Hutchinson's Turnrow Tour Visits Region
Corn stalks rustled in the breeze beneath an azure sky behind Gov. Asa Hutchinson, as he stood in a farm shop belonging to Turner Farms last Wednesday morning. The Turner farming operation of Clay County is owned by Jerry and Linda Turner; Keith and wife, Rhonda Turner; and Steve and Melanie Haywood. It’s located on Big T road in the Success area.
During the visit, area farmers congregated in the shop building to express concerns to the governor on the first day of his Turnrow Tour. Hutchinson made seven appearances over a two-day period last week, in what he termed, listening sessions. “Agriculture is critical to our state. It’s the number one industry. Whether it is row crop farming or feed cattle, poultry, timber in the south, all that adds together as our number one industry,” Hutchinson said in opening the session. “The focus of this trip is really row crop farming, which is critical in northeast Arkansas and the delta.”
He went on to note his focus as governor has been marketing Arkansas agriculture and opening up markets. He described how the China rice opportunity came about, largely through U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, when he toured the flooding in northeast Arkansas last spring and told Hutchinson of his discussions with China. “I wish I could take all the credit for it. I can’t, but whenever China opened up that market to Arkansas rice, it was a huge, huge opportunity for us,” Hutchinson offered. “Whenever I went over to China to try to bring in industry to Arkansas, I met with the Minister of Agriculture for China on purpose. And made the case for them that they needed to open up their market to us and over time that happened.”
The governor then opened the floor to farmers to voice their concerns and pose questions, and one of the first questions asked was about Dicamba. Hutchinson stated that he relied on the Plant Board because they are farmers who represent the agriculture community.
“They passed a resolution putting a ban in place, technically that has to come through me and by the legislature, as well. We approved that because it came from our experts on the Plant Board. Now I did direct Secretary Ward and Director Terry Walker of the Plant Board, to convene a Task Force to look at this technology in the future. The Task Force is being assembled,” the governor explained.
The governor introduced Arkansas Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward, who told farmers that the Task Force will try to facilitate meetings quickly. “We know farmers need to make decisions for next year. You all need certainty and you all need answers as quick as possible. Hopefully the Task Force will make a decision by mid-September - early October at the latest,” said Ward.
He told the crowd that the Task Force is a pretty broad charge of industry and certainly several farmers. In fact, there are 19 members on the Task Force, which includes crop consultants, seed grower’s association and seed dealers. The governor then asked Ward to compile a list of the Task Force members by county saying that farmers should know who is on the list in order to communicate their concerns with them.
An agricultural issue Governor Hutchinson learned about during his stop in Clay county was the matter of crop insurance. Farm owner, Steve Fox explained to the governor, “We don’t have a drought problem because we use irrigation. We have a flooding problem after our crops come up and before we cut it. Why not insure every field in whatever price that field needs to be, instead of doing a whole section and whole farm number?” Fox commented. “If you have 1,000 acres of soybeans and your bottom don’t make nothing and your top makes 60 bushes an acre, you’re paid your 32 and 3 bushels an acre. You’re not going to get any money and you paid your crop insurance. The insurance company has all our information for every field. It would be no problem to say this field has a 40 percent chance of going underwater, this field has a five percent chance. This field will pay 40 percent more insurance, but you’ve got insurance on that block.”
“I’ve got it and I agree with you. I think it has to be solved. We’ll be happy to share that with our partner, the Secretary of Agriculture,” the governor offered in agreement. “It’s my opinion that when a natural disaster happens in Florida like a hurricane and all those homes are destroyed, there’s some federal bill that provides some relief. Our farmers need to have better protection when it comes to flooding and I think it’s one of the big lessons. There’s some risk that you have to take and you do take it. But this is becoming too unpredictable, too frequent, for no rational reason.”
There was further discussion about flooding and levies with several farmers explaining the issues they were having with their crops and permission issues with the Corp of Engineers. Hutchinson said that he was looking to the future and his goal is to have some answers before next flooding season. He offered that the last General Assembly passed a law that requires county clerks to submit levy information to the natural resources commission so those at the state level can have some awareness. Currently there are federally authorized levies, locally created levies, individual farmer levies and a lack of information at the state level of all those levies. The governor talked about a future study with the Corp of Engineers on the management of Black River and the levy system in order to create a better water flow.
“As governor I can’t solve every problem. Agriculture is foundational. It is essential that we are successful in our agriculture community and that’s why I’m here,” Hutchinson said in closing the meeting. “There’s risk that you all take and we need to mitigate against those risks when we can. We’ve made some notes and we will follow up on these things.”
The governor also visited a peanut facility in Randolph County and a farm in Leachville on Wednesday, and had a scheduled appearance Thursday in Stuttgart.