Republicans are tightening their electoral grip on farm country, holding all but 19 of the top 100 congressional districts in terms of agricultural sales, according to an Agri-Pulse analysis of newly released data from USDA's 2022 Census of Agriculture. 

Republicans control 21 districts ranked highest for the value of sales of agricultural commodities in 2022, with Adrian Smith’s Nebraska district topping the list with $22.9 billion in sales. 

Altogether, 81 of the top 100 districts in ag production are represented by Republicans. Three seats are currently vacant, and Republican Vince Fong won a race Tuesday for oneBy-value.png of those, California’s 20th District, which was vacated by former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.”

By comparison, as recently as the 2020 election, Democrats still held some of the nation's top ag districts in states such as Minnesota, Iowa and California.

The data sheds some light on a trend challenging House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson and other rural Republicans’ push for a farm bill that would limit updates to the Thrifty Food Plan while also using Commodity Credit Corporation restrictions to fund the commodity title upgrades requested by their farmer constituents: an increasingly urbanized, nutrition-focused slate of committee Democrats who appear unwilling to budge on these provisions.

“GT’s proposal, I think, is very well received in farm and ranch country. What’s not to like? He increases reference prices, he improves crop insurance,” said Mike Johanns, former Republican senator from Nebraska who was secretary of agriculture in the George W. Bush administration. 

“Having said that, it’s not well received with Democrats and he’s got to somehow get a sufficient number on board to get a bill passed.”

Iowa's 4th District, represented by Republican Randy Feenstra, is second in ag sales with $22.1 billion, followed by Republican Tracey Mann's Kansas district, the Big First, at $17.9 billion. Michelle Fischbach’s 7th District in Minnesota is fourth with $15.3 billion in sales. 

“It’s incredibly important,” Fischbach told Agri-Pulse of the role agriculture plays in her district. Fischbach defeated then-House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, a Democrat, in 2020.

The Democrat-held seat that ranks highest in agricultural production is California’s 18th district, which is represented by Rep. Zoe Lofgren. Much of the district, which is ranked 22nd in terms of the value of agricultural products sold, is new to the 15-term congresswoman, whose Silicon Valley seat was expanded in the last redistricting cycle to include portions of the Salinas Valley, a major producer of leafy greens, fruits and other vegetables.

“It’s new, but I’ve been on a quick learning tour, and my constituents have been great about helping to educate me about it,” she told Agri-Pulse

The districts held by California Democrats Raul Ruiz and Salud Carbajal rank 32nd and 36th, respectively. Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson’s seat is 38th on the list, while North Carolina Democrat and House Agriculture Committee member Don Davis’ district is 49th. 

Other House Agriculture Committee Democrats from districts among the top 100 on the list include Jim Costa of California, Eric Sorenson of Illinois and Sanford Bishop of Georgia.

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Even when ranking congressional districts by their overall number of farms, Republicans outnumber Democrats. Smith’s Nebraska district led in 2022 with 34,297 total farms; Fischbach’s Minnesota district followed with 31,297 and Feenstra’s Iowa district came in third with 29,941. New Mexico Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez is the first in her party to appear on that list, with her district ranking 43rd in terms of number of farms. 

Former House Agriculture Chairman Rep. Frank Lucas, a Republican who represents Oklahoma’s 3rd District, says farmers agree with Republicans on a range of issues.

“They share our opinion on taxes. They share our opinion on property rights. They are business people. Agriculture is intensely competitive, it’s super capital intensive. It’s an industry where if you don’t use the latest technology, you don’t survive. It’s just a natural fit," he said.

Former Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who represented North Dakota from 2013 to 2019 and now chairs the rural-oriented One Country Project, thinks Republican support in many farm districts solidified during the George W. Bush era, when GOP members overwhelmingly joined with Democrats in a 317-109 vote to overturn the president’s veto of the 2008 farm bill. 

Congressional Republicans’ embrace of these farm bill provisions likely provided some reassurance for farm-district voters that relied on commodity programs and crop insurance, allowing them to turn their attention to cultural issues instead, she said. 

“That gave these previous, maybe mixed voters that probably always were conservative, the latitude to basically begin to vote on cultural issues, whether that’s gay marriage or guns or abortion,” Heitkamp told Agri-Pulse.

Republican lawmakers asserted in a letter to Speaker Mike Johnson last year that 92% of the farmland in the United States is now represented by members of their party. 

“Hardly any Democrat relies on the farm vote to get elected,” said Peterson, the Democratic former House Agriculture Committee chairman, adding that the members of his party most reliant on the agricultural vote have largely been defeated by Republicans in elections. 

There are more Democratic members today representing a mix of agricultural, suburban and urban populations, Peterson said, than merely rural ones, pointing to Angie Craig of Minnesota, Sharice Davids of Kansas, and Nikki Budzinski of Illinois as examples. While they’re interested in agricultural issues, they also need to balance those with other concerns in their districts.

“They’ve got agriculture, they’re very helpful to agriculture, they’re paying attention to it,” Peterson said. “But that’s not make or break for them.”

Despite Thompson’s efforts to win over committee Democrats on his farm bill draft, several have criticized some of its proposed changes, including removing climate guardrails from conservation programs and limiting SNAP Thrifty Food Plan updates. 

“Whether people like it or not, you’ve got to put a coalition together that includes some of the urban people, the environmental people, some of the hunger lobby and so forth. That’s what you’ve got to do,” Peterson told Agri-Pulse. “And the Republicans don’t want to do that, they want to just have a farm bill.”

To see a list of the 100 highest-value Congressional districts in terms of agricultural sales click here.

To see a list of the top 100 Congressional districts with the most farms click here.

Correction: A previous version of this article said two seats currently sit vacant. That number is actually three.