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Support for agriculture difficult when few people understand it

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"If most of the citizens in farm country don’t understand agriculture, why should someone in Cleveland, Ohio, or Chicago, Ill., or any big city anywhere care about reauthorizing the commodity title of the farm bill?" says Arkansas Representative Rick Crawford. "They don’t understand the connection between agriculture the consumer — that’s where our industry has probably fallen short, trying to bridge the gap between production agriculture and consumption.”

It’s interesting, says Rep. Rick Crawford, that there are 535 members of Congress who consider themselves experts on farm policy, yet “few want to be on the Ag Committee.”

Crawford, House member from Arkansas’ first district, says those who want to shape farm policy should “get on the Committee — that’s where it ought to take place. And when farm legislation goes to the floor, recognize that committee members are implementing policy that’s based on their level of experience and expertise, and on what’s been taken from working with the industry. When we’re implementing farm policy, I think we ought to respect the opinion of farmers and those in the industry.”

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Speaking at the annual conference of the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, he said “it was quite a heavy lift, in the current environment,” to pass the new farm bill. And, “I don’t think implementation of the legislation will be smooth. I think we have a good relationship with the USDA, that they will understand what Congress is trying to accomplish, and that they will maintain congressional intent — but members of Congress will continue to fiddle with policy, through the appropriations process or in other ways, and that’s part of the institution we have to live with.”

Actually, Crawford says, he thinks it shouldn’t be called a farm bill — rather, “it would more accurately be described as a USDA reauthorization bill.”

Previous farm bills haven’t been as difficult to pass, he says, and reasons for that include an increasing “geographical disparity” and “a weakness of the ag industry, in general, in finding and capitalizing on opportunities for inter-commodity collaboration.” With limited acre crops such as peanuts and rice, Crawford says, there are “really good opportunities” for collaboration between crop groups.”

A continuing problem, he says, is the distancing of the general population from any connection to agriculture. “We have generations of kids today — and parents, too — who think their food comes from Walmart. I live in the heart of the Arkansas rice belt, but the key thing most people think about those rice fields is that they’re good duck hunting habitat. They don’t equate those fields to millions of dollars of economic impact, or jobs, or ancillary benefits. It’s hard for people to get together and understand why it’s in their interest to support peanut farmers, rice farmers, farmers in general.

“So, if most of the citizens in farm country don’t understand agriculture, why should someone in Cleveland, Ohio, or Chicago, Ill., or any big city anywhere care about reauthorizing the commodity title of the farm bill? They don’t understand the connection between agriculture the consumer — that’s where our industry has probably fallen short, trying to bridge the gap between production agriculture and consumption.”

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