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Published May 24, 2010, 12:38 PM

Senate race in Arkansas could have an effect on the future of ag subsidies

Senate race in Arkansas could have an effect on the future of ag subsidies

CONWAY, Ark. — No see-through orb required to know that the campaign to elect a U.S. senator in the state of Arkansas will include lots of talk about health care reform and jobs. What remains unclear is how much of a role another important aspect of life in The Natural State will play — agriculture subsidies.

Not everyone in Arkansas has direct ties to the agriculture industry, but many do. Tens of thousands of our friends and neighbors cultivate the Delta soil to grow rice, soybeans, corn and a few other crops. Thousands more raise chickens and turkeys and cows and hogs. Many more work at processing facilities and haul these commodities hither and yon.

Agriculture has been a major component of our economic engine for generations, and that won’t change. Along the way, the federal government (through Congress) has seen fit to subsidize many of these activities.

Maybe you think subsidies ought to go to everybody or nobody at all. Maybe you think subsidies help keep food prices lower here than in other parts of the world.

No matter where you fall on the spectrum, you should consider the future of subsidies and how their impact may change in coming years.

We’ve long thought that a day of reckoning was on the horizon. In our increasingly tight fiscal times, budgetary line items that don’t include bullets and tanks or health care dollars for seniors and children are likely to move closer toward the chopping block.

What to expect

Enter this year’s Senate race.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln — who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, if you recall — has long advocated a strong “safety net” for the state’s agriculture community. We’ve heard her say many times that reducing subsidies will chill our economy in many ways, from the farmers’ ability to buy goods and services to the consumers’ ability to buy food at the market.

At least some of her opponents will contend that the agriculture industry ought to operate more in a free market, without the federal government’s ground-up support.

How the senator from Arkansas considers this issue will be as important to our state’s future as most any other pressing matter on the agenda in years to come.

We won’t lobby for either side because we see them both.

We understand that Arkansas is one of the states that receives a large portion of subsidy spending, and those dollars turn over in Arkansas communities from Blytheville to Texarkana, Rogers to Lake Village.

We know, too, that deficit spending is a huge ideological matter that is hurtling toward some sort of change, probably sooner rather than later.

And so, as we listen to the senatorial candidates talk about what they want to do in Congress, we hope that the future of agriculture subsidies gets a full airing. We need to know what to expect, and we should choose our candidate based on those things important to us.

Agriculture subsidies for farmers and ranchers should be among the criteria.