December 12, 2020 at 5:25 p.m.
How will dairy fare with newly elected officials?
Paul Bleiberg, senior director of government relations at National Milk Producer’s Federation, provided his initial insights on how results of the election will impact key dairy industry priorities such as labor, trade and future relief related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Both the Republican Senate and the Democratic House are more closely divided than they were before,” said Bleiberg, ceding not every race is officially complete. “It’s going to require bipartisanship to get anything done. I really believe COVID will factor into policy discussion.”
Agriculture policy outlook is likely going to take a back seat at a federal level. However, along with the acceptance of a new COVID-19 bill, there will probably be funding available for farmers.
“The most likely thing to affect agriculture in the next relief bill is probably providing money for the department of ag,” Bleiberg said. “The political parties seem to be at odds on many topics, but ag policy is some of the least controversial.”
Bleiberg speculated potential improvements to Dairy Margin Coverage.
For dairy, one of the most pressing policy changes was allowing low-fat flavored milk back in schools as part of a nutrition bill. The current administration has a rule to allow for this at present, but supporters are hoping to include it in a bill for a tighter hold.
As far as trade, the trade agenda to be put forth by President-elect Joe Biden will look different from President Donald Trump’s trade agenda.
“(The Biden administration) will likely favor multi-lateral trade agreements involving multiple different countries, not bi-lateral trade agreements, but we’re not sure,” Bleiberg said. “Policy with China will likely change, but the changes may not be immediately rolled back. Biden will likely be more aggressive than past presidents but not as aggressive as Trump.”
Along with policy updates and improvements, the election flipped important seats in the House and Senate.
“Three of four heads of the ag committee are new to the job,” Bleiberg said. “So, just them getting their sea legs plus COVID-19, the new farm bill process will likely begin with this Congress, but it’ll be less of a priority.”
Two big changes on the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee include Rep. David Scott assuming Rep. Collin Peterson’s seat which will shift focus to nutrition.
“(Scott) comes from a suburban and urban district but has a lot of members on his side of the aisle who support and focus on dairy,” Bleiberg said.
The Republican position is also shifting. Rep. Mike Conaway is retiring from office, and Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson will take over as the ranking member.
“(Thompson) represents a quarter of the land mass in Pennsylvania and has long been a champion of the dairy industry,” Bleiberg said. “So, in the past, we’ve had Collin Peterson as a dairy champion and Mike Conaway or Frank Lucas who maybe didn’t have as much of a dairy focus, and now we’ll have dairy champion “GT” Thompson alongside David Scott who doesn’t have a lot of dairy in district or state.”
Beyond those two changes, a number of new members are expected on the committee as well.
Rep. Randy Feenstra from Iowa’s 4th District and Rep. Tracey Mann, who is replacing Sen. Roger Marshall in the House, are both contenders.
Sen. Roger Marshall is likely replacing Sen. Pat Roberts in the Senate.
Rep. Michelle Fischbach defeated Rep. Collin Peterson and is a likely addition as well.
The Senate will not change as much.
Sen. John Boozman is going to replace chairman Sen. Pat Roberts as the top Republican on the committee. Sen. Debbie Stabenow will continue to be the top Democrat as ranking member while Michigan stays in Republican hands.
Sen. Stabenow will be the only one of the four who will carry over from the previous farm bill.
Changes in Iowa
A little closer to home, in Iowa, there will not be a lot of change on one side of the capitol, and significant change on the other.
The U.S. Senate delegation will not change. Sen. Joni Ernst was re-elected and will likely continue to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Sen. Chuck Grassley was not on the ballot; he will be up for re-election in two years if he decides to run again. He is likely to continue serving on the ag committee and will likely return to the post he vacated two years ago as head of the judiciary committee, as he is term-limited out of the finance committee.
“While I’m not overly optimistic on the ag-labor issue, any work that would go through on the ag labor issue would go through Grassley’s committee,” Bleiberg said.
In contrast, the U.S. House delegation is changing significantly with three of four members being fresh.
Iowa’s 1st District will be represented by Rep. Ashley Hinson who defeated Rep. Abby Finkenauer. Hinson is interested in serving on House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
One of the country’s most-contested races is in southeast Iowa, where Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks likely defeated Rep. Rita Hart by as little as six votes in the 2nd District.
Moving west to Iowa’s 3rd District, Rep. Cindy Axne won another term and will be the most senior member of the house delegation on her second term. She will likely continue to serve on the ag committee.
The 4th District will be represented by Rep. Feenstra, who will continue to serve the ag committee.