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TRANSCRIPT OF REMARKS BY AGRICULTURE SECRETARY MIKE JOHANNS TO THE INFORMA ECONOMICS CONFERENCE APRIL 10, 2007
SEC. MIKE JOHANNS: Well, thank you very much, Bruce, and I thought it was an excellent review of farm bills. I found it very, very interesting. So I appreciate that historical perspective. Ladies and gentlemen, it's great to be back. I have a few comments I'm going to make here, try to keep it as informal as I can, and then what I'd like to do is just open it up to you, any questions you might have relative to anything that's on the table.
Well let me start out and say it's a pleasure to be here. I notice that your topic is the 2007 Farm Bill, Policy Evolution or Revolution? I might offer a thought on that just to get started. It seems to me that the biggest difference between evolutionary change and revolutionary change is the speed with which it is accomplished. Well, I have to tell you, I've been working on the Farm Bill pretty well nonstop since I came to this office in February 2005. It's been two years of pretty intense, dedicated effort by the USDA, and we still have a ways to go to the finish line.
So the pace may seem to be more evolutionary just simply because we've been working on it a long time. I really enjoyed the time we spent developing the Farm Bill proposals. Maybe that's why we take jobs like this is you're interested in policy and for somebody who grew up on a farm this is the epitome of the opportunity to actually work on a Farm Bill in a period of time when you're Secretary of Agriculture for the United States.
We've heard some great things as we've been out across the country. We've heard the excitement about the growth of renewable energy, we heard a tremendous support for our Rural Development programs wherever we went, and just didn't seem to matter what part of the country we were in. People would get up to the microphone and just praise our Rural Development programs.
We heard a desire for continued focus on conservation – criticism here and there, but by and large people liked these programs. I guess if there was anything we heard about Rural Development, Conservation, people really wanted us to try to find more money to do more. We heard about the importance of trade. We heard about the fact that American farmers are willing to compete in the international marketplace.
So what we've come up with is a package of market-oriented reforms for current agricultural policies that I believe very strongly may preserve a safety net while allowing us to commit more resources to emerging priorities like trade and renewable energy.
I think in the end our proposals just result in a better Farm Bill, a Farm Bill that's going to operate better for farmers while putting money into focused areas. We heard out there farmers and stakeholders wanted us to invest. Because of new commitments like these, our Farm Bill proposals would actually deliver about $5 billion more in supporting producers than they would have received if the Farm Bill of '02 were to simply have been reauthorized.
I spoke to the Farm Bureau convention right before we released our Farm Bill proposals, and I reminded them about a year ago they had taken a position that they would be happy with the reauthorization of the Farm Bill. Then I went on to quote that great American philosopher, Garth Brooks, who said, Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. Actually, our Farm Bill is $5 billion better than simple reauthorization of the '02 bill.
Yet because of deficiencies realized elsewhere, we still save about $10 billion just in terms of raw numbers of spending in the '02 Farm Bill versus what we'd just be spending under our proposals. It fits most importantly with the President's plan to balance the budget and to eliminate the budget deficit by 2012.
I will tell you that in the weeks since we produced our proposal I've been enormously encouraged by what we've seen on Capital Hill. Think about this. In the last two months since our rollout, I testified three times before congressional committees. Chuck Conner, our deputy at the USDA, along with our senior officials at the Department, had testified six more times. So all in all we testified nine times on our Farm Bill proposals. That's a far cry from anyone saying dead on arrival! And we're very happy every time we get an opportunity to go up to the Hill and offer testimony.
Probably as much as anything the important thing going on is that Chuck, myself, and senior staff have also delivered 22 additional informal briefings to members and their staffs on various aspects of our Farm Bill proposals. This is the kind of thing that you're not going to pick up in your favorite ag publication and read the headlines that we were just up there again. But there's enough interest where we keep getting invited back over and over again to talk to staff or members on the Hill.
So it's probably an understatement to say we're certainly pleased by the response. For me what it shows is that our ideas are being taken seriously in this Farm Bill debate, and that our ideas are being given careful consideration.
