U.S. Ag Secretary Mike Johanns held a public hearing at the Iowa State Fair today (Thursday). “I believe that the best ideas oftentimes occur not in a government office, but they occur out in the country,” Johanns said. The bulk of federal farm policy is due to be reworked in 2007 with a new farm bill, and Johanns wasn’t ready to say what he’ll recommend in terms of farm subsidies or conservation programs. “I’m here with an open mind,” Johanns told the crowd gathered around the state fair’s livestock sales ring. “Mostly what you’ve going to see of me over the few hours we have together is me sitting here taking notes. (I’m) not going to offer a lot of reaction to your comments. What I want to do is hear from you.”

Johanns heard from all points of view — from those who want federal farm subsidies bulked up and those who want those subsidies trimmed. Jim Meyer described himself as a “seasoned farmer” from Odebolt. “My belief is that farm policies should be simple, trade compliant, and not forced-reliance on government programs,” Meyer said. “U.S. farm policy should not guarantee a profit, but help manage risk.” George Naylor, a farmer from Churdan who’s president of the National Family Farm Coalition, said federal farm policy has favored big over small and it’s time for price supports.price support. “Nobody here, nobody in the United States, knows how low the price of corn can go next week, not anybody, because there is no price support,” Naylor said.

Dan Johnson, a farmer from Ottumwa, is a member of the Iowa Farm Bureau’s board of directors. “Many farming-dependent counties are beginning to understand what they have done in the past is not keeping their graduates at home,” Johnson said. “We have to acknowledge the realities of global competition are changing our ways of life. We must look for other ways to create wealth.” Former Farm Bureau leader Dean Kleckner, a retired farmer who now lives in Des Moines, said farm subsidies can’t go on forever in their present form. “The U.S. and the (European Union) will continue to subsidize their farmers because we can. We have the money to do it, but the way we do it will be important,” Kleckner said. Alicia Clancey, an Iowa State University senior who’s the fifth generation to live on a Carroll County farm, told Johanns the federal government must do something to help young farmers get started. “I, for example, have to decide whether to return to the farming community where I grew up or move off to an ag business center like Des Moines, Kansas City or Minneapolis,” she said. “It seems today that young people have to make a choice: a well-paying career away from the farm or a new farm, or an inherited farm, full of debt from land prices and cash for equipment.”

Iowa’s two U.S. Senators were among the first to speak at the forum, and Senator Tom Harkin urged Johanns to alter the practice of taking federal disaster payments to farmers out of the farm program budget. Harkin says billions of dollars that were put in the 2002 Farm Bill have been “taken away” to cover disaster payments to farmers. “That’s not right,” he says. “That shouldn’t have been done. Disaster payments should be paid for like we pay for hurricanes or tornadoes or anything else.” Senator Charles Grassley repeated his call for limits on federal farm payments. “It seems to me that we ought to target (federal farm payments) towards medium and small farmers, like we’ve traditionally done,” Grassley said. According to Grassley, 10 percent of U.S. farmers get 72 percent of federal farm benefits.
(Photo above shows left to right: Senators Harkin, Grassley, Ag Secretary Johanns, Congressman King and Governor Vilsack)