Anyone who thought farmers aren't interested in a new farm bill quickly found out that's not the case during USDA's first Farm Bill Forum Thursday night.

The four-hour session, broadcast live from the Nashville facilities of RFD-TV, attracted a standing-room-only studio audience of more than 400 persons, mostly from Tennessee and Alabama, and 39 phone calls from 26 states.

“The response we heard this evening met or exceeded our expectations,” said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, talking with reporters after co-hosting the listening forum with farm broadcaster Orion Samuelson. “This becomes the platform on which we talk about the next farm bill.”

Although Congress won’t get down to writing the 2007 farm bill until next year, Johanns announced in April that USDA would conduct a series of farm bill listening sessions to begin laying the groundwork for the new law.

Johanns announced the dates for three more Farm Bill Forums at the beginning of the first in Nashville on July 7. Those will be at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot, July 26; the Minnesota Farm Fest in Redwood County, Aug. 3; and the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis, Aug. 4. More will be held later.

He said the Bush administration plans to play a more aggressive role in drafting the 2007 farm bill than it did in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act that the president signed on May 13, 2002.

e-mail:flaws@primediabusiness.com