From a budgetary standpoint, that's been all the talk for the last couple of weeks is budget and reserve funds, and this, that and the next thing. From a budgetary standpoint, I believe our proposals have the advantage of being realistic and straightforward and responsible. As you know, the budget resolutions that were recently passed by the House and Senate last month include reserve funds of $20 billion and $15 million respectively. These funds would increase spending on 2007 Farm Bill programs above the Congressional Budget Office baseline.
Now that is going to sound appealing to some farm state legislators. The question though fundamentally is this: is the money there? Is the money going to be there in the final analysis?
Now, reserve funds have been used to a limited extent in the past, but in most cases they were funds that were actually set aside. You could literally go and money was there. This year nearly 50 reserve funds have been created by House and Senate budget resolutions. Ladies and gentlemen, if you had any impression whatsoever that Ag stands alone on the top of the mountain as the only thing that is loved and beloved on the Hill, then I am very sorry that the essence of my speech today will be to have disabused you of that notion. There are 50 other critters like this out there.
Now these special reserves I hesitate to even call them funds because they're not funds. They're a concept, they're a reserve, range in a lot of program areas. Let me if I might offer a perspective of what agriculture is competing with, again not with funds but with this concept of reserve. Agriculture will be competing with veterans health care, to middle income tax relief, and a whole host of other very, very important needs that I could list item after item and take up all the time I have reserved for my comments.
It is important to know however that all these reserve funds will be competing against each other for a share of the federal budget, and at the moment all of them are not funds. In fact, they are unfunded. The money is not there.
The budgetary discipline that the new Congress has adopted calls for offsetting any use in any of these reserve concepts with revenue increases. How popular is that? When you talk about revenue increases when I was governor of Nebraska, I would be reminded immediately that that was a fancy way of saying "tax increases." Or program cuts and on both sides of the aisle the commitment has been publicly made that the overriding goal is achieving a balanced budget within five years. No easy task.
I think everyone no matter what their political persuasion wants to see Congress succeed in that goal. I don't care which party stripe you carry, balancing the budget is a very laudable goal. And on both sides of the aisle they have fallen into that concept. At the moment it is hard to see how increases of $15 to $20 billion in spending on agriculture can be offset somewhere in the budget or supported by revenue increases. I had the opportunity to govern the state of Nebraska during a very, very difficult fiscal time. How quickly we forget, but I don't think in my lifetime I will forget how difficult those years were. Proposing the cuts that many of us as governors proposed that time made it especially difficult.
I would say to my constituents, you know ladies and gentlemen, in the end balancing the budget is a matter of math, not magic. It really comes down to mathematics, not magic. And the case for a larger federal investment in agriculture must stand up against competing claims from some very, very needy parts of the federal budget. With so many reserve funds competing against each other, I think it's fair to ask, will the money be there for all those reserves? With so many reserve funds competing in this arena and with the goal of balancing the budget within five years, you can see we all have a daunting task ahead of us.
Now in our proposals we provide a pathway to increased funding for renewable energy, conservation, specialty crops, market access, research programs. We do so in a manner that fits within the plan to balance the budget within five years.
Informa came out with its own report on the 2007 Farm Bill recently, and identified the issues it believes must be addressed as a part of this legislation. They included – and please allow me to quote – "how to make agriculture more resilient and competitive for the long term; how to ensure policies that are more consistent with international trade rules; and how to promote equity within the sector."
I applaud you for saying those things. I have to agree with that analysis. It's exactly the conclusions we reached after we were out doing the Farm Bill Forums. In fact, we focused on those very issues as we developed our Farm Bill proposals.
Let me review with you a few steps we'd take to make American agriculture more resilient and competitive in both domestic and international markets. First, if you look at the history of agriculture, what has kept the American farmer at the cutting edge? Research. So we boost our research commitments. Investing in research is crucial for continued growth of the agriculture sector. It is our way of leading the world. We want to expand our capabilities by consolidating our Agricultural Research Service and our Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service into a single agency. We would provide $1 billion over ten years to support a new Specialty Crop Research Initiative that would focus on pests, disease management, food safety, and increased yields for a very fast-growing sector.
