House Agriculture

January 11, 2023

Rep Fortner: Meeting to order. This is the organizational meeting of the Ag Committee, and it is a pleasure to see you all here. And I’m looking forward to a fun session. I truly am. It’s good to see so many of us back. There’s several of us on here. Once you get on Ag, you just never want to leave because we deal with the salt of the earth people. Truly, the people we deal with in here are what makes Arkansas great. It’s wonderful to see the square foot delegate down there, Carlton Wing with that picture that was taken when he was 19. He represents all of the miniature gardeners in this state. So it’s good to have him here. Mr. Speaker, it’s good to have you with us. He loves this committee. Yeah. It’s good to see the familiar faces in the audience. I’m looking forward to working with all you ladies and gentlemen. I’m not going to embarrass you and call you by name, but I look forward. We’re going to set down individually, and my vice chairman, Representative Lynch, and I are going to try to have some time to talk to all of you ahead of time and hear what concerns you might have and what you want to say to us. And we’re going to start off today, I’m going to have everyone introduce yourself just real briefly. We have a few new members, and we want them to know who we are and what we’re about. We’ll start over here with Representative Cozart.

Rep Cozart: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I guess we’ll need to use the mic so everybody can hear good on it. Representative Bruce Cozart out of Hot Springs. I’m District 91. I’m not a nice farmer like Representative Wing, but that’s my dream to be. But anyway, it’s good to be here. I was on Ag a couple of sessions ago and moved to State Agencies, but I’m back. So thank you.

Rep Magie: Morning. I’m Representative Magie, District 56 in Conway. For the new people, this is the best committee in the House. I promise you it is. This is my fifth term on Ag. One year– that’s the seniority thing some of y’all live with, when you signed in– I didn’t get Ag. One year. But I’ve been on it ever since. It’s a great committee and I look forward to the coming year.

Rep McNair: Ron McNair, District 5, up in Boone County. This will be my fifth term on Ag. My first term, they asked us why we chose Ag. And I told him I didn’t know anything about farming, but I did auto repair work. I did a lot of work for farmers, and I love to eat. And I didn’t need to know much because they told me what I needed to know. So I’m glad to be back on here.

Rep Vaught: I’m Representative DeAnn Vaught, and I am a farmer, and everybody in my district is farmers. It’s what we call God’s country in Southwest Arkansas. I represent Sevier County, Little River county, and Howard County. And I’m excited to be on this committee again.

Rep Fortner: Representative Vaught, her and her husband are premier agricultural people, premier. Indeed.

Rep Hollowell: I’m Steve Hollowell from District 37. This is my second term on Agri Committee, and my area covers part of Poinsette County, part of Cross County, and part of St. Francis County. So I’m just glad to be here.

Rep Watson: State Representative Danny Watson, fourth term, first term on the Agri. I gave up co-chair of Transportation to come over here. This is a committee I had been wanting to be on for a long time. I am not a farmer. I do have timber. New District 88, represent Hempstead. I live in Hope. Hempstead County, Howard County and part of Texarkana. It’s my privilege to be on this committee that effects everybody here in the state of Arkansas. I’m looking forward to it. Thank you.

Rep Wing: My name is Carlton Wing. I represent North Little Rock and Sherwood. This is my third term on Ag. And I’m thrilled to be here. Now, we do kind of joke because my previous district, I had the smallest geographic district in the state. And so I used to say I represent all of the square foot gardens in North Little Rock and Sherwood. But during an ALC meeting, they were talking about how another state had what’s called a farmer card, which allowed them to be able to buy necessary products and eliminate the sales tax on that. So I quickly sent a text to my friends at the Farm Bureau and said that I would like to get one of those farmer cards. And so they presented me with this farmer card, OOO1, and so everybody else can start with number 2. But so while I do live in the city of North Little Rock, my professional life is spent exclusively in the rural communities, and I work closely with our bait fish farmers, which is a $400 million industry in the state of Arkansas. And it really is where God’s country is. And I’m thrilled to be a part of this committee again, although we also have economic development and forestry as well.

