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What do the midterm elections mean for agriculture?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The midterm elections resulted in the Democrats regaining control in the House and Republicans picking up additional seats in the Senate.  

Washington insiders say with the split government, agriculture and the rest of the country need to prepare for even more discourse.

“I think it will continue to be very difficult to get things done,” Mary Kay Thatcher, Syngenta’s senior lead of federal government relations, said. “We still aren’t going to have 60 Republicans in the Senate to do much, so I think it will be limited.”

National Corn Growers Association CEO Jon Doggett said people in the organization are cautiously optimistic about any progress in Washington.  

“It’s been hard enough to get anything done when the Republicans have controlled everything.  Does a split government work or does it not? We've seen examples of both, where it's worked well and where it's not worked at all. So, we'll have to see,” he said.

American Soybean Association President John Heisdorffer agreed that with the Democrats controlling the House it will be more difficult to push legislation through, including the farm bill.  However, he said, “We’re willing to work with whoever is in control because there are important issues farmers need solved.”

Don Parrish, American Farm Bureau Federation Senior Director, Regulatory Relations said, “Congress will have two choices. We’re either going to have gridlock or they’re going to figure out how to work together in a bi-partisan fashion. We hope it’s the latter.”

The other change will be leadership in the House with the speaker and the chairs of the committees switching to the Democrats.  

Doggett is optimistic about their ability to work with the leaders.

“I think we’ll do fine with the Democratic House. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been a very strong advocate for ethanol and a strong advocate for farm bills. We've worked with her in the past. So, I think we’ll be fine there,” he said.

Ranking House Ag Committee member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) will likely resume the chairmanship of the House Ag Committee, a position he has held in the past.

Thatcher said he has a proven track record. “He wrote the farm bill in 2008, I mean, he had a great working relationship with Nancy Pelosi then. That’s the only way we got it done that time around so he obviously comes in ready to go.”

She said Peterson is willing to listen to all sides, whether he agrees with them or not, and he reaches across the aisle in a good way so Thatcher thinks it will be great to have him in that role.

Colin Woodall, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association senior vice president of government affairs, said they have friends on both sides of the aisle so they aren’t concerned.

“When you look at many of the Democrats, especially in the House Ag Committee they are ones that have a history of stepping up and helping the U.S. beef industry move forward. We’re excited about seeing what we can get done.”

“Peterson has been chairman of this committee before so he knows what is expected of him.  He knows how to run the committee. The question will be, what kind of legislation priorities will he have? We don’t really know that answer to that right now,” he said.

On the Senate side, Thatcher also points out that South Dakota Sen. John Thune will be in the No. 2 spot in the Senate. She said that coming from an agricultural state, he knows the issues.  “I think that will be a really big win for agriculture,” she said. Thatcher added Thune has also served on the Senate Ag Committee for many years and has been willing to work across the aisle.

“I would anticipate that he could pick up and help Mitch McConnell, who may not have the same kinds of relationships and hopefully get the Senate to work on issues and get things done,” she said.

Rob Larew, National Farmers Union senior vice president of public policy and communications, said the outcome of the election will keep the pressure up to get the farm bill wrapped up. He said the Republicans, who had pushed SNAP reform, may have to compromise on the issue to get it passed with the Democrats taking over in the House.

“We think that’s good in the short term.”