We'd also provide $250 million in additional funding for our market access programs to help bring American products to foreign markets, and we'd take a series of other steps to address tariff and nontariff barriers to trade.
Part of being competitive is just simply being a good trading partner. This brings us to Informa's second challenge, creating policies that are more consistent with international trade rules. Now, you know the story. Over the last few years our farm programs have come under nearly constant attack. Brazil successfully challenged our export subsidies for cotton, despite a very strong and aggressive defense. Canada, the EU, and other nations are now challenging our cash subsidies for corn. And there's a constant threat of a challenge against our rice program.
Now let me be very clear. As I always say, we're going to aggressively defend these programs. Make no mistake about it. But it just makes sense that we have better trade policies. We'd like to tout the idea that we're creating a safety net for farmers. I asked the question, Is it a safety net to pass a program that paints a bulls eye on the back of the American farmer? Is that the kind of safety net we want to offer them when we understand the rules of trade?
We want to set up our own farm policies, and not have them set by interests from other parts of the world. So another of the major initiatives of our Farm Bill proposals is aimed at reforming our Title I support programs for commodity crops. We want to make these programs more efficient. The taxpayers have a right to demand that. And we want them to function well as safety nets, as they were designed to be. These initiatives stand on their own merits, but they'd also put U.S. producers in a more secure position under international trade rules.
Moving to support that is more market-oriented makes sense to farmers and ranchers too. At our Farm Bill Forums we heard from many farmers that our countercyclical payment programs weren't providing aid in the years when it was most needed. Our system was based on price, but it didn't take into account revenue or yields. So in years where production was low – maybe because of drought – and prices were high, people got no help. But during years of high production, good years where prices were fairly steady, they were getting payments from us, as they told us at the forums, at a time when they really didn't need it.
We propose moving to a revenue/yield-based system to rectify that problem. Now producers will get help when they need it most and planting decisions can be based upon market incentives and not government payments.
We'd also shift to a market-based loan rate for commodity crops that will keep loan rates from exceeding the actual market prices. This way we won't be giving farmers an incentive to plant more acres of a crop that the market wouldn't justify.
This administration also remains committed to opening markets through the Doha Development Round of talks. Reaching an agreement on agricultural subsidies and tariffs is the key to an overall trade agreement in the Doha Round. Once we do that, we open up the Round to negotiations in all areas, manufacturing and services. I can tell you that our Farm Bill proposals just simply work better. We're doing all that we can to bring the Round to a successful conclusion. In fact, you've read that Ambassador Schwab is on her way to New Delhi soon to talk about agriculture and other trade issues with her fellow ministers.
The last challenge that Informa mentioned was making our support more equitable. That was something farmers and ranchers talked about at the forums. They wanted to see more equity in the way we supported different crops and different sized farms. I'm sure you're aware of the figures. Specialty crops are now close to commodity or program crops in terms of market value, but they don't get the cash support. So we decided to expand our support for fruits and vegetables and other specialty crops, and we commit $3.25 billion over 10 years to buy more fruits and vegetables for schools, for schoolchildren, for school breakfasts and lunches and nutrition programs. Kind of hard to argue against that.
To make sure our support is distributed more evenly amongst producers, we're also proposing new payment limits, and we've lowered the cap that already exists on adjusted gross income from $2.5 million annually to $200,000 averaged over three years. As we are reducing some of our support programs, we are simply in a straightforward way boosting others. That's why it's important to examine the proposals as a total unit, a total package. They are designed to complement each other, and they do.
With the savings that will be realized from reducing trade-distorting support, we're making the program work better and will be directed towards an historic expansion of our conservation programs, $7.8 billion, and encouraging the growth of renewable energy with $1.6 billion for research, $2.1 billion for loan guarantee programs. These programs give farmers and ranchers new ways to support their operation. Now they're not tied to price or production.
Unlocking the energy in grasses and woodchips and agricultural waste will help us to meet the goal the President has set for the nation of raising our annual production of renewable fuel to 35 billion gallons a year over the next 10 years. This investment will bring us closer to the day when we buy our energy by the bushel from the heartland instead of by the barrel from the Middle East.
