Most members of the House Agriculture Committee, and many on Senate Ag, face a steep learning curve on farm bill issues, which poses a challenge for ag groups and other advocacy organizations trying to shape the legislation in coming weeks.
Thirty-eight House Ag Committee members are working on their first farm bill, while 14 of the members who worked on the 2018 farm bill are returning. Two current members — Reps. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., and Chellie Pingree, D-Maine — did not sit on the committee in 2018, but have worked on previous reauthorizations.
Senators new to the farm bill also slightly outnumber members of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee with previous experience. A total of 12 committee members are working on their first farm bill, while 11 are returning from 2018.
“We’ve got great people,” Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow told Agri-Pulse. “They come from different backgrounds, different states. I think it’s going to add a lot to the committee to make it more comprehensive.”
Familiar faces returning to work on the Senate’s farm bill include ranking member John Boozman, R-Ark., Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., John Hoeven, R-N.D., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, John Thune, R-S.D., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
The returning 2018 House farm bill drafters include Austin Scott, R-Ga., Rick Crawford, R-Ark., Scott DesJarlais R-Tenn., Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., David Rouzer, R-N.C., Trent Kelly, R-Miss., Don Bacon, R-Neb., Mike Bost, R-Ill., Jim Costa, D-Calif., Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Alma Adams, D-N.C.
The House Ag committee, led by House Ag Chairman Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and ranking Democrat David Scott of Georgia, will also be tapping the expertise of past chairman and current member Frank Lucas, R-Okla.
Those new to the farm bill may not be entirely new to their respective agriculture committees. Some became members following the 2018 election, while others just joined this year.
One new House member, Texas Democrat Jasmine Crockett, said she has faced a “steep” learning curve when it comes to the farm bill and agricultural issues, though she said she enjoys learning about these subjects. Crockett, elected last year in a district that covers southern and central Dallas County, said working on the Agriculture Committee has so far been the “most interesting” part of her journey in Congress.
“I like that I’m being challenged,” Crockett told Agri-Pulse. “I like that I’m actually being presented with an opportunity to learn. But it is a steep learning curve and I do think it’s important for anyone that didn’t grow up on a farm to actually take the time to go and learn about all of the intricacies of what goes into food overall.”
One of Crockett’s main priorities is nutrition assistance. Around 14% of all the people living in her district had income below the poverty line and food banks, while trying to help, often struggle to keep up with the population’s needs.
“They are always scraping by and we know that they rely on donations,” Crockett said of food banks. “If they can minimize how much they’re having to give out because people actually have some sort of resources, it provides relief to them.”
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Crockett said biofuels are another primary focus for her, because of the aviation sector. The Dallas-Fort Worth region is home to two major airlines, American and Southwest. She also said she was interested in improving trade opportunities for farmers.
A relatively new Senate member in the midst of his first farm bill process, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., said he’s primarily focused on rural broadband access, protecting crop insurance and ensuring farmers get better prices for their crops. Tuberville said he asked to be assigned to the Agriculture Committee after he was first elected in 2020.
“I’m shocked that the farm bill’s worth $1.4 trillion and only $200 billion of it is for farmers,” Tuberville said. “If we balance this thing up a bit, we could have the best farming in the world.”
As one of two western senators on Senate Ag, New Mexico Democrat Ben Ray Luján told Agri-Pulse he’s going to be very focused on issues important to farmers in that region. He said he’s also going to be paying close attention to issues important to the Hispanic community, as well as for farmers that operate on small tracts of land.
“I grew up on a small farm, predominantly self-sustenance, and one of the areas that I’ve been advocating is support for small acreage farmers,” Luján told Agri-Pulse. “[That is] an area where I think programs need to reach out to.”
James Glueck, a vice president of Torrey Advisory Group, a D.C.-based lobbying firm, said the large number of new members makes listening sessions and agricultural group fly-ins particularly important for the upcoming farm bill.
“Education is always the challenge no matter what the bill is, but especially the farm bill because they’re every five years and they touch just about every part of the rural economy,” Glueck told Agri-Pulse.
Glueck said the Torrey Advisory Group has been hosting some meet and greets for newer members, as well as bringing their clients to D.C. through fly-ins. He said connecting with legislative staffers is especially important.
“You’ve got committee staff, some of them might be newer to the farm bill conversation,” Glueck said. “But they’ve got experience working together and getting agreements, and I think that bodes well for where we sit as the farm bill conversation gets a little more ripe.”
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