November’s mid-term elections brought a lot of change to Capitol Hill. In the House of Representatives alone, approximately 80 new members were elected. That’s just less than one-fifth of the entire makeup of that legislative body.

As with any new Congress, such drastic change will carry both opportunities and challenges. But, as they say in Washington, that’s the name of the game, and it’s certainly nothing new to Farm Bureau members. As the 112th Congress settles in, we look forward to helping new congressional members get acquainted with agriculture.

A new farm bill

There will be many important legislative issues relevant to agriculture in the new Congress. One of the most significant is the new farm bill, which will be written by new agriculture committee members who may not be that familiar with farm policy since more than half of the current committee lost their re-election bids.

The biggest issue affecting the consideration of the new farm bill will be budget issues. Agricultural spending, particularly spending related to farm programs, has always been a target and will be even a greater one in the economic environment that we face. Regardless, Farm Bureau will work with agriculture committee members, to help them understand the role of farm programs and develop a bill that provides an effective and responsive safety net for producers across the country.

Pros and cons

When it comes to tax, regulatory and most trade issues, the new Republican-controlled House should be more closely aligned with many Farm Bureau priorities. There will also likely be a congressional shift toward small business issues.

As businessmen and women, farmers and ranchers understand the need to foster economic growth and job creation. We will work closely with congressional members on tax issues, such as the estate tax and capital gains tax, as well as for common-sense solutions on environmental issues, like the Clean Water Act and greenhouse gas regulations.

I am optimistic the new Congress will brighten the outlook for trade opportunities. For example, passage of the stalled bilateral trade agreements with Korea, Panama and Colombia should have a much greater chance of being passed. Unfortunately, a trade issue that may be a little more difficult with the new House is opening up trade with Cuba. The new chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee has been an adamant opponent of the issue.

Renewable fuels will also likely face challenges. It may be difficult for the industry to get anything but short-term extensions of tax credits and incentives.

Most new congressional members know very little about the economics, production practices and environmental regulations related to agriculture. But, as with any new Congress, we are looking forward to working with the new members to help them better understand agriculture — still our nation’s most vital industry.