Following a March 30 field hearing, the House Agriculture Committee left northeast Arkansas with a better understanding of the unique intricacies of Southern agriculture.

The lawmakers, who have been deep in debate on the next farm bill, will carry a long list concerns back to Capitol Hill including: a Southern view of farm and conservation programs, pushback on proposals for a “one-size-fits-all” federal safety net, the hurdles faced by cotton and rice, worries of cow/calf operations, regulatory overkill of aquaculture, and continuing irritation with proposed Department of Labor rules regarding child labor on the farm.  

Hosted by Arkansas State University in Jonesboro – a city in committee member Rep. Rick Crawford’s district – the lawmakers heard the testimony of 10 farmers and ranchers.

For more on the hearing, including prepared testimony, see here.

Crawford asked Randy Veach, row-crop farmer and President of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, for details on the National Cotton Council’s “STAX (Stacked Income Protection Plan)” – a revenue-based crop insurance product proposed to replace direct and counter-cyclical payments for cotton-- and how it would work for state cotton producers.

For more on STAX see here and here.

Veach advocated for “two or three” options for farmers to choose from. However, “the STAX program would work very well. I think with the amount of irrigation we have – mitigating risk through irrigation – we need a little more protection in price.

“One of the best ways of doing that is to have options (for a safety net). … They could decide if that program is the one that works best for them or if there is more of a price-based type program (would be preferable).

“The options have to be very viable. … If we have options for a safety net then we’ll have the opportunity to see which one works best for a particular commodity on a particular farm’s ground.”

Crawford delved into the future role of conservation programs, particularly the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Several witnesses said they had not signed up for CRP.

However, Bowen Flowers, a row-crop producer from Clarksdale, Miss., found the programs praiseworthy. “CRP has been a good product in the Mississippi Delta. A lot of land has gone into CRP and WRP (Wetlands Reserve Program). Like everyone else, we’re 80 percent irrigated and a lot of the land that isn’t irrigated has been put into CRP for wildlife.

“We’re starting to have some water issues and want to conserve it for future generations. One thing I’d like to see is, maybe, the development of a CRP program where we could impound water and use that for irrigation.

EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) has been very important to our area, also.”