(The following are excerpts of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns’ speech to the Commodity Club Luncheon in Washington, DC on October 6, 2005.)
…USDA has conducted forums in 26 states. I have personally hosted forums in 17 states, which translates into 51 hours of listening intently to farmers, ranchers, and other stakeholders. As our listening tour continues, I am confident I will hear more insightful ideas. But today, I am here to offer some observations about what I've heard thus far.
There is significant debate occurring across our country when it comes to the 2007 farm bill. I will be honest with you about the fact that I was uncertain what I would hear when I kicked-off this nationwide listening tour three months ago…
…Today, I can report to you that I have heard some very strong opinions expressed by some very passionate people. These thoughtful comments have caused me to step back and think beyond the boundaries of our current farm policy…
…In fact, I am especially impressed by their honest and frank assessments of the benefits and drawbacks of our current farm policy. We are beginning to see patterns in the responses. There seems to be consensus among producers and other stakeholders on some policies - and a definite diversity of opinion about others.
We have heard unanimous support for our rural development efforts…
We have also heard tremendous support for another of the President's priorities - conservation. Our cooperative conservation programs provide farmers and ranchers with financial support, while benefiting the whole of society by protecting our natural resources today and for future generations…
…we are hearing a range of opinions when it comes to our farm support programs. Some predicted that all we would hear is a desire for more of the same. We have heard that, but clearly we have also heard from producers advocating for change.
The responses also vary by region of the country and by program. For example, in the Midwest many are urging stronger payment limits, yet in the south, there is strong opposition to that idea.
On a broader scale, concerns have been expressed about farm payments being capitalized into increased land values, farm program support being directed toward one third of all producers, and the greatest benefits going to the largest farms.
As I have said before, I believe the 2002 Farm Bill was the right policy for the economic conditions at the time, but I also recognize that times are changing…
…I've heard some very compelling stories from young people who grew up on farms and want to carry-on the wonderful tradition of farming, but are financially unable to do so because of high land values and cash rent.
Devan from Kentucky said, "One of the biggest barriers, I believe, facing a new generation of farmers is the inability to start farming from scratch. Today if anyone wanted to begin farming they either have to marry into a family farm or inherit an existing family-owned farm. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to simply start farming."
Dan in California had this to say, "The increasingly high investment costs and relatively low return rates associated with production agriculture are some of the most prominent unintended consequences that discourage future generations from entering production agriculture."
Keith in Illinois said, "Cheap corn prices destroy our schools, churches and drive people to the city for a job that may or may not be there. The '96 and 2002 Farm Bills did not reduce production as was needed; it reduced producers, code name that's farmers."
…Small and minority farmers are expressing frustration about the lion's share of federal farm support being focused on large operations.
Alfonzo in New Mexico had this to say, "We need to have some kind of clause in our bill that does not give all the money that's appropriated to the farmers to big corporate (farms) and to our part-timers."
In Oklahoma, Hope said, "The biggest farmers out there should not be encouraged to continue getting bigger and bigger while normal medium-sized farm operations cannot afford to even expand in the smallest way because of high land prices."
…If we put the medium and large farms together, we are talking about less than eight percent of all farms receiving fifty percent of government payments. This brings some clarity to the picture being painted by beginning farmers, as well as some small and minority farmers across the country…
…We have a choice. We can lead our nation and world in agriculture or we can follow behind. I believe in the future of agriculture and I believe we should lead that future.
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