Transcript of Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman at the National Association of Wheat Growers 2002 Wheat Industry Conference and Exposition Orlando, Florida - January 16, 2002 | USDA Newsroom
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Release No. 0015.02
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USDA Office of Communication (202) 720-4623

Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman Remarks to the National Association of Wheat Growers 2002 Wheat Industry Conference and Exposition

Wednesday, January 16, 2001 - - - : " Thank you so much, Colleen, for that very kind introduction. We really appreciate the job you're doing as the new president of the Farm Broadcasters. You know, Farm Broadcasters came to Washington last year early in my term, and I had the opportunity, and they were very proud to introduce their incoming president, the first woman, as I was being introduced as the first woman Secretary of Agriculture.

"So we really appreciate the Farm Broadcasters and what they do because I think a lot of us don't recognize how much the farm broadcasters give us the opportunity to share a message and to be there to talk to people all over the country, and we really appreciate the job they do. So thank you.

"It is a great pleasure to be here today and to be with all of you need to be with these associations and really compliment the leadership of all of the associations that are represented here today for the work that you do in helping agriculture particularly on issues that we deal with in Washington.

"I enjoyed the opportunity to spend a little quality time outside the nation's capital. For those of us who do work in Washington, it's extremely important to get out and to meet farmers and ranchers all over the country and to have the opportunity to really talk about the issues that are on people's minds. So this is a great experience for me to be with all of you today.

"That reminds me of a story about two members of Congress. They were from the city, and they thought, well, we really need to get a feel for the countryside. So they flew to Kansas, and they rented a car, and they started driving across the fruited plains. And they were driving along, and all of a sudden they saw one of their congressional colleagues, and he was in a wheat field all by himself, and he was sitting in a rowboat.

"So they pulled the car over to the side of the road, and they got out, and they yelled to their colleague, and they said, "What are you doing in that rowboat?"

"And he said, "Well, I heard there were oceans of wheat out here in Kansas, so I thought I'd come out here and do a little fishing."

'Well, the one Congressman in the car turns to the other, and he says, "Well, you know, it's things like this that give Washington a bad name."

"And the other Congressman in the car says, "Yeah. And, boy, if I knew how to swim, I'd go tell him off." (Laughter)

"Like many of you here today, I'm proud of the rural upbringing that I had growing up on a small peach farm in a little town outside Modesto, California. The memories that I have from that are forever lasting, and the values that we have from the farms and ranches is longlasting and really critical to who I think all of us are that are in agriculture. It's the foundation on which our country was built.

"And what I see in farm communities all across the country of people of hope, and faith, and willing to help each other all across this great nation. This was very evident this week, earlier this week, when I traveled with the President through Illinois. We visited the John Deere Manufacturing facility there in Moline, and then in Missouri meeting with farmers at a local feed mill.

"And it was amazing to us to watch to see the patriotism and all of the people all along the way where the motorcade was going and the spirit that people had, waiving flags, just spontaneously like the school kids. It was quite remarkable. Everybody was cheering on the President and showing support for the country in what's been just a very critical time since September 11th.

"And I must say, and of course I'm a little biased, but I just want to ask you, don't you think the President is doing a great job? (Applause)

"I'll take that as a solid yes, and I also want to tell you that the President does send his regards to you.

"He told me especially to thank you for all of the good work that you do, like growing the wheat that goes into make pretzels. (Laughter)

"I traveled with the President on Air Force One on Monday, as we went out to Illinois, and there was a pretzel that fell into the aisleway, and three Secret Service agents fell on it right away. (Laughter)

"When we were examining this issue a little more closely after the incident on Sunday night, and we figured out that the problem with the pretzel was that we believe it might have been made with Canadian wheat. (Laughter) (Applause)

" But, seriously, the President looks great. He was doing great. The incident did not impact him at all.

"During this trip, he was focused on the economy, and trade and particularly the importance of trade and the economy to farmers. When you look back, a lot has changed in the past year, but not President Bush's commitment to ensuring that American agriculture remains a vibrant cornerstone of our nation's economy.

