The agriculture industry is a top economic driver for our state. Having input from those in a variety of agri-businesses and production operations is vital to crafting legislation that meets the needs of our producers. That’s why I visit annually with farmers, ranchers and industry stakeholders at their family farms and production facilities to hear how Washington can improve the agriculture environment and help our producers succeed at feeding and clothing the world.
My 2019 Ag Tour highlighted innovative methods developed by Arkansas agri-businesses to improve operations, and there were plenty of groundbreaking practices to shine a light on. For instance, Fayetteville-based Little Bird Systems created a wireless detection technique to measure feed in livestock feed bins. Helping producers optimize the supply chain and cut feed costs improves efficiency and grows their bottom lines.
Vet Veggies, a Springdale business, uses hydroponics to grow produce sold to local stores and restaurants. Owner Jerry Martin says this type of innovative approach to farming allows him to supply the increasing demand for healthy food grown locally. Cultivating kale, lettuce, basil and other produce indoors lets the business grow its produce year-round and avoid unpredictable weather conditions.
At Arkansas State University, students shared how they’re using drones to study water use in fields and weed suppression. This research is helping our farmers compete with producers around the world by increasing their production efficiency while simultaneously equipping young people with skills they can use to be successful and support our agriculture industry into the future.
Technology is making it easier for producers to make decisions that will increase their yields. Jackson County farmers demonstrated for me the infrared technology they use to determine what areas of their fields are under stress. This allows them to fix problems earlier in the growing season. In addition, more efficient irrigation practices are helping farmers ensure crops get the water necessary to thrive while actually conserving this valued resource.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue saw first-hand some of the technology Arkansas farmers are using to improve their crops. Earlier this month, he visited Carlisle-based Vantage Midsouth Precision Agriculture, a company using GPS and laser technology to improve the efficiency of farming and agriculture production.
This year’s tour took on extra significance as the Farm Bill I helped pass last year is now being implemented. Our agriculture producers are facing low commodity prices, an escalating trade war and poor weather conditions. This year, there are 1.3 million acres of unplanted land in Arkansas because of rainfall and flooding.
Agriculture producers I visited with said the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) has helped make up a portion of what they lost, because of retaliatory tariffs, and they are optimistic for opportunities to create new markets in which to sell their products.
Cuba is a potential market less than 100 miles off our coast. Normalizing trade with Cuba would be a game changer for Arkansas farmers looking to sell their products.
The recent trade agreement with Japan and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) are also opportunities for our ag producers to compete and sell the safest, cheapest food supply in the world.