Rep Garner: And I’m Denise Garner. And I am now District 20 in Northwest Arkansas, Washington County. My interest in Ag has been at the local level. I had a nonprofit where we worked on the sustainability of the food system to make sure that farmers got what they needed, and restaurant owners got what they needed. We have a restaurant that we have used about 400 local farmers. At times, we’ve gotten to about 85% local product. And at times we’ve gone down to about 75%, depending on what we could get. But we’ve got about 85%, right now, local product in our restaurant. So I’m extremely interested in that, also in economic development. Northwest Arkansas has, and around the state, actually, working with some women-run businesses and minority-run businesses. So I’m certainly interested in that as well. And then we also have timber in Arkansas as well. So forestry is also a big interest. So I’m thrilled to be here, excited to see everybody, and ready to work. Thank you.

Rep Shepherd: Good morning. I’m Matthew Shepherd, District 97. I represent El Dorado and about half of Union County. My district has a few farms and ranches, but my primary motivation to be on the Ag committee is forestry is huge in my area. Obviously, the economic development is very important. And then also, oil and gas is also one of the things that this committee covers, and my area of the state, well, we have quite a bit of oil still there. So that’s my motivation to be over here. As others have said, this committee is one of the best to be on. And it is just an enjoyable committee. This is my, let’s see, sixth time on the Ag. I took a sabbatical over to City, County, and Local a couple of terms ago, and then had the opportunity to chair this committee, I don’t know, probably five terms or four terms ago. So glad to be back. I would also mention, just want to make everybody aware of the rule that– let me find it here. I had Buddy send it down. It’s House Rule 66. If I’m not here, it doesn’t hurt your bill. So if you’re looking for 11 votes, and I’m not here, all you need is 10 votes. So just putting it out there for everybody. Well, the morning time can get pretty hectic as I know Speaker Gillam’s here. He can attest to that. And inevitably, there’s some vote that will fall short at some point. And I’ll get a bunch of Facebook posts and messages, even though me not being here does not affect that. So just want to make all the members aware of that. Look forward to serving with you. Thank you.

Rep Breaux: Good. Now we know what to say when you’re not here. Okay. I’m Harlan Breaux. Third term of being right here in this committee, and I enjoy it. I grew up on a farm. I’ve got a lot of agriculture in the district where I’m at, Carroll County as well as northern Boone County. And I’m looking forward to really getting a lot of things done, especially with economic development too. Thank you.

Rep Beaty: I’m Representative Howard Beaty. I cover Ashley. It’s District 95, so I cover Ashley County, Chicot County now with the redistricting. I can’t think of any three things that could be more important to my area of the state than ag, forestry, and economic development. My time away from the Capitol, I’m chairman of the Crossett Economic Development Foundation, where we work to try to bring jobs to southeast Arkansas. So it’s something that’s dear to my heart, something that I put my time and energy into, and it’s a volunteer organization there back home. The other thing is forestry. I’m glad that we have folks in here that address the issue of how important forestry is. Senator Gilmore and I formed the Forestry Caucus, something that our former colleague, that will be well missed, Ken Bragg, spearheaded during his time here in the House. And I’m glad to have many members of this committee in that Forestry Caucus. And I look forward to doing great things out of this committee with the members. And I’m glad to see Jack as our leader here and chairman. So thank you.

Rep Haak: Good morning. I’m Delia Haak, District 17 in western Benton County. And I met my husband when we were 14 years old, and I fell in love with a dairy farmer before I knew what a dairy farm was. And he came from a long line of Dutch dairy farmers. We moved to northwest Arkansas on the 47 acres we have today in 1979 when land was cheap and started our dairy farm. But my grandfather was in northeast Arkansas with 40 acres and a mule farming where my mother was born in Strawberry and grew up in Walnut Ridge. So I’m very excited about being on this committee. Benton County, and in particular western Benton County where I’m from, is the largest cattle-producing county in the state, as well as the largest poultry production in the state. But I think we have a little economic development up there as well. And we need to be working on more of that for a lot of folks in western Benton County. So I’m really honored to be on this committee. Thank you.

