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Conrad declines to take Ag Committee helm

Sen. Kent Conrad’s office announced this morning that the North Dakota Democrat will not seek the chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee, opting instead to remain as chairman of the Budget Committee.

The decision could be problematic for Southern cotton and rice farmers because it appears to mean that Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., will be the chairman of the Agriculture Committee when it begins writing the 2012 farm bill next year.

Conrad, who was one of the principal authors of the Food, Agriculture, conservation and Trade Act or the 2008 farm bill, said he would retain his chairmanship of the budget committee after consultations with his constituents in North Dakota and Senate colleagues indicated that was what he should do.

Stabenow, whose primary agricultural interests have been in dairy and specialty crops, became next-in-line behind Conrad for the ag committee chairmanship after the current chairman, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., was defeated for re-election on Nov. 2.

Farm group leaders have said they face a major challenge in educating the many new Republican members of Congress about the importance of farm programs. Stabenow could bring a decidedly different view to the ag committee chairmanship, which was in southern hands until Arkansas voters decided to “fire their chairman” as one farm group lobbyist said recently.