Let me assure you this administration remains committed to working with Congress to complete a farm bill quickly, one that will provide agriculture some certainty and to ensure that our farmers and ranchers have the assistance they need.

"President Bush sincerely believes in bipartisanship when it comes to moving America forward. And in this case, the President has insisted upon a bipartisan bill, a bill that is based on sound principles, one that is generous, but affordable, and is consistent with the congressional budget agreement that was reached last year.

"The farm bill must provide a reasonable safety net for producers without encouraging overproduction, thereby creating lower prices. The farm bill must also support our strong commitment to international trade, and it should strengthen conservation programs to encourage good stewardship on working farmland, and the bill should establish farm savings accounts to help farmers manage risk. This is particularly important for small acreage farmers who sometimes are left behind.

"The administration has supported the farm bill approach in the Senate that's been introduced by two well-respected farm state legislators, Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Pat Roberts of Kansas. Their approach is fair and responsible and would help a broad range of farmers and ranchers across the country.

"And we look forward to the return of Congress next week and hope that we can then forge a bipartisan consensus on a new farm bill. It's a new year, and there are events from the last year that I hope we will never relive. There are lessons that I hope we will never forget. Foremost among them there are no challenges we cannot overcome, as long as we remain alert, tenacious and work together to forge solutions.

"Last year we were threatened by the outbreak of karnal bunt in your industry, but we didn't let that paralyze the industry. We quarantined--there's something going on back here. I don't quite know what it is--we quarantined counties quickly, we provided compensation to producers, we established a team to coordinate a federal-state response to work with the industry, and the same was true when we saw the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and the spread of mad cow disease in other parts of the world.

"Those situations could have been disastrous to our farmers and ranchers had they spread to America's shores. But we were vigilant, we kept our guard up, and we remain steadfast today.

"It's interesting, the last time I had the privilege of addressing this group was at your conference in San Diego, I think, in 1997, maybe 4 years ago or so. And at that time, I was Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and I remember that speech well because it was the first time I'd had the opportunity to speak to the wheat growers since the outbreak of karnal bunt in California and a few other states, something that we had not previously with. And I remember taking the opportunity at that time to talk about the importance of pest and disease programs. Little did I know at that time that they would occupy much of my first year in office as Secretary of Agriculture, nor would I have ever imagined at that time that I would become Secretary of Agriculture.

"I think today we are more focused than ever on these critical kinds of programs. We think more needs to be done, particularly if we look at the next farm bill, to ensure that these types of infrastructure programs are enhanced over the long term. The very livelihood of America's farmers and ranchers depends on it.

"In the past year we have continuously reviewed all of our systems to ensure that they protect against any potential outbreaks, and we have responded appropriately, and we have worked to find ways to respond appropriately should we ever face an emergency.

"We have strengthened our state and Federal partnerships to ensure that protection systems and staffing at the local levels are fully adequate.

"We are constantly examining the best and most responsible ways to accomplish these tasks and keep our safeguards strong and up to date. Whether we like it or not, that's the reality, and most particularly the reality in the post-September 11th world.

"Much has been said about how the world has changed in the past four months. You still hear the word crisis used a lot, as in world crisis, or America's crisis of character. You might be interested to know that the Chinese word for crisis is made of two characters. One symbolizes danger, the other opportunity. And I think we can say the same about American agriculture. Our industry, our way of life, is always in danger. Yet there is a tremendous opportunity as we open up new markets and tear down old barriers.

"That is America's new mission, protecting against danger and seizing opportunity, and we will prevail.

"That's why USDA has been working closely with Governor Tom Ridge and the Office of Homeland Security, as well as other Federal and state agencies, and that's why when the President last week signed the new law bolstering America's defense, it was critical that it included strong commitment to bolstering those security efforts here at home.

"That's what we're doing at USDA. With the bill signed last week, we're increasing spending by more than $300 million to further strengthen food safety and plant and animal tests and disease protection and research.

