Georgia farmers got huge news out of Washington this week. House Democrats chose Rep. David Scott, a Blue Dog Democrat who was first elected to the House in 2002, to chair the powerful Agriculture Committee, following Chairman Collin Peterson’s defeat in Minnesota. The 75-year-old Democrat from Atlanta, who entered the race with Peterson’s endorsement, handily defeated fellow Blue Dog Jim Costa of California by a vote of 144-83. He also made history by becoming the first Black chairman in the committee’s history.
He’s not the only Georgian vying for a top spot on the committee, either. Republican Rep. Austin Scott (no relation), who represents south-central Georgia, is aiming to become the Ranking Member of the committee.
The Agriculture Committee is in charge of overseeing farming and development in rural areas, but it also plays a huge role in funding food and nutrition agencies, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps. The program provides assistance in purchasing food to low income individuals and families.
The selection of Scott, whose district stretches across Southwest Atlanta, to chair the Agriculture Committee also highlights the growing urbanization of the House Democratic caucus. Peterson was one of the last remaining rural Democrats, both on the committee and in the entire chamber. His district was 64% rural and 36% urban, whereas Scott’s is 94% urban and 6% rural, per census calculations.
In a speech on the House floor this week, Scott praised Peterson’s work as chairman of the committee, saying that the Minnesota Democrat and fellow Blue Dog was “sent by god to enter my life at a critical time.” He reminded us of the historical significance of his election, going from being the only Black member of the committee in 2003 to becoming the first Black chairman in the committee’s history. He also signaled in a statement that there would be a shift in the committee’s priorities under his leadership. “I will use this critical opportunity to represent the values of our entire caucus and advance our priorities for trade, disaster aid, climate change, sustainable agriculture, SNAP, crop insurance, small family farms, specialty crops, and rural broadband,” he said.
What does Scott’s election as chairman mean for Georgia farmers? There’s no doubt that his election will have huge implications for farmers across the Peach State, who have been hit incredibly hard in the last few years. In September, a study from the University of Georgia found that 82% of Georgia farmers have seen a decline in revenue since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “862 Georgia farmers said they were experiencing weekly sales down by an average of $8,500 a week. The average annual farm income of respondents was $184,808 and farm acreage was 563,” according to the Valdosta Daily Times.
Georgia farmers are also still trying to recover from Hurricane Michael, which reached the state in October 2018 as a major hurricane. It flattened crops and destroyed livestock across south Georgia and wiped out nearly $3 billion in revenue. Among the necessities that farmers lost: 1 million of acres of timber were destroyed, 2 million chickens were lost, cotton farmers lost up to $800 million and pecan farmers lost about $560 million.
Despite the devastating impacts of the storm, farmers were forced to wait 18 months before receiving assistance from the federal government. In February 2020, Gov. Brian Kemp and other state leaders announced that nearly $350 million in federal grants were being sent to farmers and landowners in 95 south Georgia counties. “The program will cover crop and equipment losses, as well as damage to timber and pecan orchards that are typically excluded from federal aid programs,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote.
Agriculture is the oldest and remains the largest industry in the state of Georgia, bringing in more than $70 billion per year, according to the Georgia Farm Bureau.