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Ag secretary's role is one unenviable job I'd pass on

I can think of several jobs I'd just as soon not have to perform. For instance, I have no desire to become the CEO of a big corporation and be responsible for handling gazillions of dollars for stockholders and turning those dollars into multi-gazillions of dollars. I think I've mentioned before that I am arithmetically challenged.

I also would not appreciate the fun one could have in overseeing a workforce of a thousand employees, give or take a hundred or so mail clerks. I'm too soft, you see, and could never get used to firing people or accusing them of doing poor work, even when they did.

Also, I would balk at working 80 hours a week. I don't know what I would do with the extra time.

I have no desire to be a fireman. The work gets too hot and I'm prone to heat stress.

But lately, the job that tops the list of occupations I don't want has been Secretary of Agriculture.

Mr. Johanns, recently approved, has stepped into a corn bin full of controversy and I wouldn't want to be in his shoes as he makes the rounds this winter defending administration budget cut proposals that few in the farm sector appreciate.

It's never wise to go against the wishes of the boss, especially when one is new to the job, so Secretary Johanns, regardless of his own take on farm subsidies, payment limitations and the U.S. farm sector's place in world trade, can ill afford to take a contrary stance, assuming he might have one.

Consequently, he's likely to be in for some less than enthusiastic responses to speeches he makes as he drops in on various commodity organization meetings over the next few months.

He could hear a bit of carping about what may appear to be disenchantment from some of President Bush's most ardent supporters, folks in the grain belt, the cotton belt and red rural states. Farmers can look at the price of the commodities they have to sell and what they would have left to put in their pockets if the world market were the only option available, and then look at the cost of producing those commodities and wonder why anyone could think about scrapping a working farm program two years before expiration to save a pittance for the national budget.

Anyone old enough to remember the Li'l Abner comic strip might recall the potent hex sometimes conjured up to thwart someone's best efforts. It was the double whammy and it could pretty much mess up your whole day.

Farmers today face an even worse prospect — a triple whammy (Gasp!). Consider that most producers face declining prices for commodities. That's whammy one. Production costs, especially fertilizer and energy, have skyrocketed. That's whammy two. And now the government would compound the pain by cutting holes in the safety net. Whammy three.

U.S. farmers now have to feel like another Abner character, Joe somebody (His last name was always incomprehensible to me and included no vowels to speak of.) who walked around with a dark cloud hanging over his head. Wherever he went, a storm followed. Bad luck was his lot and he constantly wondered what else could go wrong. Sound familiar?

The good news, if one can claim any, is that so far the budget proposal is just that, a proposal. It's not law and one can only hope that it never becomes one.

In the meantime, Secretary Johanns has to face constituents who wonder why the proposal was not more farmer-friendly. He has some tough critics to answer to. For instance:

David Gibson, executive vice president of the Corn Producers Association of Texas, says a change at this point seems grossly unfair.

“Our corn producers have made long term business plans based on the program that was put in place and altering the program will undermine the financial stability of family farms across Texas, and at a time when energy prices and other production inputs are at all time highs,” he said.

And Wayne Cleveland, executive director, Texas Grain Sorghum Producers, also objects.

“While we are fundamentally against any cuts in any farm programs, we are well versed in the realization that agriculture becomes the ‘whipping boy’ of the federal budget every year,” he said. “Agricultural programs account for less than one-half of one percent of the budget. Disposable income spent on feeding ourselves comes in around 11 percent. We are certainly for a balanced budget and adequate spending in critical sectors, but not at an inordinate expense to agriculture.”

Not a job I envy. The Secretary of Agriculture's duty this winter comes with more heat than this heat-susceptible soul can take.

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