Transcript of Secretary Of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman USDA Preparing For New Farm Bill Wednesday, January 30, 2002 Savannah, Georgia | USDA Newsroom
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Release No. 0024.02
 
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SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE ANN M. VENEMAN USDA PREPARING FOR NEW FARM BILL
WEDNESDAY, JAN. 30, 2002
SAVANNAH, GEORGIA

SECRETARY VENEMAN "Thank you all very much. I am delighted to be here, although I certainly didn't expect to be here this afternoon. We had intended today to go talk to employees in Kansas City and that would have been my first trip to Kansas City, where we have, as you know--I think some of you are from Kansas City, right, a few of you? Our largest concentration of employees outside of Washington, and I was looking forward to making my first trip there.

"But unfortunately, we had an ice storm, and fortunately, we are now in Savannah, and we're delighted that we were able to divert and be with you instead today. So we appreciate the warm welcome, and we appreciate the opportunity to be with you, and I want to thank all of you for allowing us this time.

"Actually, this is my third trip to Georgia already since I became Secretary. So I've spent quite a bit of time down here. I actually came down here initially with Saxby Chambliss, and met with his farmers, and we are going to have a chance with the congressman from this area, Congressman Kingston, to meet with some farmers this afternoon after we meet with you. So we're delighted we were able to put this all together in a relatively very short period of time, and have this opportunity today to visit with you.

"We wanted to make a trip post-State of the Union, not only to talk about the State of the Union, but to talk about some of the things that we're doing, and we have particularly decided that we wanted to highlight talking with an employee group because we are, hopefully, entering the final stages of the farm bill. We're hoping that we can see a bipartisan consensus in the Senate as quickly as possible, that we can get to conference as soon as possible and work out a farm bill.

"That means that USDA and all of our employees are going to have to be ready to do a lot of hard work to get a new farm bill implemented. We know what it takes. We know that it really takes a lot of hard work on the part of our employees. We know that you've been getting ready for this. We have certain provisions of the various versions of the bill that have some things we know we're going to have to do. I know that FSA folks have been trying to get ready for updating of things like (crop) bases.

"So we want to be prepared when this bill reaches the President's desk, that we can hit the ground running and get it implemented as quickly as possible. We want to do everything we can to help you do that, and we're going to help you prepare to do that.

"So all of this early planning is critical, and we think that it's going to pay off when we do get a farm bill.

"As you know, the President last night, in his State of the Union address, mentioned the fact he referred to needing a productive farm policy -- and he talked about the bipartisanship in working on the domestic priorities of which obviously farm policy is one. We have talked in the administration about what we'd like to see in a farm bill. The fact that we'd like to have a farm bill that provides a strong safety net for farmers and ranchers, that lives within the budget obligations, the budget agreement that was reached by the Senate and House last year, one that is trade compliant.

"We have trade obligations, and we want to make sure that we are implementing the kinds of programs that aren't going to get us into trouble with the WTO, aren't going to subject us to challenge with the WTO, one that--and all the versions of the bill increase conservation programs. And we've really emphasized in our policy book -- that hopefully all of you have seen, that we issued in September. We do emphasize the importance of conservation programs that help farmers and ranchers with working farmland, not just programs that take away production.

"And we also want to make sure that we don't encourage over- production, which, as you all know means lower prices, by the kinds of programs that we implement and that are passed by the Congress.

"We know that the FSA employees really worked very hard to make sure that we could implement last year's assistance bill, the $5.5 million that we got passed by the Congress in early August, the President signed about 10 days later. And I was in Texas. The following day we were issuing the first payment. That's how quickly we were able to do that, so we were very pleased, and we know that it was through the work of employees, particularly in FSA, that we were able to do that.

"So we know that the farm bill's going to be hundreds of times more work than that is, but we want to be ready for the task.

"I wanted to talk for a minute about the State of the Union. Did any of you have a chance to see that last night, or were you all out?

[Laughter.]

SECRETARY VENEMAN: "Closing the bar," she said.

[Laughter.]

"Well, it was quite exciting to be there, I must say, just to be on the floor of the Congress when a speech like that is delivered. And a speech, I must say, that was received in such a bipartisan way. I had a person walk up to me after the speech, and she happens to be a wife of a former member of Congress. She's gone to lots of these speeches, and she said, 'This is truly an historic speech because,' she said, 'I've never seen a State of the Union with such bipartisanship and such a bipartisan response.'

"And I think it was truly a very exciting time to be a part of what was going on in the halls of Congress last night.

"The President really emphasized three things:

"The importance of continuing the war against terrorism. He talked a lot about what we now know from what we've discovered about how widespread some of these groups are, and we need to continue the task. We cannot let up.

"We need to maintain a strong homeland security. And as you know, agriculture plays a very key role in this. We have been very active in Governor Ridge's Homeland Security Council. We need to do everything that we can to protect the food supply.

"I know that those of you who work directly with farmers and ranchers out in the field know how much they feel this now. They're taking every step that they can to make sure that they don't see anything unusual going on around their farms. I know, particularly with livestock farms, they're really beginning to limit access.

"We're working with the whole food chain--production agriculture, people who deal with production agriculture, like veterinarians, the processors, the transportation industry, the retailer. All of this whole food chain has checks and balances within the homeland security area that we all will, and are, playing a part in.

"And so this is a big priority for what we're doing, and we want to maintain very strong protection systems and systems that really are enhanced, because we have strong systems, but we need to enhance our systems. We can't let down our guard. We need to be ever vigilant in these times.