Rep Achor: I’m Representative Achor. This is my first year serving. I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to be on this committee. I represent District 71, which is primarily the city of Maumelle. So while my constituency’s main concerns with forestry would be the number of trees on their golf courses that they keep hitting, my professional background, me and my wife have 13 independent family-owned pharmacies, 10 of which are in rural farming communities. So whether it is fish farmers in Lonoke, or down in Stuttgart, all the way up to Clarendon, Brinkley, Piggott, and Jonesboro, our business is in the business of taking care of those who take care of our farms. So I’m excited to be a part of this and represent them. Thank you.

Rep Hawk: Representative RJ Hawk, District 81 in Saline County. It’s Bryant, Alexander, and Shannon Hills, with a portion of Benton. One of the newest seats. And I’m pretty excited to be here. I am originally not from Arkansas. I came here 20 years ago from the state of Texas. And I grew up on a thousand-acre horse and cattle farm and truly thought I would never leave to be a city guy. Now I live in a neighborhood that we’ve got people within about 100 yards of one another. So it’s a little bit different. But I’m very passionate about our farmers, and know some of the struggles that they go through. But also on top of that, I’ve been involved with economic development in Saline County to try to further grow our county to be as successful as possible. So honored to be here and looking forward to a great year.

Rep Moore: Hi there. Kendra Moore. I’m District 23, which is west Washington County. So super rural area. My family and I are farmers. I’m a freshy also, first term. So the one committee that I really wanted to be on is Ag. So super excited to be on this committee. My district is very similar to Representative Haak, lots of cattle and dairy farmers and poultry farmers. So very excited to be part of this committee and to serve.

Rep Puryear: Chad Puryear, District 25, east side of Washington, Crawford, and a little bit of Franklin County. Grew up in agriculture. It’s been part of my life five, six generations. So I’m very happy to be here. I appreciate everybody.

Rep Fortner: All right. Well, thank you all. A little bit of business to get out of the way. I’m going to put together a text message list for all of you. I will keep you all in contact. I’ll let you know when bills are coming. I’ll let you know if we’re going to do anything out of the ordinary. You’ll all get it at the same time. So we’re going to put together– I say I, John is going to put together a list for me. By the way, John is our righthand guy. He’s the one that keeps us in line. There’s little papers he slides me here that says, “No, no, no.” So he’s going to get that together for us. So we’ll have that. A couple other things of business, especially for the new ones. What we do here, if you want to speak, get one of our attention. And we will pick it in order, and allow you to speak. Push the button to talk, and then turn it off when you’re done so we don’t– this room is not set up where you can have a lot of those lights glowing and the microphones still work. So if you’re done talking, turn it off.

Rep Fortner: My able-bodied vice chair, Roger Lynch, said we forgot to introduce ourselves. Thank you, Roger. And by the way, I am thrilled to have Roger as my vice chair. Not only is he the vice chair, he and I are very good friends. So we’re looking forward to working together. Roger, would you introduce yourself?

Rep Lynch: So I’m Roger Lynch. This is my fourth term. And I represent Lonoke County. We do a lot of farming, a lot of fish farming. My son’s a farmer. He’s doing 2,500 acres. He’s got a little crop loan. He went out and got $1.92 million to farm. He’s 31 years old. And I’m thinking, Lord, I’d never be able to sleep. So input costs now are about $800 an acre for our farmers, if they’re paying rent. So that’s huge. That’s almost doubled over the last two years. And so, I expect that we’re going to have some business to deal with around the economics of this farming, and these input costs, and supply chain issues, and whatever else might come up. So anyway, I’m looking forward to the year. I know most of you, and I’m sure I’ll get to know the rest of you. And away we go.

Rep Fortner: Okay. John? Oh, introduce yourself.

Jones BLR Staff: Oh, okay. Sure thing. Hey, y’all. I’m John Jones, legislative analyst with the Bureau. This will be my second session with the Ag committee. Really enjoyed it the first time around. I’m glad to be back. Looking forward to working with you all.

