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Ag Secretary stumps for new approaches to farm policy and immigration reform

Agriculture.com Staff 06/09/2006 @ 7:27am

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns visited the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday to thank pork producers for their strong support for trade agreements and a national animal identification system. And he also put in a plug for President Bush's goals for immigration reform and for considering new approaches to the next farm bill.

"America's swine producers understand that conservation pays dividends," Johanns told members of the National Pork Producers Association.

The paper isn't a Bush Administration proposal for the next farm bill. "We're still months away from suggestions on the farm bill," Johanns said. But it does outline four different approaches that a new farm bill could take to encourage conservation:

Improving existing programs by targeting more of them to watersheds and landscapes where problems exist and by consolidating programs with similar purposes, for example.

Provide "green payments," to farmers for environmental improvements they make. If part of the payment covers more than the cost of the improvement, some of the green payment becomes a form of income support. Not all green payments would meet World Trade Organization requirements, though.

Set up private sector markets for environmental services. Johanns pointed out that markets for trading carbon credits are already starting. Industries that generate carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas linked to global warming, can pay farmers for planting trees that tie up carbon, for example. Another, even stronger greenhouse gas, is methane generated by livestock manure. "Imagine the benefit to you as pork producers if a strong market emerges for reducing methane emissions," Johanns said.

Expand conservation compliance. This approach could require farmers to meet higher standards of soil and water quality conservation before getting price and income supports, for example. It could cost the government less than other approaches, and might add to costs incurred by producers.

Later, Johanns told reporters that he believes conservation programs will be a big part of the next farm bill, partly because they have strong support from a broad coalition of interests groups beyond producers, including hunters and environmentalists. "It would be shocking to me not to have a strong conservation title" in the next farm law, he said.

After visiting Des Moines, Johanns was headed to California where he planned to discuss the President's efforts to encourage a compromise between House and Senate versions of immigration reform. A House bill beefs up enforcement against illegal immigration into the U.S. at the Mexican border while a Senate bill includes some enforcement provisions but also sets up a process for some of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to work toward U.S. citizenship. The Senate bill includes an expanded guest worker provision, which the House bill does not.

Johanns reminded pork producers of the importance of immigrant labor to their industry.

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