As the economy continues to grow in Arkansas, it is important to remember that agriculture continues to be our Number 1 industry. Today, I want to take a moment to thank our farmers for all they do for Arkansas. Farming isn’t easy, but important work never is.
I grew up on a poultry and cattle farm and, as a boy, I saw the hard work it took to make a living off the farm.
I’ve seen first-hand what it takes to plant, raise and harvest a crop. I know the challenge of raising livestock to maturity for market. More importantly, I know the work and investment our farmers carry out every day.
Arkansas’s agriculture has a $20 billion economic impact in the state each year. And that number has the potential to grow.
Since I took office in 2015, I’ve traveled the globe to help open additional markets for our state’s agricultural producers, including trade missions to Cuba and China and Europe.
As a result, we’ve brought back a handful of Chinese companies that will directly benefit our cotton and timber industries. And shortly after I returned from Cuba, the Cuban government ordered 4,500 tons of poultry from Arkansas companies.
As governor, not only do I make it a priority to stay abreast of the challenges that our farming community faces, but I have been — and will continue to be — a vocal advocate for Arkansas agriculture on the national and international stage. After all, farming isn’t just a pastime for Arkansans but rather a vital part of who we are as a state.
That’s why, at the National Governor’s Association meeting last summer, I took the opportunity to stress the importance of agricultural trade for our state with President Trump. It’s the reason I met with Vice President Pence to discuss North American trade. And it’s why my office facilitated two visits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in less than a year so he could see — and hear — first-hand the issues facing our famers and ranchers.
Earlier this week, I spent a couple days in New York pitching our state to companies as a great place to do business. While I was there, I gave several interviews to editors, reporters and anchors from different national news organizations touting our economic development efforts. Those interviews are an effective way to spread the good word about Arkansas.
One of the subjects of interest to reporters was NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – which needs to be modernized but its continuance is essential for Arkansas and the rest of the nation. My message was clear: As the United States considers the future of NAFTA, the nation must be careful that it does not harm global trade. Arkansas must be able to continue its access to North American markets unimpeded by unfair trade barriers, which would inflict serious harm on Arkansas’s agriculture, retail and manufacturing sectors.
That message is especially important when you look at the statistics. In 2016, Arkansas’s agricultural exports to Mexico and Canada alone, including poultry, rice, soybeans and cotton, totaled $357 million. Our total exports worldwide in 2016 came in at $1 billion. Additionally, Mexico and Canada consume nearly 30 percent of all U.S. rice exports.
I have always stood with our famers, and I will continue to advocate for their interests, because their interests are our interests. When Arkansas’s agriculture industry succeeds, our state succeeds.
I am grateful for the farmers and ranchers who built agriculture into our top industry and for those who keep it there.