Statement by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns Regarding Farm Bill Legislation Advanced by House Subcommittees
June 19, 2007
"I am disappointed in the Title I legislation put forth today by the House Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management. The bill fails to recognize the need for greater equity and predictability in farm policy, and does nothing to provide a more responsive safety net.
"Having said that, I am encouraged by the signal from subcommittee members that this is only a starting point and I'm gratified by the kind and thoughtful comments offered by several members regarding the Administration's proposal. I will not waste a moment in responding to the interest expressed in adopting some of our ideas as part of the full committee mark up.
"We must address farm policy that provides the highest payments when abundant yields lead to moderate prices and provides no payments when low or no yields lead to high prices. The bill advanced today offers no remedy. The Administration's revenue-based counter cyclical program proposal is far more responsive to actual producer needs.
"The House draft also fails to bring greater equity to farm policy. Some farmers would continue to receive guaranteed money while others, including 60% of farmers, are left out. Fruit and vegetable growers in California, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and elsewhere make a compelling case that they deserve to be supported. The Administration listened and proposes not direct subsidies, but rather more research and other forms of support. The Administration proposal is more equitable among crops, as well as farm sizes. Beginning farmers legitimately question policy that delivers more than half of government payments to 9% of farms - large, commercial operators. Yet, the House draft continues this disparate policy.
"I also believe there is a point at which successful farmers should graduate from subsidy programs. Farmers among the wealthiest 2% of Americans should be applauded for their success and graduated from government subsidies. The Administration's proposals provide a pathway to greater equity by eliminating commodity subsidies for farmers with Adjusted Gross Incomes of $200,000 or more, averaged over three years. It is the right thing to do and it allows us to direct increased support to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers.
"Additionally, the bill advanced today paints a bulls-eye on farmers' backs and risks jeopardizing a portion of the $78 billion in U.S. agricultural exports by increasing trade-distorting support. This is especially disappointing when the Administration proposes an alternative that provides greater protection from international trade challenges, an increase in predictable, non-trade distorting support and overall reforms that help to fund emerging priorities.
"As the full Committee on Agriculture prepares to mark up the 2007 farm bill, I am hopeful there will be renewed interest in providing real dollars to fund emerging priorities. Thus far, the dollars identified are dependant upon discretionary funds or elusive reserve funds that require offsets, yet no offsets have been identified.
"It is my hope that farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders who have expressed passionate support for an increased commitment to conservation, specialty crops and beginning and minority farmers are paying close attention, because the subject of their passion is at stake.
"The House draft offers no overall funding increase for conservation, while the Administration put forth a proposal to increase funding by $7.8 billion. The House draft offers no mandatory funding in an area Congress itself has identified as a top priority - renewable energy, while the Administration proposes more than $1.6 billion in new renewable energy funding, targeted to cellulosic ethanol projects. The House draft offers no mandatory funding for specialty crop research, while the Administration proposes $1 billion in mandatory funds. The House draft offers no mandatory funding to expand eligibility for the Food Stamp Program, while the Administration proposes four areas of expansion. The list goes on and in each instance the House draft either fails to identify these priorities or fails to fund them with mandatory dollars.
"The Administration listened closely to farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders during USDA's Farm Bill Forums. We made the difficult decisions necessary to fund the priorities relayed to us while providing a more responsive safety net to farmers – and we did so within a budget that achieves balance within five years.
"We have much work ahead. I take committee members at their word regarding their interest in incorporating the ideas offered by the Administration to strengthen the current bill. I look forward to working with them to do what I firmly believe is right for American agriculture. Our farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders deserve to be presented with a vision for the future instead of reliance on policies of the past."