Rep Fortner: Yeah, he thought I had lost my place on the list. Another thing that I want to tell you, especially the freshmen, the new ones, have you gotten your electronic devices yet, your laptops? Okay, you will be getting them. And that’s where the bills will all come to you. There will be no paper bills for you to look. They’ll come in advance on your electronic device. And you all know that. That’s how that will be. Okay? And if you have any questions, contact either Roger or myself or John. And our names will all be on that list that we’re going to send around to you. Okay? There’s a couple more things that I want to tell you that I want you to be patient with me, but this is what I’m going to do. And the Speaker may suck all the air out of the room when I get done here. But if there is a controversial bill and I ask for a vote and the yeas and nays are close, I’m going to make a call. I’m asking you, do not roll call me. No, and I’ve got a reason. Let me take the flak. If you roll call it, you’re going to put every one of your peers in the line of fire. Do you follow me? Now, if you are doubly, triply, super jim-dandy passionate about it, you do what you think you got to do. But you will not see any smiles coming from me. Okay? It’s your right to call it. I’m not telling you you can’t. I’m just telling you I’d rather you don’t. If you, as a member of this committee, bring a bill and go to the end of the table, I’m going to give you every opportunity to pass that bill. If I think it’s weak, and if I read this room, and I think that it is not going to pass, I will give you an opportunity to pull it down, work the committee, and come back another time. Okay? This is an organizational meeting. You need to know where I am, so that’s where I am. All right?

Rep Fortner: Okay, what else am I forgetting here? We have to have a quorum to start. Sometimes my eyes don’t work, so it may be a weak one, but we will start on time. We’re going to meet right here in room 138. This will be our room. There are waters and sodas in a refrigerator around the corner. And there’s a restroom back there that is just for us. Woo hoo! So that’s a good thing. I told you about the agendas will be two days in advance. I think that’s just about everything that is relevant. Have I forgotten anything?

Rep Lynch: You didn’t introduce yourself, where you’re from.

Rep Fortner: I’m Jack Fortner. I’m the chairman. I’m from District 4 now. I was 99 for a long time. I’m District number 4. That is the beautiful White River, Norfolk, Buffalo River area. It is clear up to the top. Part of my district, I go into Missouri on a ferry, come back into Arkansas. I’ve got the distinct pleasure of having a part of my district that their address is Protem, Missouri. That’s their mailing address. And you try to deal with those issues. I have raised cattle. Because of the time it took to be down here and that I’m running solo right now, I sold all of my cattle and kept all of my land because it wasn’t fair for my neighbors to deal with them. And those of you that have cattle know that if you have cattle, they’re going to be down. They’re going to get out. They need attention. And it’s not right to have your friends and neighbors and relatives take care of them. But I will, when I finish this gig, I will be a cattleman again. But for now, two dogs and a chicken and a cat. I have a cat. And I don’t like cats, but this cat, he or she came to my barn. And that cat comes up to me and he goes, “Hiss.” And I throw rocks at it. I shoot at it with my BB gun. Me and that cat have an understanding. I don’t like it, and it doesn’t like me, but it’s staying, and that’s okay. So I’ve got a cat too, I guess. All right. Did I forget anything else?

Rep Lynch: You’re Jack the car guy.

Rep Fortner: Oh, Roger wants me to– I am Jack the car guy. Much like Carlton, we are media sensations. We are– Who? Are you a paid broadcaster?

Rep Hawk: I do a morning radio show.

Rep Fortner: I bet the guy that owns your station didn’t tell you, “Jack, you don’t have a radio voice, but you have a memorable voice.” I think that was a compliment. So all right. Yes, Mr. McNair?

Rep McNair: You didn’t forget anything. I [inaudible] quick.

Rep Fortner: Yes.

Rep McNair: I’m on a [inaudible] for information. And we have to respond to all of them?

