Transcript of Illinois Farm Bill Forum With Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and Moderators Cyndi Young of Brownfield Network and Mike Adams of AgriTalk Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Illinois, on September 1, 2005
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SEC. MIKE JOHANNS: Great. Congressmen, thank you very much to both of you. Ladies and gentlemen, I think it just speaks volumes that you would have these two gentlemen here with us to help us kick off this event. That means they're very, very committed. Not only their districts but the future of ag policy in this country. So I thank you. I was joking with Congressman LaHood. You have one member here in Congressman Johnson who is on the Ag Committee, you have another member in Congressman LaHood. One is on the Ag Committee, one is on the Appropriations Committee, and that's a really good combination. (laughs) A really good combination.
It is great to be here. Mention was made that I grew up on a farm in Iowa. I actually grew up on a dairy farm as a matter of fact, and you're probably all sitting there thinking about, well where would that be in Iowa? And so I don't want you thinking about that when we need to have you talking about some very important issues. So I'll start out and clear up any confusion about where that farm in Iowa was at. It was in northeast of a community called Osage, Iowa. And I see you're still confused about where Osage is at, so I better clear that up. Osage is south of Stacyville and St. Ansgar, and it's straight east of Manly. So now you know where Osage is at.
I joke that my father had three sons. And his idea of building character in his sons was, you got a pitchfork or a scoop shovel and you went out to the barn or you went out to the hog house in you-know-what. You stood ankle-deep in you-know-what, and you just pitched away, and that was his idea of building character. I been in politics all my life, and little did he know that he was preparing me for my life in politics.
Well, it is good to be here. I'll also say thank you to Cyndi Young and Mike Adams our moderators. We really appreciate their participation. The color guard was great. Beth Koga and Ashley Caldwell, Decatur Lutheran High School, did the National Anthem, and we appreciate that. Andy Freeland from Mt. Zion FFA and Sabrina Ferril, Macon County 4-H did the Pledge of Allegiance. No? Did they? I hope I have the right names there.
But we always have young people at these forums, and the 4-H and the FFA mean a lot to me because I was in both programs when I was growing up.
Now let me also say thank you to the community college. I love community colleges. All across this country the community colleges are doing such great things. My son went to a community college -- I'm pleased to share that with you -- picked up some courses as did my daughter. She graduated actually from a four-year school, but she picked up some hours over at the community college there in Lincoln, Nebraska. And so I know the President shares that zeal for community colleges. So thank you for the invitation.
And the Farm Progress Show organizers -- I just got a glimpse of the Farm Progress Show, but I would love to go over there and spend a day or two or three. I know it's not possible schedule-wise, but it looked great. It looked like a great show.
Let me also, if I might, mention a couple of disasters, if you will. One is of course the hurricane. What an unfortunate, terribly sad situation. I do want you to know that yesterday the President called his Cabinet together and just literally said, we need a full court response to this. We need every federal agency involved to help these people, first to protect life and limb, get them situated, and then to aid in the recovery process. USDA will be involved in that; we are already. We're sending Forest Service employees there, got about 700 either there or headed there. They do just great instant managements. They can get into the middle of a situation and really get things moving. So we're happy to do that.
But nutrition programs, we do a lot of that at USDA. So we'll be ready to move tons of food into that area, again when we get the signal.
So just a difficult situation. Our thoughts and prayers are with those folks.
The other item I wanted to mention is the drought that you've experienced here in Illinois. I certainly am familiar with it. As you know about a month or so ago I declared really all of Illinois a disaster area from a drought standpoint. And what that does, it allows me as the Secretary to make available to those who qualify certain disaster programs. That might be low-interest loans, it might be tax benefits that occur, but the first step is that drought process.
I did tour this morning with Speaker Hastert. We went into an area and looked at some corn and we looked at some soybeans. The corn is about what you would expect. You know, you peel back the husk on one ear and there's four or five kernels there. You peel back the husk on another ear and there's not really an ear there, never really formed an ear. And then you peel back another one and maybe you've got an ear and you've got some kernels on it, but it's about two-thirds of what you would anticipate.
