Testimony of Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman's remarks to the National Association of State Depatment's of Agriculture February 25, 2002 Washington D.C. | USDA Newsroom
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Release No. 0077.02
Printable VersionPrintable Version
USDA Office of Communication (202) 720-4623

Secretaryof Agriculture Ann M. Veneman’s remarks to the National Association of State Department’s of Agriculture
February 25, 2002 Washington D.C.

SECRETARY VENEMAN: " Thank you all very much. Thank you so much. It's great to be back with NASDA, again. I really look forward to meeting with this group. As was mentioned, I have been to quite a few States this year. I've had a chance to see many of you in your own States, and I think we just crossed over the halfway mark on our way to trying to do all 50. Maybe we'll make it soon, but it's not without a lot of effort. I'll tell you, traveling is tough these days.

"What I want to do today is have a fairly informal session. I want to go through a few of the things that we're working on and then have some time for your questions and answers and really have some time for discussion because I figure that that's probably the most productive for all of us.

"I did have the chance to meet with some of your governors yesterday, some of the folks and western governors. I was telling Sheldon I heard about roof rats, wild horses, and prairie dogs, and all kinds of APHIS issues I think. So it was kind of interesting. It was mostly a natural resources kind of meeting, though.

"We, of course, have had a very, very, very busy year for our first year in office, and I really, really appreciate all of the support that we've gotten from our State partners. It's been a critical part of what we do, and we truly appreciate the fact that we're able to work with so many of you and your staffs as we move forward on a number of critical issues.

"When you look back at the kinds of things we face this year, from the threat of foot-and-mouth disease, and BSE being out there, and then we had Starlink corn, and citrus canker, and glossy- winged sharpshooters, and Asian long-horned beetles, and the list goes on and on, and all of these are things that really underscore the importance of Federal-State partnerships.

"Then, of course, we had the events of September 11th, and I haven't met with this group as a whole since then, but now our partnerships are even more critical than ever. So I want to thank each of you for your personal involvement and commitment to make our program stronger and to work with us so that we can be more efficient and better coordinated because, as you know that is how we're ultimately going to be able to protect our food supply.

"In some of the visits I have had throughout the States, we have had the opportunity to highlight Federal-State partnerships. I was in Texas with Susan Combs not long ago, just earlier this year, in San Angelo, and we highlighted the partnership that we have in boll weevil eradication with the Federal and State Governments, as well as the homeland security issues.

"Earlier or last year I was in Iowa with Patty Judge, where we signed a CREP agreement, and we've done that with a number of your States. But those, again, are critical partnership, Federal-State partnership opportunities that we have and we'd like to see more of as we move forward.

"So I want to talk, to some extent, about partnerships today, but first let me give you an update on the farm bill. I know that you're going to have a discussion later on, I think, with--is Chuck Connor coming today? And he'll probably go into more detail, but I wanted to give you an overall update.

"We have now, as you know, entered into conference on the new farm bill. In the past several months, we've been working with Capitol Hill and trying to achieve results on a good farm bill. In September, we published our book, "Food and Agriculture Policy: Taking Stock for a New Century." Hopefully, all of you got a copy of that. I think we sent it out to everyone.

"Then, in November, we announced the administration's support for the Cochran-Roberts bill, which we feel best meets the principles and the objectives that the President has put forward for a new farm bill.

"So, as we go forward in campaign finance, Hunt Shipman, from our staff, and Chuck Connor are going to be the day-to-day contact points in the conference, along with many, many technical people from our various agencies who are already beginning to work with staff on the conference. It's a very, very long and difficult process, particularly given the fact that there are so many differences in the farm bill. I know that Mr. Connor will have time to talk with you about some of that today.

"Let me just quickly go through the principles, as outlined many times by myself and by the President. We want a new farm bill that provides a safety net for our farmers, but does not encourage overproduction thereby depressing prices which, as we all know, is self-defeating.

"We are hopeful that we will see farm savings accounts, another kind of risk management tool for farmers and ranchers, which would complement the more traditional programs.

"We want a farm bill that's consistent with our international obligations. In other words, we have certain commitments that don't--our WTO commitments, keep in mind, do not keep us from supporting our farmers. It's not a matter of how much, it's a matter of how. And so we want to make sure that our programs are as consistent with the so-called "greenbox" policies as possible.

"We want a farm bill that helps farmers and ranchers address environmental concerns. As you know, both the House and the Senate bills have more money than ever for environmental programs, and so we think this is a positive step forward, and I know that Mark Rey is going to be here visiting with you on a panel later today and will probably talk more about the specifics of some of these provisions that have been discussed.

"Finally, the farm bill should adhere to the budget agreement. As you know, the House and the Senate Budget Committees both agreed on an amount over baseline for 10 years of $73.5 billion. They agreed to that last year. The administration then, in the 2003 budget, reflects that number. Now you may think, well, of course, it reflects that number, but our budget people have told me this is the first time they have ever seen an administration put in a number for a farm bill before the farm bill is passed. So I think that shows a real commitment on the part of our administration to this farm bill and the funding for it.

