Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns expressed disappointment that the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management rejected most of USDA's suggestions for revamping the commodity title in the 2007 farm bill.
But Johanns' expression of disapproval didn't sit well with some farm-state members of Congress, including fellow Republican, Rep. Mike Conaway, a member of the subcommittee who represents the 11th Congressional District in west Texas.
Johanns said that while he was encouraged that subcommittee members indicated the legislation was only a starting point for the new commodity title, he felt the subcommittee's vote to extend the current law five years did not meet the needs of the farm community.
“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,” said Johanns. “The bill advanced by the subcommittee offers no remedy. The administration's revenue-based counter-cyclical program proposal is far more responsive.”
Johanns also said the House subcommittee draft failed to bring greater equity to farm policy, providing guaranteed payments to some farmers while leaving others out in the cold when it comes to farm program benefits.
“The administration proposes not direct subsidies, but rather more research and other forms of support. The USDA proposal is more equitable among crops and farm sizes.
“Beginning farmers legitimately question policy that delivers more than half of government payments to 9 percent of farms — large, commercial operators. Yet the House draft continues this disparate policy.”
The secretary also called for “graduating” successful farmers from subsidy programs, and eliminating subsidies for farmers with adjusted gross incomes of more than $200,000 or more, averaged over three years. The House bill also paints a “bulls-eye” on farmers' backs (in the World Trade Organization), he said.
Conaway said he believes Johanns comments about the subcommittee language will make it difficult for the full ag committee to work with him on the farm bill before it expires Sept. 30.
“After reviewing the comments made by Secretary Johanns, it is increasingly evident to me that the secretary and the USDA have little or no interest in actually working with the House Agriculture Committee,” Conaway said in a statement released by his office.
“Comments such as the ones the Secretary directed at the Committee in such a public arena do nothing to assist in the process and, in my opinion, hamper credibility. The unflappable certitude with which the Secretary promotes his position demonstrates arrogance not previously present in his personal appearances before the Committee.”
Conaway called Johanns' statements regarding payments to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans an “appeal to class warfare” among interest groups within the agriculture industry.
He also suggested the secretary not confuse “kind and thoughtful” comments made by subcommittee members regarding the administration proposal with approval, noting the subcommittee rejected it with a unanimous vote.
“I also ask the secretary to refer to research regarding the effects of the administration's proposal on net farm income, which has been conducted by very reputable institutions such as Texas Tech University,” said Conaway.
“Texas Tech came to the conclusion that net farm income would be adversely affected by the proposal that the USDA has set forth. Other institutions have reached similar conclusions as well.” (To see the study, go to http://www.aaec.ttu.edu/ceri/policy/USDA%202007%20Farm%20Bill%20Proposal(4).pdf.)
In his statement, Johanns claimed the House draft offers no overall funding increase for conservation, while the Bush administration put forth a proposal to increase funding by $7.8 billion. A subcommittee spokesman said conservation funding was outside the purview of the commodity title.
The secretary said he still hopes to be able to work with the House ag committee and its subcommittee as they continue work on the commodity title and other sections of the next farm bill.
“We have much work ahead,” he said. “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.”