In a country where farmers grow more than 90 million acres of corn and more than 80 million acres of soybeans annually, crops like rice and peanuts – and even cotton – can look very small.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t important economically, especially to the communities in states where they are grown, says Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., a speaker at the Arkansas Rice Council and Arkansas Rice Farmers meeting in Stuttgart yesterday (Jan. 30).
The day before Crawford was one of 266 House members voting for the Agriculture Act of 2014, the long-awaited farm bill he helped write as a member of the House Agriculture Committee and of the Farm Bill Conference Committee.
“If you haven’t been watching, we’ve been up against some pretty tremendous odds,” he said. “One of the things I observed almost on day one when I got to Washington was that politics in Washington are largely dictated by geography as much as they are by party affiliation, and that was certainly true with the farm bill.
“So we had a lot of Midwest representation that simply doesn’t understand the way things are done in Arkansas, and they particularly don’t understand Arkansas rice production (or in other states, for that matter).”
Crawford says when he tells his colleagues that the First Congressional District in Arkansas is responsible for about half the U.S. rice production, he gets puzzled looks. “First, they scratch their heads and say ‘I didn’t even know we grew rice in the United States.’ Then they say, ‘You guys grow rice in Arkansas.’”
Crawford and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., faced an uphill battle after the Senate came out of the starting gate with a “one size fits all farm bill” that provided a safety net for Midwest corn and soybean growers and few others.
Southern members of the House Ag Committee like Crawford and Rep. Mike Conway, R-Texas, chairman of the General Farm Commodities Committee wrote provisions into their version of the farm bill that would provide assistance to rice and peanut growers during times of weather disasters and low prices.
“I think they (Midwest members) are getting the message, but this farm bill was a tough one,” said Crawford. “We have a safety net in place. It’s not what you’re used to. But with the help of your legislative staff with the Arkansas Rice Farmers, we’ve been able to arrive at something you can live with.
“We would certainly have liked to get more. But under the circumstances, I think that what we did was pretty remarkable given the conditions that exist in Washington with the budget constraints and the continual pounding that Arkansas producers have received over the years going back to 2000 when the crosshairs were squarely placed on Mid-South agriculture.”
The Farm Bill Conference Report received near-unanimous support from the Mid-South congressional delegations. Only one House member from Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton, a Republican, voted against the measure.
For more on the farm bill, click on http://deltafarmpress.com/government/new-farm-bill-moves-out-conference