Politics

Boozman Column: Protecting Rural America

There is a major disconnect between the struggles Americans experience every day and the image President Biden and his team are trying to project. This is most apparent in rural America. In his State of the Union address, the president only mentioned the word “rural” once, and the administration has failed to prioritize the needs of our farmers, ranchers and agricultural producers.

The president and his team often boast about record high farm income, but never acknowledge the fact that financial gains family farmers, ranchers and foresters see will soon be reduced by record high production costs.

As the Republican leader of the Senate Ag Committee, I’ve talked with producers who are experiencing increasing input costs. These same concerns are shared by farm families across the country. Land, machinery, labor, fuel, seed and livestock feed prices are all growing. Fertilizer prices have spiked as much as 300 percent in some parts of the country, and at the same time the administration is levying tariffs on our fertilizer imports.

Every portion of the food chain remains strained as labor shortages and supply chain issues continue to hinder our ability to get food from farms to tables.

For many, the increased costs of farming are deterring them from continuing in the industry, pushing the next generation of farmers down a different career path instead carrying on the family business.

The family farm operations that once populated Arkansas in large numbers will be eroded away if we don’t make rural America and farming more economically sustainable.

This is bad news for rural America. In most of our rural communities, agriculture is all that is left.

Agriculture is Arkansas’s largest industry, adding around $21 billion to our economy every year and accounting for approximately one in every six jobs.

But rural Arkansas is hurting. Our state has 75 counties, and 55 of them lost population in the last census.

This exodus is fueled by the desire to leave rural America in pursuit of economic opportunities outside of farming. This is unfortunate, as the family farms that color the landscape of rural America are the true building block for a better future. Reversing this trend should be at the top of our to-do list.

Arkansas families take pride in maintaining the land their ancestors toiled on and passed down. We recognize the family operations that have demonstrated their commitment to farming and ranching for at least 100 years as Arkansas Century Farms. This honor highlights the rich history of farming in our state and celebrates our ongoing commitment to agriculture. I was proud to lead efforts to direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish a similar program at the federal level.

Our agenda needs to benefit these families who feed and clothe the world. Federal policies must serve more than urban and suburban America. They need to reach, and help, the 60 million Americans living in our rural communities.

When people leave our small rural towns, we run the risk of losing schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure needed to sustain these communities.

We must deliver solutions to rebuild economies and secure livelihoods in rural America.

During his address, the president continued to push his tax-and-spending agenda—which favors big cities at the expense of rural America—and pledged to resurrect his doomed Build Back Better package.

My advice to President Biden: It’s time to stop pushing that boulder up the hill.

Instead, make good on your pledge to unite the fractured country.

That starts by abandoning these misplaced priorities and focusing on the needs of all Americans.

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