Now that people have had an opportunity to thoroughly review our proposals, we're beginning to get questions on certain aspects of our policy plan. We welcome that opportunity to add clarity to our proposals. For example, some people have expressed concern about how the proposed $200,000 cap on AGI affects farmers. There was an interesting article recently about that, most of which I disagreed with. It just wasn't accurate. First of all, allow me to be clear about some confusion between the difference between gross income and adjusted gross income. To calculate adjusted gross income, 25 different categories of farm-related expenses are deducted from gross income. Then if we didn't happen to catch something that you should deduct in one of those categories, there are literally open lines on the tax returns to write in what you think you should deduct.
Only 2.3 percent of all American tax filers have an AGI of $200,000 or more. And in 2004 only 38,000 tax filers with an AGI of that much or more collected farm program payments. Yet we estimate that the new limit would save $1.5 billion between 2008 and 2017, and I might add we believe that's a conservative estimate.
Those that are arguing that this is going to impact most farmers out there, it's just not possible. It won't.
Also, one banner year should not exclude you from receiving farm payments. We would base our limit on the average income for three tax years, which would take into account atypical fluctuations in income.
Another issue that's been discussed is how our proposed increase in direct payments translates to a more efficient safety net. Well, for one thing you don't have a WTO worry that there's trouble. The other thing is the certainty of direct payments makes it easier for farm management, planning, lending decisions. It's absolutely predictable. Once more because direct payments are decoupled from price and production, they provide no incentive to increase production of any particular product. This helps producers to be more competitive by allowing them to choose to respond to market signals.
The last issue we saw many are concerned about is how our proposed safety net would support producers during times of regional disaster like drought. These proposals were designed to move agriculture aid away from emergency supplemental aid. You can see the history of that, and it just doesn't work very well if you can't take it to the bank. You never know if you're going to get it or not get it. We believe the improvements we have proposed to the Countercyclical Revenue Program and Crop Insurance Program will offer a relatively complete package to guard against these events.
This underscores the point I made earlier, and I'll wrap up with these thoughts. What we've put forth is not a hodgepodge of unrelated proposals but a cohesive plan for farm policy, one that provides a strong safety net yet encourages agriculture to modernize and to enhance its competitiveness.
We have a tradition of coming to a national consensus on farm policy, and I really believe and trust that this year will be no different. I'm confident we can develop forward-thinking policy that transcends mutual and individual interests and work toward the greater good of all American agriculture.
Thank you for your time today.
HOST: We have time for questions, and I'd appreciate when you ask a question to indicate your name and affiliation. I think that's only fair to the presenter.
SEC. JOHANNS: Questions? Yes, sir.
QUESTION: My name is (unclear). This is a question on (unclear). Do you think farm interests will be the next five, 10 years? What (unclear) subsidy is going to be?
SEC. JOHANNS: What do I think the change of subsidy (unclear)?
QUESTION: Do you think the (unclear) will be more or less (unclear)?
SEC. JOHANNS: Okay. I think current events probably give you a pretty good idea of where subsidies are headed. Current indications are they're headed down. Why? Because we've seen stronger prices. You know, $3.50 corn and I could go on down through the other commodities, and all the major program crops – cotton being the exception – we've just seen good, strong prices. Every farmer in America that I've ever talked to, from the time I was a little guy growing up on a farm to today, has told me they want to farm for price. They really want to farm for price. They want to do everything they can to get away from farming for subsidies, government programs. They want to farm for price.
So personally I think investing in programs like Rural Development, research, market promotion, phytosanitary/sanitary issues, buy increase in vegetables, is absolutely the right policy. You know our goal is to hold key farm gates open and keep developing ways of using our products and build that marketplace.
So what I see today is that the program support, this conclusion today at least, this is just simply costing less just simply because prices are higher. The prices are very strong. Other questions? Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, (unclear). You made a statement after the (unclear) support was issued (unclear) you might reconsider, since the number was quite a large number shift in the corn, you made a statement to the effect that you might consider (unclear) for 2008. I don't think you said it, but the intimation was the decisions on early outs for CRP, that sort of thing, you might (unclear). Could you comment further?
