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Ag leadership shifts; 'more of same?' farmers ask

The Senate Agriculture Committee's going to be looking for a new leader.

Senator Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, was defeated by Republican challenger John Boozman Tuesday, just one of many races ending in favor of republican candidates that pundits say will tip the balance of power well in the party's favor.

The House Agriculture Committee included some of the nation's most conservative rural Democrats, many of them members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats. That wasn't enough to keep more than half of the Democrats on the committee, 16 out of 28, from being defeated, according to election results as of 1 a.m. CDT.

The defeated Democrats included newcomers elected in 2008, including Deborah Halvorson of Illinois and Betsy Markey of Colorado as well as veterans like Earl Pomeroy, a 9-term Representative for North Dakota. Voters cited support for the health care reform law by Markey and Pomeroy as reasons for their defeat.

The Committee's chairman, Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, was re-elected with about 55.5% of the vote. In the new Congress next year, he is expected to be replaced as chairman by Republican Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma.

So, what's it all mean for the farm? The changing landscape could influence how some ag sectors are considered in view of the whole industry, says AgForum member jrsiajdranch.

"I just got done reading that [Rep. Debbie] Stabenow from Michigan may be in line for Senate ag chair and [Rep. Frank] Lucas from Oklahoma will be in line for House ag commitee chair. So, you have a senator from an automobile state that is in charge of ethanol mandates and subsidies!" jrsiajdranch said Tuesday in a forum. "Also, how will a fiscal conservative in a cattle-feeding, wheat-growing state view those same mandates? In the end, probably more of the same."

But, even if some races' outcomes will change support levels for different commodities or groups of producers, the larger issues remain, namely those related to the federal budget and future potential cuts.

"While the results of this election changed the make-up of Congress, what hasn't changed is a number of serious challenges facing U.S. agriculture," says American Farmland Trust president Jon Scholl. "We face all of these issues at a time when our federal budget is under considerable strain."

Specifically, ag leaders say tax, trade and environmental issues will remain high priorities. And, the newly elected lawmakers will be drafting the next farm bill, which necessitates ag leaders to educate them on the ag issues with which they may not be familiar, says American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman.

"A new farm bill will be written by new agriculture committee members who may not be that familiar with farm policy. Farm Bureau will work with these committee members to help them understand the role of farm programs and develop a bill that provides an effective and responsive safety net for producers across the country," Stallman says.

"We will work closely with congressional members on tax issues, such as the estate tax and capital gains tax, as well as for common-sense solutions on environmental issues, like the Clean Water Act and greenhouse gas regulations. We will also work with Congress to change the outlook of trade opportunities by passing the stalled free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and Korea," he adds.

Editor's Note: Dan Looker and Jeff Caldwell compiled this report.

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