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Federal officials need to know ag committees are important

When you meet with your senator or representative, make sure they know how much you care about agriculture.

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When it comes to committee assignments, most members of the United States Senate or House or Representatives aren’t bursting at the seams to get on the agriculture committee.

Joel Leftwich, chief policy officer, Kansas Farm Bureau (KFB), said that is partly the fault of their constituents.

Leftwich, who prior to obtaining his current position with KFB was a member of former Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts’ staff, offered his insights on the situation while speaking at the 2024 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit on May 8 in Kansas City, Missouri.

How committee assignments work

Once elections are held, House and Senate members typically meet with the leadership of their political parties, Leftwich explained.

Around December, members of both chambers put in their requests for which committees they want to be part of. Each party has their own rules in place on how committee members are selected, and traditionally, some committees are deemed more important than others. Both parties see the agriculture as an “A committee,” which means it is viewed as one of greater significance.

And both parties say a person is limited on how many "A committees" an elected official can serve.

What often happens, he said, is that once that process has been completed, there are “not enough people on the House and Senate ag committees to comply with the rules of both the House and the Senate.”

“So, what do they have to do? They have to waive their rules for additional members to just sit the committees,” Leftwich said.

How voters can change that

Leftwich believes a large part of why some elected officials don’t make getting on the agriculture committee a priority is because they don’t think it is a committee important to their constituents.

“What does that tell you about the importance of the Senate Agriculture Committee or the House Agriculture Committee in the eyes of elected officials? It’s not as sexy as the Banking Committee. It’s not as sexy as the Appropriations Committee,” said Leftwich. “One of the reasons for that is how often do they hear about issues that are important to agriculture when they’re back home.”

While members of both chambers will hear about agricultural issues when they meet with members of county Farm Bureau organizations or with commodity groups like the Kansas Soybean Association, when they go to town hall meetings, they are more apt to hear about other issues.

It’s up to people involved in agriculture to change that, not only by asking their elected officials questions related to agriculture, but also by asking their friends and neighbors to do the same. If they don’t, the situation will not get any better.

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