What is in this article?:
- Southern agricultural layers peeled back at farm bill hearing
- Finance, cattle feed and means testing
- Labor, aquaculture and rice
- The House Agriculture Committee left northeast Arkansas with a better understanding of the unique intricacies of Southern agriculture, following a farm bill hearing.
Labor, aquaculture and rice
Crawford said “a number of folks” had brought to his attention recent, controversial Department of Labor child labor laws that might impact family farms. “What would be the impact if they were … not to allow your children” to work on the farm?
Stewart: “Personally, I think it would be devastating to the family farm. My thought is that at an early age you need to instill a love for farming. In our area, particularly, farming is more than just an economic thing. It’s a way of life and something you really want to do because, at times, it’s tough. If you don’t love what you do, you’re not going to stay in it. If you instill that in your children and grandchildren at an early age, you can continue to have the family farm.”
Mike Freeze, aquaculture producer from Keo, Ark., was queried on the factors contributing to the decline of aquaculture. “There are rising input costs – increasing feed and energy costs – that affect the aquaculture industry just as they do other farmers,” said Freeze.
“But there is an unlevel playing field with the seafood inspections is one of the big issues. I think this committee tried to correct that in the 2008 farm bill. It’s been almost four years and, still, the inspection of catfish coming into the United States hasn’t been transferred from FDA to FSIS (the USDA’s Food Service and Inspection Service). … We’re wondering how much longer this is going to take.”
Freeze also pointed to “regulatory issues. All farmers feel as if they’re overregulated. But I think if you add it up for fish farmers, we’re regulated by something like 30 to 40 different state and federal agencies. That’s a real problem.”
The unique set of factors that rice brings to the farm policy debate was also covered. Stutzman, a corn and soybean farmer, admitted that “rice is a new crop to me. I don’t understand the complexities you all face.”
Stutzman cited Owen’s testimony that “what rice farmers need from federal crop insurance is a product that would help protect against increased production and input costs – particularly for energy and energy-related inputs. For example, fuel, fertilizer and other energy-related inputs represent about 70 percent of total variable costs.”
“We’re seeing a lot of volatility in the corn and soybean markets. What are you seeing on the rice side? What’s different about rice?”
Owen said that for the last four years, “rice has worked with the RMA (USDA’s Risk Management Agency) to develop a policy that would provide us with rising input protections in fuel and fertilizer, primarily.
“The main thing that’s different about rice is the cost of running irrigation pumps. When we have a drought scenario -- and you have a 100-horse power motor, on average, in the Mid-South – (the pump can run) 24 hours a day trying to keep water on 100 acres of rice. Well, most rice farmers are farming 750 to 1,500 acres of rice in their rotational mix. That’s a significant consumption of diesel.
“Also, when we have fertilizer price spikes such as in 2008, it runs production costs through the roof.”
Later in the hearing, Owen highlighted another difference with rice. “The United States only grows about 3 percent of the world’s rice crop. However, we’re the third or fourth largest exporter of rice. Ninety-five percent of the rice grown in the world is consumed where it’s grown. So, the five percent left for export can be extremely volatile in price.
“Currently, we’re dealing with countries that are subsidizing their exports: India, Thailand and Brazil. That changes the dynamic a bit.
“Rice is an expensive crop to grow. Hopefully we’ll get things ironed out and we’ll (soon have) the ability to hedge rice – like using futures for corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton. But we’re not there yet.”