In the political fight for his life last fall, Kansas Republican Pat Roberts consistently had to fight off the image that he was no longer representing the people of Kansas but rather had been sucked into the life of Washington, D.C. But for those in agriculture, his continued involvement in developing agricultural policy could be significant in staying ahead of the oncoming regulatory onslaught.
With his squeak-by-win, he now will become the first ever representative to serve as the chairman of the both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees during his tenure on Capitol Hill that first started in 1981. Roberts also becomes the first in history to chair and serve as the ranking member for both Agriculture Committees.
As the leader of the House Agriculture Committee from 1995-97, Roberts championed the Freedom to Farm bill which was designed to transition farmers away from government support. He also reformed the federal food stamp program.
His targets for change have changed in recent years and he’s got new priorities as he plans to again provide oversight of U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, farm bill implementation, the Environmental Protection Agency and enforcement and implementation of Dodd-Frank at the Commodities Futures Trading Commission.
“Production agriculture must rise to face a daunting challenge: feeding a growing and hungry global population. I will work to see that the federal government is an ally, not an adversary, in this purpose. I will fight to ensure farmers and ranchers have the tools they need to advance American agriculture,” Roberts said.
Under Roberts watch, he said the Committee will debate reauthorization of laws dealing with commodity trading, child nutrition, school meal programs and grain inspection.
Roberts said when leading the Senate Agriculture Committee he will continue to ask tough questions of the EPA regarding detrimental regulations affecting farmers and ranchers, including duplicative pesticide permitting and the proposed change to the waters of the U.S. definitions.
Roberts moved to the Senate in 1997 and remained plugged into agriculture policy. including the Senate Agriculture Committee. In 2000, he wrote sweeping reforms to the federal crop insurance program. He also has called for a more aggressive U.S. trade policy and has fought to regain access to overseas markets for U.S. beef exports.
“I will fight barriers to trade opportunities and regulations that threaten our producers’ competitiveness. And I will continue my work to maintain the security of our food supply and ensure science based regulations govern our food and agriculture sectors,” Roberts said.
From 2011-2013, Senator Roberts was the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and helped lead the way in the Senate to pass a farm bill, despite the House holding it up.
American Soybean Association president and Brownfield, Texas farmer Wayne Cowan said he was optimistic for the agricultural policy landscape in the coming Congress under Roberts’ watch.
"Chairman Roberts has built a deep and fluent knowledge of agricultural policy, specifically the crop insurance and disaster assistance programs that are so vital to the success of soybean farmers. What's more, Chairman Roberts has made each of his farm policy decisions based on the concept that farm programs should encourage farmers to grow what the market demands. His approach is one that doesn't distort the marketplace and enables farmers to have the flexibility and confidence they need to be successful. At his core, he understands the intricacies of our industry, and we look forward to a great partnership with him," Cowan said.
During the elections, the Roberts’ campaign reiterated that ranchers and farmers had “no greater friend” than Roberts.
And for all of agriculture, he looks to bring his tenacious and calculated approach to lead the Senate Agriculture Committee as it tackles government oversight of top-of-mind agricultural issues.