The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Stabenow promises agribusiness a centrist approach


In her first major speech on agriculture, incoming Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told a Michigan agribusiness audience today that she is planning a series of farm bill hearings and pledged to be a centrist force in resolving environmental issues facing agriculture.

Speaking to the Michigan Agri-Business Association’s annual winter conference in Lansing, Stabenow noted that agriculture is Michigan's second-largest industry and that it generates more than $71.3 billion in revenue each year and accounts for one out of every four jobs in the state.

Stabenow noted that her new role would give Michigan a chance to let other Americans know that Michigan is an agriculture state.

“People in other parts of the country think it’s odd that the senator from Michigan would end up as chair of the Agriculture Committee,” she said, according to a transcript of the speech released by her office. “When they think of Michigan, they think of cars, and that’s it,” Stabenow said. “What they don’t know is that, in our state, one out of every four people has their job thanks to Michigan agriculture. And it’s not just being a grower or producer, it’s companies like yours that provide services to farmers, in crop protection, crop fertility, grain handlers, farm credit, equipment manufacturing – the list goes on.”

Although Stabenow is best known for her work on the specialty crops title of the farm bill, she noted that Michigan produces a wide variety of agricultural products and that forestry is also a key part of the industry. She also said that innovation and biotechnology are needed to feed the growing world population.

Stabenow said she would hold a series of hearings on the farm bill, including field hearings across Michigan to hear people’s thoughts, and that she also wants to put together a national email newsletter to keep people up to date on the work of the Agriculture committee. She noted the problems of dairy farmers and a recent frost affecting grape producers in Michigan.

“That’s why, as we look forward to writing the next farm bill, I am fully committed to a strong safety net,” Stabenow said. “There is no question that we have serious budget pressures, and so we will need to find creative solutions to help our growers manage risk. The safety net might look a little different than it does now, but we can’t have family businesses going under because of a few days of bad weather."

Stabenow noted that she had served on the House Agriculture Committee with Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., the new chairman of that committee. She also said she is looking forward to working with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, and referred to him as the new ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, even though the Republican leadership has not formally announced that Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., will give up the position to take that post on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Noting her experience in the Michigan legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives before she became a senator, Stabenow said she believes she can be a leader in resolving environmental conflicts. “In the 1980s, I brought together the environmental community and the agriculture industry to update Michigan’s Pesticide Control Act,” Stabenow said. “Working together, we established balanced, effective standards for the commercial application of pesticides that are now a national model.”

She said farmers and agribusinesses frequently talk to her about problems with EPA. “I’m proud to also represent our manufacturers and our American auto industry, which means that I have some experience working with the EPA, and finding bipartisan solutions to those issues that can protect our environment while also protecting growers and producers and our way of life,” Stabenow said.