Rep Fortner: You do not–

Rep McNair: What I’m getting at is, can you send us information, and if we need to, can you say, “Please respond”? I mean, is that too much trouble?

Rep Fortner: No.

Rep McNair: Because it’s just ding, ding, ding.

Rep Fortner: Nope, not at all. That is a good question. I will send that to you as informational. If I want a response, I will ask you for it. Okay? Any other questions? That was a good one. Any other questions? Oh, and we are going to– we are going to go into our agricultural community. We are going to visit some of these places that we are talking about to get to know them better. I’ve got a couple of invitations already. We’re going to go as a group. We can do that. And we’re going to tour plants to better understand the people that we’re voting on and their lives and their issues. And then there are going to be– there is a couple meals that we’re going to partake of. And so we’re going to have a good time together. All right?

Rep Lynch: Yeah, I spoke with Mike Freeze. He was in Puerto Rico. He’s the vice chair of the Farm Bureau. Also has Keo Fish Farm. And I saw Jamie Anderson last night of Anderson’s Minnow Farm. He’s real receptive to us coming down and visiting their business. So I’m sure there’s other farmers. We will probably need to go see some [inaudible] farms. Some of these–

Rep Fortner: Maybe a hog farm.

Rep Lynch: Yeah. [inaudible] Buffalo River. But anyway, we’ll probably hit one of those farms that the guy’s got 10,000 acres, something like that.

Rep Fortner: All right. Any other questions? Comments? Does any of the astute public, Mrs. Cozart, do you have anything you’d like to add? No? Okay. Anybody else out there, would you like to say anything to the body? Truly, if you want to, go ahead. We’re ready. Okay. Just sit right down there and recognize yourself. Or introduce yourself, I’ll recognize you.

Hudson (Commerce): Sure. Thank you, Mister Chairman. Jim Hudson, chief of staff for the Department of Commerce. I just want to say welcome to the committee. Thank you for your service to the state. Anything that I can do for you personally, just to help with the legislative process, I want to be able to do that as well. Obviously, we’re in front of this committee on a regular basis just helping support economic development initiatives. Department of Commerce, we’re split between three different committees, but we’ll always make sure we’re present here. So do reach out if we can do anything for you. We have a new secretary, Secretary Hugh McDonald for Department of Commerce. Tremendous individual. Very excited about serving with him. And so looking forward to great opportunities for our state. So thank you, committee.

Rep Fortner: Thank you. Anyone else like to say a word?

Hall (Chamber): Just briefly. I delivered our invitations to our legislative reception today, along with our legislative [inaudible]. It’s going to be in an envelope, hopefully in your box today or tomorrow. But it’s next Tuesday, the 17th, 4:30 to 6:30 on our parking lot in the big tent.

Rep Fortner: Introduce yourself, in case they don’t know you.

Hall (Chamber): I’m Kenny Hall with the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. Randy Zook, Tony Lindsay, or Andrew Parker and I and I will be in and out of here. Our primary interest will be the economic development parts. But I’m also part of the Farm Bureau alumni.

Rep Fortner: All right. Thank you. Yes.

unknown speaker: Mister Chairman, as long as Kenny is going to do that, I feel obligated to announce that we’re having our legislative reception. We’re on your agenda already, so our reception is 4:30 to 6:30 tonight, and we hope you’ll be there. [inaudible] and I [inaudible] for government solutions. So probably the important issues you’ll have [inaudible]. So that’s probably why you’ll see us in here. And we believe all we’re supposed to do is share data. [inaudible] important work. Hope we see you tonight.

Rep Fortner: Thank you. And I would encourage a freshman and everyone to take advantage of these little soirees. It’s an opportunity to be relaxed and to learn people. And that’s what we’re about. We’re in the people business. So anyone else?

Rep Cozart: Mister Chairman, how many hands did you say we need to have up for a roll call?

Rep Fortner: Yeah. Yeah.

Rep Cozart: I’m just messing with you.

Rep Fortner: All right. Is there anything else? All right. If there’s no further business, we’re going to call this meeting adjourned.