LITTLE ROCK – I’m fresh off a two-day road trip through southwest Arkansas. This is the second year for my Ag Tour, which allows me to pull off my tie and listen to the concerns of our farmers. I also hear many stories of their success as stewards of Arkansas’s biggest industry.
Farmers and agriculture are the backbone of our economy. They work long hours seven days a week. In addition to talking about the normal risks and challenges of farming, we discussed a different challenge that has been in the news lately – tariffs, which pose a real risk of retaliatory action against agriculture.
Our farmers are rightly concerned about the effect of tariffs on the export of their crops. But what I heard from them during my Ag Tour is that they are willing to give the strategy some time to work. Farmers understand that President Trump is trying to achieve more fairness in our trading relationships.
The effect of the administration’s position is cause for optimism. In regard to NAFTA, we appear close to a modernized agreement that acknowledges the importance of continued North American Trade. We’ve worked with the EU to set mutual goals to reduce tariffs. And even in the midst of the escalating trade war with China, its leaders have softened and agreed to rebalance trade and to buy more of our agricultural commodities.
These negotiations are encouraging, but our patient farmers know that a prolonged trade war will take a significant toll by diminishing their foreign sales and by discouraging direct foreign investment. We support the president, but we hope he can declare victory soon.
Closer to home, Ag Tour 2018 happened to coincide with the Farmers Market Week in Arkansas. If you want to talk to a farmer, you don’t have to tour the state. There are farmers as close as your nearest Farmer’s Market, where you can buy corn, squash, watermelons, purple hulls, and peaches without paying a tariff.
Arkansas agriculture produces everything from the meat and vegetables we put on our supper tables, the wood we build our tables with, and the cotton we weave into the clothes we wear to the table. Thank you for your hard work and your willingness to face the risks such as the destruction of your crops by extreme weather to the perils of international political tiffs over tariffs.