New­port farmer tes­ti­fies in D.C.

She talks of lean times, im­por­tance of farm bill cov­er­age

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - FRANK E. LOCK­WOOD

WASH­ING­TON — Jen­nifer James, a fourth gen­er­a­tion rice farmer from New­port, tes­ti­fied be­fore the U.S. Se­nate Agri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee this week, telling law­mak­ers about some of the chal­lenges her in­dus­try faces.

The hear­ing was ti­tled: “Com­modi­ties, Credit, and Crop In­sur­ance: Per­spec­tives on Risk Man­age­ment Tools and Trends for the 2018 Farm Bill.”

A mem­ber of the USA Rice Farm­ers board of di­rec­tors, James said these are lean times for rice grow­ers.

“Un­for­tu­nately, rice grow­ers have been forced to op­er­ate at or be­low their cost of pro­duc­tion for the last three years. For young farm­ers, there’s been lit­tle op­por­tu­nity to build eq­uity. The [U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture’s] most re­cent price fore­cast for 2017 shows a 36 per­cent de­cline since the 2014 farm bill passed,” she said.

Ex­penses, on the other hand, re­main high.

“The 2018 crop year is fore­cast to have some of the high­est rice pro­duc­tion costs on record,” she said.

Rice is grown in eight states on 3 mil­lion to 4 mil­lion acres, she said. Half of Amer­i­can-grown rice comes from Arkansas, she added.

“Rice farm­ing is a long­time com­mit­ment,” she told the sen­a­tors. “We in­tend to ride out the storm, but we could not do so with­out the safety net that the Price Loss Cov­er­age pro­gram pro­vides.”

James em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of the Price Loss Cov­er­age pro­gram, which was con­tained in the 2014 farm bill.

It pro­tects farm­ers, pro­vid­ing pay­ments if the av­er­age price for the com­mod­ity in a mar­ket year drops be­low the amount set by statute.

“It’s re­ally just at a level to keep us tread­ing wa­ter,” she said in an in­ter­view Thurs­day. “It has been life­sav­ing,

busi­ness-sav­ing for rice farm­ers in Arkansas the last few years.”

James and her rel­a­tives farm 6,000 acres in Jack­son and Woodruff coun­ties, grow­ing rice, corn, soy­beans as well as grain sorghum and wheat on oc­ca­sion. The fam­ily has been tilling the Mis­sis­sippi Delta soil for well over a cen­tury on land her great-grand­fa­ther bought in the late 1800s.

As a teenager, James was de­ter­mined to leave agri­cul­ture be­hind.

Af­ter high school, “I was not

com­ing back to ru­ral Arkansas. I was go­ing to be a lawyer and go to the city,” she said.

She went to Fayet­teville to study ac­count­ing, but soon had sec­ond thoughts.

“It only took me a se­mes­ter to change my ma­jor to ag busi­ness, so it hap­pened pretty quickly,” she said.

She quickly re­al­ized where she wanted to spend her life.

“There’s just some­thing about the flat Delta and be­ing with my fam­ily, be­ing able to con­trib­ute to the legacy and the her­itage of my fam­ily that just drew me back home,” she said.

Now she over­sees the farm’s

busi­ness op­er­a­tions, she said, es­sen­tially act­ing as its chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer.

This was James’ first tes­ti­mony on Capi­tol Hill. She sat on a panel be­side corn, soy­bean, wheat and cot­ton farm­ers.

“I was very hon­ored to be able to rep­re­sent the rice in­dus­try in that way, but it was nerver­ack­ing, for sure,” she said.

The stress didn’t knock her off stride, she said.

“When you love some­thing and it’s im­por­tant to you, you are able to go into those in­tim­i­dat­ing sit­u­a­tions and find a calm­ness,” she said.

James was tes­ti­fy­ing on be­half of the USA Rice Fed­er­a­tion, the na­tional trade as­so­ci­a­tion.

Ben No­ble, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Arkansas Rice Fed­er­a­tion, gave James’ tes­ti­mony high marks, call­ing her “a great am­bas­sador for the Arkansas rice farm­ing com­mu­nity.”

U.S. Sen. John Booz­man, RArk., who serves on the com­mit­tee, said James “did a won­der­ful job” and rep­re­sented Arkansas well.

With the farm bill, “It’s not about just a bunch of num­bers. It’s about real peo­ple and their fam­i­lies,” he said. “I think Jen­nifer was able to tell how this … af­fects real peo­ple.”

Spe­cial to the Demo­crat-Gazette

Jen­nifer James, an Arkansas rice farmer, tes­ti­fied this week be­fore the Se­nate Agri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee, em­pha­siz­ing the im­por­tance of the Price Loss Cov­er­age pro­gram, which was con­tained in the 2014 farm bill.

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