Transcript of Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman's Remarks to Annual Meeting of The National Cotton Council Dallas, Texas -February 11, 2002 | USDA Newsroom
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Release No. 0048.02
 
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SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE ANN M. VENEMAN'S REMARKS TO ANNUAL MEETING OF THE NATIONAL COTTON COUNCIL
DALLAS, TEXAS
FEBRUARY 11, 2002

[Applause.]

MR. James Echols: Before beginning our business session, I would like to welcome our first special guest speaker. Last January, Ann Veneman was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate and sworn in as the 27th Secretary of Agriculture.

During her Senate confirmation hearings she repeated President Bush's belief that the spirit of the American farmer is emblematic of the spirit of America, signifying the values of hard work, self reliance and entrepreneurship.

Secretary Veneman brings a wealth of knowledge and understanding of agricultural policies and issues. She was USDA Deputy Secretary from 1991 to 1993, and Deputy Under Secretary for Agriculture for International Affairs and Commodity Programs from 1989 to 1991. From 1995 to 1999 she served as Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, where she managed the agricultural programs and services for the nation's largest agricultural producing state.

Secretary Veneman, an attorney, was raised on a peach farm in Modesto, California. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Davis, a master's degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a juris doctorate degree from the University of California, Hastings College of Law.

Please join me in welcoming Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.

[Applause.]

SECRETARY VENEMAN : "Well, thank you very much for that warm welcome, and thanks to all of you for your graciousness in having me here today. I want to thank Gaylon Booker and the National Cotton Council and all the board members and particularly recognize John Maguire, who does such a great job for all of you in D.C.

"I also want to congratulate your leadership class. I know you all have been working with younger people to make sure that you have leaders for tomorrow, something we're also doing in our Department.

"I also want to congratulate today the newly appointed and reappointed members of the Cotton Board, which we are announcing today, and if you would like to see the press release, you can get on our website and take a look at it, but we are making that announcement today as well.

"And I know that Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson's going to be here later, and we'd like to particularly recognize her, not only for her tremendous representation of this state in the United States Senate, but also for her leadership in the area of homeland security, which has been a priority for the President, and it's certainly been a priority in our own Department.

"I was talking with some of you earlier today, and they were telling me that they've heard some comments from those attending the convention that they were really excited that finally there's a member of the President's Cabinet, a Secretary, who exudes charm, magnetism, and is helping to bridge the gender gap. I knew immediately that they were talking about Don Rumsfeld.

[Laughter.]

"Recently there was a dinner in Washington. There's a thing called the Alfalfa Club, and I haven't quite figured out the reason for the club other than they have dinner once a year with members of the Senate and Presidents and all kinds of people. And so it's tradition for the President of the United States to come to this dinner and speak, and I know it's not the President's favorite dinner because he has to stay out too late. But he gave a terrific speech, and he talked a little about Secretary Rumsfeld in his remarks that night, and he said--he said, "The Secretary has become my administration's sex symbol, our version of Paula Zahn. He's become such a pin-up guy for older women, that I've got a new name for him, Rumstud.

[Laughter.]

"Then he went on to say, "I saw him earlier tonight, and saw this woman walking up with stars in her eyes, and you know, I just had to go up to her and pull her away and say, "Mother, control yourself." [Laughter.]

"Seriously, it is a great honor to serve in this President's Cabinet. It is a terrific Cabinet. It is a group of people that works well together and one that I am very, very proud to be a part of, and I'm very proud to serve this President, who I think is doing a tremendous job.

[Applause.]

"This is my third trip already to Texas since I became Secretary. Actually, it's my second in 10 days. I was here last summer for the annual conference that was hosted by Chairman Combest and Congressman Stenholm. Not only did we talk about farm policy in the conference, but we then went from there to our Farm Service Agency office in Lubbock, and released the first supplemental payments to farmers from the bill last summer in record time. It was just the day after the President signed the bill into law.

"And when I was here 10 days ago I was with Susan Combs, who's the terrific Ag Commissioner from this State. She hosted me in San Angelo, Texas, where we had the opportunity to tour cattle operations and cotton ginning operations, meet with cotton farmers, as well as see a lamb processing facility.

"The most important thing we did, and what I enjoy doing as I go around the country, is to get out and visit with farmers and ranchers, to hear about their concerns, to listen to the ideas, the viewpoints, the innovations and what is truly happening on the ground in the farm sector.

"I've had, as I've traveled around the country, the opportunity to talk with many in the cotton industry, and I certainly understand and share your concerns about the state of the cotton economy today. With the 2001 crop over--up over 16 percent, mill consumption is forecast down 11 percent and even with exports of nearly 10 million bales forecast, the highest in 50 years, ending stocks are still projected to increase 45 percent.

