|By DAVE BLOWER JR.
Farm World Editor
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — For approximately three hours for Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman and USDA Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner, the USDA’s Farm Bill Forum in the Farm Bureau Building at the Indiana State Fair was more like the “listening session” format the USDA had originally planned.
Conner and Skillman offered few answers but patiently listened as a long line of farmers, agribusiness leaders, commodity checkoff representatives, government employees and anyone else with a stake in the next farm bill campaigned for more or continued funding on a variety of programs.
At the end, though, Conner admitted that additional funding for the farm program is not likely.
“A lot of people presented programs that are being funded by the farm bill, and there were those who are seeking funding,” Conner said. “I think it would be unfair for me to say that everything asked for during this Listening Session would be fulfilled.
“There will not be new resources in the new farm bill. In fact, we’ll be lucky to get the same resources that have in the current farm bill. Prioritizing is going to be a very difficult thing.”
Conner said it is too early in the process to say what the size of the 2007 farm bill will be, and it is not yet possible to guess how much certain programs will be funded.
“The (current) farm bill was extremely generous, and it should have been,” he said. “The new farm bill is not going to build on the increases we gained last time.”
Public comments to Conner and Skillman were mostly tied to six questions that the USDA is seeking input. The questions include:
•How should farm policy address any unintended consequences that discourage the next generation of farmers from entering production agriculture?
•How should farm policy be designated to maximize U.S. competitiveness and our country’s ability to effectively compete in global markets?
•How should farm policy be designed to effectively and fairly distribute assistance to producers?
•How can farm policy best achieve conservation and environmental goals?
•How can federal rural and farm programs provide effective assistance in rural areas?
•How should agricultural product development, marketing and research-related issues be address in the next farm bill?
Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock said farm incomes must increase as the USDA seeks ways to encourage young farmers into production agriculture.
“Our 401K is our land, so we must maintain the value of the land while making it possible for young farmers to move into agriculture,” he said.
Villwock added that the elimination of the “death tax” would also help producers pass down farms to their families.
Conner said President Bush agrees.
“I can’t tell you enough how President Bush believes that death should not be a taxable event,” Conner said. “(Bush) wants to see it permanently repealed.”
New Indiana Beef Cattle Assoc. Executive Vice President Julia Wickard touted conservation programs.
“We strongly believe that the next farm bill should focus on enhancing and fully funding programs like the Grasslands Reserve Program, the Conservation Security Program and the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program,” Wickard said. “These programs should be producer friendly, farmer-led and should not dictate to the producer how to use their land.
“We also believe that for agricultural product development to be successful, that government should allow the industry to be the leader. For example, the issue of animal ID - the industry has the resources, initiative and must live with the program; therefore, allow the industry to design, build and manage it.”
The USDA expects to have more Farm Bill Forum meetings in other areas of the country. Producers interested in making comments to the USDA, but may not be able to attend a Forum, should go to the department’s website at www.usda.gov/farmbill