WASHINGTON, D.C. - The 112th Congress was called into session this week, bringing with it new leadership at the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over agriculture-related policies and programs.

As part of leadership elections, Oklahoma Republican Rep. Frank Lucas was officially selected on Wednesday as the new Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

Lucas, who will be the first House Agriculture Committee Chairman from his home state, is a strong supporter of many aspects of farm policy, particularly safety net programs and the various conservation programs that help producers maintain their land.

"As a student of agriculture economics, a rancher by trade, and a Member of this Committee from the start of my service in Congress, I am honored to have this opportunity and responsibility," he said in a statement released after his official selection.

Saying "[w]e must work our way out of this budget mess and rein in wasteful spending," Lucas also expressed support for farm policy, comparing its importance to that of national defense.

He also expressed strong support for three long-pending free trade agreements - with Korea, Panama and Colombia - as well as for opening other trade opportunities, and he said it is "imperative" to prevent environmental regulations that stymie economic activity in rural America.

Lucas also announced this week the subcommittee chairmen for his Committee, including:

• Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson (R-Pa.), Conservation, Energy and Forestry;
• Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), Department Operations, Oversight and Credit;
• Rep. Michael Conaway (R-Texas), General Farm Commodities;
• Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), Livestock, Dairy and Poultry;
• Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), Nutrition and Horticulture; and
• Rep. Timothy Johnson (R-Ill.), Rural Development, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture.

Lucas will serve as an ex officio Member on all subcommittees, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) will serve as Committee Vice Chairman. Lucas also announced new Republican Members of the Committee, to include: Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.); Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.); Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.); Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio); Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.); Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.); Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.); Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.); Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.); Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.); Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.); Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.); Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.); Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.); and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.).

House Democrats have not yet announced their full Agriculture Committee roster, but Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the former chairman, will be the new Ranking Member.

The Senate has also not yet finalized its committee structures, and official word won't come until after the chamber reconvenes from a Martin Luther King Day recess on Jan. 25.

Still, it is widely expected that Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow will be the next head of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee following the now-former Sen. Blanche Lincoln's (D-Ark.) election defeat and decisions by a number of senior Democrats to keep their existing chairmanships.

In a statement issued when it became clear she would be taking the chairmanship, in November, Stabenow said she is "ready to lead" the Committee, which has jurisdiction over an area of importance for her home state's economy.

"I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as we begin writing a new farm bill that once again recognizes the importance of America's agricultural economy and rural communities," she said.

Though less known to wheat producers, Stabenow has a deep agriculture background and has served on the agriculture committees in the Michigan legislature, U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

Stabenow is an ardent supporter of agricultural research, with the Wheat and Barley Protection Act of 1997 being her first bill in Congress as a Member of the House. NAWG staff has also worked extensively with Stabenow and her staff on efforts to make climate change proposals in Congress workable for agriculture producers.

Though not confirmed, it has been reported in a number of press outlets that Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, a longtime friend of agriculture and wheat producers, will be the Senate Committee's Ranking Member, with Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the Ranking Member in the 111th Congress, becoming the Ranking Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

NAWG has worked with all of the new Committee leaders, confirmed and unconfirmed, for many years on a wide range of issues, and NAWG's grower-leaders and staff look forward to continuing these productive relationships while working hard to educate new Members on both Committees.

To read more from Stabenow on becoming the next Senate Agriculture Chair please go to http://stabenow.senate.gov/press/2010/111910SenatorStabenowsStatementonBecomingNextChairoftheSenateAgricultureCommittee.htm.

Lucas' full statement from this week is available at http://agriculture.house.gov/pr110106.shtml.

SOURCE: National Association of Wheat Growers