"We do have concerns, however, about the front-loading, the so-called front-loading of the Senate bill, which would spend substantially more amounts of that money over the first five years, thereby undermining the baseline for the out-years. And so we want to make sure that the money is spread out relatively evenly over the 10-year period.

"Then, of course, one of the difficult things and a top priority for us this year is going to be farm bill implementation. Never an easy task, and the fact that there are so many new kinds of provisions being discussed in the farm bill means, of course, that this is going to be a lot of work for our folks, and they are already anticipating new programs. In preparing for that, I've had the opportunity to go out and meet with our employees in Kansas City, where a lot of this work is done, and they are preparing, as we speak, in our FSA rural development and NRCS, in particular, for the implementation of the new farm bill.

"As I mentioned earlier on, one of the things that we've dealt most specifically with over the past year is something that involves all of you probably the most, and that is protecting our agriculture against pest and diseases. I mentioned many of the challenges we face this year. Obviously, last year I know when I met with you in May, we were in the midst of dealing with foot-and-mouth disease. We had many of your State veterinarians in, worked with them. Again, appreciate the good work of the veterinarian from California, who was loaned to us to help us out on this.

"We've dealt with Karnal Bunt again, Starlink corn, citrus canker, clementines and the issue that came up with live Med fly larvae, and we had to cut off Spanish clementines.

"We released our BSE Harvard Risk Assessment report, which I think was a real achievement, a 3-year study, that shows that the risk of getting BSE in this country is very low, and if we were to get it, the likelihood of it spreading was very low because of the precautions we've already taken, and we are going to continue to take further actions as the science becomes more and more clear.

"I applaud all of you for everything that you've done in your States, particularly since September 11th. Many of you now have new programs where you're looking at the security of the food system. You have websites with specific measures. We, too, are working with the entire food chain to determine how we can best achieve homeland security from the standpoint of our food supply. It involves everything from production to processors to transportation to retailers. Everybody in the food chain is involved in this effort. The trade associations are. I know farmers are much more vigilant, particularly livestock farmers who are not letting as many people come onto their properties these days. And so we've made strengthening all of these programs a top priority even before September 11th, but now after September 11th we have to worry about not only unintentional threats to our food supply and our agriculture, but intentional as well.

"Deputy Secretary Moseley is going to be speaking with you tomorrow, and he will talk in more detail about our homeland security efforts. He's doing a great job in heading up our Homeland Security Council at USDA and working with many of the groups.

"Our fiscal year 2003 budget calls for an additional $146 million in new spending for homeland security efforts through USDA, with particular focus on the APHIS areas. Our staffing for the Ag Quarantine Inspection Program will be increased to nearly 4,000 staff years in fiscal year 2003 if our budget is approved. This would be a 55-percent increase from staff levels at the beginning of 2001 and the highest levels ever. So we are taking these issues very seriously.

"In addition, we got $328 million in the Defense Supplemental Appropriations Act, largely due to the efforts of some in the Senate, particularly Senator Roberts, who has been very strong in pushing for homeland security efforts on the part of USDA.

"These resources will invest in critical areas, additional inspectors, new computer technologies, X-ray equipment, dog teams, research and renovations at our key laboratories to help improve the strong systems that we already have in place.

"Last year we provided States nearly $2 million in additional resources for homeland security efforts, and in the coming weeks, we're going to be looking at some State resources out of the homeland security money that we have obtained from the Defense supplemental appropriations. Our team is putting together the parameters, and we hopefully will have some information out to you in the fairly near future.

"I, also, want to tell you that we're working, the President in his State of the Union the other day talked about a Freedom Corps initiative. One of the things that we are looking at is the possibility of adding veterinarians into that effort, based partly on that experience with sending veterinarians to the U.K. during the foot- and-mouth crisis, it occurred to us that veterinarians would be an appropriate group of people to add to the Freedom Corps initiative. So we will be looking at that as a possible partnership with the new Freedom Corps initiative that the President announced.

"Now I also want to talk for a few minutes about trade because, obviously, that's what I was listed on the agenda as talking about today, but I felt I needed to update you on a few other things as well. As you know, trade continues to be critical to the agriculture in our country. It's critical to the agriculture in almost all of your States. We grow so much more than we can consume in this country, and we have to continue to open new markets so that we can continue to have outlets for our product.

"In the past year, we launched a new round of trade negotiations in Doha. It was not an easy task, particularly, after the failed meeting in Seattle, but agriculture was high on the agenda. We were able to maintain the language that we believe needed to be there, and so we are very hopeful, as we go forward with the new WTO agenda, that we will be able to make significant additional market openings and reducing of trade-distorting subsidies as a result of new negotiations.

