June 12, 2023
At a Glance
- Advocates for Arkansas agriculture discuss enacted bills from the state's recent legislative session.
- State plant board and research and promotion boards see change in administration and appointment process.
- Restructuring of the Arkansas Department of Ag improves internal and organizational efficiencies.
The Arkansas regular session of the 94th General Assembly began on Jan. 9, just one day before the inauguration of Gov. Sarah Sanders, the state’s first elected woman governor. Sanders hit the ground running, backed by a republican super majority for her first legislative session.
Many agriculture-related bills moved through the session that adjourned on May 1, and these bills and their impacts were recently discussed at the regular meeting of the Agricultural Council of Arkansas. Andrew Grobmyer, executive vice president and executive director of the Ag Council, shared specifics about enacted bills that were a primary focus during the session.
In addition, Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward gave an update from the state's Department of Agriculture. He described a great working relationship with Sanders and the busy season he described as “moving 1,000 miles per hour.”
“We knew that 2023 was going to be a big year for us as a department for agriculture. Then you have a change in government administration, inauguration, the recent legislative session, and it is a farm bill year. There is a lot going on, and we are making progress through that,” Ward said.
Update from the Arkansas Department of Ag
Ward was recently reappointed by Sanders. He will continue his service as the secretary of ag where he advocates and represents as a voice for Arkansas agriculture in a variety of leadership roles on both state and national levels.
“I am incredibly honored to be able to continue serving in this role,” he said. “The Department of Agriculture is starting off with a great first step and relationship with the governor.”
Ag officials say Sanders has already demonstrated her appreciation and recognition of agriculture in the Natural State. She authored a letter for the annual edition of the Arkansas Grown magazine, presented several video messages to include the 35th class of the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame, proclaimed Arkansas Ag Week in late March complete with a roundtable session, and hosted an industry event in May for Beef and Egg Month.
As for the recent legislative session, Ward said there were more than 50 bills his department watched from an ag standpoint.
“It was very busy, and we were very engaged in tracking those and the impact it would have on us as a department of ag, on the industry, and the state as a whole. Thankfully, all of that went smoothly. We made it through the legislative session, and now we are getting into the days to be able to work through the implementation of these bills.”
Both Ward and Grobmyer discussed these legislative decisions, emphasizing three notable bills voted into law during the session.
Arkansas Plant Board
Act 135 addressed issues with the makeup of the Arkansas State Plant Board that had been deemed unconstitutional by the Arkansas Supreme Court. Ward said he looks forward to the implementation of the new law and hopes to see some solid stability for the foreseeable future.
Grobmyer said, “Since the court ruling that ordered nine of the nineteen seats be vacated, the plant board has been operating shorthanded and barely able to form a quorum for business. With Act 135 we are now preparing to move back up to 19 with greater representation among industry segments, which should be good for the board as it returns to normal business.
A big change comes in the appointment process. Grobmyer added, “The statutory role of industry organizations nominating individuals directly is no longer the code. Going forward, the process for all agriculture related boards will now be open for anyone with appropriate qualifications to apply for those positions through an online web portal.”
The Ag Council will maintain communication with the offices of the governor and ag secretary along with the appointments office of the governor to assist in advising and vetting qualified members to serve on the plant board.
“This was expected, and we knew that this had to be addressed. Moving forward, we encourage our members to apply for these positions, and we stand ready to assist those applicants and the governor’s office in ensuring that qualified persons serve in these important roles,” Grobmyer said.
Research and Promotion Boards
Act 712 was passed to change the appointment process and administration for research and promotion boards. This bill's main purpose was to give better constitutional footing and avoid future litigation outcomes like the plant board.
The administration moves from a private industry entity to a state entity, with the Arkansas Department of Agriculture as the lead. Candidates for these boards can apply just like the plant board and be appointed by the governor.
Grobmyer noted this is a cooperative arrangement. “Farmers will continue to serve on the boards through appointments by the governor. Under the changes of Act 712, farmers will continue to be the ones to prioritize industry needs and determine appropriate levels of assessment dollars for research and promotion.
“Our primary objective through Act 712 was to make sure that research and promotion dollars were reserved for their original purposes and managed by farmers who pay the assessments. We also wanted assurances that any administrative costs associated with this change would be minimal,” he said.
Ward added, “When it comes to commissions within the department and the research and promotion boards, we made a commitment to the governor, legislature, and industry that the department of ag will make those changes internally without additional costs. We are committed to that and look forward to working and moving forward.”
Reorganization of the Arkansas Department of Ag
Another bill passed into law is Act 691. This addressed the reorganization and consolidation of boards and commissions within the department of agriculture.
Ward said, “For us that was sixteen boards and commissions, and eight of those had constitutional issues. We started looking at what we needed to do to fix these issues. We worked with several legislators and the governor’s office to come up with a plan to fix the organizational structure within the department.”
The department is now organized into four primary divisions with a corresponding board or commission: plant industries and the Arkansas State Plant Board; livestock and poultry division and the livestock and poultry commission; forestry division and the forestry commission; and the natural resources division and the natural resources commission.
This restructuring will improve internal and organizational efficiencies in addition to improving efficiencies for farmers. Ward said, “If a producer has an issue, it is one phone call to us at the department of ag.”
This law also adjusted the term limit for appointments across the board to five years. Now all organizations and commissions have a consistent term limit, and Ward noted this change brings greater stability for terms previously set at two years.
Conservation districts will also see a change. For the 75 counties across the state, the appointment process will change for two of the five-member board positions. Those two positions were previously appointed by the Natural Resources Commission in Little Rock. Going forward, the decision for those 150 statewide appointments will be in the hands of the local conservation districts and local boards to determine the best candidates to serve.
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