Polls show overwhelming a swing towards Republican control this fall. But how this voter sentiment, as reflected by polls and mass media anecdotal reports, translates into election results is still the $64 trillion question -- nothing in less than trillions counts in Washington, DC anymore, jokes Jay Vroom, president and chief executive officer of CropLife America.
What happens in the battles for particular Congressional seats is important, of course. If key members of the Agriculture Committees fail to win re-election, for example, it could mean important changes in who is involved in making major choices about the budget, the next farm bill, and other issues of importance to U.S. agriculture, says Pat Westhoff, public policy analyst at the University of Missouri.
If Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas loses her close race - and assuming the Democrats maintain Senate control - power switches to Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. This would bring power from a different region of the country with a different mix of crops than where it is now. Other reports indicate if Democrats maintain control of the Senate, that Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota could return to the ag committee to take over the head spot if Lincoln loses.
On the House side, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson has been a friend of agriculture and days after the writing of the 2008 Farm Bill, immediately turned his attention to the writing of the next one. If the House changes power (as is assumed), Frank Lucas, his Republican counterpart would take over the reigns.
In addition on the House side, Rep. Leonard Boswell of Iowa faces a tough race. He currently serves at the chair of the farm bill subcommittee on the House Agriculture Committee.
Westhoff adds if the elections result in a change in partisan control of one or both chambers of Congress, the consequences could be even greater. "Even though many agricultural issues are less partisan than other issues that have divided Congress in recent years, it does matter which party is in control. A Republican House, for example, would have different budget priorities than a Democratic House. That could result in important shifts in farm policy, even if every current member of the Agriculture Committee were re-elected," he says.
Many pundits have cried for a term limit on Congressional members. But for agriculture, that has caused a greater disconnect between rural America and those sent to Washington to represent them.
"Regardless of what party ends up on top, the troubling thing is that we don't have longer tenure among members of the agriculture committees," states Mark Maslyn, executive director of public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The swing seats in rural districts swing back and forth and create problems with members who do not fully understand how farm programs work. "We're having to deal with so many issues in which the public doesn't understand agriculture," Maslyn adds.
"We rely on folks on the Ag Committees to work with urban colleagues.
Tell me what you think. What do you hope to see in this fall's elections?
Policy is one of the most important issues facing farmers today, but often the most difficult to digest. Jacqui Fatka has a passion to decode the often difficult world of agricultural policy into terms understandable for today's ag players.
Fatka joined the Farm Progress team as E-Content Editor in August 2003 after graduating from Iowa State University. Prior to full-time employment with Farm Progress, she interned at Wallaces Farmer magazine, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley's press office and the Iowa Pork Producers Association and freelanced for National Hog Farmer. She also worked as a public relations consultant with Iowa Industries for the Future, an effort to bring together major players in the biorenewables industry.
Currently Fatka is a staff editor at a sister publication, Feedstuffs. For Farm Futures she regularly tells the story of ongoing agricultural policy changes. Her byline can also be found on management profiles.
Fatka grew up on a grain and livestock farm near Atlantic, Iowa. She currently lives in central Ohio with her husband Eric, and their three children - Josiah, Spencer and Avonell.
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