Making history, Pat Roberts will lead Senate agriculture committee

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts officially took the helm of the Senate’s agriculture committee Thursday, promising an “aggressive schedule” of hearings focused on everything from farm programs and school meals to oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Roberts’ likely ascension to the chairmanship – his seniority put him next in line for the post – had been a selling point to Kansas voters in the Republican lawmaker’s tough campaign for re-election last year.

He'll make history as the first member of Congress to head both the House of Representatives and Senate agriculture committees.

“Production agriculture must rise to face a daunting challenge: feeding a growing and hungry global population,” Roberts said in a statement Thursday.

“I will work to see that the federal government is an ally, not an adversary, in this purpose,” he said. “I will fight to ensure farmers and ranchers have the tools they need to advance American agriculture. 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’ leadership should be a boon to Kansas farmers, said Justin Gilpin, the CEO of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers.

“This is something that our association and farmers in Kansas are excited about,” Gilpin said. “He’s somebody who listens to our issues and is willing to work with us.”

But the committee’s jurisdiction is broad, including not just farm programs but also the federal school meals program and nutrition programs such as food stamps, which Roberts has said he wants to cut.

As the chairman, Roberts will have to strike a careful balance between protecting the farm programs at the heart of Kansas agriculture while being viewed as fair to the nutrition programs, which are important to urban areas, said Dan Glickman, a former Democratic congressman from Wichita, who served as agriculture secretary under President Bill Clinton.

“I think historically he will always want to be remembered as a fair and balanced chairman,” Glickman said. “There are those who want to decimate both the farm and nutrition programs. Based on his record I think he'll be able to resist that, but only time will tell.”

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said Thursday’s announcement was good new for Kansas farmers and ranchers.

In a statement, Brownback said Roberts “will work tirelessly to make sure that the federal government does not get in the way of farm families who are working to produce the safest, most abundant food supply in the world.”