"We've also worked hard on trade promotion authority. It passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming one-vote margin. Now we are hoping that the Senate will vote as quickly as possible on trade promotion authority so that we will have that additional credibility at the negotiating table, whether it's on bilateral agreements or regional agreements or the WTO itself.

"We were in Canada, in Quebec City, for the Summit of the Americas, where we launched the Free-Trade Area of the Americas, and we've continued to fight, particularly to open up markets, but we have encountered a number of issues over the past year relating to sanitary and phytosanitary issues involving trade.

"We continue to fight biotechnology regulations and nonapprovals in the European Union, and we haven't ruled out filing a WTO case. We are very involved now in the biotech regs that are pending in China and even the President raised this on his trip there last week.

"Just last Friday, we announced that the poultry market to Japan is again open, after about a month or longer trade dispute that was, in our view, completely unjustified due to avian influenza, which is not even a reportable disease under the OIE.

"Wednesday, we were able to announce that after a 10-year negotiation, we have gotten at least partial market opening for our table grapes into Australia.

"And just a week or so ago the administration announced its decision to pursue actions regarding the unfair trading practices of the Canadian Wheat Board which, as you know, is a State trading enterprise.

"We need to think, also, we often hear people talk about trade in the sense of, well, you know, we're just not sure about trade. We're not sure about trade agreements. But I would encourage all of you, as you talk to your farmers and ranchers, to remind them how much they depend on trade, how much we export in this country and how much we stand to lose if we were to lose our export markets.

"We export 50 percent of our wheat. This year we're going to export over 50 percent of our cotton, it's projected, about a third of our soybeans, 20 percent of our corn, meat and poultry, increasing amounts all of the time, up to 20 percent of our poultry now. And then there are specialty crops, where we export tremendous amounts of what we produce. I think in almonds, which are all produced in California, we export over 70 percent of what we produce, a billion-dollar-export market. People are often surprised by that.

"But the fact of the matter is we cannot, we cannot ignore the importance of trade to the U.S. agriculture industry. It is critical. We have seen in recent years, as we have stayed by the sidelines in negotiating new trade agreements, other countries negotiate bilateral and regional agreements, and we sometimes get left behind. I like to use the example of the Chile-Canada free trade agreement. We've been talking about a free trade agreement with Chile for over 10 years. Canada negotiated one, and now Canada has a preferential tariff and is taking our markets in both wheat and potatoes, certainly, not an acceptable situation. We also hope, as I said, that we do get Trade Promotion Authority as quickly as possible.

"One of the other things I wanted to talk about just before I close today is a new initiative that we launched just a few weeks ago, when I was in Ohio with Fred Daily, and we were at Ohio State, and we spoke to the ag class there at the university, and we launched an initiative called Leaders of Tomorrow, where we are really reaching out to young people who will be the industry of tomorrow.

"Whether it's ag universities and going around, and we hope to speak to several ag universities this year, and then as we travel around the country, we are trying to have with us "mentees" from 4H and FFA to be with us for the day, to be on the stage with us, to go to the various events to see what a Secretary does as we're out traveling around, and it's just been quite an extraordinary experience.

"When we were in Ohio, I had four young women who were with me, all leadership in FFA. Thirteen of the sixteen leadership positions in FFA in Ohio are held by young women. The Ohio Corn Growers gives the president an ethanol car for the year of the presidency. So I was driving around with these young women all around Columbus, Ohio, and it was really quite an experience for them and for me.

"This is also the 100th anniversary of 4H and the 75th anniversary of FFA this year. So we're going to be doing a number of events in conjunction with those, highlighting not only the importance of these two organizations, but tying it in with our Leaders of Tomorrow initiative as well.

"As I said at the Ag Outlook Forum on Thursday, we know that it's been a tough and challenging year on many fronts. The current climate for agriculture has been hampered by natural disasters, it's been hampered by September 11th, a slowed U.S. and world economy, continued slow growth and demand for ag products, generally, but we do believe the future looks positive, and we do need to seize the opportunities that are before us.

"There are many aspects of the food chain, whether it's farmers, ranchers, processors, distributors, policy makers and many others are actively engaged, and I know all of you are, in making agriculture grow and thrive in this country. It is a changing food system. Consumer needs and a consumer-driven system, new product development, value-added technology advances, food safety, bio energy, these are all examples of the kinds of changes we're seeing, and they are all impacting the way that we do business, but they are all providing tremendous opportunity for the future.

"We want to continue to build the strong partnerships we have with our States. We need to build on our successes so that we can advance all of the important issues that are impacting agriculture, and I believe that our relationship and our partnership with the States is now more important than it ever has been before, so we want to continue to build that relationship. You are all critical to the success of American agriculture, so we look forward to continuing to work closely with you.

"I want to thank you all, and I'll be happy to answer a few of your questions or hear your comments."

Thank you.

[ Applause.]