The first input from farmers on the 2007 Farm Bill got off to an impressive start last night as Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns hosted the first of several Farm Bill Forums across the nation.
The event, moderated by Orion Samuelson, farm director of U.S. Farm Report and RFD-TV "Live" host, turned into a powerful show as it was staged at the RFD-TV Northstar Studios in Nashville, Tenn.
"In my confirmation hearing, I said policy makers must seriously guard against the notion that all good ideas are conceived in government offices," Johanns said, "and I meant that. I am here tonight to listen to your comments."
And listen he did, as around 400 farmers and ag leaders packed the 300-seat studio with little standing room left. For most of the four-hour session, farmers and agricultural, university and community officials stayed lined up at the two microphones to take their two-minute turn in expressing their views.
The program was televised live throughout the country and call-in viewers from many states from Vermont to California and Florida to North Dakota waited their turn to tall to the Secretary.
With a large number of 4-H and FFA members in the audience, the first hour of the program was devoted to comments on how present farm programs will affect future generations.
Some expressed the opinion that, as an unintended consequence, farm programs have increased cash rent and land values to the point that makes it impossible for these young people to enter farming.
"To get young people to enter agriculture, they have to have an assurance that they can make a profit," said Joe Elliot, an Angus breeder from Adams, Tenn., as he questioned some of the Rural Development projects that raise farmland prices. "A lot of the Rural Development has enticed our well-meaning urban brothers to move to rural areas."
A call-in viewer from Jones County, Iowa echoed Elliotâ€™s views as she called to complain about farms in her county being bought up by developers.
But as in any forum of this type, there are opposing views. Some mayors of small Tennessee towns were on hand to express their thanks to Secretary Johanns for the Rural Development funds they have received to revitalize their communities after local factories closed and moved to foreign countries. They also requested that the next Farm Bill continue, or even increase, these funds.
Two hot topics that kept popping up during the forum were renewable fuels and elimination of the death tax.
A White County, Tennessee dairyman told of his hardships, including taxes, after his father died while he was finishing high school several years ago. "I have two sons and I donâ€™t want them to go through the same situation.
Johanns agreed, saying it doesnâ€™t make sense for a farmer to work all his life building up a farming operation and then his son have to sell part of it and send the money to Washington.
Several farmers called for expanding the energy part of the next Farm Bill.
"Get serious about expanding the energy portion of the Farm Bill," said one farmer. "Our energy policy and farm policy should be linked."
The American consumer should not be concerned about us (farmers) producing for the grain market and the ethanol and biodiesel markets, said another farmer. "We can produce for both and decrease this countryâ€™s dependence on some of the oil from the Middle-East."
Johanns will continue these forms across the country and announced the next three while in Nashville. They are:
- July 26, North Dakota State Fair, Minot.
- August 3, Minnesota Farm Fest, Redwood County.
- August 4, Wisconsin State Fair, West Allis.
The public can also submit comments via the Farm Forum Web site at