OPINION: Guest writer

New bill needed

Modernize the farm safety net

Farming is an inherently risky venture. Those willing to take it on find themselves borrowing enormous sums of money to operate in a wildly fluctuating economy, and facing challenges that are beyond their control.

These risks seem to intensify on an annual basis. In the past few years alone, our farmers and ranchers have experienced unprecedented challenges ranging from disappearing overseas markets to the pandemic; from catastrophic natural disasters to historic inflation; and now the impact of wars in Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe, and Israel.

All of this has brought us to a moment in history where Arkansas' family farmers and their counterparts across the country are navigating what is arguably one of agriculture's most precarious times ever.

A recent report from the Rural and Farm Finance Policy Analysis Center and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture backs this notion up. The report shows that despite high commodity prices, Arkansas net farm income for 2023 is expected to decline by nearly $1 billion from the previous year.

These difficult economic headwinds reinforce the importance of assuring the families that feed, clothe and fuel us that the farm safety net will be preserved.

Congress can give them that certainty and be able to strengthen it.

As the top Republican member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, I'm working to help ensure America re-ups the contract we make with farm country every five years that's known as the Farm Bill.

Over the last several years, national and international incidents have served to remind us of a key principle we must never lose sight of: Food security is national security. Thankfully, farmers and ranchers in our state and throughout the country do a tremendous job. But they're only able to do so because they have the risk-management tools in place to help provide them with the confidence to plan for another planting season and dodge all the hazards along the way to harvest.

Here in Arkansas, agriculture contributes approximately $19 billion to our state's economy and is responsible for one of every seven jobs. As of 2021, 42 percent of our land is comprised of farms. We lead the nation in rice production and are in the top 10 for soybeans, chickens, cotton, catfish, turkeys and eggs.

Arkansas is not alone when it comes to the central role agriculture plays in a state's economy. I embarked on a Farm Bill listening tour to hear directly from producers around the country, and have found the same impact at each stop.

At the invitation of my colleagues, I've held 18 listening sessions in 17 states with diverse agriculture profiles. Whether in Texas or Kentucky, Wyoming or Minnesota, Alaska or Delaware, the message has been the same: Modernizing the farm safety net is the top priority for producers.

The world has changed dramatically since the 2018 Farm Bill was passed. The safety-net programs authorized in that legislation are based off 2012 data. It simply makes no sense to tie our farmers to programs that have been outdated for over a decade--especially considering how much the world changed after March 2020.

While we have made considerable progress on the next Farm Bill, it has become clear that we're not there yet when it comes to the safety net. That is why Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and I worked with our counterparts in the House of Representatives to attach a one-year Farm Bill extension to the continuing resolution recently signed into law by President Joe Biden.

An extension gives farmers and ranchers certainty so they can go to the bank and borrow the money they need to make their operation decisions on time. It is in no way meant to be a substitute for passing a five-year bill and we remain committed to working together to get it done next year. However, the extension does give us some breathing room to get a new Farm Bill done right to ensure our farmers have the tools they need.

As we enter the holiday season, it important to be thankful for the blessings we have. As a nation, we are blessed with the safest, most affordable and most abundant food supply in the world.

But it is not enough for Washington to simply be thankful for all our farmers and ranchers do for us. Congress must put them on a path to succeed. The Farm Bill can do that by opening new markets for producers to compete overseas, investing in infrastructure in their rural communities, supercharging agriculture research and, most of all, providing strong risk-management tools that reflect the true nature of the challenges they face.

I think it was put best during our North Dakota listening session where I was told, "Senator, we need more 'farm' in the farm bill."

We're working hard to make that happen.


John Boozman is the senior U.S. senator for the state of Arkansas.