For those on the outside, it might seem like a tall mountain to climb as cotton and other Southern row-crop commodities prepare to work with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), new chairman of the Senate Ag Committee. She doesn’t have much of a connection to the South, and her main areas of interest have traditionally been with specialty crops. So, that leads to the obvious question. How will she lead this committee as the early groundwork is laid for the 2012 Farm Bill?
The jury is still out on that question, but the feeling here is that the National Cotton Council has an enviable track record when it comes to working with both parties on farm policy. That alone should give the cotton industry some assurance that there is a way to work with Sen. Stabenow. Granted, there was a definite comfort zone when Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) was chairman of the committee, but when Lincoln lost her bid for re-election, the jockeying for leadership positions on many Senate and House committees began in earnest. Since the Democrats still control the Senate, Stabenow was next in line to become chairman, so there has been plenty of time to prepare for this transition.
The one known fact about Sen. Stabenow is that she has been a fierce defender of Michigan’s diverse agriculture, which consists of cherries, apples, blueberries and tree nuts, as well as corn, wheat, soybeans, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. Not surprisingly, most observers give her credit for the inclusion of a new fruit and vegetable title in the 2008 Farm Bill.
At issue now is what her positions are for maintaining the safety net for program crops such as corn and cotton. While receiving a lot of praise from fellow senators on her ability to lead the Senate Ag Committee, some of her colleagues are anxiously waiting to hear from the new chairman. For example, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) says he can work with Stabenow, but he also “doesn’t have a firm view of where she stands on things that are very big for the safety net for farmers and program crops.”
That is an obvious concern, but we think that somehow the new chairman will find a way to work with leaders of the cotton and corn industries and understand that maintaining stability and farm income must remain a priority in the 2012 Farm Bill – no matter how aggressive Congress becomes in cutting the deficit.
We’re betting that the National Cotton Council’s ability to find common ground with Republicans and Democrats in farm policy discussions will be a plus for the cotton industry in the next two years as a new Congress settles in and goes to work.