Category Archives: Clean Energy

The New Political Landscape – Farm Policy Implications

The 2010 midterm elections brought significant changes to the makeup of Congress.

In the House, the Republican Party gained 63 seats to take a 242 to 193 majority, while in the Senate, the GOP gained five seats, narrowing the Democrat majority from 53 to 47.

The November results also brought a change of leadership at the House Agriculture Committee, where Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) has taken over from outgoing Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota).

United States CapitalShortly after the election, in a webinar presented by the Washington, D.C. based law firm McLeod, Watkinson & Miller (“Election Results and the Agriculture Committees”) former Staff Director of the House Agriculture Committee Bill O’Conner pointed out that, “Chairman Peterson had wanted the farm bill in 2011, and incoming Chairman Lucas had never been very excited about that, and has now publicly stated that he thinks it’s better to do the farm bill in 2012. That will give the committee some chance to adapt to the new situation and to do the background hearings necessary to begin to familiarize themselves with the very large and complex jurisdictions in a farm bill.”

A CQ- Roll Call Summary of new House Members indicated that a few freshmen bring an agricultural perspective to Capitol Hill.  Among them is Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas), a self described “deficit hawk” who “spent most of his working life in agriculture-related news services.”

Vicky Hartzler, a new GOP Member from Missouri “owns an agricultural equipment business with her husband,” and has made balancing the budget one of her key priorities; and, a former Ohio Farm Bureau President, Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) has indicated that “cutting the federal deficit and lowering the national debt” is one of his top concerns.

Representatives Crawford, Hartlzer and Gibbs, will all serve on the House Agriculture Committee.

Balancing fiscal restraint while maintaining a sound national agricultural and food policy will be a key issue as Congress gets to work.

The Hill newspaper reported last week, “Farm subsidies and the Commodity Futures Trade Commission (CFTC) will come under scrutiny from Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), the new chairman of the [Appropriations] Agriculture subcommittee.”

Rep. Kingston stated that, “If there is an agricultural conservation program that is popular in red states, we have to look at it. If there is an inner-city school lunch program popular in blue states, we have to look at that, too.”

With respect to the Senate makeup and agriculture, the most significant change is the appointment of a new Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.  After Blanche Lincoln (D-Arkansas) was defeated on November 2, and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) opted to retain his chairmanship of the Budget Committee, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan became the new leader of the Agriculture Committee.

In her first speech as the new Chairman, Sen. Stabenow indicated last week that, “We are going to have a series of hearings on how the farm bill is working and what should change…[W]e will need to find creative solutions to help our growers manage risk. The safety net might look a little different than it does now.”

Keith GoodAbout the author: Keith Good, an attorney from central Illinois, compiles a daily summary of news relating to U.S. farm policy each weekday at

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Don’t Forget Farmland is a Part of America’s Great Outdoors

Recently, President Obama attended the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors to speak and sign a memorandum that sets a 21st century conservation agenda to bridge public and private efforts to conserve outdoor spaces (including farmland) and connect Americans with the outdoors.

While the efforts of farmers and the importance of farmland conservation were mentioned by the President, I want to stress how vital farmland is to any strategy to protect the outdoors.

Why? Because farmers and ranchers are stewards of almost half the land in America. Moreover, farms produce more than food, fiber and renewable fuels. Increasingly we’re pressing farm and ranch land into service to also address climate change, air and water pollution and energy concerns.

The President also noted that “conservation is not contrary to economic growth,” but an integral part of it, and he’s right. Environmental markets mean new opportunities for American agriculture.  We no longer measure the production from our nation’s farms and ranches by just bushels, bales, pecks, or animal units ―but now also miles per gallon, carbon offsets, water quality credits and bird nesting sites.

However, if we’re going to have healthy farms, healthy food and a healthy environment, we have to remember that farm and ranchland is the critical component. We can no longer assume that increased agricultural productivity per acre will make up for the continued loss and fragmentation of our farmland, or offset the increasing demand on agricultural lands to provide these types of environmental benefits in addition to the basics of food and fiber.

Some of the broad goals of the America’s Great Outdoors initiative include building on local and state and private priorities for the conservation of land, water, wildlife and other resources; and determining how the federal government can best advance those priorities through public private partnerships and locally supported conservation strategies.

There is much to gain if we focus on stemming the loss of America’s farm and ranchland. Despite efforts to protect agricultural land, over 23 million acres has been lost since 1982.  We need to clarify and understand the multiple demands on, and the benefits provided by well-managed agricultural lands, and determine our country’s need for agricultural land as a national security asset in a sustainable green economy for food, environmental services, wildlife, energy and open space.

The Departments of Agriculture and Interior are accepting ideas to better support modern-day land and water conservation efforts happening in communities across the country.  We hope you’ll submit a comment expressing the importance of our farm and ranch lands in achieving any national conservation goals.

We can encourage the federal government to be an active partner and contributor to the efforts of private landowners, states and communities to secure and manage this resource base for future generations. At American Farmland Trust I know we’re ready to work with the administration and stakeholders, and I hope you’ll join in this effort, too.

About the author: Bob Wagner celebrates his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010.  He has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land. He can be reached at

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