(Nov. 7) The midterm election that saw Republicans wrest control of the Senate from Democrats will build momentum for President Bush’s agenda, but it won’t have a big impact on how the produce industry lobbies Capitol Hill.

“The change of leadership won’t severely impact our plan to have a very aggressive platform to promote fruits and vegetables both domestically and internationally,” said Robert Guenther, vice president of public policy for the Alexandria, Va.-based United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association.

BUILD ON FARM BILL

Guenther said the produce industry made progress in the recent farm bill but is looking for stand-alone bills that could address industry issues and help drive consumption. Guenther said United’s top issues include nutrition, farm bill implementation, farm economy issues, small business tax and regulatory relief.

Kathy Means, vice president of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said the GOP may find it easier to make progress on homeland security and other issues.

That could be positive, as she notes the produce industry leans toward the Republican Party on most issues. However, she said strong bipartisan support for nutrition issues should continue — and she expects Republicans to be generous in their support of those policies.

DISASTER ASSISTANCE

Ron Gaskill, analyst with the American Farm Bureau Federation, Park Ridge, Ill., said a disaster assistance bill is likely to be advanced in the new Congress. However, President Bush has expressed reservations about the cost of disaster assistance and has instructed Congress he does not want disaster assistance out of so-called emergency spending but rather out of the existing agriculture budget.

Nancy Foster, president of the U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va., said Republican control of the Senate doesn’t make her more optimistic about the chance for disaster assistance. “It all comes down to political momentum; growers that care about this need to talk about why the disaster bill is important to them.”

Guenther and Foster both said they are looking forward to working with the staff of Thad Cochran, R-Miss., in his expected role as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., will chair an important appropriations committee for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Now that House minority leader Dick Gephardt has decided to step down, it is expected that California Rep. Nancy Pelosi will win that leadership job.