State Lawmakers Consider Change in Arkansas' Agri Industry

March 1, 2005--Posted at 6:00 p.m. CST

JONESBORO-- The State Senate's Agri committee resumes hearing testimony today on competing bills to better promote Arkansas' $13 billion agriculture industry.

The hearing is held on two measures. One would create a State Agriculture Department and the other would create a division of agricultural promotion and marketing within the State Plant Board.

This isn't the first time state lawmakers have tried to push for a state agriculture department. This same issue was debated in 2002.

"There are still some gray areas as to what a state department of agriculture would actually be," Farm Bureau President Kevin Hoke says.

Some small farmers say that a state department may give them a voice, and that a growing agri economy like that of Northeast Arkansas may need the assistance.

Farmer Mark Wimpy says, "Myself, being an Arkansas rice farmer, we're of a pretty small number, and we don't have a large voice in Washington."

Arkansas is one of the only three states without a Department of Agriculture. Supporters say that the state needs the department because agriculture is central to Arkansas' economy.

But on the other hand...

"We probably have enough bureaucracy and I would hate to see another level we to have look up to or another hoop we'd have to jump through," Wimpy says.

"We don't need a Department of Agriculture. We have a system in place that's working very well and it eliminates those bureaucracies that they're trying to put in right now," Hoke says.

Another measure would create a decision of agricultural promotion and marketing within the State's plant board.

This is something the farm community seems more comfortable with, but they still don't see why Arkansas' $13 billion agri industry needs a change.

"I have a good relationship with the plant board. They're pretty easy to talk to, but I'm not sure that their plates are not already full," Wimpy says.

"There's already a person that does the promotion and marketing so it's important that, that position stays where it is," Hoke says.