SEC. JOHANNS: I made a number of statements. One is, I did not see anything that would change the decision I made for 2007 in terms of early outs, and that was also part of what I just said. Here's what I would offer. This is still a very tight corn market. Looking at our numbers all the way up and down the chart, even with planting intentions that were published recently, this is still a very tight market. The message I wanted to convey is that 2008 we'll take a very close look at how we ended up. You know, the reality of the situation today is, not a single bushel of corn has been put (unclear). All we have today is intentions. We'll see how those intentions play out. Already we're reading the story here and there that maybe people are responding to the intentions. But what I'd say to people out there is, this is still a very tight corn market, a very tight corn market.
We need everything that was in those planting intentions and quite honestly a little bit more; if we can get a bumper crop that would be helpful. I think it looks like it's going to be a tight market in 2008, so that raises the issue of 2008. Do you do a sign-up in 2008? I don't have to make that decision today, and quite honestly I prefer to have better information before I make that decision. Then you have the question of what you want to do with conservation acres in 2008, so you look at them again, and again my preference for 2008 I'd like to have better information. I will have that as we go along. So I think this is one you just review week by week, month by month and year by year. It's still a very tight situation out there.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, James (unclear), (unclear) if you would on the comments on Doha and (unclear) administration and (unclear). (unclear)?
SEC. JOHANNS: I continue to be optimistic about Doha. I believe an agreement is doable. And I've been -- other than Rob Portman, Ambassador Schwab and Bob Zoellig before that -- I'd have probably been as close to this as anyone at the cabinet level. I've sat through many, many hours of negotiation. I believe Doha is doable. But there are some things that need to happen. We need to see better market access. Not only in the developed world but in the developing world. I don't think you can take a position that 95 to 98 percent of its market are going to be closed unless they choose to open it and expect a Doha Agreement to come out of that kind of decision. That would be like saying I think 98 percent of our subsidies are off the table. I'm happy to work with you on the remaining two percent…. It is not going to fly. So my hope is that we continue to push this forward. I encourage the (unclear) and I think it's doable, and if we get market access then we can do some very creative things I believe on our side of the ledger, which is domestic support.
I believe it's a step in the right direction that the activity has increased since the first of the year. I'm encouraged. Not overly optimistic. I know it's tough. But at least we're back at it again.
QUESTION: (unclear) Canada. We are (unclear) number of studies (unclear) show that government policy (unclear portion) has in fact disadvantaged our farmers tremendously. Do you think the new Farm Bill (unclear) in terms of ratcheting back (unclear) disadvantage to farmers?
SEC. JOHANNS: I won't even get into the debate because we've got the corn case going as to whether we'd be disadvantaged in any way. We've always maintained our policies are WTO-compliant. I feel the need to say that. I will say this. We set out to listen to farmers. That was the first step in the process. We wanted them to come and tell us what was working and what wasn't, and we did these Farm Bill Forums in 48 states. I did 21 of them. We did 52 forums. And I will tell you, they were the same in every one. We asked our Farm Broadcasters to publicize where we were going to be, when we were going to be there, and then farmers showed up. We didn't call the local Farm Bureau president and say, we need you to come talk about trade. Nothing was prearranged. The first ones I wondered if anybody would show up. You know? Maybe I'd get there and there would be three people there, and I'd be enormously embarrassed by the response. Very much the opposite happened. People packed these things. We'd have 400, 500, 600 people. In Minnesota we had 1,500 or 1,600 people. Farmers and ranchers and stakeholders showed up to talk to us about farm policy, and it was very informative.
So once again with that information we set out to build an improved farm policy. And we believe that part of good farm policy is access to markets. We expect countries that we deal with to be good WTO partners. And we should expect that of ourselves. And so again, does it make any sense for me to propose a new and revised farm program that puts a bulls eye on the back of the American farmer, that gives them a program that subjects them to the rug being pulled out from under them because of a WTO challenge. I don't think that's good farm policy.