Looks to me like with warm, dry weather ahead of you, which I understand is in the forecast, that you'll probably be out in the fields here somewhere in the timeline of the last week of September, maybe first week of October, and at that point we get an idea as to what the yields look like. And then decisions will be made as to what the next step would be here. But both terribly unfortunate circumstances.
Now I also wanted to tell you that I'm out doing these forums because there's a man in Washington that asked me to do them, to get across the country. And so I've brought greetings today from the President of the United States, George W. Bush.
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SEC. JOHANNS: There's your President. Very good.
Today in the comments we hope that you will think about and focus on six areas. Now having said that, we don't enforce that very strictly. If you have something on your mind we want to hear about it. But these are the six areas that are of interest to us as we think about the next Farm Bill.
Challenges for new farmers. We will start today with an FFA member and a 4-H member. We've done that at every forum. I really feel strongly that we should be developing farm policy that allows for entry of the next generation into agriculture. So I like to hear their ideas, and so we'll have a 4-H member, an FFA member. We'd like your thoughts on that too.
Competitiveness. How do we compete in a global marketplace? I was citing statistics in terms of your role here in Illinois relative to the global marketplace. You are major exporters of farm products, huge exporters. In fact by all accounts I think you're second in the United States in terms of exports. This market is enormously important to your state, but it is all across the country.
The third area relates to the farm program benefits. We have quite a discussion and debate about this. Are we doing the right things in terms of the distribution of the farm program benefits? In this area we've heard about everything from payment limitations-- in Kentucky yesterday we heard discussion about subsidies and moving that into environmental approaches. It's probably been the area that has brought about the most discussion as people have come to the microphone really across the country.
The fourth area is conservation. We are a major investor if you will in conservation programs at the USDA. What are we doing right? What do you see that we should do differently?
Rural economic development is also a part of our portfolio. And so that's the fifth area. Do you like what we're doing in rural economic development? What would you like to see done differently?
And then the sixth area is expansion of ag products, which the President mentioned.
I reference ethanol today. About 12 percent of our corn crop goes into ethanol; 25 years ago had I come here and done a Farm Bill Forum and said you know, 12 percent, 13 percent of our corn crop will go into ethanol I think people would have been mystified, would never have imagined that was going to be the case. But now it is the case.
The other thing I'll share with you is Congress I believe with great leadership passed an Energy Bill with Renewable Fuel Standard of 7.5 billion gallons. Today we produce under 4 billion gallons, so you can see the impact this is going to have, whether it's biodiesel, ethanol, biomass products that are converted into energy.
But ladies and gentlemen, with that here's kind of the drill. I put the microphone down, and I listen to you. I probably won't comment a lot during the time of your testimony. Really it's your opportunity. I'll be here the next three hours if all that time is necessary to hear all your comments. Then at the end I'll take a few minutes just to wrap it up, but between now and then I'm going to be a silent partner in this effort. I'll be taking some notes and very, very anxious to hear. Again, thank you for the very warm welcome to your great state. Thank you.
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SEC. JOHANNS: If I might just ask, some of the ideas you put out I have heard in other locations. Your point about this Farm Bill if you don't produce you don't benefit is a very good point, and that really comes home in states like Illinois where you're experiencing drought. We experienced the same thing. I came from, the state of Nebraska, where we had a lot of drought the last four or five years.
Were your recommendations reduced to writing? Have you put together any kind of paperwork with your Farm Bureau Task Force?
MR. KALLAL: Yes, we have, Mr. Secretary. But we have to go through the policy process of Illinois Farm Bureau where we go, and our policy will go to American Farm Bureau and then they have to approve it before we put too much out.
SEC. JOHANNS: If you could keep me posted on that, and I appreciate you've got some process ahead of you just like we do. But as that's making its way through the process, if your Illinois Farm Bureau could stay in touch I would appreciate it. Oh, there's the book right there. Is it a top secret book? (laughs)
MODERATOR: I think he's willing to share.
SEC. JOHANNS: If a copy would happen to end up in my hands, that would be really good. So. (laughs)
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SEC. JOHANNS: You know, I'll share this with you. When I get back we take these notes and we put them into a typed form because we have the same problem as this gentleman here. If I go back and read my own writing a month from now I may not understand it. But just as recently as yesterday before I left the office we spent an hour, hour and a half with some of the people that are starting to do some discussion and thinking at the USDA about farm policy relative to the Farm Bill. We spent about an hour and a half, and I went through some of the things that I was hearing out there in these Farm Bill sessions.
