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Conner promises a seamless transition at USDA

Saying that he agreed with every major decision made by his predecessor, Mike Johanns, Acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner Monday promised to be "very, very engaged" in working with Congress on the developing farm bill. And, he said, he expects to announce within two to three weeks whether or not the USDA will allow early withdrawals from the Conservation Reserve Program in 2008.

Conner said that he will continue to push for changes in the Senate from a version of a farm bill passed by the House last summer.

"We believe we need a reform-minded farm bill," Conner told reporters.

Conner said part of that reform should include an adjusted gross income test that would exclude commodity program payments to anyone with more than $200,000 in taxable income. That income represents just a little more than two percent of the population, he said.

Conner told Agriculture Online that he is also willing to work with members of Congress who support a firm payment limit on commodity programs, such as the $250,000 cap proposed in the Senate by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND).

Conner said that he believes a permanent disaster program now being considered by members of the Senate Agriculture Committee would discourage use of crop insurance and that the amount under discussion, about $1 billion a year, wouldn't necessarily be big enough. Compared to past disaster relief bills of $4 billion to $6 billion, that $1 billion allotted for permanent disaster aid "at best would be a small down payment," he said.

Instead of permanent disaster relief, proposals for revenue-based counter-cyclical payments "are the absolute best disaster help that we can give producers out there," he said.

Conner said he liked some aspects of the Senate farm bill currently being considered by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA).

"Senator Harkin's efforts on conservation and rural development and energy are efforts that we fully embrace," Conner said.

It's those types of programs, "where the future profitability of American agriculture lies," he said.

Conner wouldn't address how long he'll be serving as acting secretary or whether President George W. Bush will nominate him to be the next secretary.

"I am not going to speculate at all as to what the President intends to do in the future," he said.

Saying that he agreed with every major decision made by his predecessor, Mike Johanns, Acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner Monday promised to be "very, very engaged" in working with Congress on the developing farm bill. And, he said, he expects to announce within two to three weeks whether or not the USDA will allow early withdrawals from the Conservation Reserve Program in 2008.

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