WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas will be the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee this year.
If his party captures either or both of the Senate seats in Tuesday's Georgia election runoffs, Boozman will wield the gavel. If Democrats win both contests and prevent President Donald Trump from overturning the electoral college vote, then U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is expected to take the helm.
The Rogers optometrist would be the second Arkansan to serve as chairman; the first, Democrat Blanche Lincoln, lost her Senate seat to Boozman in 2010.
"We'll have to wait and see what happens in Georgia, but it's a great honor to be in that position, either as the chairman or the ranking member," Boozman said in an interview.
Either way, the Arkansan said he will be well positioned to help "decide the direction of the committee."
Four-term U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who is retiring after six years as chairman, expressed confidence in the man who may replace him.
"I know agriculture will be in good hands with Senator Boozman leading our side of the Agriculture Committee. He listens to his constituency, is respected by both sides of the aisle, and has proven to be a reliable and knowledgeable member of the committee. He will most certainly have the interests of America's farmers, ranchers, and growers at heart," Roberts said.
In the Natural State, few things are more important than farm policy, Boozman said.
Agriculture makes up 25% of its gross domestic product, Boozman said. In some areas, "it's probably 85[%] or 90% of the economy, so this is all about supporting rural America, not only in Arkansas, but throughout our country," he said.
While awaiting the results from Georgia, Boozman has begun assembling his own agriculture committee staff.
"We look forward to working with our counterpart on the committee, Sen. Stabenow, and we've got a good relationship," Boozman said.
"The good thing about agriculture, that committee works together very, very well, in a really bipartisan nature, in an effort to help our farmers and our ranchers," Boozman said.
The latest farm bill was signed into law in December 2018; it is due to expire in 2023.
In the interview, he said that "rural America is under attack" due to demographic changes.
The state's population -- like the nation's -- has been shifting for decades from rural to urban areas.
"We'll have to wait and see what the Census shows, but we'll find that probably at least half of our counties in Arkansas will lose population, and those will be in our rural areas," Boozman said.
"Right now, rural America, because of loss of population, is in a difficult position," he said.
With federal dollars often tied to population, dropping Census figures can result in a "downward spiral" for struggling communities, he said.
As a leader on the agriculture committee, he'll work to make sure rural America gets the support it needs, he added.
Matt King, director of public affairs and government relations for the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation, said members of his organization are excited to see Boozman advancing, calling him "a strong advocate for Arkansas agriculture."
"As we head into the 2023 Farm Bill discussions, Sen. Boozman will work to help the farmers and ranchers of Arkansas, as he has through his entire time on Capitol Hill," he said in a written statement.