In speaking to attendees of the 2006 Agricultural Outlook Forum Thursday, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns warned against extending the current farm bill to allow for the Doha Round of world trade negotiations to wrap up, saying it is the wrong course for rural America.
"If I were to delay action based on the Doha negotiations, in my judgment we might as well hand over the farm bill to the WTO," he says.
Johanns adds that waiting for a Doha resolution to develop farm policy or extending the farm bill would be foregoing an opportunity to lay a foundation for rural farm economic growth for the next decade.
He says the administration isn't ready to introduce any formal legislative proposals, but it is clear there is an opportunity to develop farm policy that recognizes that the U.S. farm economy has changed.
Johanns says that if most agricultural producers are dependent on off-farm income, then as a country we must pay special attention to our support of rural economies and beyond agriculture. He quoted from the American Farm Bureau Federation's Making American Agriculture Productive and Profitable report, saying, "Farmers are more dependent on rural communities than rural communities are dependent on farmers." And he hopes to take this opportunity to urge a redirection in farm policy to support those needs.
"The value of specialty crops is now equal to the value of program crops. And they've continued to grow over the last couple of decades," Johanns said, not once but twice. "Think about that for a moment. That means that while five program crops receive more than 90% of the subsidies, specialty crops now equal in value to the program crops really receive nothing out of that subsidy program."
In a House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing this week Johanns was asked very pointedly by a member of the House about what we were going to be doing to support program crops. That member expressed, "Look, we have to step up on this issue or it's going to be very, very difficult to get their support for trade agreements."