Federal Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns visited northwest Iowa Tuesday, and praised rural Iowans for making good use of USDA programs. Johanns toured an ethanol plant near Sioux Center. “I just love it,” Johanns enthused, saying the corn’s used to make a product people can use and the ethanol production’s done something positive for the environment.

Johanns said making ethanol is also a boost for corn prices, which helps farmers who grow it. It’s an opportunity to make capital investment in rural areas, as Johanns point out “you don’t build ethanol plants in the middle of Washington, D.C., you build them in rural America” He says an ongoing benefit is the high-quality jobs at the plant, which will contribute to the area for a long time to come.

Sioux Energy manager Bernie Punt said he was glad to show off what they’ve done with USDA support. Punt says the officials are coming around to see if the agency’s alternative-energy programs are working and he says they are. He praises the agency’s focus on improving farm income and reducing the dependence on subsidies, saying they’re out studying the results “to see what they can do next.”

On the visit with the Ag Secretary was Undersecretary for Rural Development Tom Dorr, who’s a farmer and a native of northwest Iowa. Dorr agreed that the agency will benefit from seeing its programs in action in farming country. “It encourages policymakers to take a fresh look at how we go about developing rural and ag policy.”

Dorr he said he takes special pride in showing off his home turf to the Secretary of Agriculture Dorr said the tour included a busload of fifty people from all over the country who also were getting a chance to see “all the innovative, creative and opportunistic people that are out here.”

Ag Secretary Johanns said making ethanol is one way to improve farm income and opportunities that will give more young people the ability to make a living and stay on the farm. The group left to visit a lab that makes “nutra-ceutical” products for human healthcare, and then headed to a hospital in Orange City that’s received some USDA Rural Development funds. The tour’s being sponsored by Farm Foundation, a nonprofit think tank for conservation and rural development.