The director of a midwestern rural think tank has advice for an Iowa native who’ll be sworn in for a cabinet position this week in Washington. Nebraska governor Mike Johanns, who grew up on a dairy farm in Osage, Iowa, is set to become the nation’s next secretary of agriculture.Center for Rural Affairs head Chuck Hassebroek Johanns could create a legacy.Hassebroek says rural people are yearning for change and don’t like the direction things are moving. He says they’re seeing rural towns declining and busines being replaced by “the box stores.” Hassebroek says it doesn’t have to be that way — and the secretary of Agriculture is in an ideal position to provide the leadership needed to turn it around. Hassebroek says even though Johanns has never served in Congress, he’ll have control over Washington policy matters from his new post at the head of the federal Department of Agriculture.On some very important issues, he can set policy all by himself — for example, the secretary could say they’ll start enforcing payment limitations, so to qualify for the subsidies a farmer must farm, actually go out there and take part in the labor and management of the farm. “He has the authority to say that,” Hassebroek says, “USDA isn’t saying it now.” Hassebroek says that would have a profound effect on the future of family farming.Likewise, the Secretary has authority under the Packers and Stockyards Act to ensure that family farmers have fair access to markets where they don’t get paid less for their hiogs and cattle just because they (the farmers) are small. He could say whenever USDA makes grants to researchers, they’ll be based in part on whether the results of the research may help create a future for family farms and ranches, and for rural communities. Some groups have already charged Johanns is too favorable to big corporate farming operations, but Hassebroek is witholding judgement on that. Hassebroek says it’s a great opportunity because the secretary that comes into office and provides real leadership now will be remembered for generations. In addition to doing things within the department in policy, he says “It’s also a bully pulpit,” a pl;ace to stand up and tell Congress and America that we’re heading in a direction that’s destroying the rural middle-class and our communities and we can do better.
You are here: / / Center for Rural Affairs director gives advice to new Ag Secretary