By Stewart Doan

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

TAMPA, Fla., March 4 - New House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., made a good first impression Friday on the more than 4,800 farmers and agribusiness representatives attending the 2011 Commodity Classic here.

Lucas was interrupted by laughter and applause several times during a 20 minute speech that praised U.S. agriculture’s contribution to the economic recovery, warned of a “difficult” road ahead for the 2012 Farm Bill, and contained familiar GOP swipes at regulatory overreach by the Obama administration and its failure to advance trade agreements beneficial to farmers and ranchers.


Agri-Pulse's Stewart Doan interviews House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas, R-Okla. Photo: Agri-Pulse.

“Rural America and production agriculture are leading the economic recovery,” he said in reference to USDA forecasts for record farm income and exports in the coming year. Lucas pledged that the ag panel would pursue a “pro-growth” legislative and oversight agenda that allows farmers and ranchers to continue to be “the backbone of the rural economy and grocery store, quite literally, for the world.”

The farm-state lawmaker called on President Obama to send long overdue trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to Congress for approval as soon as possible. “In one swoop we can open up more than $3 billion in new market access” for farmers and ranchers.

“The Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory assault on production agriculture must stop!” he declared after ticking off a list of pending or planned rules or regulations involving watersheds, spray drift, dust, and milk spills.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will make her first of what Lucas promised would be multiple appearances in front of his committee on Mar. 10. “I don’t want to prejudge her answers but my commonsense says it will be impossible for her to defend her agency’s actions over the past two years.”

While saying he has no doubt that “my good friend” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has agriculture’s best interest at heart, Lucas proceeded to accuse the Vilsack-led USDA of favoring organic growers over farmers who use biotechnology to produce the vast majority of the nation’s supply of food and fiber.

“There’s no question that marketing opportunities such as organic production and farmer’s markets are good for ag, but, my friends, these are niche parts of the agricultural family and should not become the dominant focus of the department’s activities because ultimately consumers will pay the price,” Lucas said.

The 2012 Farm Bill debate is shaping up to be “quite a doozy” given the “incredibly difficult budget situation” and the fact that 23 of the ag panel’s 46 members and almost one-fourth of the House membership are new to the process, he explained.

The chairman announced the committee will audit existing farm bill programs this summer to identify “which programs are working and which ones are not,” followed by a fresh round of field hearings in the fall.

Lucas told corn, soybean, wheat and grain sorghum producers to expect less funding for the bill and added that farm, conservation and energy programs in the bill they’ve come to rely on will be subject to cuts. But if done right, he insisted, the budget challenge can become an opportunity for agriculture. “It’s not going to be easy, but with your help I’m confident we can build on what works, fix what doesn’t and eliminate the unnecessary.”

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