Iowa native and U.S. Agriculture Department Secretary Mike Johanns was in Ames today speaking to a gathering of Future Farmers of America. The former governor of Nebraska says young people today are wondering what the future of agriculture will look like.
Johanns says the future’s good for young people in production agriculture, the best it’s been in a long time. In addition to commodity prices that mean farming is profitable, he says the renewable fuels market is a whole new arena that’s opened up for them. "It’s a pretty exciting time." Johanns isn’t concerned about charges that the ethanol boom will drive up the cost of food.
He says the USDA is projecting an increase in food costs of two and-a-half to three percent or a little more. He admits while the price will be up, it’s not the big increase some have projected. "That will straighten out," Johanns, acknowledging that there’s a big debate going on over "food versus fuel." He notes the USDA’s own report on planning intentions finds farmers this year are saying they expect to plant more corn this year than we’ve seen in a long time.
Johanns said he sees plenty of young people who hope to stay on the farm and make a living in agriculture, and he says the new federal farm bill includes provisions to help them get started. "I told the FFA members here in Iowa today that our farm-bill proposals for beginning farmers have never been better in any farm bill, ever," Johanns says. "We improve our loan programs, we increase direct payments for young people, we target some conservation funding for them." He says farm-bill forums held across the country collected ideas from young and beginning farmers that were used in writing a new farm bill.