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Policy Group Calls for Agri Department.

The Arkansas Public Policy Panel has released a new report that calls for the establishment of what essentially would bean Arkansas department of agriculture, although it would have no regulatory powers.

The Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation has opposed past efforts to set up an agriculture department in the state, saying it was not needed.

"All the core functions are being served" by the various agriculture agencies now in existence, said Rodney Baker, spokesman for the bureau.

"It would simply add another layer of bureaucracy with 15-25 percent of the funds going for administrative purposes," he said.

However, the policy panel says the proposed new office would create a central agency that would support farmers with marketing, promotion, diversification, alternative crops and production, and an Arkansas-grown labeling program so consumers could support home-grown agriculture.

The report, entitled "State Agricultural Services and Programs: Policy Options for Arkansas Agriculture," which can be viewed at www.arpanel.org, looks at current Arkansas agriculture policy supports, what surrounding states do, what some model programs are, and makes some recommendations.

Arkansas, although the 10th largest agriculture producer in the nation, is the only state without an agriculture department, the organization says.

Several existing agencies that already receive state funding, such as the Arkansas State Plant Board, Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission, and Soil and Water Conservation Commission, would become divisions of the office, but their programs would remain the same.

The office would create new divisions to focus on marketing, customer service, financing, innovation, and farm advocacy.

Funding could come from existing. programs by reducing redundancy and inefficiencies, and from federal government and private money that's currently only available to state departments of agriculture, the report says.

The organization, along, with several farmers, is working on proposed legislation that should be ready in a few weeks, said Bill Kopsky, who heads the Arkansas Public Policy Panel. He said no legislators have signed on to sponsor the measure yet.
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Comment:Policy Group Calls for Agri Department.
Author:Henry, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Jan 29, 2001
Words:322
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