With the end of the 111th Congress this week, U.S. agriculture and the rice industry will see two of its strongest advocates departing. Sen. Blanche L. Lincoln, D-Ark., chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, has been a steadfast supporter of production agriculture since first being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992, representing Arkansas' first congressional district.
The daughter of a rice farmer, Lincoln knows the issues and struggles farmers face on a daily basis and brought that knowledge and perspective to her job representing a state where the top industry is agriculture. In 1998, Lincoln made history when she became the youngest woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
In 1996, Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., followed Lincoln as the representative of the state's first congressional district, the largest rice-growing district in the nation. Berry served on the House Committee on Agriculture and was instrumental in writing the 2002 farm bill. He later gained a seat on the powerful Committee on Appropriations.
A rice farmer himself, Berry has always put the interests of agriculture and his constituents first, even if that meant going against his party leadership. Before being elected to Congress, Berry served as special assistant to the president for agricultural trade and food assistance under President Bill Clinton. Berry was also a leader of the Blue Dog coalition of conservative Democrats in the House.
These two individuals have had a tremendous impact on U.S. agriculture and particularly on the rice industry in their state. From farm policy to trade policy, environmental policy to tax policy, and appropriations for key research activities, their impact will be felt for years to come.