Larry Combest (R-Texas) is Chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee. He has served on the committee since 1985. He is an eight-term House veteran, has worked on three Farm Bills and authored agricultural research legislation.

Q. As House Ag Committee chairman, what are your top priorities for U.S. agriculture in 2000?

A. Agriculture committee hearings to be held around the country with producers during this first quarter of the year will focus on a comprehensive review of agricultural policy – and I do mean comprehensive. Producers who want to sound-out their specific ideas at these regional hearings will find ag committee members listening to them closely for practical approaches and consensus.

Traditional farm programs are only one part of ag policy needing review – so that government supports, instead of intrudes, in the producers’ businesses. Common sense must be brought to bear against the type of excessive federal regulations that cut deeply into producers’ operating costs.

Another important issue the House Ag Committee will address is the reauthorization of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Q. What is Congress’, and your committee’s role in working for U.S. agriculture and farmers?

A. Congress looks to the specialized knowledge of the agriculture committee for advice when voting on final approval of farm legislation. The ag committee shapes that legislation within a non-partisan working relationship that gives the 384 other House members the confidence to depend on the 51 ag committee members – most of whom have had a hand in their own farming and ranching operations.

As the advocates for producers, the ag committee also has a larger job outside of Congress. That involves telling agriculture’s story to non-farmers. That’s a job
everyone involved in agriculture should take on, starting with just a few good words to our relatives living in urban areas and cities.

Q. What needs to be done to develop a more profitable future for U.S. farmers?

A. The government should pay attention to promoting this nation’s agricultural production and American trade policy. Markets are out there, as pork producers in my home state of Texas have found – both domestically and in Asian markets.

Also, we need to encourage the agriculture industry as it addresses environmental issues of confined animal feeding operations. An eye toward practicality and good business practices should always be preferred over the excessive costs caused by cumbersome Environmental Protection Agency rules.

Q. What obstacles do you anticipate for agriculture in the year ahead?

A. At home in the United States, I am most concerned about sustained attempts to impose unnecessarily harsh regulatory burdens on producers.

The Clinton Administration’s current efforts on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, as well as its rulemaking under the guise of the Clean Water Act, are serious threats to producers’ economic survival. The House Ag Committee will continue working to keep overzealous regulators in check.

Also, bio-engineered crops hold much positive promise for agriculture, yet we face a difficult challenge in fostering an understanding of their role so that producers and consumers can make informed decisions.

Other obstacles are the artificial barriers – notably in trade – that block the United States’ access to the full potential of world markets. These artificial barriers have real financial consequences that have proven difficult and disappointing in the area of opening trade opportunities. However, we can successfully work past those obstacles if we tackle trade barriers as artificial, arbitrary and unscientific protectionism meant to keep U.S. farmers locked out of international markets.

Q. How much of a problem for U.S. agriculture is the growing number of Congressmen with few or no ag constituents?

A. The real challenge is in demonstrating to Congressmen that they all have a constituency built on agriculture. Our job is to drive home how everyone depends on agriculture for food, clothing, and how millions of jobs rely on processing and distributing farm products. As urban areas grow, the rural reality is that agriculture becomes even more important to all of us.

Q. What advice would you offer farmers today?

A. Successful producers already know – be flexible. The markets, marketing procedures, technology and the ways to deliver their products are all changing.