SALT LAKE CITY, January 8, 2007 - The next farm bill must ensure more equitable support and predictability for farmers and ranchers, while minimizing vulnerability to international challenges on trade issues, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns told Farm Bureau members at the closing general session of AFBF's 88th annual meeting.



"We are looking at all suggestions that have been made," Johanns said. A tremendous amount of input on what the next farm bill should look like has been gathered by USDA, including 4,000 comments gathered during listening sessions around the country.



Johanns noted that in 2000, right before the 2002 farm bill was written, $32 billion, a record high, was paid in farm subsidies. "And yet, the farm economy was far from impressive," he said.



"Currently, that total has dropped to about $20 billion annually and yet our ag economy is far stronger," he said. Johanns cited improved agricultural exports, reduced average debt-to-income ratios, improved crop production and yield, and farm cash receipts that increased for the fourth year in a row as factors that have come into play since the 2002 farm bill went into effect.



"This suggests that increased subsidies do not equate to a strong ag economy," 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 an envelope from Washington."



"We must look at more than just the total dollars. The next farm bill must be broader in scope. We're looking at ways to develop programs that are more equitable, effective and less complex," Johanns said, noting that 60 percent of producers receive no farm program payments.



"It's important that we maintain natural resources to keep the agricultural industry strong. Producers are believers in conservation, but they're facing more regulatory challenges," Johanns said. "We must make sure that producers have the necessary support to comply with program requirements."



The next farm bill is likely to focus more on support for renewable fuels and research that supports technical advancements important to agriculture. Greater support in the next farm bill for young people interested in starting farming and ranching was a common theme among comments received by USDA and is also being considered, according to Johanns.



Source: American Farm Bureau