"Tomorrow, actually, I'm going from here to Texas, where we're going to visit some livestock operations and some cotton farms, where we're going to highlight boll weevils, but really to emphasize the importance of those programs, which a lot of people don't talk about very often. But those programs administered by USDA that protect the agriculture that we have in this country, protecting it against pest and diseases, making sure that our food safety is strong, making sure that we have the research that supports all of this.

"One of the things we found out is that we need a lot more science when it comes to some of these new things we're dealing with. We don't have a lot of science around how to detect, for example, BSE. We need new tests. We need new tests to help us with other kinds of animal diseases, new kinds of challenges that we face in these areas. So our research really combines with all of this as part of the overall protection of our agriculture systems, which has now become a real homeland security issue.

"On Monday, the President's budget will be released, and we, in USDA, will be releasing the USDA budget. We are going to call for additional spending for pest and disease prevention, for food safety and for research in these areas I'm talking about.

"We are going to include $131 million in new spending to protect the nation's food supply from pest and diseases, strengthening the food safety programs and supporting the kinds of research activities that I just talked about.

"Specifically, we will be announcing, and this is a preannouncement of that money that will be in the budget, $49 million in an increase for animal health monitoring to enhance the ability to quickly identify potential outbreaks.

As you know, we faced a very serious threat of foot and mouth disease earlier this year. You all saw the pictures on television. It was devastating in the U.K., and we wanted to make sure that didn't happen here. In some ways, we've been dealing with this homeland security all year long.

"So the ability to quickly identify potential outbreaks is certainly a lesson learned from what happened in the U.K. because it got way too spread out before anybody knew about it.

"So these additional resources are going to be used to improve the emergency management system that coordinates and implements rapid response to an animal or plant pest or disease outbreak.

"Then we have $19 million that will be an increase in the agriculture quarantine inspection program for improved point-of-entry inspections by providing additional inspectors, expanding K-9 teams. You know, we use the dog teams. Some of you who come through airports on the international side see our little beagles. Those are very important.

"We have state-of-the-art X-ray machines that we're now using on high-risk points of entry. They're actually using these in Salt Lake City. APHIS has a big part in the Olympics with all of the people coming in looking for any kind of food that might be coming in. So we're going to be increasing funding for that.

"The additional increase in 2003 for staffing of ports of entry amounts to a 55-percent increase over a 3-year period, so that's fairly significant.

"There will be an $11-million increase for programs to expand diagnostic response management and other technical services within the Animal, Plant and Health Inspection Service, $28-million increase to provide record funding for the Food Safety Inspection Service, that is, all of our meat and poultry inspection, and that will include maintaining approximately 7,600 meat, poultry, and egg product inspectors, and it will include $14.5 million to improve the information technology infrastructure and the risk management systems, and $2.7 million for slaughter, epidemiological surveys and risk-prevention activities.

"And then there will be a $24-million increase to support research aimed at protecting the nation's agriculture and food system from attack by animal and plant diseases, insects and other pests and to reduce the incidence of food-borne illness in humans due to the pathogens and other threats to the food supply.

"So all of these are very important and we think will move us forward in a very critical part of what we do at USDA.

"As we move forward in this new year, we have a set of priorities, and first and foremost among those are implementing the new farm bill and working with the Congress to get one passed as quickly as possible. As we said, we hope to get a consensus bipartisan bill. We hope that the Congress will come together and that we can get something as soon as possible.

"Another priority is obviously ensuring the protection of our food systems and our homeland, as I just talked about. We want to continue to open up opportunities for international trade. We grow, in this country, so much more than we consume. We have to have international trade if we're going to have markets for our products.

"You know, sometimes people forget how much we actually export. We export about 25 percent by value of what we produce. We export 50 percent of the wheat produced in this country. Fifty percent. What are we going to do if we lose those export markets? So we have to continue to open new export markets.

"We want to ensure strong feeding programs. We administer food stamps, school lunch, WIC, and for the people in need, and particularly as we are entering this session, that means more budget, more people are in need. And we want to support our employees and our programs. I really am so interested in what you all are doing here because one of the themes--and for those of you who read our policy book, the last chapter was about the importance of integrating our programs and enhancing the way that we can deliver our services to our constituents, particularly our farmers and ranchers.

"The things that you are doing here are so critical to that mission, looking at how we get the mapping into the GIS format so that it can be integrated within NRCS and other agencies, so that we can better deliver the services to our farmers and ranchers. The more we can get this--the technology that's available integrated into our program delivery systems in USDA, the better we're going to be able to deliver services and provide the kind of--the kind of assistance that farmers and ranchers need in today's environment.

"I like to often say that a lot of people don't think of agriculture--those who don't know agriculture don't think of it as a high-tech industry. But, indeed, agriculture is a high-tech industry today, whether it's information technologies that farmers are using every day, computers to not only get market data, to look at opportunities, to communicate with those people. They're using computer-driven tractors now, which are just taking all kinds of information from the soil as well as giving them the ability to get precision agriculture.

"We're going to have tremendous savings and we already are seeing tremendous savings with biotechnology, and the kinds of technology that we in USDA need to develop to be able to service farmers in the 21st century is the kind of thing that you're doing here.

"So I really compliment you on what you're doing. I'm looking forward to hearing a little bit more about your progress. And we are very committed to making sure that we get the right kind of technologies to give the service.

"I can only say in closing that it's a real privilege for me to be back at USDA, to be serving in this administration, to be serving this President. He's doing a great job, and it's a great pleasure not only to be a part of this administration and this Cabinet, but to be back at USDA. As most of you know, I spent seven years before--in USDA before, and I just know the quality of the employees and their dedication, and I just can't thank you enough for all that you do.

"Thanks very much."

[Applause]

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