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Transcript of Kentucky Farm Bill Forum

Location: Loisville, KY


SECRETARY MIKE JOHANNS: Thank you very much. Let me start out and say to the Commissioner [Mr. Richie Farmer], first of all, and I mentioned this to him, doesn't he have the perfect name to be the Commissioner of Agriculture?

It is great to be here. Thank you for coming out. Give my regards to, a good friend of mine, your governor. Tell him I said hi.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is great to be here in Kentucky. Mention was made that I grew up on a dairy farm, and I did. I grew up on a dairy farm in north central Iowa near a community called Osage. Now, you look puzzled. Apparently not everybody knows where Osage, Iowa is. So I better clear that up or you're going to be focused on that while we're trying to discuss some important issues here. Osage actually is just south of Stacyville and St. Ansgar, and straight east of Manly. So now you know where Osage is.


SECRETARY JOHANNS: My father had three sons. There were four in our family, my sister and then the three sons. I tell people that John Johanns had a perfect way of building character in his sons. He handed you a scoop shovel or a pitchfork and off you went to the barn or the hog house and you stood ankle-deep in you-know-what and you started shoveling away. That's how you build character in sons.

You know, I've been involved in politics all my life and little did he know that what he was really doing was preparing me for my life in politics; right?


SECRETARY JOHANNS: Your welcome when I walked in was great. Gosh, I just felt right at home. Thank you very much. It reminds me of a story I often tell. I had just been elected as governor of Nebraska, but I hadn't been sworn in yet. I was in this two- or three-month period of time between election and inauguration and I was asked to be an evening speaker at an event in Kearney, Nebraska. So my wife Stephanie and I drive on out to Kearney. It's kind of in the central part of Nebraska. We get out there, nice introduction just like tonight. And, you know, when I walked in everybody stood up and applauded and the same thing happened in Kearney. As I'm making my way to the podium everybody stands up and applauds. So I get to the podium and I said, "You know, that's really very nice of you, but I haven't done anything yet." And somebody in back yelled out, "and when you do we won't be standing."


SECRETARY JOHANNS: So it's nice to get a welcome. I've been on the job about six or eight months and I still get a very nice warm welcome and thank you.

I do want to also express my appreciation to the VFW Color Guard that was here. They literally got called into service right at the last minute. So we appreciate them getting over.

Sharon, who sang the National Anthem, gosh, do you have a beautiful voice. That was just great.

Sharon is a USDA employee with ASCS, right? NRCS. So, Sharon, thank you very much. Beautiful job.

Then John Mains and Devan Parrett helped with the Pledge of Allegiance.

I also want to say thank you to the USDA State Farm Bill Forum Committee and the Kentucky State Fair organizers. Obviously this is a very successful event. That doesn't happen accidentally. It happens because people really worked hard to put it together and we do appreciate that.

I do want to start out tonight and thoughtfully remember the folks who have suffered because of the hurricane over the last few days. My goodness. I watched the news reports and I see the pictures in the newspaper. I know you got the rain from the hurricane in some parts of Kentucky, but what a difficult situation.

The President has pulled all of the Federal Government together and we are doing all we can from the USDA standpoint, whether it's housing or food supplies or whatever. Tonight I know all of us have those folks in our thoughts and our prayers and I just wanted to mention that. It's just a very difficult situation. We are going to do everything we can from the USDA standpoint to help those good people get through a very, very difficult time.

We are doing these Farm Bill forums all across the country. They came about because the President encouraged me to get out across the United States and visit with people involved in agriculture. "Visit with farmers and ranchers," he said. He told me he wanted a Secretary that got out of the Beltway and listened to people on the farm, on the ranch, those involved in production agriculture, those involved in agriculture generally, to get an idea as to the best approach when we start thinking about the 2007 Farm Bill. So that is exactly what we are doing.

So I think it's appropriate tonight that maybe we begin with some greetings from a good friend of yours, our President, President Bush.


SECRETARY JOHANNS: Great. Greetings from your President. You bet.


SECRETARY JOHANNS: Just a couple of thoughts about the Forum tonight.

