Johanns Says Progress Being Made on Farm Bill

U.S. ag secretary tells audience in Ames that the new farm bill will be finished this year, no waiting until 2009.

Last week USDA Secretary Mike Johanns and Iowa Congressman Tom Latham held an open forum on agricultural issues at the city hall in Ames, Iowa. Both made opening statements on a variety of farm issues, such as the 2007 farm bill that is being written in Congress. They also discussed renewable fuels.

Johanns and Latham both expressed concern over the idea being pushed by some members of the U.S. House of Representatives who voted for a simple extension of the current farm bill that was passed in 2002. Both were doubtful that an extension without some level of reform would pass both the full House and Senate.

Both Johanns and Latham also gave their opinions on the status of U.S. trade issues, such as the stalled WTO talks and the expiration of Trade Promotion Authority. Both of these issues have an enormous impact on U.S. agriculture. In Iowa, nearly one third of all ag income comes from trade.

USDA chief says farm bill will be done in 2007

Johanns said he is content with the pace of negotiations for the new farm bill, even if it isn't sorted out as quickly as some people would like. He cautioned that the new 2007 farm bill might not be completed until fall. "No one is going to rush to the point of doing poor policy," he said. "If we need time, we'll take the time. A lot of work has been done on this legislation."

Johanns' comments came after criticism recently by some members of Congress who say the slow pace of negotiations might force Congress to renew the old 2002 farm bill and possibly delay new legislation for two years because of the 2008 presidential election. Johanns doesn't see that happening.

"This is the year we write the farm bill—2007," he said. "We've known that since the last farm bill was passed in 2002. Farmers need the certainty of the farm bill."

Johanns is cautiously optimistic about USDA's June Acreage Report that showed near-record highs for corn acres planted this year. "We have a lot of acres planted to corn in 2007, but none of it is in the bin yet. High yields this fall would allow farmers to replenish reserves that have been drawn down by high demand for corn by the ethanol and livestock industries."

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