Sen. Blanche Lincoln says farmers in her state of Arkansas and in others shouldn’t give up their efforts to feed and clothe the nation – and the rest of the world – no matter how unappreciated those efforts might seem at times.

Lincoln, a two-term Democrat who helped write the 2008 farm bill, was honored with the “Champion of Arkansas Agriculture” award for her efforts on behalf of farmers and for the fight against hunger at a dinner in Little Rock Nov. 20. (Funds raised at the dinner went to the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.)

In remarks delivered after receiving the award, Sen. Lincoln, who founded and currently chairs the Senate Hunger Caucus, talked about hunger in Arkansas, the nation and the world and her efforts to address those problems in the 2008 farm bill.

“I was particularly proud of the tremendous investment the bill makes to reduce food insecurity among our children and our elderly, and others in need,” Lincoln said. “It represents the largest amount of funding for nutrition programs in our nation’s history.”

Despite the growing affluence in the United States, until recently at least, an estimated 35.5 million Americans struggle to find adequate, nutritious food, she noted. More than 13 million children live in households that are food insecure, and about 80 percent of supplemental nutrition assistance goes to households with children.

“Every month, nutrition assistance programs enable almost 385,000 Arkansans – 13.7 percent of our state’s population – to purchase groceries for themselves and their families. And more than 53 percent of Arkansas children in public schools rely on the school nutrition programs. When school is out, these children turn to their community food pantries one to supplement what their parents can afford.”

Despite the increased funding for nutrition programs and improvements in the safety net for farmers in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, many opponents of the farm bill failed to recognize the many benefits of the bill, she said.

“Instead, I received a considerable amount of criticism for some of the work I did to ensure that our family farmers and producers can remain competitive in today’s global marketplace. Thanks to this farm bill, though, we will be able to be able to continue to produce an affordable, safe and abundant food and fiber supply in Arkansas..”

Lincoln said her critics fail to see that production agriculture is part of the solution when it comes to addressing the needs of the hungry. With a growing world population, U.S. agriculture will need future resources for research and technology to feed future generations.

Congress also must continue to resist efforts to make unilateral changes to farm programs that could mean consumers will be forced to “outsource” their food while trying to combat food insecurity in Arkansas and across nation.

“It has been said: To those to whom much is given, much is required,” she said. “Those of you here tonight are taking this message to heart. Let’s don’t give up. Hunger is a disease that has a cure. Let’s strive hard each and every day to eliminate hunger once and for all.”

Lincoln received tribute from the leaders of a number of diverse agricultural groups, including row crops such as cotton and rice, timber, forestry, catfish, livestock and poultry.

“We are fortunate and grateful to have Senator Lincoln working as a tireless advocate for the men, women and families in American agriculture and especially here in Arkansas,” said Gary Sebree, chairman of the Arkansas Rice Producers’ Group.

“Senator Lincoln understands these connections, and we should all applaud her strong leadership. She is a champion for the millions of American families for whom having enough to eat is a daily struggle,” Arkansas Rice Council Chairman Robert Petter said.

“We applaud the work of Sen. Lincoln and the Arkansas rice industry for their generous efforts and contributions toward helping eradicate hunger in America,” USA Rice President and CEO Betsy Ward said.

Proceeds from the dinner will benefit the Arkansas Rice Depot and The Arkansas Food Bank Network through the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, the agricultural community and humanitarian leaders.

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