WASHINGTON, D.C. -- USDA has completed a summary of the public comments submitted orally and in writing during USDA's Farm Bill Forum listening tour. The summaries will serve as a basis for USDA policy review and analysis in preparation for the 2007 farm bill.

The summaries and transcripts of the Farm Bill Forums are available online. A letter from Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns about the forums and a list of the summary topics are here.

"The best way to understand the challenges and opportunities in agriculture is to listen to the people whose lives are affected by the policies we enact," Johanns said. "I'm very grateful to all those who shared their opinions. Our personnel worked hard to ensure every opinion expressed is represented in these papers, which will serve as the basis of review and analysis as we prepare for the next farm bill."

The effort to categorize the comments, while ensuring every opinion is represented, led to the development of 41 general subject areas. These formed the basis for the 41 summary papers. Each paper includes three sections: factual background data about the topic, a summary of general opinions expressed, and a list of specific suggestions that were conveyed. These papers are strictly summaries of the opinions and suggestions of those who submitted public comment.

Johanns said the next step for USDA in preparing for the 2007 farm bill is to glean from these summary documents a number of themes that warrant further analysis. The analysis of each theme, which will be led by USDA Chief Economist Keith Collins, will contain factual, unbiased information. Each analysis paper will be posted on the USDA web site when it is completed.

"I said at the outset of our nationwide tour that I hoped for an open, honest exchange of ideas about future farm policy and thousands of people responded to that request with thoughtful, candid comments," said Johanns. "My direction is to be very open and transparent about the analysis phase of our farm bill preparations. My hope is that each analysis paper can help to narrow the focus of our national conversation about future farm policy."

The first theme will be risk management. The public comments offer a broad array of ideas about how to best manage the risks associated with agriculture. Johanns noted in selecting risk management as a good first topic for analysis that farm businesses must manage risks effectively to be economically sustainable.

Risks range from production losses due to weather or diseases, to shifts in product demand, to surges in production costs. Crop insurance, price and income support programs and ad hoc disaster assistance have been the primary federal financial tools to help producers manage risks and were the subject of repeated concerns throughout the comments.

Johanns and the leadership of USDA traveled the country last year to hear the opinions of producers and other stakeholders about future farm policy, receiving more than 4,000 comments. In total, 52 forums were conducted in 48 states, all but Mississippi and Louisiana, where the focus during this period was on hurricane recovery.

Johanns hosted 21 of the forums, participating in 66 hours of listening. Many people offered their comments orally during one of the 52 farm bill forums, while others submitted comments through the USDA web site or traditional mail.

The summary papers announced today are available on the USDA website at www.usda.gov. Transcripts of the Farm Bill Forums are also posted there.

SOURCE: USDA news release.