LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- The U.S. Senate passed their version of the Farm Bill by a margin of 64 to 35 today in an effort to make a deep cut in the deficit. But Arkansas Senators John Boozman and Mark Pryor, who voted against it, say they are making a deeper cut to the pocketbooks for southern farmers.
The majority of the bill addresses the nation's food stamp program but most of the financial cuts have been made to agriculture. The Arkansas Farm Bureau says as it is written, those cuts will take 244 million dollars out of Arkansas' economy with no plan to put it back. That has rice and peanut producers in the natural state especially on edge.
If you take a drive down Perkins Road in Carlisle, you'll find rice, corn and soybeans popping up on either side.
"It's a family farm. We have a little over 1,200 acres which is actually considered small by today's standards," says Mary Frances Perkins who farms the land with her husband, Gary. "His parents farmed it and now he's farming it and we plan on passing it down to future generations,"
But Thursday, after the U.S. Senate passed their version of the Farm Bill, Perkins says those plans of carrying on the family tradition may have tradition.
"I basically see it as the beginning of the end for small, family based farms," says Perkins who also serves as President of Arkansas Women in Agriculture.
She says the new bill cuts out direct payments and subsidies for farmers, replacing it with a form of crop insurance which protects mostly against weather and pesticides.
"Crop insurance has never worked for us because of our high input cost and we can produce a pretty steady yield year after year. It's just how much input we have to put in to produce that crop," says Perkins.
Without those direct payments, Perkins says the cost of putting the crop in the ground may be too much to bear for rice and peanut producers.
Arkansas Senator John Boozman took to the Senate floor earlier this month to address those same concerns.
"The commodity title as it is currently written will have a devastating impact on southern agriculture which relies heavily on irrigation and therefore benefits less from the crop insurance," says Senator Boozman.
Perkins says a priced-based safety net, protecting producers from low commodity prices is the best alternative for rice producers. Without it, she fears, the Perkins farm may be growing their very last crop.
"I don't think they are trying to put southern farmers out of business. I certainly hope that isn't their intent but unfortunately, that will be the effect," says Perkins.
According to the U.S. Cooperative Extension Service, Arkansas leads the country in rice production. Nearly 50% of the country's rice is produced in the Natural State, not to mention the thousands of jobs it creates. Perkins tells me agriculture communities like Carlisle will be devastated if farmers can't afford to put their crop in the ground and potentially go out of business.
The Farm Bill debate is far from over. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to begin it's discussion of the bill after the July 4th recess. The differences between the House and Senate versions will then be brought before a committee. From there, a consensus will be presented to both sides for approval.