IN the fight for his political life last fall, Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) constantly had to fight off the image that he was no longer representing the people of Kansas but had been sucked into Washington, D.C., life.
For those in agriculture, however, his continued involvement in developing agricultural policy could be significant to staying ahead of the oncoming regulatory onslaught.
With his eked-by win, he now will become the first ever legislator to serve as chairman of both the House and Senate agriculture committees during his tenure on Capitol Hill, which first started in 1981. Roberts also becomes the first in history to serve as chair and ranking member for both agriculture committees.
As leader of the House Agriculture Committee in 1995-97, Roberts championed the Freedom to Farm bill, which was designed to transition farmers away from government support. He also reformed the federal food stamp program.
His targets for reform have changed in recent years, and Roberts has new priorities as he plans to again provide oversight of U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, farm bill implementation, the Environmental Protection Agency and enforcement and implementation of financial reforms at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
"Production agriculture must rise to face a daunting challenge: feeding a growing and hungry global population. I will work to see that the federal government is an ally, not an adversary, in this purpose," Roberts said. "I will fight to ensure farmers and ranchers have the tools they need to advance American agriculture."
Roberts moved to the Senate in 1997 and remained plugged into agricultural policy. In 2000, he wrote sweeping reforms to the federal crop insurance program. He also called for a more aggressive U.S. trade policy and has fought to regain access to overseas markets for U.S. beef exports.
"I will fight barriers to trade opportunities and regulations that threaten our producers' competitiveness, and I will continue my work to maintain the security of our food supply and ensure science-based regulations govern our food and agriculture sectors," Roberts said.
In 2011-13, Roberts was ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
In 2012, under committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), Roberts helped pass a farm bill through the committee that was later approved by the full Senate. The full House did not consider the farm bill, instead requiring a one-year extension of the 2008 bill.
Under his watch, Roberts said the Senate Agriculture Committee will debate reauthorization of laws dealing with commodity trading, child nutrition, school meal programs and grain inspection.
Roberts said he will continue to ask tough questions of EPA regarding regulations that are detrimental to farmers and ranchers, including duplicative pesticide permitting rules and the proposed change to the definition of "waters of the U.S."
During the last election, his campaign reiterated that ranchers and farmers had "no greater friend" than Roberts.
Look for Roberts to bring his tenacious and calculated approach in leading the Senate Agriculture Committee as it tackles government oversight of top-of-mind agricultural issues.