April 1, 2015 Edition

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U.S. Congressman Rick Crawford (right) speaks with County Judge Dale Freeman prior to the Rotary Club of Lawrence County meeting Tuesday. During the meeting, Crawford discussed the state of the agriculture industry, student debt and several bills he is helping to develop.
TD Photo ~ Megan Heyl

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford
speaks at Rotary meeting

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

Rick Crawford, U.S. representative for Arkansas's first congressional district, was the special speaker at Tuesday's Rotary Club of Lawrence County meeting.

David Burnette with Entergy had charge of the program and introduced Crawford, recounting many of the congressman's accomplishments and his work for the agriculture industry in the state.

"We appreciate that," Burnette said. "It's huge in our area."

Crawford spoke briefly on agriculture and the Farm Bill. "Agriculture is very import to our district and our state." He said due to consolidation and staff shortage within the Farm Service Agency, farmers will need to be patient in matters relating to the Farm Bill but he assures that the FSA is working hard to get everything turned back.

He also asked Rotary members to remind farm owners that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack authorized an additional week to choose between Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage and make any necessary adjustments. The new deadline is Tuesday, April 7.

Crawford also spoke about his work on efforts to reauthorize a state highway bill. He said it will be challenging but it is something the state needs.

Rotary members and guests asked Crawford questions regarding community growth, student loans, the construction of bills and how to get people interested in agriculture.

With the average age of farm workers being in the 50s, Crawford said it's more important than ever to get younger people interested in agriculture. Not only will it keep the business going, but it will keep younger generations in the community.

Ways he recommended doing this was to change the ways people think about success. He said too often people associate success with being a college graduate, but there are many successful careers that don't require a degree. These skill-based careers, such as farming or plumbing, not only have the potential to pay well and boost the economy, but Crawford said it is also a great way to create jobs as client lists build and the need to hire help occurs.

Because these fields are so important to the economy and especially because of the dangers surrounding student loan debt, Crawford said it needs to be made clear that skipping college in favor of learning a skill-based trade should not be frowned upon.

He said he was in no way dismissing a college education or the liberal arts, but too often people attend college because they feel forced into it rather than because they really want to go. He added that not only is this delaying time they could be spending on a trade but also sets them up to feel like a failure if college doesn't work for them.

As for ways to possibly prevent the impending financial meltdown surrounding college loans, Crawford said he is assisting with two bills to offer new ways students may pay off debt.

One he said will allow employers to treat the loan like a 401K within its payroll. This would be an incentive employers could offer and will also ensure that payments will be made.

Another bill would create an agriculture program allowing students to pay back their loans through working farmland. After a certain period of work, Crawford used five years as an example, students would liquidate the student loan.

To those interested in working in the agriculture business or training others to, Crawford offered this piece of advice saying that the agriculture industry is changing drastically and will continue to change. "It is a technical business, and it requires a much broader skill set." He said there are many different ways someone can be part of the agriculture industry and that it isn't necessarily going to be out on the farm itself. He encourages everyone to take time to explore the different roles within the industry before deciding where they want to work.

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