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Senate Ag Committee gets first woman chairman

Agriculture.com Staff 09/10/2009 @ 2:52pm

With Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin taking over the late Ted Kennedy's Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Senator Blanche Lincoln will succeed Harkin as leader of the Ag Committee.

The Arkansas Democrat will be the first woman to head the committee.

"With such priorities as child nutrition reauthorization, farm bill implementation, and regulation of commodities, the Committee has a full plate," Lincoln said in a statement released Wednesday.

Lincoln represents a shift on a committee where regional differences can be stronger than partisan ones. Like Harkin's Republican predecessor, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Lincoln is a Southerner who represents cotton and rice farmers who may be more dependent on commodity programs in the current market than corn and soybean farmers.

And they may have a harder time adapting to carbon credit trading than corn and bean growers, as Frank Rehermann, chairman of USA Rice Producers Group, told the committee during a hearing Wednesday.

Rice farmers have supported research on better management of rice straw, which contributes to methane emissions from rice fields. But, Reherman told the committee, "We have no real evidence we are going to be able to sequester the emissions any more than we do."

Lincoln said during the hearing that "it isn't necessarily my preference to move cap and trade legislation this year."

But Harkin told Agriculture Online Thursday that the Ag Committee isn't in charge of writing cap and trade legislation in the Senate. Instead, it's holding hearings on how cap and trade might affect agriculture and will make recommendations to the Environment and Public Works Committee headed by Senator Barbara Boxer of California.

"This can be an income stream in the future for agriculture," Harkin said. "I want to make sure we're not penalized."

Harkin will still be a member of the Ag Committee and he told reporters Thursday that he'll continue to work on issues important to his region.

"Our interest in biofuels, our interest in grains, corn, soybeans -- the kind of interests we have in the Upper Midwest -- believe me, I'm still going to be protecting them," he said.

Harkin said he believes Lincoln will be a strong advocate for the programs covered in the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which provides for school lunches, breakfasts and other meals programs for the poor.

Lincoln, who has been on the Ag Committee since her election the Senate in 1998, was a founder of the Senate’s bipartisan Hunger Caucus in 2004.

As a member of the House, she served on the House Ag Committee from 1993 to 1995.

Representative Frank Lucas, the current top ranked Republican on the House Agriculture Committee told Agriculture Online that "my relationship with Blanche, when she was in the House, was good."

"While Senator Harkin will be missed, I look forward to Senator Lincoln's hand on the gavel of the [Senate] committee," the Oklahoma representative said.

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