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Decline in number of farmers in Congress results in decline in rural America’s influence

By Peggy Lowe
Harvest Public Media

Maybe it was his use of a snow metaphor in a drought year that made me think things are pretty darn bad.
Sen. Pat Roberts, barnstorming  through Kansas last week cited the decline in the number of farmers in Congress as the reason behind the loss on the 2012 Farm Bill.
“I have member after member after member say, ‘Agriculture? Let’s cut it.’ It’s going to be tough sledding, folks,” Roberts said, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Congress reflects America on that score, as the number of farmers in the U.S. has been declining for decades. But there’s also other reasons for that Farm Bill fiasco.
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, saying he was frustrated, was blunt in his recent assessment that rural America is becoming less relevant. He pointed to competing interests, a lack of a unified front and the fact that rural voters accounted for just 14 percent of the turnout in the November election.
Then there’s something even more personal Roberts could have used to decry the lack of farm country political clout: he was moved aside as the top Republican on the Senate Ag Committee to make room for Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi, cementing the Southern influence that helped win approval of the Farm Bill extension that favors those states.
It was worse for Midwestern interests over in the House. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., got the boot from that ag panel after he defied House leadership. So for the first time in 100 years, Kansas won’t have a representative on the House Agriculture Committee.
What’s going on? Has farm country lost its political clout? Is it really becoming, as Vilsack said, less and less relevant? Has Washington turned its back on agriculture?

Peggy Lowe, a career journalist, lives in Kansas City, where she reports for Harvest Public Media.

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