"We have fully funded our food safety inspection systems and have more than 7600 inspectors throughout the country working to ensure a safe food supply. And we are modernizing our labs and making sure that those facilities are safe and secure because they provide such a service to American agriculture.

"When it comes to our industry, the old adage is true. The best offense is a good defense. But that doesn't mean we can afford to become insular or become latter day fortress America. Opportunity abounds right here in this hemisphere and all around the globe.

"As many of you are aware, this is my second tour of duty at USDA, having also served the first -- under the first President Bush, we called him Bush 41 as opposed to Bush 43. A lot has changed over the past decade, even as the President's last name has not. It's a new century and a new age defined by the internet and instant messages. Farmers now buy inputs over the computer, manage their land with the help of satellite technology, and follow market news on line. We see more opportunity throughout the future.

"I often like to talk about the success of the Dakota Growers Pasta Company. It is the first fully integrated entirely farmer-owned pasta plant and in just eight short years its success and innovation have made it the third largest pasta manufacturer in North America, a real tribute to the -- I see somebody back there must be a member. But a real tribute to what the wheat farmers of this country can do when they come together.

"This company is also understanding the importance of the international marketplace and selling in the export markets.

"When we looked back 10 years ago, America had yet to see the benefits of the NAFTA or of the Uruguay Round that was negotiated under the general agreement on tariffs and trade. Now we're only two years into the 21st century, and yet it's evident that these times are defined by competition. There's competition, you see it every night on the news, freedom versus terrorism.

"There's more competition in the market. It's a global competition for expanding free markets.

"Consider the importance of the overseas markets to us today. As you know, about half of our wheat crop in the United States is sold in the international marketplace. So is 40 percent of all the cotton we produce, a third of the soybeans, and a fifth of the corn. You heard that correctly. Half of the wheat you produce is sold for export.

"I know there are cynics who think that overseas trade is an overblown notion. They say we should be talking instead about how we can help the American farmer, but as the President continues to say, pursuing new trade accords and opening new markets is in the farmers' best interest. Our farmers are the most competitive and the most innovative of anywhere in the world. We shouldn't be afraid to compete, but we must fight hard to open new markets and ensure a level playing field.

"Let me give you an example of why this is so important. A little over a decade ago McDonald's started selling fast food in Chile. But today, if you order a burger and fries in Santiago, odds are that it may not be American wheat in your hamburger bun or french fries made from Idaho potatoes.

"While we, as America, have been talking about a free trade agreement with Chile for 10 years, Canada acted. They now have preferential tariff access into that country, and they are taking market share away from us in wheat, and potatoes, and other items.

"That's simply not acceptable. President Bush and this administration are going to change that so that our farmers aren't left behind and forced to suffer the consequences. But to do that, we need the appropriate tools, and one of those is trade promotion authority. We're hopeful that the Senate will follow the leadership of the House of Representatives and pass trade promotion authority soon after they come back later next week.

"Simply put, trade boils down to supply and demand. We cannot consume what we produce in this country. And there's demand for wheat overseas, so we have to look to open new markets. China, of course, offers great hope, and its entry into the World Trade Organization opens the door to greater markets and more

consumers, particularly the emerging middle class that's growing all around the world, but particularly in China.

"As these new consumers develop and economies improve around the world, they are better able to buy our food products, and I can't think of anyone else who stands to reap those benefits more than the American farmer.

"The International Food Policy Research Institute predicts that by 2020, 85 percent of all new global demand for cereals and meat will be in developing countries. Reaching into these growing markets, getting access to their burgeoning middle-class consumers will be key to expanding U.S. agricultural exports.

"Trade is the future. That's where America's farmers will find growth and prosperity. But as the great football coach, George Allen, likes to say, "The future is now." What we do today to gain greater access to markets not only will enrich your lives, but will provide security to future generations of farmers to come.

"Removing trade barriers around the world is fundamental to the long-term prosperity of the U.S. food and agriculture sector. We must work to get more access to these markets. Why? Because, as each barrier falls, a window of opportunity opens.

