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story.lead_photo.caption U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue (center) gets a tour of Brantley Farms from owner Dow Brantley on Friday at the farm in England during Perdue’s second visit to Arkansas. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

Farmers, ranchers, timber men and others in the state's agriculture community had the ear of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for a couple of hours Friday, and they filled it.

Among the topics: Arkansas is short on large-animal veterinarians; cotton farmers need a better safety net; and the dairy industry is all but extinct.

Perdue, a former Georgia governor and only the second agriculture secretary from the Deep South, assured the farmers that his department and President Donald Trump's administration had their concerns in mind.

The 2018 Farm Bill still being drawn up in Congress might provide some solutions, Perdue said during a luncheon with Gov. Asa Hutchinson and about 50 farmers, leaders of the agriculture community and other state officials at the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock. Perdue later toured Brantley Farms in Lonoke County.

The visitors had a plate lunch of rice and chicken, the latter being noted by leaders of the pork and beef industry in the state.

It was Perdue's second visit to Arkansas, the first being last spring to look at damage caused by flooding, Hutchinson noted.

Abraham Carpenter of Carpenter's Produce in Pine Bluff said growers of specialty crops need more support.

Perdue said he agreed that such farmers "need a better safety net" and likely will get it in the next farm bill, legislation put out by Congress every five years.

Randy Veach, president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, said cotton farmers and dairy operators need the same kind of help. "We need a safety net for all segments of agriculture," Veach said.

Dairy farmers are in especially bad shape, he said. "It would be a shame if we lost all our dairy, and we're close to that," he said, putting the number of those farms in Arkansas at about 50.

Trade agreements -- particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, with Mexico and Canada -- are vital to agriculture, Perdue said.

While progress has been made in selling Arkansas beef to China, efforts to do the same with Arkansas pork and rice have been more difficult because of "moving goal posts" in discussions with Chinese officials, Perdue said. "I think they know what their population would be getting used to," he said.

Business on 01/20/2018

Print Headline: Ag chief gets earful in Arkansas

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