Marianna, Ark. “But there's absolutely no plan out there for bringing it to an end, or even bringing it under control.

“We're spending so much more money than we're taking in, that we're going to borrow another $700 billion just to pay the bills for this fiscal year. That's more than twice the amount of deficit that we've ever run before.”

That wouldn't be so worrisome, Berry said, if all that money were being invested in research, education, and infrastructure.

“But we're not getting anything for that $700 billion — nothing that will help to generate a productive, dynamic economy; nothing that gives us any reason to think the country will be better off 20 years from now. We're not building any new ports, or highways, or airports; we're not doing anything that would make it possible for us to support an expanding, growing, prosperous economy.”

In China, Berry said, “They're educating 10 times as many people as we are in the U.S.; many are going to better educated than most of our graduates. It's important that we, as citizens, recognize these situations and help our public officials to make the kind of decisions that will keep us a powerful, strong nation.”

Recalling when he first went to Washington in 1993 as special assistant to the president for agriculture, Berry said one of his first duties assigned by the White House was to work with water issues in the West.

“That experience taught me something: That areas like California's Central Valley, which produces 20 percent of all this country's agricultural commodities, are increasingly going to be limited by availability of water. It's happening wherever water is at a premium, where there is competition for it from big metropolitan areas.”

That outlook of scarcity gives the Lower Mississippi River Valley an advantage, Berry says.

“I believe that the most important commodity we have in our area is water. We're one of the unique places in the world, with 50 or more inches of rainfall a year, great fertile soils, and a superhighway into the international marketplace called the Mississippi River. I think one day we're going to enjoy great prosperity because of these assets.”

As areas like the Central Valley of California continue to face water problems, it will present an opportunity for farmers in this part of the world to do something different, he says. “I don't think agriculture in the Lower Mississippi Valley 20 years from now will be just cotton, rice, soybeans, and corn. Our water will be our salvation.”

Right now, though, he says, “Things are not so good” for farmers. “I still own a farm, and I know how firsthand how agriculture is suffering. As when I first went to Washington, I'm still concerned about the future of agriculture.”

Milo Shult, University of Arkansas vice president for agriculture, noted that Congressman Berry “has always been strongly supportive of agriculture. Through his efforts we've been able to continue to receive federal funding that would've otherwise gone away. We're very appreciative of the contributions he's made on behalf of our programs and our nation's agriculture.”

The Cotton Branch Station has a track record of “high quality research,” said Claude Kennedy, resident director.

“For 75 years, our programs have helped to support the nation's food and fiber system — the most productive in the world — while maintaining and enhancing the environment and natural resources, and helping Arkansas farmers to be competitive in a global economy.”

Some of the youngsters who visited the station for early-era field days and as part of 4-H Club projects themselves became farmers and researchers who made contributions to Arkansas agriculture, he said. “I, for one, never expected that one day I would be director of this station.”

Kennedy thanked the many farmers, agribusiness firms, and commodity support boards that have helped over the years to make many vital research programs possible. “In this era of ever-shrinking budgets, their support is even more important.”

Funds were appropriated in 1925 to establish the station, with 160 acres of land, and the facility was up and running by 1928, with E.B. Whittaker as the first resident director.

At the first field day in 1929, research programs included pecans, cotton variety tests, and corn intercropped with soybeans, mung beans, wheat, and crotolaria. The tour also included the station's first soybean test, from which the first Arkansas variety, Arksoy, was developed.

Over the years, to accommodate growing research and Extension projects, the station was expanded to 655 acres, and in 1954 the Arkansas Soil Testing and Research Laboratory opened at the station. Today, the lab operates as a separate unit and provides routine soil testing and fertilizer recommendations.

“Many new varieties of cotton and soybeans have come out of our research programs,” Kennedy said, “and our station has been a vital source of information. Continued research and development for cotton and other crops is economically vital to our state and nation.”

Plans to update the 1950s-vintage station headquarters, at an estimated cost of $900,000, led to a four-county initiative for private funding to build and furnish the facility.


e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com