Johanns Tells Cotton Growers New Farm Policy Needed

USDA Secretary says farm bill could be crafted to better meet today's world.

Published on: Jan 11, 2007

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns says the 2002 Farm Bill was fine for its time, but made it clear the current Bush Administration wants to see a change when a new farm act is formulated.

Johanns made his comments Wednesday at the 2007 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans.

The USDA secretary notes that roughly 80% of U.S. cotton must now find a home in the global market.

"Developing countries are increasingly driving world cotton trade," Johanns says. "And 50% of our rice goes to the international marketplace. In fact, about one-third of all our (U.S.) row crops go into the international market, including soybeans and corn. You can cuss it - or discuss it - but it's a fact of life."

Johanns says U.S. agricultural exports reached $68 billion in 2006, and he expects that to grow to $77 billion for fiscal year 2007. At the same time, U.S. cotton exports were a record $4.7 billion in 2006, and are expected to exceed $5 billion in 2007. That shows the U.S. dependence on the global market, he says.

The secretary says USDA will help Cotton Council International in its market development through ear-tagging $100 million to its Market Access Program in 2007.

In addition, the Agriculture Department will help some 67 U.S. trade organizations to promote various American agricultural products overseas.

Johanns says he realizes the World Trade Organization, which was key in doing away with cotton's Step 2 Export Enhancement is not popular with a lot of folks in the cotton industry. But he notes trade complaints go beyond cotton, such as Uruguay protesting the U.S. rice program, or Canada challenging U.S. corn policy.

"It might be a better option to craft (new) farm policy that wouldn't be challenged," Johanns offers. "…a farm bill with more conservation, product promotion and research."

Johanns, who was Nebraska's 28th governor prior to his USDA post, says WTO litigation is not a good option for anyone, including U.S. producers. He says a newly designed farm bill is needed to adapt to the global trading environment.