In the wake of major Republican gains in the mid-term elections, both the House and Senate agriculture committees will see new leadership, according to the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). 

With Republicans assuming control of the Senate beginning in January, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) is likely to be the new chair of the Senate ag committee. The current senior Republican on the committee, Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), is expected to lead the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The current committee chair, Sen. Stabenow (D-Mich.), will become the panel's senior Democrat.

In the House, both agriculture committee chair U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and senior Democrat Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) were reelected. However, Lucas is term limited as chair, paving the way for Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) to be the farm panel’s new chair. Peterson, who withstood his strongest challenge in years, will remain as senior agriculture committee Democrat.

Immigration reform uncertain

On the policy front, the Republican election left uncertain the prospects for congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform next year. NMPF and other farm organizations have pledged a major push on immigration in 2015. However, if any major reform legislation passes in the Republican-controlled Senate, it is likely to be somewhat different from the 2013 Senate bill, which was backed by NMPF. 

That bill included an historic agreement ensuring that dairy farmers could both maintain their current workers and have the workforce needed to meet future needs.

Meanwhile, since the summer President Obama has indicated that, in the absence of congressional action on the issue, he would take administrative action before the end of 2014 to address the status of undocumented immigrants.

NMPF chairman Randy Mooney said dairy farmers need to keep sending a strong message to Capitol Hill on the need for comprehensive reform.

“Without a vocal expression from farmers, it will be easier for politicians to ignore (the issue). We can’t afford to let that happen,” he said.

NMPF is working with Texas A&M University to conduct a survey of dairy farmers about their labor needs.  This effort will update the 2009 survey NMPF conducted of the industry.  To obtain a copy of the survey, contact Jaime Castaneda or John Hollay by Nov. 16.

In other policy news, voters in Colorado and Oregon rejected measures that would have required labeling for foods made with genetically modified ingredients. The Colorado measure failed, 32% to 68%. In Oregon, the referendum failed 49% to 51%.

According to NMPF CEO Jim Mulhern the results demonstrate that when consumers have enough information on GMOs they understand that mandatory labeling is meaningless and unnecessary.

“It is heartening to see reasoned judgment prevail,” Mulhern said. “Extensive scientific research and billions of servings consumed by both humans and animals show that there are absolutely no health or safety issues with GM products that have been approved by government authorities. These defeats for the science-deniers will hopefully be a turning point that will enable us to move on to real issues of how to sustainably feed a growing world population.”