Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns hit the road this summer hosting farm bill forums in 17 states. This translates into 51 hours of listening to farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders about the future of farm policy. Thursday he addressed the Commodity Club Luncheon with some observations he's gathered from what he's heard so far--continuing to push the notion that he hopes to play an active role in the writing of the next farm bill.
Johanns said although there is a range of opinions on farm support programs, USDA has heard unanimous support for rural development efforts and encouragement to enhance conservation efforts.
The secretary backed the 2002 Farm Bill, saying it was the "right policy for the economic conditions at the time, but I also recognize that times are changing," he says. "Soon, we must decide as a nation whether to embrace a new age of agriculture or continue relying on a policy structure that was conceived 75 years ago, when the face of agriculture was very different from what it is today."
Those comments were praised by Food Products Association President and CEO Cal Dooley. "Secretary Johanns recognizes that we are operating with farm policies developed 75 years ago during the Great Depression that are no longer providing assistance to farmers and ranchers in an effective and equitable manner. For example, the Secretary noted that two thirds of all farmers receive little or no support from current farm programs, while 8% of farmers receive more than 50% of taxpayer-financed subsidies," Dooley says.
Johanns points out that he wasn't hearing from the two-thirds of farmers -- the fruit and vegetable growers, and others - ask for program support. "Instead they are looking to the future and asking for more focus on research and promotion, increased sanitary and phytosanitary enforcement and access to new markets," he says.
The secretary's comments on Thursday echo remarks previously made by President Bush, stating his commitment to seeing significant reform in U.S. trade policy and the elimination of trade-distorting subsidies.
"I don't yet know how these ideas should best come together to form future farm policy. But, I welcome the opportunity to work with Congress to fashion a farm bill that demonstrates a true commitment to our farmers and ranchers - policy that doesn't put their support programs at risk," Johanns says.