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Congressman Westerman stops at UA Southwest Research and Extension in Hope yesterday on annual agriculture tour

Congressman Bruce Westerman listens as Amanda Greer explained the work of the Arkansas Nematode Diagnostic Laboratory.

Congressman Bruce Westerman (R-Arkansas Fourth District) visited the University of Arkansas Southwest Research and Extension Center for a little over an hour Wednesday morning. His visit was part of his yearly tour of his district’s sites of agricultural importance, which this year began October 11 and runs until today.

First, Westerman and several of his staff walked from the center’s central offices to a small white building where they heard from Amanda Greer, Instructor and Diagnostician at the Arkansas Nematode Diagnostic Laboratory on the center’s campus. She spoke about her work looking through soil samples for plant parasites. She said due to the decline in the number of such labs nationally, the lab in Hope is seeing an increase in its work load. This work, as she put it, “makes sure farmers know what situations their dealing with to make decisions.”

Then the retinue drove a short distance to a plot of land where blackberry bushes are being experimented on with different rows from different strains called Ouachita and Von. The party could also see that different options for trellises for the plants are being tried. Aaron Cato, an entomologist explained that for the most efficient application of insecticides to protect the plants, a trellis that lays them over horizontally but still above the ground was doing best.

Westerman asked, given the drought and wildfire difficulties in California, a leading tomato-growing state, why Arkansas could not raise more tomatoes. Cato replied that greatest difficulty here was not with fending off disease and pests, though Arkansas certainly “does not have the disease pressure we have,” but the cost of labor in the picking of the tomatoes is “outrageous,” according to what farmers are reporting.

Cato said labor issues also slowed down harvesting at a farm for berries in Judsonia, where 200 workers were used, but 100 more were needed.

The next stop was at a cattle farm building where Westerman was briefed on the state of hay growth there (better than some places in Arkansas because of a lucky bout of rain) and what promises to be a good season of cool weather rye grass growth. Rye is especially nutritious and will come at a time when it’s most needed, calving season.

After the tour in Hope, Westerman said of these annual tours, “[They’re] something I’ve become accustomed to, really looking forward to getting out and meeting with folks.”  He said the two big issues facing people in the district are the drought and supply-chain issues.

“I’ve had a cattle farmer tell me yesterday that an old timer told him there were three things that you have to remember with farming: fuel feed and fertilizer. And he said right now all three of those are out of out of proportion on cost, making it very hard and then throw a drought and on top of a tough summer for cattle farmers. We’ve got an avian flu outbreak in in Arkansas right now. Hopefully, that’s going to be under control with the hangover of labor issues with the pandemic.”

Concerning what else he is up to in October, Westerman said, “I’m working on political stuff, I’ve got an election. And I’m also trying to work to make sure Republicans get the majority this fall. And a lot of traveling different states, trying to help other candidates. giving us an opportunity to win the majority and change the direction of the policies going in the country.” He said a GOP majority in the House would enable him to pass legislation he has introduced to “develop domestic energy resources” and make sure the upcoming Farm Bill includes input he is getting from his district’s farmers.

Westerman’s tour began on Tuesday with visits to the Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center in Booneville and a visit in Cecil with Franklin County farmers hit by the drought. On Wednesday he visited the University of Arkansas Southwest Research and Extension Center in Hope, then toured Bearden Farm, meeting with its owners, then spoke to the Arkansas Forestry Association in Little Rock, then the Arkansas Cattleman’s Association Heifer Pen Show Sale also in Little Rock.

Today he visited University of Arkansas Pine Bluff’s Agriculture and Aquaculture centers. Then he finished the tour with a look at a Arkansas Agriculture Aviation Association crop-duster demonstration and will discuss how high gas prices affect food prices in Sherrill.

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