The Senate Agriculture Committee will have five new members this year, including Democrats who will bring their social justice concerns to the panel.
The committee will be chaired by Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., expanded to 22 members, and evenly split — 11-11 — between parties. Republicans controlled the committee 11-9 during the last Congress.
Democrats are adding three new members — Cory Booker of New Jersey, Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico and Raphael Warnock of Georgia. Republicans are adding two members, Roger Marshall of Kansas and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama. All but Booker are newly elected.
One Democrat is leaving the committee, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
Marshall, a physician who served on the House Agriculture Committee, and Tuberville, a former college football coach who is holding public office for the first time, have been staunch supporters of former President Donald Trump. Tuberville defeated former Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala.; Marshall replaced the Senate committee's last chairman, Pat Roberts, who retired.
"Agriculture is the largest industry for the Kansas economy, and this assignment will give Kansas a voice at the table to help ensure our farmers, ranchers, and producers remain profitable and our rural communities prosperous,” Marshall said. In the GOP primary, he defeated a populist rival, Kris Kobach, who campaigned on imposing restrictions on meatpacker procurement practices and mandating country of origin labeling for meat.
Tuberville, whose coaching stops included the University of Mississippi, Auburn University, Texas Tech University and the University of Cincinnati, won the endorsement of the Alabama Farmers Federation, the state affiliate of the American Farm Bureau Federation, ahead of the GOP primary. The Alabama group's president, Jimmy Parnell, said Tuberville would be "a strong voice in Washington and will build on the conservative policies of the Trump administration.”
Booker, an outspoken critic of many aspects of conventional agriculture, and Warnock, the pastor of the late Martin Luther King Jr.'s church in Atlanta, are both Black and likely to push the Biden administration to address social justice issues in the industry.
Booker, who has proposed a moratorium on large animal feeding operations and new restrictions on checkoff programs, says he wanted a seat on the Agriculture Committee to address a range of concerns about ag and food policy, including the “massive corporate consolidation" he said is hurting farmers, farm working conditions that he labels “unconscionable,” mistreatment of livestock, and diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease that are related to diet and obesity.
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He also has proposed ramping up conservation spending to help farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"A lot of the work I've been doing in the Senate has been leading to this committee, and I'm excited about making a lot of change," he told reporters.
Warnock told Agri-Pulse on Thursday that his priorities will include addressing the "concerns of independent, small farmers who too often don’t get their share, even of the subsidies." He wants to provide debt relief to minority farmers and also ensure there is adequate nutrition assistance for food-insecure families.
Lujan grew up on a small farm in northern New Mexico and still lives in the rural community of Nambe. During a debate sponsored by the New Mexico Farm Bureau, Lujan said he "grew up cleaning ditches, shoveling out barns, stacking hay, shearing sheep, milking goats, herding cattle, branding cattle, even getting kicked and stomped on a few times, more than I would like."
Booker, Lujan and Marshall all voted for the final version of the 2018 farm bill.
Arkansas Sen. John Boozman is the ranking Republican on the committee.
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