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Ranking Member Boozman’s Opening Statement at Hearing Entitled “2023 Farm Bill: Perspectives from the Natural State”

U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the hearing entitled 2023 Farm Bill: Perspectives from the Natural State.

Good morning. I am delighted to be in Jonesboro and to have the opportunity to bring my friend Senator Stabenow, the chairwoman of the Senate agriculture committee, to Arkansas to discuss the next farm bill.

This is the second hearing in a series our committee will hold to help inform our decisions and identify the issues we will consider as we write a new farm bill.

Earlier this year, the chairwoman kicked off the Senate’s 2023 farm bill hearings in East Lansing, Michigan on the campus of Michigan State University. 

I greatly appreciate all the effort the chairwoman, her staff, and the university put into holding a very good hearing that helped me learn more about the issues farmers and rural communities in Michigan face.

Today’s hearing will share the story of agriculture in Arkansas and the importance of the farm bill to my state.

Of course we will talk about commodities, safety nets, and managing risk, but the farm bill is about more: it is about rural communities and families; it is about wildlife habitat and conserving natural resources; it is about supporting research at our universities; it is about helping those in need.

Those are only a few of the many things the farm bill will impact—the list goes on and on.

Chairwoman Stabenow is a veteran of the farm bill process and I look forward to working with her as we craft bipartisan legislation that meets the needs of farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, rural communities and other beneficiaries and participants in USDA’s programs in Arkansas, Michigan and across the country. 

Everyone in this room recognizes that we are in an unprecedented time.

The pandemic, the war in Europe, historic and widespread inflation, and now serious concerns about a recession—it just feels different.

As we consider the next farm bill, we must ask if the policies and programs currently in place are the policies and programs that we need for the world we find ourselves in?

Are we empowering, encouraging and incentivizing our farmers to be more productive and more efficient? To be more resilient?

Are we making the right investments in our rural infrastructure to keep the economic benefit of those productivity and efficiency gains in our rural communities? 

Are our investments in agricultural research focused on answering the right questions?

Is there a role for the farm bill to help address weak points in our supply chains and labor markets?

I believe we have an opportunity in this farm bill to put in place the tools necessary to strengthen American agriculture for any situation we face in the future.

If we do that, our farmers will continue to do what they have always done: provide the most abundant, lowest cost and safest food supply in the world.

I know that Arkansas’ farmers are ready to meet the challenge.

This morning we are fortunate to have eleven Arkansans before us who are leaders in agriculture, forestry, rural development, conservation, and nutrition.

These sectors underpin the economies of our rural communities and are a major component of Arkansas’s economy.

We have 42,000 family farmers and ranchers operating on 14 million acres, with gross receipts from the sales of crops and livestock equal to $9.7 billion.

The economic output of food and agriculture in the state is $92 billion, which supports nearly 500,000 jobs and $23 billion in wages.

Arkansas is our country’s top producer of rice, something that I am certain Chairwoman Stabenow has repeatedly heard from me.

We are also a major producer of cotton, poultry and timber.

Soybeans are our most widely planted crop, and we are seeing growth in peanut acreage due in no small part to a state-of-the-art peanut shelling plant here in Jonesboro. 

And even with all this success, 53 of Arkansas’ 75 counties lost population in the last census, something that is far too common in rural counties throughout the US. 

We all lose when rural America loses.

To stem this loss, we must ensure our farm families and rural residents have access to affordable electricity, high speed internet and safe drinking water. Those forms of infrastructure are essential services and with proper investment rural communities can measurably increase their quality of life.

I think any of our witnesses would tell you that being involved in agriculture is a daily blend of challenges and opportunities. I think they would also tell you that they wouldn’t want to do anything else, and for that we are all indebted.

Again, I would like to thank Chairwoman Stabenow for joining me in Jonesboro this morning. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses and thank each one of them for taking time from their busy lives to share their story with us today.