And so, sir, we just kind of started out with the notion, let's do good farm policy, let's put good proposals out there. We didn't write this trying to have the perfect last word on everything. What we did try to do was to do good sound policy, and part of that is we sell a lot of stuff in the international marketplace. Our farmers want that to continue. We believe we can compete in the international marketplace. I believe our proposals work better in that regard.
Somewhere out there somebody's probably going to do analysis and cost this, that and the next thing, but I have to tell you I just believe they work better and I believe yes, they are absolutely where we need to be at this point in time in developing farm policy.
QUESTION: Colonel Haunts (sp) from (unclear). We see environment has become very important, (unclear portion) over the last year in particular, and I was wondering if (unclear) what role you see agriculture playing in delivering (unclear) public policy (unclear) respect of any program (unclear) in terms of helping (unclear) and whether or not (unclear) additional source of (unclear portion) for agriculture products.
SEC. JOHANNS: -- environmental policies?
QUESTION: Yeah. (unclear) agriculture, (unclear).
SEC. JOHANNS: I think they have a very important role. In terms of our conservation programs, we just simply are the largest, plus we propose to boost those by $7.8 billion. There's just some very exciting things going on out there in USDA programs, whether it's wetlands or grassland reserve or conservation reserve, plus like I said the largest boost in spending comes in the conservation title.
The other increase is some of the things you mentioned – biofuels. Ethanol, biodiesel. We have $1.6 billion targeted at cellulosic ethanol. We have $2.1 billion for loan guarantees targeted at cellulosic ethanol, developing that. We have some innovative ideas. We have a proposal, for the CRP that says let's allow a cutting off of conservation ground at a point in time where we're producing cellulosic ethanol. Maybe that cutting can be sold to that cellulosic plant. Now again that's an outgrowth. But we think it's something we should be thinking about. We have some money in the Farm Bill for credit trade. We want to develop that concept for American farmers and ranchers where if a farmer is doing something good on their land, maybe relative to carbon, that they own credits and can trade with the company that needs those credits. We have a proposal that maybe a farmer looks at the next five years and says, "I don't think I'm going to get any countercyclical or loan deficiency payment; I think prices will be high. I'm willing to say I'll forego that if I can get my land in a conservation program."
What we say to that farmer is, "Welcome. Here's the concept. You continue farming that land just like you're farming it, but if you agree with us that you'll do certain conservation activities on the farm to improve the conservation aspects of your farming operation that we'll boost your direct payment 10 percent."
What's the advantage of that? Again, certainty for the farmer. The farmer gets a loan, extra funding to help. Maybe they want to build terraces or something like that, some conservation approach to their farming operation. And again it's WTO-compliant. It's green. That farmer now has a certain safety net for the next five years.
So we've got a number of ideas in our Farm Bill proposals that I think make a lot of sense. Some make a tremendous amount of sense for today, some make some sense further down the road. But that was part of our idea. Let's get people thinking about what might be available in the next generation for farmers and ranchers.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, (unclear). You (unclear)
QUESTION: (unclear) Can you catch us up to date on South Korea and Japan with the beef trade issues, other than the Farm Bill. (unclear) most of your time, timing. Are you optimistic South Korea (unclear) OIE (unclear) and Japan? Will you be meeting with the prime minister when he visits (unclear)?
SEC. JOHANNS: I'm not sure I'll meet with the prime minister because those are probably meetings that are going to happen at the Presidential level. I wouldn't be a bit surprised though if there aren't other members of the delegation that will be meeting, although to my knowledge that hasn't been set. But anytime that somebody is in Washington from Japan I can almost guarantee I'm going to meet with them.
Here's kind of my view of this. The response to the FTA with South Korea on the whole was we've got to see beef moving. Then it was pretty bipartisan response. You heard that from Senator Baucas to Senator Grassley. I think they are absolutely genuinely sincere in saying that, and the problem is going to need to be solved. But the timing is good. Why is the timing good? Because we think will have that classification from the OIE by mid-May and I believe that's an important catalyst for the world. We promote living by international standards, and we're working toward that, the United States. I think that's an important catalyst for Korea, but I also think it's a very important catalyst for Japan.
