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Johanns says farm bill completion likely

Agriculture.com Staff 07/05/2007 @ 12:48pm

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns told a crowd at a meeting on the farm bill in Ames, Iowa, Tuesday that he thinks Congress could still complete a farm bill before the federal fiscal year ends on September.

The House Agriculture Committee's subcommittees have already approved language for different sections of the next farm bill, including a commodity title that extends most of the 2002 farm bill safety net. The final bill that the full committee will consider is expected to be posted on the committee Web site tomorrow.

"The Senate has not done a markup yet, but I think that is very close," Johanns said at a meeting held with Representative Jim Latham (R-IA) at the Ames City Hall.

Johanns said that the goal of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees has been to write a new farm bill this year.

"I think that's still achievable. It's always been a very ambitious goal, but it's achievable," he said.

"Now is the time to engage with your congressman, your senator, whoever, and let them know what is on your mind," Johanns told the crowd.

More than any other agriculture secretary in recent memory, Johanns has tried to bring farmers and rural America into the farm bill process, holding listening sessions in all but two states to gather ideas. And his department's own proposal for a farm bill, released last winter, incorporates some of those ideas.

At Tuesday's meeting Johanns heard support from several members of the audience for more federal spending on conservation and agricultural research, as well as some support for strong caps on commodity program payments to farmers.

At a press conference after the meeting, Johanns was asked which of his farm bill ideas is getting the most support in Congress and which is getting the least.

"The one that's the most controversial is definitely payment limits," Johanns replied. "That would be especially true as you move more toward the South."

Secretary Johanns has proposed denying farm program payments to those who have adjusted gross income -- taxable income after expenses and retirement savings -- above $200,000 annually. The current limit is $2.5 million. Whether Congress adopts Johanns' approach or not, "actually I do believe payment limits will be part of the next farm bill," he said.

Among ideas favorably received, he said support is growing for the USDA proposal to base countercyclical payments on national farm revenue, not just a target price. Both yields and prices would determine when farmers would be eligible for payments.

"I do think the revenue approach to countercyclical payments is getting some support...it just works better for farmers," Johanns said. "As people understand it, it's getting more support."

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns told a crowd at a meeting on the farm bill in Ames, Iowa, Tuesday that he thinks Congress could still complete a farm bill before the federal fiscal year ends on September.

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