State Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, highlighted new laws governing farmers as a keynote speaker at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Agriculture Field Day. A Democrat of District 25, Flowers represents parts of Arkansas, Desha, Jefferson, Lincoln, Monroe and Phillips counties. She discussed the Arkansas Legislature’s accomplishments related to agriculture in the 91st General Assembly in 2017.

Act 877 enhances the penalties for trespassers on farms when the suspect is caught under certain circumstances. Penalties are increased if the suspect is using an all terrain vehicle, a killing device or a tool to open fences or locks. Act 1085 allows farmers to apply for a special permit for five axle-trucks hauling loads of farm products of up to 100,000 pounds. The current law limits five-axle trucks to carry a maximum of 85,000 pounds of farm products, Flowers said. Act 156 prohibits cities and counties from enacting local laws that regulate seeds. Arkansas is the 29th state to pass a seed pre-exemption law, Flowers said during the event, held last Friday.

“They are being pushed by large food conglomerates, industrial agricultural corporations and chemical companies,” Flowers said. “The opponents of these new laws voice concerns that their intent is to pave the way for genetically modified crops and to make it harder for small organic farmers to compete.”

In related news, Flowers discussed the American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafted model legislation in 2013 that pre-empts local governments from regulating seed production. Corporations Monsanto, Bayer and DuPont contribute to ALEC, she said. Act 156 is a “textbook example of a trend in American economics that the big guys use legislation to build monopolies to push out the smaller business,” Flowers said.

On the subject of farm-to-school programs, Flowers advocated for this practice on the merits of promoting health and local economies.

“One way for small farmers to find new markets and compete is by taking advantage of school lunch programs,” she said. “School cafeterias provide low-priced meals to students from low-income families. Even in the city of New York, all the schools in New York, the children will receive free lunch.”

On the subject of food deserts, Flowers defined this term as people being unable to find fresh food in close proximity to their homes. She said low-income people suffer from food deserts, lack access to cars, and resort to eating processed food, which contributes to obesity and diabetes. A native of Pine Bluff, Flowers is a lawyer and daughter of the late attorney W. Harold Flowers and educator Margaret Brown Flowers.

During the field day, UAPB research scientists and Extension specialists presented research and demonstration projects on crops and weed control for organic rice, local food production systems, natural treatments for parasites in goats and sweet potato seed production, the use of honeybees as pollinators, soil quality under cover crops and southern cow pea varieties.