Feb 22, 2023
MONTICELLO, AR -- Jim Whitaker, a rice farmer from McGehee, Arkansas, participated in a Farm Bill Listening Session hosted by Senator John Boozman (R-AR), ranking member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, at the University of Arkansas at Monticello yesterday. Representative Bruce Westerman (R-AR) who represents the Fourth Congressional District and chairs the House Natural Resources Committee also participated alongside Senator Boozman.
Whitaker was joined by fellow Arkansas farmers and agribusiness leaders for the event.
Out of the gate, Whitaker thanked Senator Boozman for leading the charge on delivering vital assistance to rice farmers who experienced record-high input costs and stagnant rice market prices for the 2022 crop year.
“I want to thank you for leading the effort to provide assistance to rice farmers. The additional funding provided through the Omnibus Appropriations bill was critical for many rice farmers including myself,” said Whitaker. “Rice was not as fortunate as many other commodities that saw a large run up in market prices over the last two years…and so the net result of the 2022 crop year would have been a complete wreck had it not been for the additional assistance that Congress has provided.”
Throughout his testimony, Whitaker reiterated that the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program is the backbone of the rice farmers’ safety net.
“We need a permanent fix to the rice safety net, and so we intend to be fully engaged in helping you to fight for a strong and reliable 2023 Farm Bill…Title I of the Farm Bill, specifically the Price Loss Coverage program, is really our true safety net, and is critically important because it levels the playing field for rice that is highly subsidized by our global competitors…Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, PLC is no longer adequate. The current reference prices – established on 2012 costs of production – simply do not provide for an effective safety net.”
Whitaker also highlighted the commitment of the U.S. rice industry to conservation, particularly working lands programs used by rice farmers that help deliver on the industry’s sustainability goals but reiterated the need for farmers to be in a sound financial position to meet these goals.
“The rice industry prides itself on its commitment to the conservation of natural resources and is a proud supporter of the voluntary, incentive-based conservation system. We would be remiss though if we didn’t make the point that farmers must be in a stable economic position to make investments in conservation practices. Without certainty in Title I, many farmers cannot commit to conservation.”
International promotion programs are important and successful efforts for USA Rice, and Whitaker underscored the need for the continuation of these programs, as well as encouraging Congress to increase resources for them.
“The Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development program have helped the U.S. rice industry and we have a proven track record of success in more than 30 overseas markets. Congress should increase the funding for these vital programs.”
Following testimony from each of the panelists, Senator Boozman took time to ask a series of questions relating to the PLC program and the importance of strengthening the safety net in the next Farm Bill, the critical role that the Cooperative Extension Service plays in connecting farmers and consumers to important and relevant information, among others.
After the listening session, Whitaker said, “I want to thank Senator Boozman for taking the time to meet with farmers throughout the Natural State, and particularly for inviting me to represent the U.S. rice industry to voice our needs and priorities. We’re extremely grateful to have such a tremendous champion for our industry in Washington, and we look forward to working closely with him and his staff as they draft and negotiate the 2023 Farm Bill.”