Acting U.S. Ag Secretary Chuck Conner keynoted the World Food Prize symposium on biofood and biofuels Thursday in Des Moines – where he said "anxieties" about ethanol are "running ahead of reality." He also discussed the next farm bill with reporters and expressed cautious support for the version of the legislation unveiled by Senate Ag Committee Chairman Tom Harkin.
Conner says the devil is in the details, and they haven’t seen any of the details yet. He says what they have read about the direction of the bill is encouraging. On the other hand – Conner suggested any farm bill that doesn’t seriously address farm program payment limits won’t pass muster with President Bush.
Conner says any bill that leaves "massive" payments for landowners who happen to live along Park Avenue in New York, and underfunds "important priorities we’ve laid out," will be a bill they’ll have difficulties with. Still, Conner backed down when specifically asked about a veto threat – and predicted Congress and the administration will reach a deal on the next farm bill.
Conner says he believes they can work to get a bill that the president will sign. On another matter – South Korea’s off again-on again U.S. beef ban – a clearly frustrated Conner. Conner says they simply ask the Koreans to live up to the international standards that they have committed to live up to. And Conner refused to comment on when – or if – President Bush might nominate him to step up from acting U.S. Ag Secretary to actual U.S. Ag Secretary.