During a stop on her annual farm tour last month, Eighth Congressional District Rep. Jo Ann Emerson pets an alpaca being held by Jim Root  at Rootin' Tootin Alpacas near Houston. (File photo)

As part of her annual Farm Tour around Missouri’s Eighth Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson made two stops last week in Texas County.

Emerson’s four day outing was designed to help her meet people in her district who are involved in some form of agriculturally-oriented production. The 12-stops-in-12-counties trek took her last Thursday afternoon to Rootin’ Tootin’ Alpacas in Houston and Friday morning to the Piney River Brewing Company at Bucyrus.

Spending about an hour at each location, Emerson and staff members from her offices in both Missouri and Washington, D.C. discovered several things they didn’t know about alpacas and beer, from the wide-ranging applications and versatility of alpaca fleece, to the methods used to brew and can beer in a barn.

At Rootin’ Tootin’ Alpacas, owners Jim and Connie Root helped Emerson touch alpacas for the first time and described what to look for when breeding and raising them, as well as the process of sheering them and spinning their fleece into yarn. At the Piney River Brewing Company, co-owner Brian Durham was away doing beer business in Arkansas, so his wife and co-owner, Joleen, gave Emerson a tour of the facility – know as the BARn – and explained what goes into beer before it goes into a can.

“Agriculture is really the mainstay and the economic engine of our district,” Emerson said, “and my goal on these tours is to listen and learn something new. Whether it’s livestock, row crops or a value-added agri-business like a brewery, it’s absolutely critical for our survival. I’m not sure enough people appreciate that agriculture is the number one industry in the state and that when our farmers do well, the communities where they live do well because there’s a huge ripple effect.

“I often get accused of spending too much on agriculture, but that’s because people don’t understand the importance of it to our overall economic health.”

Emerson is a co-sponsor of HR-1236 (a.k.a. the Small Brew Act), a bill introduced in March of 2011 that seeks to reduce excise tax on beer produced domestically by certain small brewers.

“A small brewery like ours is a huge investment in the local economy,” Joleen Durham said. “We want to celebrate the Ozarks with craft beer, and we’re proud of the support we’ve received.”

Emerson and Durham agreed that Texas County’s growing microbrewery is a classic example of a business that is American to the core.

“You can’t outsource locally brewed beer to China,” Durham said.

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