"This past year we launched an historic new round of trade negotiations, and agriculture is at the heart of those discussions. We went into the negotiations in Doha seeking to tear down the walls that other countries have built that hurt our farmers, particularly the large export subsidies of the European Union. And we came home with a victory, a solid framework that sets a positive stage for future agriculture negotiations and future wheat sales.

"The Doha declaration sends a powerful signal that the world trading nations support peaceful and open exchange. They reject the closed minds and closed markets that are protectionism. We now have a clear direction and ambitious objectives for agriculture trade reform to substantially reduce tariffs and increase market access, to work toward the elimination of export subsidies and to reduce trade-distorting domestic support.

"One of the more immediate effects, and this is the area of trade and the environment, the Doha agreement closed the door on the use of environmental measures as unfair trade practices. And the entry of China and Taiwan into the WTO, voted on during the Doha meeting, represents a significant milestone in furthering the cause of open markets, rules-based systems for trade, and opportunities for U.S. farmers and exporters.

"The entry of these two countries will boost food and agriculture sales as much as $2.5 billion a year for America's farmers, and that's the kind of progress that we all support. This appeals to us because we are capitalists by practice and competitive by nature.

"Maybe you've heard the story about the Texas farmer who visited one of his counterparts in Australia. This Aussie farmer takes the Texas farmer out into a wheat field, but the Texan isn't impressed. He says, "Texas wheat fields are twice as big and the wheat is twice as high."

"Well, then they look at cattle, and the Texan isn't impressed. They don't raise longhorns in Australia.

"Then, a kangaroo goes hopping by, and the Texan is confused. His Australian friend says, "You mean you don't have grasshoppers in Texas?" (Laughter)

" Today, the world is seeing a different side of the American farmer, the same side that emerged after the two World Wars, when humanitarian aid meant not only repairing cities and roads, but putting food on the tables. Our farmers are prominent in international relief efforts, and wheat, of course, plays a key role.

"Maybe you've seen the pictures of the mounds of white bags of wheat with the big blue USA labels being loaded onto trucks in Peshawar for the journey to Afghan women and children. Wheat just happens to be the traditional food of Afghanistan. And for America, helping others in need is our tradition and our obligation, as the world's Super Power.

"I know that that makes you proud, and you should be. It's your products that's helping that country. It's your work that underscores the good that lies in the heart of this nation.

"Friends, I ask that you think about American agriculture, about its traditions firmly rooted in the past, but just as important is its vast potential in this, the next great American century. What's needed is a cooperative effort. Together we must build a consensus that moves agriculture policy in a direction that is forward-looking in its vision and global in its perspective.

"And together we must pay greater attention to the compatibility of domestic farm programs and our international undertakings and activities, helping our industry at home, while aggressively marketing our goods abroad.

"As we make the choices today that shape the future, let us not forget what worked for the American farmer in the past, the values and principles that sustained us through the good times, as well as through the depths of recession. That means pursuing a course that gives American farmers and ranchers an opportunity for reliable economic growth and sustainable use of our natural resources.

"We can achieve this when Congress returns from recess and do so by passing a bipartisan farm bill that will best help America's farmers and ranchers for the foreseeable future. By working together, there is no challenge that, together, we cannot overcome, whether that challenge is a new solid farm bill or opening global markets.

"The world has changed dramatically since the tragedies of September 11th. Today, America stands firmly united. We are a proud nation, strong and enduring. We care deeply about our fellow neighbors and lend a helping hand when it is needed. I believe, and I know that the President believes, that the American spirit is vibrant in our rural communities in the heartland, where farmers and ranchers work to cultivate our land, to feed and clothe our citizens and those around the world.

"Now it's time to put our national unity to its best use, to liberate the world from its oppressors and here at home to guarantee that America remains the world's standard-bearer of opportunity and prosperity.

"Thank you for your contributions to this great country, and thank you very much for allowing me to be with you today." (Applause)