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January 2006

U.S. Farm Policy Update
Media Summary

USDA Hints at Its Farm Bill Timeline and Priorities; AFBF’s Vision: Farmers Will Rely on Less Federal Support; Reconciliation: a Measure of Forces Shaping Farm Bill; Ag Policy Paradigm Shift; Buying Local a Good Policy

As we enter the new year, farm policy media coverage focuses on debating various policy options, examining the forces shaping the debate and determining the timeline for completing the 2007 Farm Bill. Some pundits have said this will be one of the most contentious farm bill debates in history. Whether or not that’s true, this will be an excellent policy process for all to become involved in.

Secretary Johanns Hints at USDA’s Farm Bill Timeline and Priorities
In a Capital Press interview (subscription required) on his first year in office, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns hinted that the USDA will work on the next farm bill during 2006, but the Bush Administration won’t reveal its recommendations to Congress until 2007. Johanns says the department’s top priority is a successful conclusion of the Doha Round of WTO talks, and he believes the farm bill should be "reformed" even if the talks don’t produce dramatic results.

AFBF’s Vision: Farmers Will Rely on Less Federal Support
During his opening address to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting this week, President Bob Stallman urged farmers to meet their obligation and opportunity to provide input on farm policy changes "before outside forces do it for them." Extensive meeting coverage and AFBF’s most recent policy positions can be seen at their Web site. AFBF’s farm policy vision committee told farmers "they will rely less on domestic farm supports" when predicting the changes they see in store for U.S. agriculture by the year 2019. You can link to a Brownfield Network radio story and audio file on this report here.

Budget Reconciliation Process: A Measure of Forces Shaping the Farm Bill
Members of Congress left town for the Christmas holiday with details of budget reconciliation unresolved on a technicality. But as analyst Keith Good pointed out in his December 20, 2005 FarmPolicy.com Web ‘zine (link requires subscription), "The proposed agricultural spending cuts and resource allocation decisions provide a measuring stick with regard to the 2007 Farm Bill." The Des Moines Register reported that Congress will cut "$2.7 billion during the next five years, mostly by cutting conservation, research and rural development programs," and that Sec. Johanns praised the deficit-reduction deal that spares crop subsidies from cuts but doesn’t extend the programs past 2007.

Ag Policy Paradigm Shift
Undersecretary for Rural Development Tom Dorr talked about his views on this paradigm shift at a December Iowa Farm Bureau meeting. Dorr noted that "96 percent of the income in rural America comes from non-farm sources." While the non-farm sources of income may be tied to agriculture, the question becomes one of the tipping-point: At what point will providing benefits such as roads, rural health care and education become more important than providing commodity payments to farm residents? Read more in this Farm and Ranch Guide article.

Buying Locally a Good Policy Option
New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Charles Kuperus is helping spread the word that consumers would be well served if the USDA adopted a "simple mantra" to "when able, buy locally first and regionally second–and nationally or internationally only as a last resort" when purchasing products for the various feeding programs. He points out in this Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed that it is more efficient in today’s difficult budget environment and a good way to do more to help Americans eat healthier
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