U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer stopped short of saying the 2008 Farm Bill needs to be re-opened when discussing trade issues during a press conference Thursday at the close of the Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa.
"It's clear that Congress didn't care much about the Farm Bill being WTO (World Trade Organization) compliant. The ACRE program, the disaster program, are not WTO compliant," Schafer said. "We will go back to Congress to make the appropriate changes."
Average Crop Revenue Election, a program that purports to be a combination insurance and disaster program, is based on production. Most of the questions Thursday regarded how quickly farmers can sign up for it.
What may happen is that the 2009 crop season starts without a program signup, particularly because USDA needs new software and hardware to implement the program. Congress, however, funded only $55 million of the $200 million USDA needs, Schafer said.
So, Schafer said, "we will allow it to be retroactive so they don't have to worry about a signup now."
In other response to other questions, Schafer said:
- USDA has introduced legislation in Congress to allow the Secretary to change Conservation Reserve Program contracts provided environmental situations are considered.
- Schafer is not concerned with Russia's most recent statements in regard to pulling out of WTO negotiations because of the stance the U.S. took in regard to that country's invasion of Georgia. "We've had a particular program with Russia in regard to poultry," Schafer said. "They're using this situation."
- Schafer wants competitive grant programs to play a greater role in land grant university funding. His focus is to move away from earmarks. "We've removed them all from our budget. Congress is going to put some back in," Schafer said.
Ultimately, Schafer said, the next Administration will play a role in defining the 2008 Farm Bill, much of which is dependent on interpretation by USDA.
"We will not get this Farm Bill fully implemented before the end of this administration," Schafer said. To make the transition smooth for agricultural producers, Shafer has career employees leading the effort.
"We will go forward without pause," Schafer said.