The Ag Council of Arkansas held its annual board of directors meeting at the Capital Hotel in Little Rock December 14th and 15th. The meeting offered attendees an opportunity to network and share information while also conducting business and recieving presentations on issues of importance. The annual gathering helps leaders of the organization plan for the future.
On Thursday, the board of directors met to conduct annual business including updates to policy, budgets, and organization planning. Due to two-year terms for executive officers, no elections for leadership were held. The resolutions document updates were largely based on changes in state and federal policy related to agriculture, including laws changed by the Arkansas General Assembly and regulatory activities from federal agencies. The board did approve an additional assessment beginning with 2025 collections for member dues that will include opportunities to participate in the Ag Council Political Action Committee (PAC). Following the business meeting, members and guests gathered for a welcome reception and the presidents' dinner sponsored by Farm Credit Associations of Arkansas, which honors the past leadership of the organization.
On Friday, the board of directors and guests reconvened for the general session, which featured guest speakers covering a range of subject areas. The general session began with Dr. Deacue Fields, Vice President of Agriculture for the University of Arkansas, who spoke of priorities for the UofA System's efforts related to agriculture while also introducing several new leadership hires for the UofA. These new hires included Dr. Jeff Edwards, who will serve as Dean of the Bumpers College at the UofA-Fayetteville campus; Dr. John Anderson, who will serve as Director of Extension Services; and Jeff Weaver, who will serve in a dual role over governmental affairs and development. Each new employee introduced themselves and spoke of their vision and plans for the future.
Following the University of Arkansas speakers, Fitzhugh Elder, staff director for the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee republicans under the leadership of Senator John Boozman (R-AR). Elder provided an update on activities of the Senate Agriculture Committee, including the latest on the farm bill. While noting an extension of current law was adopted for the 2024 crop year, Elder indicated that the committee continues to negotiate and develop language for the next farm bill. As such, Elder indicated the strong views of Senator Boozman regarding the need to modernize safety net programs for farmers so they provide an enhanced safety net reflective of today's ag economy.
After the update from Mr. Elder, attendees received an update on regulatory activities of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as it relates to the registration and use of crop protection chemistries and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Brigit Rollins with the National Ag Law Center provided a legal history of the current state of play and how the EPA has arrived at this point. She was followed by Thomas Mills, who provided a different perspective on the issue as a governmental affairs director for Crop Life America (CLA), which represents manufacturers and retail entities who make or sell crop chemistries. Both took questions and held a joint conversation after their presentations. The new proposed set of rules are very concerning to the Ag Council and the agriculture industry at large for a variety of reasons, and the issue is expected to continue to be a major focal point for agriculture in the coming months and years.
The final presentation of the general session was Ted Nelson of StoneX, a global commodity futures trading entity. Mr. Nelson provided a macro-economic overview of the economy while focusing on the agriculture industry and commodity futures markets. His presentation highlighted the economic challenges facing row crop farmers, primarily due to persistent high input prices, declining futures markets, and expanding production in South America.
The Ag Council thanks its many meeting sponsors, including Farm Credit Associations of Arkansas (Reception/Dinner); Riceland Foods (Lunch); and AgComp SIF; Agri-Placements; AgUp-ArkansasAg; Greenway; Delta Plastics; Corteva; Bayer; BASF; Nutrien; Simmons Bank; StoneX; and Syngenta.
Resolutions for 2024 as adopted by the board of directors:
Presentations from General Session:
Brigit Rollins, National Ag Law Center
Thomas Mills, Crop Life America
Ted Nelson, StoneX