Agriculture has some friends in high places as the new Congress and administration get down to the business of running the country.

The group now in place will be responsible for formulating policy that will determine how much money agriculture gets for supplemental appropriations over the remaining two years of the current farm bill, as well as crafting provisions of the new farm bill due to become effective for 2003.

One of the critical areas for agriculture is the appropriations process, says John Maguire, vice president of Washington operations for the National Cotton Council. “We're very excited that Rep. Henry Bonilla from the San Antonio, Texas area is chairing the Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee, where a lot of the funding we're concerned about on an annual basis is developed,” he said at the recent Farm Press-sponsored Southwest Crops Production Conference at Lubbock, Texas.

“Mr. Bonilla has proven himself to be a very adept leader, is very interested in agriculture, and we look forward to working with him.”

Ways and Means is an important committee, Maguire says, because “that's where all the trade and tax law for Congress originates. Chairman Bill Thomas of California previously served on the Agriculture Committee and is from the Bakersfield area, which has a lot of cotton and specialty crops. We look forward to working with him as his committee develops key trade and tax laws.”

Since the Republicans hold only a slim 7-vote majority in the House, “this means to pass legislation the moderate center has to be consulted and has to participate,” Maguire says.

“When we consider agriculture's friends in Congress, we tend to work with the moderate Republicans and Democrats. A very narrow control in the House is usually to agriculture's advantage because the moderates tend to have a stronger voice in farm policy.”

House leadership is little changed, he notes, with the Agriculture Committee chaired by Rep. Larry Combest and Rep. Charles Stenholm as ranking member. Both are from Texas and are keenly interested in agriculture.

E-mail: hembree_brandon@intertec.com