So I think that gives us a pathway with both countries to solve the problem once and for all under the OIE standards. Certainly South Korea has an interest in trying to get that solved because they'd love to see the FTA approved on the Hill. Japan I think has an interest just simply because I think this is an issue where they want scientific certainty. They are saying that, most recently. The official of Japan said, "We're going to base these decisions on science." That's very reassuring to me. That's what we've been saying should be done. Now we'll have an independent, international group that is highly respected setting the classification for trade with U.S. beef.
So I think this is a great opportunity for us to move it forward. Another thing I'll tell you, I met with our people at USDA and I said to them, I want this to be an opportunity for us to go across the world. We have other partners, not as large – China would be a good example, but I could name a whole bunch of other countries – that it's time for them to normalize trade based upon OIE standards. I propose that if we will do that with them, then they should do that with us.
So we're going to use that classification as an opportunity to try to get this issue resolved, not just with our largest trading partners in beef, but with our smallest. That's our goal.
One last question.
QUESTION: Hi. (unclear) Brownfield Radio Network. There was a recent article in the Washington Post regarding Rural Development program. (unclear) is getting Rural Development benefits and so my question is, is there any concern or interest in (unclear) definition of (unclear) farmer?
SEC. JOHANNS: I read that article. Here's the challenge you run into whether you're a House member or a Senator or you're the Secretary of Agriculture attempting to manage the programs and distribute the funding. Sometimes rural areas are just not black and white. You know you have counties all across the country that are a mixture of urban and rural. You have programs that are designed in kind of a general way to provide economic opportunities in rural areas, and then you get into a county where you've got that mix, and where's the bright line? The bright line is not very bright.
I suspect we will get some discussion. We'll certainly offer whatever information we can to be helpful here to try to get information out in terms of how money is being spent and what we're doing, but again what I would say to you is that we call for advancing rural economic development but sometimes the lines do get awfully gray in that area.
We all wish for a more black and white approach. Sometimes it's just not there, but I'm going to guess it will come out in the debate, but it's very difficult to define. It really gets down to that kind of issue.
I'm going to wrap up with one last comment if I can. I'm going to, Terri get ready here – I'm going to make a little news. I talked about some of the very positive things that have happened in our Farm Bill presentation, and that has been so very encouraging to us. And we have been working up on the Hill, first through the committee process, then the subcommittee process, and then a lot of one-on-one meetings. Not to throw names out there, but many of the meetings we've been asked, do you think at some point you will be offering legislative language? Do you have an interest in offering legislative language? If you have legislative language, we would love to see that legislative language. It has prompted us to go to work on legislative language, and that's what I wanted to share with you today. You are the first group that I've talked to publicly about this. I think it's a very positive and important step, and we literally are working title by title to finalize the legislative language on the proposals that we've made.
We offer that as a help to the folks on the Hill. We offer that with the notion that some of the ideas we've put out there have gotten a lot of attention, and we like that. We're a federal department that when we get invited up to the Hill to testify at a hearing, that's a positive thing. We like that opportunity. So as this becomes available, needless to say we'll put it out far and wide and make sure that you have access to it. I think we're pretty close on some of the titles. I think we'll probably have some legislative language out on three or four titles here probably within the next couple of weeks, and then they'll just kind of come after that, although we seem to be working along at a pretty good pace.
This is kind of the nuts and bolts of farm policy. This isn't a big 30,000 foot view. This is really getting down into the weeds, but we think it hopefully will be helpful, and we offer it in the spirit that maybe it can be helpful as Congress actually sits down and puts pen to the paper and starts writing the Farm Bill.
The other thing I'll say, and this will be the last thought I'll offer, ladies and gentlemen I'm just enormously gifted at the moment because I have some of the best farm policy people at USDA that I think maybe we've ever had. They are just great technicians, they are great thinkers, they are great policymakers, and they have very, very long experience on the Hill, many years of experience on the Hill on both the House and Senate side. As the Secretary, I could not be more gifted in these folks helping me deliver what I hope will be America's Farm Bill, a Farm Bill that works all across the country, works for the whole of agriculture in laying a platform for the future of agriculture.
With that, let me just wrap up and say, it's been a pleasure being here with you today. Thank you for the opportunity.