As new chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Tom Harkin says he will emphasize conservation and push for a safety net in U.S. farm policy.

Harkin, who was the ranking minority member on the committee, became chairman after Sen. James Jeffords announced Thursday his departure from the Republican party.

The Iowa Democrat has a long history of lobbying the federal government to reward farmers who practice conservation, and is a critic of the Freedom to Farm law. Harkin says “significant changes” will be made to the 1996 Republican farm bill that shifted farm policy to a market-oriented approach.

“There will definitely be a safety net,” says Harkin.

Jeffords departure from the GOP now shifts control of the Senate from the Republicans to the Democrats. The Senate had been evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, with the tie-breaking vote going to Republican Vice President Dick Cheney.

Des Moines Register