Arkansas Farm Bureau president Rich Hillman and Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke Wednesday at the opening of the bureau's 89th annual convention at the Statehouse Convention Center.
"Farming isn't just important to Arkansas' economy, it's an integral part of our culture, our heritage, and our way of life," Sanders said.
"The Arkansas Farm Bureau is here to protect that culture, and they've been busy here both in Little Rock and in Washington, D.C. with the Farm Bill now coming next year. I know it's not going to be an easy year, it will be one of the busiest ever for Farm Bureau, and our state is very lucky to have a leg up with Senator Boozman as the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee."
Hillman, of Carlisle, is the 11th president of the bureau. He said that his address to open the convention Wednesday would be his last, as he will not seek reelection. He was elected to succeed Randy Veach of Manila at the bureau's annual convention in 2019; Veach had retired after serving 11 years as president.
"Being involved in and part of the big team that we call Farm Bureau has been the honor of a lifetime," Hillman said.
He observed that tensions in Congress, which have played out in the fight to approve funding for the federal government this fall, mean there will likely be some delays in reauthorizing the Farm Bill.
"We've got some folks from Arkansas in Washington that are working as hard as they can and the American Farm Bureau is putting as much pressure on them as they can, so hopefully in the middle of next year, we'll have a Farm Bill," Hillman said.
Vice President Mike Freeze was elected alongside Hillman in 2019 and will be seeking reelection. Voting for the next president and vice president will take place at the end of the convention's business session on Friday.
The event kicked off with a trade show and several award presentations, including Ag In the Classroom Outstanding Teacher, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences recognition, the Stanley Reed Leadership award and the YF&R Excellence and Achievement awards.
Convention events today include a second trade show, workshops, a joint meeting of the Arkansas House and Senate Agriculture, Forestry & Economic Development Committees, an agriculture innovation challenge event, more awards and keynote address from former NFL lineman and farmer Jason Brown, as well as a caucus of voting delegates.