So it is helpful. It gets us thinking about things differently. So not only do we take notes, but we actually go back and try to incorporate them in what we're thinking about.
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MODERATOR: Nothing like that FFA humor, right, Mr. Secretary?
SEC. JOHANNS: Yeah. No. I enjoyed that FFA humor. I might mention though that it was in Illinois at your state convention that we decided to kick off the Farm Bill Forums, and that was the day we released the six topics we were interested in. So it is good to be back in Illinois. It's always great to see those blue jackets.
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SEC. JOHANNS: If I might just jump in here. The discussion in this area as I said, this is not the first time we've heard of this as we've done these listening sessions around the country. So my offer to the folks in the Soybean Association is the same as the Farm Bureau folks. It's a fascinating idea that you're putting out.
I don't know a lot about it at this point to be very honest with you. But I would like to learn more, and I hope your state or national association will either come to the USDA and spend some time with us or in the alternative get us information as you're thinking about this process. It is a -- your idea is a very interesting idea. Like I said, I'm just anxious to learn more at this point. Okay.
Great. Thank you.
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SEC. JOHANNS: Thank you very much. Well, thank you very much. I'll offer a few thoughts to kind of wrap us up today.
First thought is, I really appreciate you being here. The comments were, I thought, excellent. Every Farm Bill Forum that we have had, I've walked away with many notecards filled with notes. But most importantly I've walked away with ideas. That happened again today. You know, you say something and it makes me think about another aspect of farm policy. So I make a note, and then we go back and we sit down and we start talking about that and how that might fit in.
Somebody said when we started this process, "Gosh, it seems awfully early to be talking about the 2007 Farm Bill. So I thought maybe if I could just take a moment to tell you what we're going to do with all these notes, with these ideas, and maybe spend just a moment on process.
The 2007 Farm Bill is not that far away when you think about it in this respect. We really wanted to do a national tour if you will. We could have kicked this off here in Illinois and gone out and done four or five of these across the country and called it good. But agriculture in this country is very, very diverse. From the Plains States, down into the South, the Western United States, you get up into the Northeast part of the country, it's just very, very diverse.
So I felt very strongly that if we were going to commit to doing this we needed to get across the country. And I'm doing a lot of these myself. I have under secretaries, my deputy, that are also doing some. But in order to do that, we needed some time. It's a big country out there, and we have other things that impact our schedule.
So we needed about the remainder of this year -- not that we will take all the remainder of the year to do the forums, but by the time you work schedules it's going to be fairly late in the year before we call it good and say that we have done the forums that we wanted to do.
Plus, we've got some specialty forums out there. We do it a lot in the nutrition areas, so those folks wanted the opportunity to offer some thoughts. And so we're going to do some of those specialty type forums also.
Well, that takes us pretty much through the end of the year. We then start 2006 working with the House and Senate on ideas. And my expectation is that they'll do some field hearings out there also across the country and invite people in to offer their thoughts just like I did here today.
Well, once you start doing that, you start moving through 2006 and maybe even the better part of 2006. That's going to bring you to a point where somewhere out there you sit down and start literally working the legislation. By the time you get that done, you're really nearing the end of 2006, if not the first part of 2007.
Now somewhere in the first part of 2007 I believe we've got to be getting a Farm Bill in place. We've got to have the hearings and the debate and the discussion and the vote and all of that process because in the early part of 2007 we need to send a signal to the ag community as to what this Farm Bill is going to be about so they can make decisions that they have to make that are based upon farm policy.
So when you think about the process, actually we're probably about right on schedule. We certainly don't have a lot of extra time as we start to build this Farm Bill.
Now, the other thing I wanted to visit with you about very briefly, some of the themes we're hearing around the country. And we have been pretty much around the country already. We've been out West, we've been in the South, we've been in the Midwest -- to a lesser extent up in the Northeast although we have done some of that also.
