Pryor Seeks to Strengthen Farm Bill for Arkansas Farmers, Researchers and Students
Senator Mark Pryor today said the Farm Bill represents a careful balance that provides a safety net for farmers and allows them to continue providing a stable, safe and affordable food supply. He plans to strengthen the bill during Senate floor consideration through amendments that would advance investment in cellulosic biofuel, improve quality control standards for university and private sector research and enrich low-income students in rural America through technology.
Pryor said rural America may hold the key to our nation's energy challenges but farmers need the resources and infrastructure in place before switching markets. He said Arkansas has tremendous potential for cellulosic ethanol -- where farmers could turn switch grass, cornstarch, miscanthus and woodchips into the next generation of biofuel -- but it needs companies willing to invest and commercialize the fuel.
The Senator plans to offer an amendment to the Farm Bill that would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct a state-by-state analysis of growth potential for cellulosic feedstock and provide a rating of each state's potential for contributing to the cellulosic energy marketplace. In addition, the 18-month study would identify for each state the range of potential feedstock that can be grown for cellulosic ethanol, the available acreage for growing cellulosic feedstock, the quantity of energy per acre for each feedstock and the development potential for cellulosic feedstock.
"Arkansas has tremendous energy potential that exists in our fields and forests. My measure will identify this potential, help drive investment to our state and move cellulosic energy to the next level," Pryor said. "Commercializing this type of biofuel is a win-win opportunity for our farmers, rural communities, conservationists and our overall energy security."
Second, Pryor said he wants to improve standards for quality control and management in research between the private sector and universities in order to prevent another major disruption in the U.S. rice industry. In 2006, an unapproved genetically-engineered rice strain disrupted rice exports to Europe, Asia and the Middle East and reduced the value of the long grain rice crop by almost $200 million. Pryor said the USDA spent a year investigating the cause and then offered several recommendations to prevent related problems in the future. His amendment will require the USDA to turn those recommendations into regulations, including policies to enhance the quality of records, retain representative samples, maintain identity and control in the event of an unauthorized release, develop corrective actions and protocols for conducting molecular forensics, provide clarity in contractual agreements, develop standards for quality management systems and use electronic permits to store documents.
"In Arkansas and around the country, some of the strongest research has been conducted by partnerships between universities and the private sector," Pryor said. "The USDA has provided sound recommendations that can and should be implemented to improve research capabilities and ensure the safety of our food and the viability of U.S. markets. This is a smart policy for producers, universities and consumers, and it should be in place sooner rather than later. "
Finally, Pryor seeks to expand broadband deployment in rural areas through a pilot federal-state partnership aimed at improving digital demand in the nation's rural counties. Under the partnership, states could use a flexible combination of broadband support for low-income households with children. Pryor believes that this investment will help drive broadband deployment in counties that are being left out of the modern, digital economy. Specifically, the Pryor amendment would establish a pilot program within the USDA for a 50-50 federal-state match for 10 grants per fiscal year for a three year trial period. Grants can support broadband subscriptions, in-home computers and software, internet education and training to low-income, rural households with students in 6-10th grade.
According to a recent Pew Internet and American Life Project report, 31% of rural households have access to a broadband internet connection, while 49% of their suburban counterparts and 52% of their urban counterparts have access to broadband.
"Internet access plays an important role in today's economy and way of life, but there are unique challenges that stand in the way for students and their families in rural communities," Pryor said. "This pilot program provides incentives for both consumers and providers to expand broadband access, which I believe will go a long way to help create a more vibrant rural America."