Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) is the new chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. She takes over from Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), who replaces Senator Ted Kennedy as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. Senator Lincoln said, “The committee’s responsibilities encompass a number of issues that are critical to Americans, particularly those living in rural areas. With such priorities as child nutrition reauthorization, farm bill implementation and regulation of commodities, the committee has a full plate. I thank Senator Harkin for his tremendous leadership. As chairman, I will work with my colleagues to build upon the committee’s strong record and devote my full energy to producing forward-looking, balanced priorities on behalf of all families and communities. I will continue to fight for the hardworking farm families and rural communities who provide the safest, most abundant and affordable supply of food and fiber in the world.” Senator Lincoln has been a strong advocate of farm programs; opposed various payment limitation proposals; and, opposed the packer ban proposal in the 2008 farm bill.

Free Trade Agreements Good for Agriculture — The Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined four free trade agreements (FTA) and found that they have benefited the American economy, with agriculture being a big winner. The GAO said, “Among sectors, we found that U.S. agricultural exports, such as wheat, corn, rice, edible fruits and nuts and dairy products, grew substantially post-FTA in several partner countries, with U.S. market share gaining against major trading partners.” The existing FTAs studied by GAO were Chile, Jordan, Morocco and Singapore. According to the report, U.S. agricultural exports to Chile increased from $25 million in 2004 to $256 million three years later. During that time, U.S. share of Chile’s imports of agricultural products grew from 6% to 26%.

White House Urged to Name Ag Trade Ambassador — In a letter to the White House, 42 agricultural organizations urged the administration to name a Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). The organizations said, “While U.S. agricultural trade policy remains largely undefined pending these appointments, trade issues that our industries face around the world also persist. American agriculture is dependent on exports, and the economic health of rural communities and workers in related processing industries is tied to opening markets – and keeping those markets open. Continued vacancies in those top trade positions diminish the ability of the United States to effectively engage with our trading partners over critical issues and could ultimately weaken the economic viability and employment in the U.S. agriculture and food sectors.” Organizations signing the letter included: American Meat Institute, American Soybean Association, International Dairy Foods Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council, National Renders Association and USA Rice Federation.

P. Scott Shearer
Vice President
Bockorny Group
Washington, D.C.