Here are some of the thoughts. Rural economic development, pretty unanimously approved across the country. Not that people don't have some suggestions and ideas and hopes for funding and that sort of thing. But by and large, people after five years with this President are looking around and saying, You know that project has made a difference in this community. It's like the gentleman who got up and spoke about the program that kept that business in town and therefore kept jobs. The infrastructure improvements-- water, sewer etcetera. So we get pretty universal support for the rural economic development programs, but still have some good ideas there.
The second area is conservation. The testimony today would be pretty indicative of what we're hearing across the country. Pretty good support for conservation. Not unanimous. There are some parts of the country, especially where ranchers are competing for grassland, that we heard from some ranchers saying, you know your conservation programs take that land out of production if you will, grassland production, and that competes with me because I need land to grow my cattle on, my cow-calf operation.
So that's something to factor in. We've heard some discussion about kind of a working lands proposal to conservation, and again that's an interesting thing to think about.
Yesterday in Kentucky I heard something, maybe not for the first time but the gentleman spoke with real clarity when he said, You know as we think about our next farm program I would advocate that we remove our support programs for agriculture into more conservation oriented programs. Now why would he say that? One is, it has a pretty broad sweep. You know if you're involved in conservation you could apply for and hopefully receive the benefits of the program.
The other thing is, it does have some implications relative to trade issues out there. The green box. You know you hear about the green box. All I can tell you is this. It's not so much what box; it's the fact that conservation programs generally don't have a problem when it comes to trade issues. So that's why that discussion pops up. But again, pretty good support for the conservation programs.
We do hear a lot relative to this theme about young people getting into agriculture. I was the governor of a very large ag-producing state, just about in every major category we produced a lot and exported a lot.
I would travel all over that state as governor. I would speak at the annual Chamber dinner, volunteer recognition dinner, whatever it was. When I got into the rural areas, there was one thing that was pretty consistent. As I looked out across the crowd, the majority of people in the audience by quite a bit actually, were people my age or older, 55 or older. We are due for a pretty significant generational shift here in agriculture, and it's not that far off.
This gentleman said, I'm not retired but I'm tired. Well, maybe we all feel that way some days. But the reality is that our generation is about ready to look to this generation in the blue jackets and say, it's your turn. How do we facilitate them entering into agriculture? And so we always start these forums with 4-H and FFA kicking them off, but it's a very important theme. I really feel strongly that our farm policy should encourage that or we're going to face some challenges out there over the next 15 to 20 years just in terms of how that land passes to the next generation and they get involved in agriculture.
Well, those are some general thoughts at this point. The input has been excellent. This was a really, really good Farm Bill Forum. You came prepared. You had some really thoughtful ideas. That's why I did kind of jump in at a couple of points there to say, I want to understand more about that and learn about what you're saying.
Final thought. We do have some time here before a final Farm Bill is submitted, discussed, debated, voted on, all of that A lot of things can happen in that period of time. We've got a WTO process out there, we've got the trade issues out there, all of those things. What I would encourage you to do is this. We have an excellent website, USDA.GOV, very easy to remember. You go on that website, you'll see our Farm Bill Forum place where you can click on. Please stay in touch with us. We want to hear from you. We want to hear from these young people.
My hope is that in every FFA program in the United States young people are talking about this and sending us ideas, e-mailing us, getting on our website. But I say that also to our farmers and our ranchers across the United States. If you don't like to mess around with the computer, that's fine. Send us a letter. Somehow let us know what you're thinking about.
We really appreciate that input, and we believe it will be very helpful as we start to formulate our thinking about the next Farm Bill.
Then finally, the role of the administration. You're absolutely right-- it's been about 20 years since the administration actually submitted a specific proposal on a Farm Bill, specific legislation. We're going to a lot of effort here. I have some pretty strong feelings and passion for agriculture. That's where I grew up. I do intend to do everything I can to be directly involved in the Farm Bill.
Still a few months away from us deciding whether we will submit an actual piece of legislation, but that's possible. Under any circumstances though, with the support of the President we do intend to be very actively involved, not only in approaches but in the discussion and the debate about what this farm policy should look like.
So very important, we ask you to stay in touch with us. Let us know what's on your mind.
And then finally to our moderators, I thought they did a great job, kept us on track. Thank you very much.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.