Like a student trying his best to get that "A" Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns sat before a crowd of about 200 and took copious notes as a wide range of speakers offered up their ideas for the 2007 Farm Bill. The secretary hosted another of his round of Farm Bill Forums, a series of sessions where interested groups can talk about what should be in the 2007 Farm Bill the last day of the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill.
Ag Secretary Mike Johanns, left, led a Farm Bill Forum in Decatur, Ill., this week with co-moderator Mike Adams host of the radio program AgriTalk. Johanns notes that the process, which some say has started early, is actually right on track with all the steps that must be taken to move a new farm bill forward.
The session, which covered everything from renewable energy to rural development offered up a smorgasbord of ideas for the former Nebraska governor. This was not a dialog, but a listening session with Johanns dutifully taking notes. His aim: "We want to be proactive with the farm bill."
Speakers at the session talked about problems with the 2002 bill, including the fact that if you lose a crop to disaster the program doesn't allow you to get paid. "That's an issue that has come up in previous sessions," Johanns chimed in, taking a rare moment to respond to a comment made by a member of the Illinois Farm Bureau who noted that the organization was reviewing different types of crop insurance.
Johanns expressed interest in any reports or studies that showed how revenue assurance could be used as a tool for farmers, perhaps hinting at a direction he may try to take when the real negotiations begin on the bill in 2006.
"This farm bill has a 'no produce, no benefit' design and in a state like Illinois that has experienced drought, that becomes a problem," he says. Earlier in the day, Johanns had been on a drought tour with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
Growers of vegetable crops chimed in with their comments that the current bill "punishes" them if they grow the value-added crops on acres also used for corn and soybeans. One producer, who raises peppers in a hydroponic greenhouse, points out that his market is already being flooded with peppers from the Dutch at below-market prices.
From the first of these sessions where a wide range of topics came up from presenters, to this week's event at the Farm Progress Show near Decatur, Ill., Johanns has gotten plenty of ideas. "We're talking about those ideas, and working on our plan," he says. Whether the secretary works on draft legislation or engages Congress in a dialog about the bill, he says USDA will be involved in the writing of the 2002 bill.
Johanns notes that some have observed that he might be moving too early with the process for gathering information, but in his closing comments he laid out the steps for moving toward the new bill. "The 2007 Farm Bill is not really that far off," Johanns says. "Some asked why we just didn't do a national tour of listening sessions, holding four or five. But agriculture in this country is very diverse and we wanted to get across the country."
You can listen to a Web archive of the forum on the Brownfield Network. Cyndi Young, of the network was co-moderator of the event, hosting the first hour. Visit the home page for their Web stream HERE.
Rural development takes the stage
A key recurring theme during the Decatur event was discussion of making sure the many programs of USDA Rural Development are maintained in the next bill. From housing programs for the disadvantaged to wind turbines for rural electric cooperatives, there was plenty of praise for the Illinois effort.
The agency has an extensive program of rural development that has been charged with the key infrastructure issues for rural America. Just ahead of the forum, Johanns announced a $4.7 million grant and loan funds to extend water service to new users in rural Illinois.
Garden Homes, Illinois received a total of $2.5 million in USDA Rural Development loan and grant funds that will go to work on a 250,000 gallon elevated water storage tank, which will replace a smaller tank. The program services 400 customers in the Garden Homes Sanitary District.
RE Water Corporation of Parkersburg, Ill., received about $2 million in loan and grant funds to be used to install 69 miles of water main to serve 182 rural residents.
And Fairview, Ill., received $229,000 in water and sewer loan funds to install a water main and sewer line for a new subdivision, and provide service to a new telephone cooperative building.