Agriculture is our state's largest industry accounting for $17 billion in Arkansas' economy in 2009. It's important to support and maintain this economic engine for our state.
As part of my commitment to our agriculture community, we travel across the state each year highlighting the efforts and concerns of agriculture producers and to see how we can help our industry continue to thrive.
This summer, record drought conditions have created challenges for our agriculture producers and we have a responsibility to respond and prevent the loss of family farms because of this historic weather event.
In July the Arkansas Delegation took steps to reduce the challenges Natural State agriculture producers are facing by supporting Governor Beebe's request for federal disaster assistance, which made Arkansas eligible for emergency funding. I also joined members of the Senate Agriculture Committee in sending a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack requesting that he use all of his existing authority to provide relief, pointing out the vulnerability of the livestock industry.
The drought is having a devastating impact on Natural State agriculture producers. During a stop on our agriculture tour to the Livestock Auction in Conway I talked with ranchers who have been forced to liquidate their herds due to the high cost of feed, or lack thereof. This location has seen sales volume increase by nearly one-third from this same time last year. At the same time many permanent grasses have died and will need to be reseeded, and farmers and ranchers are paying higher input costs because of the increasing need to irrigate.
In turn, costs may be passed along to the consumer forcing us all to pay more at the grocery store. There are steps we can take to protect our livestock producers as well as middle class families at the check-out line.
With as much as forty percent of our nation's corn going to ethanol production, the Administrator of the EPA should temporarily suspend the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for corn ethanol in light of the uncertainty regarding livestock feed prices and future corn stocks. This could prevent the price spikes we are seeing now, that will inevitably reverberate throughout the commodities markets and eventually at the grocery store checkout line.
Arkansas agriculture producers need reliability and are depending on Congress to approve a five-year Farm Bill that includes an extension of livestock disaster programs. While I didn't support the Senate passed bill I am confident that the House and the Senate can find a meaningful compromise that includes safety-nets for agriculture producers all across the country that I can support. At the same time, disaster programs providing risk protection for livestock producers expired at the beginning of this year and those should be extended until Congress can negotiate a five-year Farm Bill.
This is difficult time for our agriculture producers but we are working to provide relief while we wait for Mother Nature to provide the rain.