"We also understand the vital links between the cotton growers and the textile sector. Two weeks ago Don Evans, our Commerce Secretary, also from Texas and a tremendous person; I really enjoy serving with him--Evans announced a textile working group that will study ways to assure that America can compete in world markets. So you're going to see that group looking at such areas as trade compliance and enforcement and export expansion for textiles and apparel.

"As we look at the tough issues that are facing growers today and the opportunities that lie ahead, it is important to understand those concerns so our farm economy continues to grow and prosper.

"America's farmers and ranchers are an integral part of our nation's economy. More people need to understand that our food and fiber sector accounts for nearly $1.3 trillion in gross domestic products.

"Let's talk about agriculture and jobs. The farm economy supports nearly 24 million jobs. Yes, that's 24 million jobs. So the policies we make in Washington have to be done right or we put those jobs and the livelihood of farmers and ranchers at risk. Cotton producers are literally the fabric of America and the world as well, and so I say thank you for all your hard work and dedication.

"The President sends his best to all of you for a successful convention. In fact, just last Friday I had the opportunity to spend some time with him on Air Force One, where we were on our way to the Cattlemen's Convention where he gave an agricultural address to the group. And we had several members of the Senate along on this trip, as well as Chairman Combest, and we had a chance on the plane to talk about what the President wants to see in terms of Ag policy, and he set forth those principles as he talked with the cattlemen last Friday.

"We are hopeful that a bipartisan consensus in the Senate can be reached on a new farm bill as quickly as possible, and we're going to work hard to get a good farm bill from the conference. We're looking forward to working with Chairman Combest and the House and Senate conferees to reach a good bipartisan agreement.

"The President has been very clear for some time on what kind of farm policy he would like to see when the farm bill reaches his desk, and he reiterated those principles last Friday. His vision for a new farm bill is to assist all of agriculture in a direction that is right for America's farming sector. First the President wants to see a farm policy that is generous in appropriations but affordable. In the President's budget, which we released just a week ago, on last Monday, we agreed to the $73.5 billion in additional baseline spending over the next decade for farm programs. This figure is the one that was agreed to by both the House and the Senate last year, and the budget shows that the administration will honor this agreement.

"But we also have to be careful with that money. Some in the Senate have proposed to front-load the dollars in the next few years, leaving farmers shortchanged down the road by as much as $10 billion. That will only hurt farmers in the long run. The $73.5 billion should be spent relatively evenly over the next decade, or as the President said on Friday, to put it bluntly, what we don't want to do is over-promise to farmers and under-perform.

"A good farm bill must provide a safety net for farmers without encouraging over-production which thereby depresses prices. If we set loan rates too high, it could reverse their intended impact and make an already difficult situation even worse.

"The administration supports farm policies that will strengthen the farm economy over the long term. Programs that are market oriented and encourage independence, but don't hurt producers. The president also wants a farm bill that supports international trade.

"Now, some people these days find this unsettling, but agriculture in this country is so dependent on trade today. You look at the cotton sector. We export nearly 50 percent of our cotton, and this year that number is expected to exceed 50 percent. We need to grow those markets by eliminating unfair trade practices and tear down the walls that keep our products out of other countries. And we've seen some major successes in the last year. We saw the accession of China into the WTO which should provide very good benefits for our cotton, but we know that the Chinese have not been quick to implement their obligations under this agreement, and we're working very hard to make sure that they do implement it as quickly as possible.

"We also launched a new round of trade negotiations in Doha, a great success to get a trade negotiation off the ground after the failure in Seattle a couple of years back.

"We also need to think of trade from a different side and start asking ourselves what we stand to lose without export markets. What would happen with our agriculture industry and our cotton industry if we turned inward and begin to lose market share?

"The President likes to say as well that our farmers are the best in the world at what they do. We are the most innovative, technologically advanced, and we grow cotton and other agriculture products better than anyone else. So if that's the case, it's only logical that we seek new marketing opportunities around the world to sell American-grown products.

"Now, this brings me to another topic, and that is trade promotion authority, or what was referred to in past years as "fast track." The President needs it. It is a very important tool for us to move forward in opening new markets abroad. The administration has a record of protecting agriculture at the negotiating table. We did it in Doha as we launched the new WTO round, and this President is firmly committed to making sure that agriculture remains the cornerstone of U.S. trade policy.

"We all know that farming is a difficult business that presents many risks, and that's why the President wants to make sure that the farm bill establishes farm savings accounts that help farmers and ranchers manage risks. These farm savings accounts would work something like a special 401(K) for agriculture producers. They're a good idea. They make a lot of sense. It's an additional tool that farmers could use to help manage the risky business of farming.

"A good farm bill will also offer incentives for good conservation practices. We all know that farmers are the best stewards of the land.

[Applause.].

