Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns says the magic date, or the point of no return, in World Trade Organization talks is late spring or possibly early summer to have full numbers outlined of how much and by when for cuts and access openings.
The flip of the calendar year to 2006 has more people talking about the 2007 Farm Bill. Johanns told media at the American Farm Bureau Federation Convention that it'll be written in 2007, but we're "months away from specific proposals" for the next farm bill debate.
Johanns expects to release a USDA analysis of the 52 farm bill listening sessions held in 2005, possibly by the end of March. He anticipates House and Senate field hearings over the summer.
"Hard proposals from the Administration and Congress should come at the very end of 2006 or the first part of 2007," he explains. Then committee hearings on Capitol Hill will get underway in 2007 and be able to get new policy in place before the 2007 expiration date.
Johanns would not give any indication on what this year's budget proposal would look like. He did say he "anticipates the Administration will continue to preach restraint." The buzz is reconciliation could come knocking on the doors of entitlement programs again this year. Johanns says President Bush is again pushing to reduce the deficit, by one-half over the next four years.
Commodity programs survived the recent budget reconciliation process without impact. Policy observers at the convention say it'll be hard to take sweeping agriculture cuts in a mid-election year.
Johanns addresses BSE surveillance
The 12-18 month enhanced bovine spongiform encephalopathy surveillance program is now in its 19th month. People are beginning to wonder the life of the enhanced program. Since June 1, 2004, a total of 581,840 high-risk animals were tested for the disease. In addition, APHIS completed testing of 21,216 clinically normal adult animals as part of its enhanced surveillance program on Nov. 21. All animals tested negative.
Johanns says that in the "not too distant future" an offer of what future surveillance will look like will be announced.
To help determine the future of the BSE surveillance program Johanns says USDA plans to seek advice from the scientific community and also trading partners. He says the program will also make sure to meet international OIE guidelines.