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WASHINGTON -- Ask and ye shall receive?

Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach says it really works.

Last week, the group's board members and several staff members -- 16 in all -- traveled to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and met with one of President Donald Trump's aides about agriculture, infrastructure and the environment.

The Arkansans initiated the consultation.

"If you're bold enough to ask, they might just say 'yes,'" Veach said. "We called and asked. They gave us the meeting."

Alex Herrgott, the associate director of infrastructure at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, briefed his guests on the president's new infrastructure proposal, which envisions a $50 billion investment in rural infrastructure.

The Pennsylvania Avenue meeting broke new ground for the organization, according to Arkansas Farm Bureau spokesman Steve Eddington.

"They've been to the White House for tours and things like that, but as far as we can tell, never for a meeting like that. So, yeah, that's a big deal," he said.

Afterward, the Arkansans were summoned to meet with the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

"They found out that we were in D.C., and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had his people to call us and ask if we could meet with him," Veach said. "I'll be honest with you: I've been coming to D.C. for a long [time] and this is probably one of the best meetings I've had in D.C."

Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general, met with about 30 Arkansans and left a good impression, Veach said. "He is very, very understanding and smart. Very understanding and he listened. He's not telling you, 'This is the way it's going to be,' and that's huge," Veach said.

Pruitt, who traveled to Arkansas in July and discussed environmental matters with state officials, portrayed last week's meeting as productive.

"We always appreciate hearing from our nation's first environmentalists, including Arkansas Farm Bureau," he said in a written statement. "EPA is working to provide regulatory certainty, promote environmental stewardship, and reaffirm President Trump's commitment to farmers and ranchers across the country."

A key topic of conversation: EPA water regulations and Arkansas' Discovery Farms, a dozen farms where water quality is carefully studied.

The "research is coordinated by faculty from the University of Arkansas' Agriculture Division and is conducted in collaboration with federal and state agencies promoting conservation of our natural resources," the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website states.

While in Washington, the Arkansas Farm Bureau delegation engaged in a little international diplomacy, consulting with Mexican and Canadian embassy staff members about the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"We talked about the importance of NAFTA to the United States and our farmers and ranchers, for sure. But we talked about ... how important it is to Canada and Mexico as well. And they all agree. It's an extremely important trade agreement for them as well," he said.

Before leaving town, the Arkansans checked in with members of the state congressional delegation and their staff members.

It's time for Congress to reauthorize the farm bill, which covers everything from crop insurance and agricultural subsidies to food programs.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, a Republican from Rogers, serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee. U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, a Republican from Jonesboro, serves on the House version.

Veach is letting lawmakers know that farmers need a stronger safety net.

"If we have disasters and cattle drown and crops are destroyed and poultry houses are blown away and things like that, then we've got to have some protection for those farmers. One event like that can actually take out generation after generation of farmers, all in one fell swoop," he said.

Business on 03/14/2018

Print Headline: Farming agency hails visit to D.C.

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