Acting U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Conner, was in Des Moines late last week to speak at the World Food Prize symposium. “We’ve been pressing Congress for action on the new federal farm legislation,” he said, “so our farmers will know what the rules will be going into the 2008 planting season.”
At a press conference after his speech, Conner pointed out that the Senate Ag Committee, chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, plans to debate the proposed farm bill this week. Are things coming together in a way Conner would like to see them? “The devil is in the details and we haven’t seen any details yet,” said Conner.
Need new legislation now.
However, he added, “Things are coming together and we are thankful the Senate is ready to move. We’re encouraging them to get this farm bill done quickly and get a bill President Bush can sign. We want this done soon so we can get a farm program in place for the upcoming year.”
Crop prices are very dynamic and farmers have big decisions to make regarding planting decisions for 2008 crops. “They need to know what the government program will be,” says Conner. “We haven’t seen anything in writing yet from the Senate Ag Committee. Of course, there has been press coverage about various ideas being considered by the committee. A lot of what we’ve been hearing tracks with our USDA and Bush administration proposals.”
Those proposals include strong soil conservation and rural development programs, increased funds for bioenergy research on cellulosic ethanol and biomass crops, and limits on farm program payments made to farmers.
Get a bill Bush will sign.
Although the Bush administration hasn’t set a specified limit on the cost of the 2007 farm bill, Conner said he thinks Congress will hold firm to contain spending. “I’m confident we are going to get a bill President Bush can sign,” said Conner.
The Senate proposal will call for putting more resources into renewable energy, soil conservation, specialty crops and rural development. “As former secretary Mike Johanns and I traveled the countryside and listened to farmers for the past two years at our USDA farm bill hearings, those are the priorities farmers asked for,” says Conner.
Yes, we’ll have enough corn.
In response to questions, Conner also made the following comments:
* A record U.S. corn crop of 13.3 billion bushels is being harvested this fall, and that should lessen concerns about high corn prices for livestock feeders. “We believe the anxieties about a potential shortage of corn and higher food costs have been overblown,” he said.
* Both the food and fuel markets can be served by U.S. corn farmers because of their productivity. “I have tremendous faith in the American farmer,” said Conner.
* There are hundreds of USDA research projects looking at bioenergy, including the development of production of ethanol from crop residues and other biomass materials. “It will be necessary to have more diverse feedstocks for fuel than just corn and soybeans,” said Conner.
* South Korea needs to reopen its borders to U.S. beef. South Korea recently suspended the import of U.S. beef because of fears of mad cow disease that arose when inspectors found a recent beef shipment that contained bone that is banned.
Finally, Chuck Conner said if he were called upon by President Bush to serve as USDA chief for the remainder of this administration, he would do so. Conner was named acting secretary of agriculture last month when Iowa native Mike Johanns resigned the top spot at USDA to run for the U.S. Senate in Nebraska.