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Peterson and Johanns Differ on Farm Bill

Democratic Congressman supports extending some programs, USDA Secretary wants some changes.

In separate speeches and news conferences, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns and Collin Peterson, D-Minn, chairman of the House Ag Committee, paint different pictures of what the next U.S. farm bill will look like. Both men made their remarks yesterday in Salt Lake City, Utah, during the 88th annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

"I think the next farm bill will look a lot like the current bill," said Peterson. "Freedom to Farm didn't work. We spent more money than ever before in our history with that legislation. In 2002 we put the safety net back in but what we missed was disaster protection."

The Congressman from Minnesota said he'd like to see a farm bill with permanent provisions for disaster assistance. "We are still trying to pass a disaster bill for the 2005 and 2006 crop years." He's optimistic a disaster bill will be passed, "but we may have to choose only one year and it won't be as lucrative as hoped."

Peterson said budget constraints are an issue that will have to be addressed in the farm bill debate, "partly because the 2002 Farm Bill was so successful. Our baseline will be lower."

Direct payments will be included in the new farm bill, believes Peterson. "I don't see any effort to drastically change that."

Also in disagreement with USDA, Peterson said he favors a mandatory animal id system. Earlier in the day, Bruce Knight, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, told Farm Bureau members several times the "National Animal Identification System is voluntary and will stay that way. "

Collin Peterson , chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said the 2002 Farm Bill was very successful.

"What USDA should have done was establish the basic structure of the information needed and build from there," Peterson declared. "Unless the government establishes the five or six bits of information we need, it won't work. We can't build a super computer system to mine all the information."

Johanns said he held farm bill listening sessions in 48 states and "there was not much support for extension of the current farm bill." He added that he didn't believe there had ever been such an extensive effort by the secretary to hear from grassroots farmers as to what they would like to see in a farm bill.

The secretary said the 2002 Farm Bill "was good for its time. But the economics of the time don't apply now. For example, in 2001 exports had declined for five straight years to $50 billion. Since then exports have risen for five years to $68.7 billion and projected to be $77 billion in 2007."

He also listed a significant change in debt-to-asset ratios for farmers. In 2000 it was about 15%. "In 2006 it was the lowest in history — at around 11%. Our ag economy is much stronger than five years ago."

Johanns wouldn't be specific on what USDA proposals will be for the next farm bill. But, he did say, "we must look at far more than dollars when we contemplate farm policy. It must be broader in scope to help farmers succeed in the marketplace."

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns told reporters Monday that the 2007 Farm Bill will retain some components of the 2002 Farm Bill but also will reflect the changing economic picture agriculture.

He admitted their proposals include help for beginning farmers, conservation payments, increased rural development funds and support for renewable fuels.

Johanns also said "when our proposals for the 2007 Farm Bill come out (in about a month) people will see similarities (to the 2002 Farm Bill) but they will also see differences, because the world is different."

When asked his view on the progress of USDA's proposals in light of a new face on Congress, Johanns told Farm Progress, "farm policy tends to be driven by commodities, regions, etc. I've been there two years now and I don't get into Republican or Democrat issues. Plus there are a lot of people interested in farm policy these days.

"I'm very confident I can work well with Collin Peterson or Tom Harkin."

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