|By DAVE BLOWER JR.
Farm World Editor
DILLSBORO, Ind. — USDA Secretary Mike Johanns came to a small southeastern Indiana community last week to help campaign for Rep. Mike Sodrel (R-Ind.), who is the newest member of the House Ag Committee.
Sodrel replaced John Boehner (R-Ohio), who became the House Majority Leader earlier this year.
Sodrel is a freshman Congressman facing his third campaign against former Rep. Baron Hill, a Democrat from Seymour, Ind. Hill, who represented Indiana’s 9th District for six years, defeated Sodrel in a 2002 election. Sodrel came back to win in 2004 by approximately 1,500 votes.
Johanns’ visit was a public forum on federal farm policy that included Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman and Indiana Ag Director Andy Miller, among other local officials. However, the USDA chief did make it clear that he is pulling for his fellow Republican to win in November.
He said Sodrel will be a good advocate for Hoosier farmers and a valuable member to the House Ag Committee.
“I was very pleased and excited to hear that Congressman Sodrel was going to join the committee,” Johanns said, adding that he officially can’t ask for specific lawmakers to be added to the committee.
Johanns praised the efforts of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels in the state’s quest to become a global leader in renewable fuel production.
“Your state, ladies and gentlemen, is unnatural in its pursuit to become a renewable fuels production leader,” Johanns said. “It is really quite impressive.”
Skillman said Indiana is America’s fourth-largest soybean-producing state and fifth-largest corn-producing state, but until recently, had few ethanol or biodiesel production facilities. Skillman added that prior to May 2005, Indiana didn’t have any ethanol retail pumps - now the state has dozens with more on the way.
“In a relatively short period of time, we’ve gone from nowhere to being a leader in renewable energy,” she said.
Sodrel said federal farm policy must work together with what state governments are trying to accomplish.
“Biofuels are not only good for our farmers, not only good for our economy and not only good for creating new jobs in Indiana, but it is also good for our county and its national security,” Sodrel said. “Eventually, we should be weaning ourselves off of oil altogether and reducing our dependence on foreign energy sources.”
Sodrel said America needs to pursue other sources of energy besides soybean-based biodiesel and corn-based ethanol. “No one thing is going to solve our energy problems or make us energy independent,” he said. “It’s going to take everything working together to help us reach our energy goals.”
Next farm bill
Johanns said U.S. farmers are productive and efficient. But those traits have also created large supplies, which have hurt grain prices.
On average, he reported, U.S. farm production grows by 2 percent each year.
“We are producing more than we are consuming, and we are more productive than our population is growing,” he said.
The Secretary believes that increasing exports and finding new uses for these farm-based products will help U.S. farms to become more profitable.
“Renewable energies will have a significant impact on the ’07 farm bill,” Johanns said.
He added that the United States exported more than $67 million in farm goods in 2005, which set a new record.
“Market access is crucial to the future of America’s farmers,” Johanns said.
He said the details of the 2007 farm bill are not in focus. Johanns said the next farm bill must be “predictable, equitable, and it has to be beyond challenge.”
Johanns said it may include more incentives for market-driven income opportunities for producers. Sodrel concurred, “I have talked to a lot of farmers in recent months, and none of them want to work for a government handout. They want to earn their living from the market.”
This farm news was published in the June 7, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.