Friday, Feb 7, 2014
Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: Farm Families Persevering
Farming is a tough business, and it’s one on which our very quality of life depends. Here in Arkansas, that’s especially true, as agriculture is our largest industry, employing more than a quarter of a million people, and accounting for approximately one of every six jobs in our state.
Many Arkansas farm families have persevered for generations. To recognize that fact, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture established the Arkansas Century Farm Program in 2012. It is designed to acknowledge the family farms that have been in operation for 100 years or more. In the first two years, 185 Arkansas families have been recognized through the program.
Arkansas’s average farm encompasses 280 acres. At that relatively small size, it’s difficult for farmers to avoid risk. Weather, insects, and a myriad of other problems can have a severe effect on a farm’s sustainability.
In 2012, it was the severe drought that hurt farmers in Arkansas and across most of the country. This year’s winter has dealt them another blow. Already, 11 winter weather systems have blown into Arkansas, as compared to the normal four or five. Sustained cold weather nationwide has caused disruptions in the supply and distribution of propane, which has also resulted in a sharp increase in prices.
That has been particularly problematic for Arkansas’s poultry farmers, who rely on propane to heat their chicken and turkey houses. Propane prices have now more than doubled, causing some farmers to consider halting production until warmer weather arrives. State and federal governments have eased restrictions on the transportation of propane, but in the end, propane is a commodity sold on the free market.
Despite the obstacles they overcome year-to-year, Arkansas farmers literally feed and clothe the world. Crops from Arkansas farms provide nutrition for people and animals across the globe. The Century Farm Program works to recognize those families who have helped give our economy that kind of reach and influence over the decades.
To qualify for the program, a farm must have been family-owned for a century or more by December 31st of this year. The line of ownership from the original settler or buyer of the farm may be traced through children, grandchildren, siblings, nephews, nieces, even through marriage and adoption. At least ten acres of the original land acquisition still need to be part of the farm and make a contribution to the farm’s income. Eligible families will receive a personalized metal sign and an official certificate.
American agriculture will change dramatically over the next 20 years, as an estimated 70 percent of land will change hands. The future of those farms will depend on markets, demand, and Mother Nature. But more than anything else, it will depend on the people who carry on our agricultural business traditions. In Arkansas, we’re fortunate to have some of the most dedicated and driven in the industry. Even in the ever-changing business of farming, Arkansas remains constant in its unwavering commitment to agriculture, which will remain a part of our State’s economic backbone.