As the 2018 midterm elections took the U.S. by storm and Democrats took the House, farmers across the country likely had their eyes trained on several key races that are poised to have a significant impact on agriculture.
The day also brought forth a key ballot measure for farmers, the passing of California Proposition 12: The Farm Animal Confinement Initiative, which aims to increase the minimum space requirements for confining veal calves and breeding pigs and requires egg-laying hens be raised cage-free starting in December 2021.
Robert Guenther, SVP of public policy for United Fresh Produce Association said with a new Democratic House and a Republican Senate, "much is at stake in the next two years."
"We look forward to continue working in a bipartisan manner to advance the priorities of the fresh produce industry," he said. "Passing a new Farm Bill, ensuring a reliable workforce and creating new trade opportunities will remain our top priorities in the 116th Congress."
The eight races with the strongest agricultural significance, as summed up by the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN) based on Cook Political Report stats, encompasses incumbents who sat on one of four agricultural committees in Congress, as well as one vacated seat and crucial Senate seats.
Here’s a roundup of who took the seat in these key districts.
California’s 10th House District: At the time of publication, the race was still too close to call between current seat holder Republican Jeff Denham and newcomer Democrat Josh Harder, although Denham appeared to have a 1.1 percentage point lead. The 10th District covers Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, which are known for a “unique mixture of conservative farming communities and liberal cities,” according to the New York Times. Denham has spoken out for California farmers to be “treated fairly and promoted in the 2018 Farm Bill” and has also rallied for the inclusion of his Vet-2-Farm Act, introduced alongside Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) that aims to connect veterans with “more and better” jobs with opportunities in agriculture.
Illinois’ 12th House District: Despite Democrats attempting to unseat Republican Mike Bost in favor of Democrat Brendan Kelly, Bost kept his seat and continues to represent the 12th House district, which includes farming and coal mining towns. Bost supports reducing regulatory burdens that, as he states on his campaign site, “strangles” farmers and ranchers. He has also been heavily involved in the Farm Bill. However, according to FERN, Bost has “exhibited a lack of focus” on agricultural and rural issues.
Iowa’s Third House District: Republican David Young was unseated by Democrat Cindy Axne in the district, with The New York Times citing reasons such as “an energized Democratic base and farmers’ anxiety about President Trump’s trade policies.” According to Axne’s campaign website, she will “stand up for Iowa’s family farms,” adding “that starts by ensuring the Farm Bill works for all farmers, including new farmers and small to midsize farms.” She is also a proponent of sustainable agriculture and renewable energy and hopes to increase “research and development in the areas of soil health, carbon sequestration and water quality.”
New York’s 19th House District: Republican John Faso lost his seat to Democrat Antonio Delgado in the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains region, which is comprised of 5,000 farms, more than 8,000 farm operators and is almost 20% farmland, according to Delgado’s campaign site. Delgado calls the Farm Bill “unfair” on his campaign site, adding that “we need to work together to protect our small and medium-sized farms and the farming industry while also building out the necessary regional infrastructure to ensure that our farmers are able to have access to the $6 billion dollars of unmet demand for local and organically grown food in New York City.”
Delgado also holds that the Farm Bill gives the wealthiest 3% of farmers 40% of the subsidies and “adds loopholes allowing mega farms to collect millions of dollars a year in subsidies and it does this by cutting funding for conservation, risk management and outreach programs that would improve farming for our next generation.”
Minnesota's First House District: Republican Jim Hagedorn won the House Agriculture Committee seat vacated by Democrat Tim Walz against Democrat Dan Feehan. Hagedorn supports Federal Regulatory Reform as he says “excessive regulations are hampering farmers, driving up production costs and making U.S. agricultural products less competitive in the world market,” according to his campaign website. He hopes to “defeat out-of-control agencies like the EPA by requiring Congress to approve all major regulations.” Additionally, he says that his support of U.S. Energy Dependence, no new fuel taxes and repealing the estate death tax will also benefit local farmers.
Montana: Democrat John Tester held his seat in Montana, running against Republican Matt Rosendale. Tester, a third-generation farmer, opposes “burdensome regulations, fights to maintain critical services like Farm Service Agency offices and the Essential Air Service, and he delivers on investments in rural infrastructure,” according to his campaign website. Tester has held in-person listening sessions on the Farm Bill across the state to “ensure Montana producers have a seat at the negotiating table.”
North Dakota: Democrat Heidi Heitkamp lost her seat in largely republican North Dakota to Republican Kevin Cramer. Cramer says he will push for legislation that will provide “much-needed relief for North Dakota producers who have been dealing with challenges ranging from drought to low commodity prices.” His goals include fixing the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program while maintaining crop insurance and livestock forage programs and is against “excessive regulations” for farmers.
Indiana: Democrat Joe Donnelly lost his seat to Republican Mike Braun, who currently manages farmland and says he deeply understands famers’ issues. At the Indiana Ag Policy Summit in July, Braun said he would “love to be on the ag committee,” according to Hoosier Ag Today.
"That’s one area where I think I could walk on and probably do as good a job, if not better, than Joe Donnelly because I’m going to understand it from the context of a deep experience,” he said, adding that his top farm priorities were maintaining crop insurance on the Farm Bill and “enhance markets” by finding creative uses for items such as corn and soybeans.