There’s an old saying that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in heels.

About the same might be said about the Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.

Together with the committee’s top Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Lincoln is a tough act to follow — especially if you care about the future of American agriculture.

Consider the stakes.

The farm bill is set to expire in 2012 and the House has already held a series of field hearings. You can believe that opponents of U.S. farm policy are going to use the budget, trade, and every other trick up their sleeves to tear down the modest safety net now in place.

But even before then, Congress may consider budget cuts that could slice into the farm safety net. But, with commodity program safety net spending at $15 billion annually, it would take at least 100 years of savings through eliminating the safety-net to equal just one year’s deficit —$1.4 trillion in 2009.

You also can mark your calendar that next year, about this time or maybe even earlier, we may well be facing renewed calls to rewrite pay limits, upending congressional intent and the meaning of the law while tying producers’ hands behind their backs in the midst of fierce foreign competition.

And that’s just the farm bill front.

Climate-change legislation or, alternatively, Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gas emissions also is bound to come to a head in the not-too-distant future if, as expected, the matter cannot be resolved this year.

Sweeping new Clean Water Act legislation that would seriously muddy the legal waters for farmers and ranchers (because it could be interpreted to regulate even farm ditches) and the fallout from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals case (possibly requiring permitting for pesticide application) also will be debated.

And, in the trade arena, we will no doubt continue to deal with World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Round negotiations that seem to have a lot more to do with picking global winners and losers than with creating an environment for free trade. The current deal disarms U.S. agriculture while allowing China, Brazil, India and other agriculture giants to armor up.

Moreover, sitting out there between now and the conclusion of the Doha Round negotiations is the Brazil WTO case that threatens to undermine not only the economically-vital U.S. cotton and agricultural export credit policy, but potentially impact all of U.S. farm policy.

On tax policy too, we face great uncertainty with, for example, expiring estate tax relief, which is expected to come at the end of the year.

Yet, the one thing more daunting than the long road we must travel down is going it alone without leaders like Lincoln and Chambliss in the driver’s seat, keeping us moving forward and between the ditches.

As the USA Rice Federation works each day to advance the cause of the U.S. rice industry and the communities and jobs that depend on it, it is reassuring to know that we have such friends on our side.

Reece Langley

Vice President, Government Affairs

USA Rice Federation