"And we've seen firsthand--and in fact, I saw firsthand when I was here just a few days ago--some of the ways that cotton growers are enhancing the environment by reducing the use of chemicals. I've talked to farmers who have participated here in Texas in the Boll Weevil Eradication Program, and they told me how much their chemical use and therefore input costs were decreasing because of the success of this federal/state partnership. And I've talked to other farmers here in Texas who are using BT cotton and talking about the reduced use of chemicals. So certainly cotton growers are doing their part to improve and enhance the environment.

"In a new farm bill we should do more to help you with your ingenuity, with the management of your land. Good conservation policies help growers make better decisions, and we want to strengthen the programs that help working farmlands in this farm bill.

"This is what the President has outlined in relation to a new farm bill. We support this vision wholeheartedly. It's what we've been talking about for some time, and it's what we believe will help American farmers and ranchers in the new century.

"Now, some say that agreeing to a farm bill is the hard part. That's true in many cases, but I can tell you also that when it comes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, implementing the new farm bill is a challenge in and of itself. And that's why at USDA we are already working on our implementation plans. We want to make sure that we can implement a new farm bill quickly once the President signs it.

"About a week or two ago I visited USDA employees in Georgia and talked about this very issue, and tomorrow I'm going to go to Kansas City, which is our largest office of USDA employees outside Washington. Many of these employees are responsible for implementing a new farm bill and getting payments out, and they will have a huge responsibility, and we're going to talk about that tomorrow. So moving this process ahead is a very big priority for us at USDA.

"Finally, before I leave the topic of the farm bill, I do want to recognize something I've heard a lot about already this morning, and that is the concerns that I know you all have about the Dorgan-Grassley Amendment that was passed last week--and now there is a big difference between the House and the Senate bills on this issue, so it is sure to be a major area of negotiation in the conference on the bill.

"Before I conclude today there are a couple of other topics I'd like to raise, the issues of technology and also of homeland security. We need to be clear what forces are driving change so that we can develop policies and programs that are responsive and appropriate not only to current conditions, but also to the challenges that lie ahead. As I mentioned during my trip to Texas, I had the opportunity to meet with some cotton farmers. While we know that in recent years times have been tough, we heard success stories that are helping cotton farmers, particularly here in Texas--those issues I talked about earlier with the boll weevil eradication and some of the other new technologies with the biotech crop.

"There are also some exciting partnerships between the public/private sectors that I think are worth reiterating. Many of you are familiar with our Ag 2020 project in which USDA and NASA have teamed up with cotton growers and the Cotton Council. This project, Ag 2020, brings farmers and ranchers and researchers together to find innovative ways to use precision technologies to help lower production costs, improve yields, protect the environment, and reduce economic risk. And the results are validated with on-farm trials. It's pretty amazing stuff. It's like taking advantage of such technologies as hyper-spectral imaging to assist farmers in deciding when and where to apply chemicals and pesticides, and to make--and in making predictions of yields and quality.

"And I particularly want to recognize the efforts of two people in particular, John Kenneth Hood, who's here from Mississippi, and Ted Sheely from California, both of whom have been active participants in this very exciting program.

"On the issue of homeland security, as I said before, this has been a major topic, as you heard in the State of the Union address. It's a major priority for the President, but it's a major priority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well. We need to do everything that we can to protect our food and agricultural sector not only from unintentional threats, but now also from intentional threats to our food supply, and we've been working very hard on this at USDA.

"We're working with Governor Ridge and the Office of Homeland Security. We're working with our states and our other federal agency partners, and the industry, to make sure that we do everything we can to protect our agriculture industry.

"Just last week in his annual budget President Bush requested more than $146 million in new spending for homeland security protections through USDA programs. Also in early January the President approved an additional $328 million in spending for USDA to continue to strengthen our homeland security programs. This was appropriated through the Defense Supplemental Appropriations Act. So as I said, this does continue to be a high priority.

"This weekend I attended the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games. It was truly an incredible experience to see all the athletes representing so many countries, so many cultures, see them all together, young and old, a melting pot of diversity together, celebrating peace; to see our President sitting with the athletes, celebrating their achievements and even talking on a cell phone with their parents and their friends. These are the values that our great country is all about. The most moving moment for me was watching a tattered flag being carefully carried into the arena, the flag which was flying over the World Trade Center on September 11th. I'm sure that like me, many of those who stood in that arena and applauded or those of you who watched from home, felt their eyes moisten with tears.

"Today, February 11th, just 5 months later to the day, no one would ever wish the evil that was done on September 11th. Yet after America was attacked, it was as if our entire country looked in a mirror and saw our better selves. We are reminded that we are citizens with obligations to each other, to our nation and to history. By working together there is no challenge that together we cannot overcome.

"I want to thank all of you for what you do for our great nation. Thanks again. God bless you and God bless America".

[Applause.]

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