We are going to ask you to think about six areas. Now, having said that, we want to hear from you so when you get to the microphone and offer your thoughts, we want to hear those thoughts. The only real rule here is that if you've got a very specific individual problem, you know, "I filed for a loan" or whatever, "and I haven't heard," we want to help you with that, but it might be better if we could address that off the mike. We've got a lot of USDA people here and myself, and like I said, we want to do everything we can to help. But tonight we really want to focus on the Farm Bill and what's working and what we might think about doing differently.

So the six areas we are focusing on is "challenges for the new farmer." We will begin our testimony tonight with somebody from FFA and 4-H. I was in both of those organizations when I grew up and I just believe that's where our future is. You know, those young people who have a passion for agriculture, hopefully are the future farmers and will be involved in agriculture as they get through school. So the first question really deals with the challenges for new farmers.

The second area is in the area of competitiveness. Ladies and gentlemen, 27 percent of our receipts now come from the world marketplace. We produce more than we can consume. It's an unbelievable agricultural operation we have in this country. How do we position ourselves to be competitive in that world marketplace, knowing that 95 percent of the world's population lives outside of the country? Lives outside of the United States? Only 5 percent of us live within the United States.

The third question relates to the farm program benefits. Are we distributing the benefits of the farm programs in a fair way and an equitable way? Is there something about that, that you like or you don't like?

The fourth question, as you know we do a lot of things in conservation. How are conservation programs working?

The fifth question area is rural economic development, rural economic growth. I will tell you that at a news conference just a few minutes ago before I walked in here we were able to deliver $52 million to Kentucky for rural economic development projects. The rural economic development --



When you see the President or the United States Senators or your House members, tell them thanks because that makes a big difference to have them on your side. But we are glad to do that.

Rural economic development is a piece of the Farm Bill now. How is that working?

And then finally, what should we be thinking about relative to the expansion of agriculture products? Ethanol is a really good example and I just got a brochure of an ethanol plant here. Biodiesel, what can we do to encourage more markets? And then are we getting the job done in terms of those future products, the research component that has always been so important for agriculture?

Now, folks, that's going to be about my comments tonight. Because the more I talk to you the less time you have to be at the microphone. The whole essence, the whole idea of this Forum is that you speak and I listen. So really, for the remainder of the evening I'm going to sit back. I've got a lot of note cards. I'm going to take notes, jot down a note here and there as to what you're saying. Then at the end of the Forum I'll take a couple minutes just to wrap it up. But for the time being, it's up to you and the moderator to make this Farm Bill Forum successful, and I know that it will be.

Thank you very much again for the very warm welcome to Kentucky, and God bless you all.



SECRETARY JOHANNS: The first question is: how are we impacting the future for young people in agriculture? So with that, take it away and start our Forum.


MODERATOR: We should be taking comments here, Mr. Secretary, that's your liberty, if you like. But, thank you.

SECRETARY JOHANNS: Yeah, I would just offer a comment on that. It's one of the things that the White House mentioned to me today when I spoke with them. As we prepared for our response to this hurricane, that's a significant issue for us. I have to tell you as of tonight, I can't give you that assessment because we just simply don't know yet. There are people that are literally working now to try to figure that out. So, as detail is available we will get it out publicly. I know it's a question we are going to be asked a lot in the days ahead. And as soon as we get information on that we will -- this initial stage, as you know, was really all about trying to save lives and get people off their roofs and then provide for their care. So that's kind of where it's at today. But there will be more information. So stay tuned, all right?


SECRETARY JOHANNS: If I might mention, I noticed some of you -- that was a great testimony, but all of the testimony has been really good. I just wanted to mention, I notice some of you are actually reading from prepared notes. We would love to receive those. So you can either hand them to me before I leave tonight. We've got an e-mail, or a web site, I should say, or just drop them in the mailbox and send them off to us. So if you get cut off like we just did, we want to hear the whole thing, so get that information --

MODERATOR: You told me to.

SECRETARY JOHANNS: Yeah, you've got to do it.


SECRETARY JOHANNS: We've got to do it because we want everybody to have a shot. But send that testimony out to us, we would love to receive it. Somebody's got to be the bad guy, you know.


SECRETARY JOHANNS: Great. Thank you very much.


SECRETARY JOHANNS: Thank you. That's nice.


