|Two views of new farm
House ag chairman: Keep it the
Ag secretary: Change subsidies
Bob Krauter Capital Press California Editor
SALT LAKE CITY - The 2007 Farm Bill
will focus on renewable energy, but any
similarities to the current legislation are
yet to be determined, two key figures in the
debate over the legislation said this week.
"We will have a lot of fights getting to where
we need to get," U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson
said, but he predicted few changes from the
current law. "I think the farm bill will look
a lot like where we are now."
Luawanna Hallstrom, a delegate for the
California Farm Bureau Federation, encouraged
changes on AFBF’s policy on immigration and
farm labor during the annual meeting in Salt
Lake City, Utah. Hallstrom, who chairs CFBF’s
Labor Advisory Committee, shared some of the
challenges faced at her family’s tomato farm
near Oceanside, Calif. Next to Hallstrom are
CFBF president Doug Mosebar and first vice
president Paul Wenger. - Elaine Shein/Capital
Peterson, D-Minn., is the new chairman of the
U.S. House Agriculture Committee and spoke at the
annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns,
however, said the 2002 Farm Bill was "good policy
for its time," but economic conditions and
opportunities at home and abroad have changed.
He called for new approaches to the bill that
would wean farmers away from subsidies.
"In 2001, U.S. agricultural exports had declined
five straight years to about $50 billion, but
since then exports have risen every year to $68.7
billion in 2006, and they are projected to reach
$77 billion in 2007," Johanns said.
Johanns suggested that the 2007 Farm Bill should
not focus on a specific monetary level of federal
farm crop supports.
In 2000, federal farm subsidies reached a record
$32 billion, but Johanns reminded Farm Bureau
members that the farm economy was "far from
"If dollars alone are the answer, why did we not
have better performance?" Johanns asked.
Currently, farm support levels are about $20
billion and the U.S. farm economy is much
"This suggests that increased subsidies do not
equate to a strong ag economy," Johanns said.
Peterson, in his 16th year as a member of the
House, pinned the jump in subsidies on the 1996
Freedom to Farm Act, which drove them sharply
higher under the law's core market transition
"It didn't work," Peterson said.
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm
Bureau Federation, said delegates to the national
conference favored Peterson's vision for a new
"If I had to make an assessment right now, I'd say
we're probably closer to the concept expressed by
Chairman Peterson," Stallman said. "What I heard
Secretary Johanns say, and what I heard him say in
the past, is we're going to need some massive
changes. Yeah, we need to figure out a way to
support agriculture, but do it in much different
ways than we're doing now. That's frankly not what
our delegates are saying now."
During their presentations, Johanns and Peterson
made pitches for a greater emphasis on renewable
Johanns said farmers are finding more profit in
growing corn for ethanol production.
"We had 54 ethanol plants in production six years
ago producing less than 2 billion gallons a year,"
Johanns said. "Now we have more than 100 plants
producing about 5 billion gallons and there are
more than 70 plants under construction."
Peterson agreed that the big driver in the new
farm bill will be renewable energy, but said the
farm bill should not limit its focus on corn-based
"To get to where I think we need to be to produce
50 percent of our energy in rural America, we
can't do it with just corn. We will run into the
wall at some point," Peterson said. "The future is
in cellulosic ethanol."
Focusing his comments on what is needed in the
2007 Farm Bill, Johanns, noted that USDA has held
52 listening sessions in 48 states, which
generated 4,000 comments from farmers, ranchers
"We are looking at all suggestions that have been
made," Johanns said. "We've never been in a better
position to develop a program that lets farmers
work for a profit in the marketplace, not in the
mailbox for an envelope from Washington."
Peterson, however, said he has discussed the farm
bill with other members of Congress, especially
those who serve on budget committees in the House
and Senate. Peterson does not expect resistance in
gaining the necessary funds for the new farm bill
given the fact that federal crop payments have
declined in recent years.
One change Peterson supports is a permanent
disaster program. He said Congress will pass a $3
billion disaster bill and hopefully include a
permanent disaster program in the next farm bill.
Johanns suggested that the farm bill writers in
Congress should look at more than total dollars
and develop farm programs that are broader in
scope and take into account the fact that 60
percent of the nation's farmers receive no cash
payments from the federal government.
Bob Krauter is the Capital Press California editor
based in Sacramento. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ag leaders differ on farm
Capital Press Editorial 1/13/07
If comments made this week are any indication,
it will be a long, hot summer in Washington, D.C.,
as Congress and the administration try to hammer
out a new farm bill.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and U.S.
House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson both
exercised their best brand of diplomacy in
speaking before American Farm Bureau Federation's
annual meeting in Salt Lake City, but with a few
exceptions, they appear to be on a collision
course as Congress writes a new farm bill.
First, it should be said that there is some common
ground between the Democrat-controlled Congress
and the Republican administration. The one area of
greatest agreement is renewable fuels, the new
buzzword in the nation's capital. Both Johanns and
Peterson support the continued development of
ethanol facilities in an attempt to cut the
umbilical cord between the U.S. and oil-producing
But here's a number to ponder: 21.93 million.
That's the number of barrels of crude oil the U.S.
uses each day. With 60 percent of that oil coming
from overseas, we'll need a lot of ethanol
production plants built and corn and other
feedstock crops grown to replace it.
Peterson even goes so far as to advocate a program
similar to the Conservation Reserve Program that
would help farmers who grow feedstock crops for
ethanol. He also supports more research into
cellulosic ethanol production, which would use
switchgrass, wheat and rice straw and even wood
Both officials also support conservation programs,
which help farmers afford the cost of setting
aside land in an effort to help the environment.
Beyond that, the common ground - and the specifics
- are few.
Peterson envisions a farm bill similar to the
current law. It would include a provision for
weather-caused disaster relief, but other than
that and the renewable energy provision, he does
not plan to make significant changes.
On the other hand, Johanns cites ongoing World
Trade Organization challenges to U.S. programs as
the basis for his support of different types of
Exactly what those programs are, he didn't
specify, which is going to make the negotiations
between the administration and Congress even more
He does, however, have a point. Canada this week
said it is seeking consultations through the WTO
regarding the U.S. subsidy program on corn. That
program has been the bread and butter for many
"We will aggressively defend these programs, but
there is no denying the fact we are being
challenged on the world stage," Johanns said.
Since 80 percent of the U.S. cotton crop, 50
percent of U.S. rice crop and 75 percent of cattle
hides are exported, Johanns said farmers cannot
afford to lose their foothold abroad.
He also said 60 percent of U.S. farmers receive no
help in the form of subsidies, implying a certain
unfairness to the system.
The main weakness of Johanns' position is the lack
of specifics that leaves one wondering what his
alternative to the current farm bill might look
like. Without specifics, he's just heating up the
Give Peterson credit.
At least he knows what kind of farm bill he wants.