Sen. Boozman predicts chamber will ‘get a lot of good things done’ on ag policy in 2021
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Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member John Boozman (R-Ark.) was upbeat about prospects for bipartisan ag policy initiatives on climate, animal diseases and acting on lessons learned from COVID-19 impacts on the supply chain during a Wednesday (January 27) appearance at the International Dairy Foods Association's (IDFA) virtual Dairy Forum 2021 event.
Boozman discussed key ag policy issues with IDFA President and CEO Michael Dykes.
Bipartisanship will help deliver good policy
Former Senate Ag Committee Chair Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) "did a tremendous job" and worked closely with then Ranking Member and now Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). Boozman said, adding he expects the dynamic to continue as he and Stabenow lead the panel.
Ag policy issues are "not so much Republican and Democrat by any means, it's regional agriculture, it's different commodities and things," Boozman explained, saying the 2018 Farm Bill is a good example of broad bipartisan legislation that balanced those interests.
"Everybody has different needs, if we can't get the agriculture community together as a whole, it just simply doesn't work. And so, as a result of that, we did a good job, I think in the [2018 Farm Bill], getting that done," Boozman said. He pointed to the record number of yes votes the measure received in both chambers of Congress.
Besides Stabenow, Boozman said he has a good relationship with House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott (D-Ga.) and Ranking Member G.T. Thompson (R-Penn.). "The good news is I think we can work together very, very well." He added that also being a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee has helped him forge relationships there to promote policies like additional aid for the ag sector in recent stimulus packages.
Boozman believes the 50-50 split in the Senate and new power sharing agreement "makes it such that I think we're going to get a lot of good things done," and predicted that 2021 could prove to be a great year for advancing ag policy priorities.
COVID-19 lessons, trade and climate
One of the lessons from COVID-19 for the food and ag sectors is that the supply chain is pretty fragile, Boozman acknowledged. He said addressing the weaknesses revealed by the pandemic is "one of the things we need to look at." He noted the bifurcated nature of the foodservice and retail food supply chains was something "none of us really understood exactly" prior to the pandemic, and that issue will be one focus of efforts going forward.
The pandemic also underscored the importance of animal disease efforts, Boozman said. "We want to make sure that we're doing what we need to do, to prevent a similar situation amongst our animals in the future" from diseases like swine flu and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). Industry cooperation is a key, he added, telling the group "you're in a position to help us greatly in that regard."
Trade is another issue that is important, Boozman stressed, saying the ag committee is "going to do all that we can to protect the markets that we've got and create new markets in the future."
Dykes raised the issue of climate policy, noting the dairy sector "has done some tremendous things to prepare for climate change" including its pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Asked for his views of climate policy efforts, Boozman agreed with Dykes that "the key is that agriculture does benefit" from improvements made in areas including carbon emissions. "I think we all agree, that for all kinds of reasons, we need to address climate, it's the right thing to do," he added.
Boozman discussed his vision and concerns relative to potential climate policies.
"I want it to be voluntary, I don't want a bunch of mandates on farmers that drive the cost up even higher — then you're going to get increased consolidation." He expressed concerns with efforts that might, for example, link crop insurance premiums with climate activities.
Boozman said he is committed to seeing that any climate policies adopted reward farmers, rather than "one size fits all" programs focused on mandates and penalties for non-compliance.
Similarly, Boozman said another concern for him is the return of the Obama-era "Waters of the US" (WOTUS) rule, which he suggested is one example of heavy-handed policies that are "all about just controlling land use out of Washington."
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