The winds of change will soon be sweeping through the agriculture industry in Washington, D.C. Between a new administration and turnover of three of the top four Agriculture Committee leaders in the House and the Senate, next year is shaping up to look quite different. The retirements of Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Ranking Member Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and the defeat of Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., means the two committees will lose a combined 86 years of institutional knowledge around agriculture policy.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., will take the helm as the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee in the new Congress. Boozman is viewed as a thoughtful, pragmatic leader who understands the importance of expanding markets for U.S. agricultural products. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., will continue in her role as the top Democrat on the committee. Stabenow has been a stalwart for the ethanol industry and the role it plays in a cleaner fuel supply.
Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., was ultimately successful in securing the support of his Democratic colleagues for the position of chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., had thrown his hat in the ring as well. Scott, whose district is primarily a suburban district in metro Atlanta, is a member of the Blue Dog caucus, a group of moderate, budget-conscious House Democrats. Scott has served on the House Agriculture Committee for the entirety of his 18 years in Congress and has made addressing agriculture’s aging constituency and maintaining relevancy with the next generation a priority during his tenure.
Across the aisle, Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., has been chosen by his caucus as the lead Republican on the committee. Thompson brings an acute understanding of some of corn growers’ top policy priorities to the position as he currently serves as the ranking member of the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee.
With a handful of members moving on from the committee next year, South Dakota’s own Congressman Dusty Johnson is poised to move up a few rungs on the seniority ladder. Having already served as the ranking member of a subcommittee as a freshman member, he will continue to be an important voice for the committee on a number of issues important to South Dakota. Beginning in January, Johnson will take on the position of Republican co-lead of the House Biofuels Caucus with Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill, during the 117th session of Congress.
The incoming Biden-Harris Administration has included climate change as one of its top four policy priorities. Rounding out the list are COVID; economic recovery and racial equality. The prioritization of climate change creates a unique opportunity for the agriculture sector as corn ethanol is a proven method by which to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is a lot of momentum in Washington on this issue, and it is important that agriculture be part of the solution.
Agriculture will also be watching the trade policy space closely to see where the Biden-Harris Administration will take the situation with China and whether there will be an opportunity to pivot to offense in the Southeast Asian markets.
There has been no lack of attention around Biden’s selection process for the secretary of agriculture position. The selection of former Secretary Tom Vilsack will provide for some certainty and stability against the backdrop of change. Vilsack, a known quantity for agriculture, ran the department for the entirety of President Obama’s eight years in office, and as an Iowa native, brings a solid foundation in production agriculture.
Change can certainly breed opportunity. In order to take advantage of the potential opportunities ahead for agriculture, education will be key. It will be important to make new members of Congress, new Agriculture Committee leadership and new administration officials aware of our policy priorities and the role for agriculture in the important issues facing our country.