SECRETARY JOHANNS: Thank you. I thought our moderator did a great job. How about a round of applause for Jeff. Great job.


SECRETARY JOHANNS: Well, I appreciate your attendance tonight. That's where I want to start in terms of wrapping up my comments. The comments by each of you were excellent. I did take a lot of notes. As I said to you when we started, mostly what I like to do in these forums is just sit back and listen, jot a note down just so it jogs my memory when I look back through my notes two weeks from now or two months from now. So it's very, very helpful.

Somebody mentioned I have a hard job. I have the best job in America. But Farm Bills are complicated. There's just no doubt about it. So the best way to try to figure it all out is just to come out here and listen to people.

And like this Farm Bill forum, you do get a lot of debate and a lot of discussion and difference of opinion as to how best to approach farm policy.

For all of you, you've offered your input and I can promise you it's going to be seriously considered. What do I mean by that? I'll share with you today, for example. I spent about an hour, hour and a half at the office at the USDA summarizing for some of the people working on Farm Bill what I was hearing at the forums and what people were talking about and some of the ideas that had been thrown out to me. So I do want to assure you that your thoughts are considered. They are factored in.

Now, if I might just spend a few minutes here to talk to you a little bit about process. When we kicked these off a couple months ago, a few months ago, we got a comment or two from people saying, man, this seems awfully early, 2007 and we're in 2005. Well, think about this. We had a notion that we wanted to do forums. We really felt strongly that doing forums wasn't about going to two or three locations in the country and calling it good. We really wanted to do the best job we could to get around to every area of the country. It's a big country out there and that takes some time.

I've done, I think, 11 of these already. I'll be in Illinois tomorrow. We'll announce some additional ones coming up here. So just to set that kind of time aside, we are probably looking for these forums in one form or fashion to last pretty much through the year because we do want to do some forums on nutrition. We are going to do some forums that are dedicated to conservation and that sort of thing. So it just takes some time.

Well, once you are through 2005, you turn over the calendar, you are now into 2006 and you start working with the House and the Senate, you start putting some ideas down, you start working through those and economic analysis and this, that and the next thing. Well, when it's all said and done, you've probably used up a pretty good part of 2006 just to get through that stage.

Now, you turn the calendar over, you're into 2007 and you really need to signal to the farm community, to the banker, to the insurance agent, whoever is involved in that Farm Bill policy what that Farm Bill is going to look like, much less get it debated and passed and heard and all of the things that need to be done. So actually when you think about that as a rough timeline, our timing probably is going to be about right in terms of getting this thing together.

Very important point here, we are not the only player. You've got the House, you've got the Senate, you've got AG committees in both areas, and they're probably going to do some field work across the country. So you might hear that the AG committee is going to be in the state or something like that and that's going to take some time into 2006. But no Farm Bill is written by a single person. Farm policy today has got a lot of stakeholders to it.

One gentleman made the point perfectly. He said, you know, I didn't realize there were so many things involved in the Farm Bill. There's a lot of things involved in that Farm Bill anymore, rural economic development, conservation, investment in water programs and sewer programs. Think about this, over 50 percent of our budget goes into nutrition programs, food stamps, the school lunch program that you have at your local school comes out of the USDA. The Women, Infants and Children's program, which is a nutrition program comes out of the USDA. You add all that together over 50 percent of our budget is in nutrition programs. It's not the traditional farm program that you typically think about with the USDA. Then you add into that the Forest Service, that's under our jurisdiction too. All of a sudden you begin to realize that it's a pretty significant majority of the budget that actually is involved in other programs besides the specific program we got together about this evening.

So we go from here, we finish up the forums as we head through the year. What are some of the things that I'm hearing out there? I'll share this because I gave some interviews to the media before I came in here. One of the things I'm hearing is general support for our conservation programs. I'll start there. Not unanimous, nothing is unanimous in life. You know that. But by and large, people are stepping up to the microphone whether they're farmers or Pheasants Forever or Ducks Unlimited or just somebody interested in conservation, they're saying, we think this is a good investment, it makes sense. And, again, not unanimous.

We have heard from some ranchers out there saying, you know, when I go to lease grassland to graze my cattle on, it feels like you're competing for my need there which is that grassland area. So you get some of that discussion out there. But by and large there's been good support.

