More than 400 persons attending a U.S. Department of Agriculture farm bill forum featuring Sec. Mike Johanns crowded into a Western Washington University auditorium near Spokane on Thursday.
At the secretaryâ€™s 21st appearance to hear farm bill comments nationally, a strong contingent of wheat interests common to the eastern Washington area was obvious.
Comments from agricultural interests ranged included criticism of the Conservation Reserve Program by Colfax, Wash., farmer Jack Ensley. He told Johanns that wheat farmers now can raise crops while conserving soil. "I believe that since we can do that it does away with the need for CRP," he said.
A statement by U.S. Senator Patty Murray raised concern over "market distortion caused by lowering the soft white wheat loan rate," which she said has inflicted harm on Washington wheat growers.
Gretchen Borck, Washington Association of Wheat Growers state executive, urged Johanns to view the audience as a "room full of endangered species," referring to the farmers present.
"Unless we have a level international open market â€¦ you are looking at an industry that will be part of the history that built this nation, but not one that maintains this nation with the safest, cheapest food in the world," Borck said.
Johanns announced that Washington will receive several grants from a new USDA allocation of $5 million. The competitive grants were made to 27 organizations in 19 states.
"These grants will help provide nutritious food to low income people, and help communities become more self-reliant," he said. Another $5 million grant was announced to assist disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in acquisition and operation of ranches and farms.
"The Center for Latino Farmers in Yakima, Wash., will receive $300,000," he said.
Johanns traveled to Missouri for his final forum last Friday.
"It has been an unbelievable experience traveling all over the country," he said. "We have gotten nearly unanimous applause for what we are doing in conservation."
"I have not received a single negative comment about what we are doing in rural development."