Facing a reelection fight and well-funded opponent, Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor is keen to play up his strong ties to the state’s farming sector. That makes perfect sense considering the huge role agriculture plays in the state.

Pryor, who spoke with Farm Press in late February, is pleased that a new farm bill is now in place. However, the three-year process to get the legislation passed was “way too long, no doubt. It got balled up in the D.C. politics but I’m glad we finally got it done.

“There’s no single piece of legislation more important to Arkansas’ economy than the farm bill. If you look at the state, we love having our Fortune 500 companies -- Wal-Mart, Dillard’s, Axiom, J.B. Hunt and others. However, 25 percent of the state’s economy is in agriculture. One in six jobs is tied to agriculture. So, the farm bill is very important to give the state stability and predictability in the ag sector.”

After talking to farmers around the state about the farm bill, Pryor says “most are happy. There are a lot of questions around the new insurance programs -- particularly from rice producers. Now, they’re waiting to see how it’s all implemented.”

Was Pryor ever worried that the farm bill wouldn’t pass?

“I always thought we’d get it done. I was always concerned but it never got the point where I didn’t think it wouldn’t pass.

“It was frustrating because the House wanted to separate nutrition (program funding) from the farm bill. I looked at that with many others and said, ‘If you do that, the whole thing is going down.’ And that’s exactly what happened.

“In fact, it was pretty disingenuous by some House members. They (separated out the nutrition title) from the bill and still voted against both pieces. That wasn’t good -- bad for the process.”

Pryor believes those who used such tactics, “were much more concerned about some political agenda and ideology rather than having a really strong agricultural economy in the United States.”

Pryor points to Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, as deserving special praise. “She just kept working and kept working. One thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that agriculture is Michigan’s second-largest industry. So, she has a lot of knowledge and expertise in the field. She also has a lot of expertise in negotiating … that was very impressive.”