STUTTGART – Rice farmers from around Arkansas and the Mid-South gathered on Tuesday, Jan. 8, for the Arkansas Rice Annual Meeting at the Grand Prairie Center in Stuttgart.
Some 300 were registered to attend and included farmers from Arkansas along with other states on the Mississippi Delta.
About 400 people were in attendance, and vendors and business interests that support rice farming were at tables along the walls. Also on hand were the state’s Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward, several elected officials including Secretary of State John Thurston and state Commissioner of Lands Tommy Land along with various state senators and representatives. Former state Speaker of the House Shane Broadway, and now with Arkansas State University in government relations and former Arkansas Bar Association president Tony Hilliard with Pine Bluff law firm Ramsay Bridgforth were also at the meeting.
The day started with a legislative overview with state Rep. Dan Douglas and state Sen. John Cooper of, respectively, Bentonville and Jonesboro.
Douglas, a farmer, is chair of the House’s Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development committee, while Cooper serves on the same committee on the Senate side.
Both were quizzed about issues they expect to see in the upcoming legislative session that starts Monday, Jan. 14. One of the major issues that was addressed was the proposed restructuring of the state government.
“I think it will be smooth,” Douglas said of what he expects from Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposed reorganization of state government while Cooper added, “the efficiencies gained from that will be very important.”
Both noted that consolidating agencies would end duplicated offices like those that serve computer networks and human resources.
“I think it will pass,” Douglas said of the proposed reorganization. “Ultimately it will be a good thing for our state.”
Both also noted that other top topics in the upcoming legislative session would be a proposed tax cut, along with securing more funding for the state’s highways.
Douglas said the tax cut could be decided by a “vote of the people” as Hutchinson proposed during the 2018 campaign.
In addition to the legislative overview, attorneys Trav Baxter and Ryan O’Quinn of Little Rock law firms respectively, Mitchell Williams and Quattlebaum, Grooms and Tull talked estate planning, while other sessions included farming issues on water conservation and how to market and promote the rice industry.
The meeting concluded with lunch, and, naturally, rice was on the menu.
Arkansas is the country’s largest rice-producing state with more than 207 million bushels of rice on nearly 1.3 million acres, in figures from the Arkansas Farm Bureau.
Arkansas accounts for nearly half of all the rice grown in the United States and the top counties for rice production in the state are: Poinsett, Arkansas, Cross, Jackson and Lawrence.
Those five counties each have more than 100,000 acres of rice farmed.