|By DAVE BLOWER JR.
Farm World Editor
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — USDA Secretary Mike Johanns offered a snippet of his recommendations for the next farm bill during his visit to the Hoosier State last week. Johanns was in Indianapolis to speak at the inaugural Grow America Project Summit, and he also addressed the 79th annual National FFA Convention.
The Secretary said last year’s farm bill listening sessions were valuable in gauging the popularity of some of the USDA’s programs.
“In general, our conservation programs are very popular, and our rural development programs, well, they got nearly unanimous support,” Johanns said.
“Our farm subsidy programs generated very mixed reviews. Some producers told us that they’re very happy with the subsidy programs as outlined in the 2002 farm bill. They told us, ‘Don’t change a thing.’ But we also heard from many producers who are very dissatisfied with the uneven distribution of very large amounts of dollars in these programs.”
He said five crops receive more than 90 percent of all subsidy payments. Johanns explained that the new farm bill should be updated to reflect the current status of American farms.
“The fact is, for roughly 70 years we have operated under a basic rural policy matrix that was created during the Depression,” he said. “Back in 1940 … when the first farm bill was written, more than 6 million farms existed in the United States. Today, two thirds of those farms are gone. On the farms that remain - about 150,000, still mostly family-owned and operated, I might add - produce most of our food and fiber.”
Johanns said negotiations with the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization talks could also have an impact on U.S. farm policy.
“The United States put forward a very ambitious proposal about a year ago,” he said. “We offered to reduce subsidies, but we firmly stated that we had to have market access in exchange.
Unfortunately, the European Union and other countries showed no flexibility, and so the stalemate continues.
“Market access is critical for American agriculture. One in three acres nationally is planted for export. One out of every five rows of U.S. corn is planted for export. The fact is that U.S. agricultural productivity is quite simply outpacing consumption in the United States.”
Grow America Project
Johanns along with EPA Administrator Steve Johnson and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels inaugurated the first nationwide Grow America Project Summit, Modern Agriculture and The Public Trust, to discuss the organization’s goals of educating the public on the importance of modern agriculture.
GAP is a national non-profit, member organization committed to providing consumers with objective, science-based facts about food and modern agriculture, helping them make better, more informed choices. It was founded through a grant from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA), a member of the organization’s board.
“The primary purpose of GAP is to bring the entire food system together and reconnect it with the consumer,” said Brose McVey, president of GAP. “To act on this mission will raise and define expectations among the food family, and then communicate that good news to the public.”
GAP leaders claim, due to technical advances in agriculture and the declining number of people who are involved in agriculture and food production, there is a growing divide between consumers and those who produce their food.
Daniels said Indiana has made agriculture a focus of its economic recovery.
“The interests of producers and consumers are exactly aligned in my judgment, that’s certainly our policy in this state,” Daniels said. “More productive, more environmentally sensitive and more quality-of-life-compatible agriculture, which is where technology is taking us, is exactly what Hoosiers and other consumers of food desire. A lack of information, and sometimes disinformation, is what creates a gap in the first place.”
Founding members of the GAP include Monsanto, The National Pork Board, Elanco Animal Health, Countrymark Co-op, ISDA, Fair Oaks Dairy and Maple Leaf Duck Farms.
For more details, visit www.growamer icaproject.org