Conrad declines to take Ag Committee helm

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow was named Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee on Friday. Following the lame duck session, she will take the gavel from Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

After the announcement of the new chair, Stabenow – who was instrumental in the addition of a fruit and vegetable title in the last farm bill – said: “I am ready to lead the Senate Agriculture Committee in the 112th Congress. Agriculture is critical to Michigan’s economy, employing a quarter of our workforce. Not only does agriculture create jobs and feed our families across America, but it is also helping us develop new fuels and energy sources.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as we begin writing a new farm bill that once again recognizes the importance of America’s agricultural economy and rural communities.”

Agriculture and commodity groups have welcomed Stabenow’s chairmanship.

“Many challenges lie ahead in writing the next farm bill, but both Sen. Stabenow and (Oklahoma) Rep. Frank Lucas (the next Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee) have strong agricultural backgrounds and will be able to handle those difficulties,” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union. “We are confident that Chairwoman Stabenow will be able work with senators on both sides of the aisle to write a farm bill that is fiscally responsible but still protects farmers and ranchers from economic uncertainty in difficult times. There are 37 agriculture programs with no funding past 2012. NFU will continue to advocate for the extension of many of these important programs, particularly the fiscally responsible permanent disaster programs that are so critical to the farm safety net.”

“During her time in Congress … Sen. Stabenow has been a great friend of the produce industry and a leader on many agriculture issues,” said Tom Stenzel, Fresh Produce Association President and CEO. Stabenow “has the full support of fruit and vegetable producers across the country.”

Stabenow’s ascent was assured once North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad said he would retain his chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee rather than take over the Senate Agriculture Committee, where he will remain a member.

For more, see Conrad declines to take Ag Committee helm

Conrad’s decision drew praise from Jackie Loewer, USA Rice Federation Chairman. "Heading into tough budget times, we need a (Senate) Budget Committee chairman who is serious about deficit reduction, respected on both sides of the political aisle, and who understands that balancing the budget on the back of rural America would not only be harmful but impossible. Conrad's decision to remain as chair of Budget does not diminish the essential role he plays in agriculture policy, as evidenced by his having served as a principal architect and constructive force in the past two farm bills."

Steve Verett, Executive Vice President of Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., sent Conrad a letter stating the organization is “extremely thankful for your strong leadership on the agricultural and budgetary issues facing our nation. You worked hard on the 2002 and 2008 farm bills while also serving us well as Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Your service as Chairman has ensured that agriculture has received fair and equitable treatment in issues that have come before the Budget Committee.”