When I first saw the makeup of the new House Agriculture Committee, I was pleasantly surprised.
For one thing, there are now 11 women on the committee, which is a great thing to see. Second, and I think more importantly, eight members of the committee come from districts in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast. The previous committee had six members from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
Then reality set in. If you look at the membership roster, most members from our region don’t even represent big farming areas. Some areas were left out completely.
For example, not one member is from Lancaster County, Pa., which is largely considered the hub of farming in the Northeast and is one of the most productive agricultural counties in the country.
Maryland and Delaware don’t have any representatives on the committee either, which is perplexing considering the billion-dollar poultry industry on the Eastern Shore.
The roster includes three members from New York state, two of whom represent districts between Albany and New York City; one member from the Worcester, Mass., area, the second-most populated region of the state; one from northwest Connecticut, which is historically rural but has grown immensely due to its proximity to New York City; and Rep. Chellie Pingree who represents most of southern Maine, an area known more for its beaches than farming.
As good as it is to have more regional voices on the committee, it’s going to be even more important for the ag community to get these representatives up-to-speed on what’s really happening on farms.
Our region is changing fast. Dairy farms are disappearing at an alarming clip; farmers are having to deal with tougher nutrient management regulations; and development is swallowing up areas that have historically been rural.
There is a certain comfort level to having someone like Glenn “GT” Thompson, who represents a large rural area near State College, Pa., and was the vice chairman of the committee in the previous Congress, still on the committee. And you must hope that new members Jeff Van Drew, who represents largely rural South Jersey, and Anthony Brindisi, who represents a largely rural district between Binghamton and Oswego, will be active supporters of farming.
On the Senate side, Sens. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa.; and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., will be the region’s agricultural voices.
Time will tell just how influential these committee members will be to get any legislation benefiting our region introduced and passed. But it’s going to be up to farmers to educate them on what’s going on.
So, write or call your leaders, and stay engaged.