To those who are involved in that Rural Economic Development, I would tell you that as of this Farm Bill forum, it really has been pretty unanimous in terms of our programs. The money that we invested here today before I walked in here, we've been doing a lot of that and it's working. And that's what we hear over and over again. Without the USDA we could not be upgrading our sewer system or our water system. The jobs that were created in this small town would not have occurred but for a USDA grant or loan program. So we have had a lot of good support for that.

It is interesting, one gentleman commented tonight of kind of this concept of whether we should talk about the conservation programs even becoming a more important part of the farm program. That's an interesting concept. We hear about that, that's a discussion that occurs out there. Way too early in the process to make final decisions about anything relative to the Farm Bill, but it's an interesting comment.

The final area I wanted to mention, it goes without saying that in just about every Farm Bill forum you are going to hear about trade issues. Trade is a very easy thing to grab a hold of and beat up on. But I have to tell you with agriculture there are some very interesting dynamics here. One is, 27 percent of the receipts come from trade. Stated another way, about one in three acres in the United States devoted to farmland needs an export market.

The gentleman that got up here and talked about the size of their farming operations, agriculture is so much different than when I grew up. When I grew up it was 160 acres in north central Iowa, it was 30 cows, some hogs that we furrowed, I raised hogs to put myself through college. I even remember the day when my mother had 5-600 chickens. Quite a bit different farming operation today, to say the least. Quite a bit different farming operation.

The other thing I'll share with you is that statistic we watch every year at the USDA. Productivity of the American farmer and rancher increases about 2 percent annually. And it's been steady productivity increases year after year. Why is that? The equipment is better, the fertilizer is better, the seed is better, just the ingenuity of the American farmer and rancher is incredible. Education, technical training, Internet, all of those things have made the American farmer the most productive person maybe in the history of mankind. It is a remarkable phenomena we are observing.

But the other thing I will tell you is that our consumption and our population growth in the United States grows at less than a percent a year. Now, if you are growing your productivity by 2 percent and you're growing your consumption in your productivity by less than a percent, it doesn't take long to do the math on that over the next decade, and figure out that you got some issues here.

Now, the whole issue here with trade is this. I believe, and the President has articulated this too, we believe in free trade, but we also believe in fair trade. We have going on now the process, the WTO process. You will read about it. You will probably read about it more as we move closer to the big meeting in Hong Kong in December. But the whole idea here is to get a good market access opportunity for American Farmers and ranchers. And you will hear us talk about market access.

There are parts of this world where, quite honestly, selling your products into that market is near impossible because of high tariffs, et cetera, et cetera. We want to do everything we can to open that market, and I believe, as I've said so many times, I know, I don't just believe, I know the American farmer and rancher can compete on a world scale. I see it happening already. I see it happening already. You couple that with the last statistic that I mentioned earlier and that is that 95 percent of the world lives outside the United States; 95 percent of the world lives outside the United States. Our productivity growth, our consumption, the fact that the population really lives beyond our borders all relate to that issue of how important trade is and its impact in terms of the future for agriculture.

I grew up competing maybe with a kid in the next town over, at most the next state over. Ladies and gentlemen, today whether you like it or not, you compete in a world marketplace. You just do. And we have to do everything we can to give you the opportunity to fairly compete in that world marketplace.

Final thought. A lot of things going on. There's a lot of moving pieces here. There are trade issues. There are issues relating to drought and, you know, it just goes on and on. I mean, there are always issues.

This Farm Bill forum is months ahead of debate on the Farm Bill. So we need to ask you to stay in touch with us. We have an excellent web site, You will see our Farm Bill forums. You can literally click onto the site that gives you the ability to offer your thoughts, today, tomorrow, two months from now, ten months from now. We want you to access that. Or write us a letter. Do something to get your information, your views known as we proceed. They will be considered.

As we continue to flesh out ideas, we will continue to talk publicly about that. Hopefully that will encourage more discussion, more debate, and a more thoughtful debate when we get to the actual legislation.

Kentucky thank you for the very, very nice welcome. It's just great to be back in your state. God bless you all.


MODERATOR: Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.


MODERATOR: As Kentuckians, you are to be congratulated for the way that you have conducted tonight. Thank you.


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