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WASHINGTON -- Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns yesterday unveiled the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2007 farm bill proposals, which feature more than 65 items that correspond to the 2002 farm bill titles, with additional special focus areas, including specialty crops, beginning farmers and ranchers, and socially disadvantaged producers.
"We listened closely to producers and stakeholders all across the country and took a reform-minded and fiscally responsible approach to making farm policy more equitable, predictable, and protected from challenge," said Johanns. "We started with the 2002 farm bill and propose to improve it by bolstering support for emerging priorities and focusing on a market-oriented approach."
USDA began preparations for the 2007 farm bill in 2005 by conducting 52 Farm Bill Forums across the country. More than 4,000 comments were recorded or collected during forums and via electronic and standard mail.
These comments are summarized in 41 theme papers. USDA economists, led by Dr. Keith Collins, studied the comments and authored five analysis papers.
The new round of proposals -- each of which provides information as to why a change is needed, the recommended solution, and relevant background information about the affected program or policy -- represents the final phase of a nearly two-year process.
Cal Dooley, president and c.e.o. of the Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers/Food Products Association called the farm bill proposals "a positive step toward a more market-oriented farm program. While not the giant stride we were hoping for, it is clearly a step in the right direction."
Dooley further noted that the bill's proposals would "help reduce market-distorting trade subsidies and serve to demonstrate the administration's commitment to advocating agricultural policies that can hopefully lead to a successful completion of the Doha round of trade talks."
Highlights of the proposals include (funding reflects 10-year totals):
-- Increasing conservation funding by $7.8 billion, simplifying and consolidating conservation programs, and creating a new Environmental Quality Incentives Program and a Regional Water Enhancement Program.
-- Providing $1.6 billion in new funding for renewable energy research, development, and production targeting cellulosic ethanol, which will support $2.1 billion in guaranteed loans for cellulosic projects and include $500 million for a bioenergy and bio-based product research initiative.
-- Targeting nearly $5 billion in funding to support specialty crop producers by increasing nutrition in food assistance programs, including school meals, through the purchase of fruits and vegetables, funding specialty crop research, fighting trade barriers, and expanding export markets.
-- Providing $250 million to increase direct payments for beginning farmers and ranchers, reserving a percentage of conservation funds and providing more loan flexibility for down-payment, land-purchasing, and farm-operating loans.
-- Supporting socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers by reserving a percentage of conservation assistance funds and providing more access to loans for down payments, land purchasing, and farm operating.
-- Strengthening disaster relief by establishing a revenue-based counter-cyclical program, providing gap coverage in crop insurance, linking crop insurance participation to farm program participation, and creating a new emergency landscape restoration program.
-- Simplifying and consolidating rural development programs while providing $1.6 billion in loans to rehabilitate all current Rural Critical Access Hospitals, and $500 million in grants and loans for rural communities to decrease the backlog of rural infrastructure projects.
-- Dedicating nearly $400 million to trade efforts to expand exports, fight trade barriers, and increase involvement in world trade standard-setting bodies.
-- Simplifying, modernizing, and renaming the Food Stamp Program to improve access for the working poor, better meet the needs of recipients and states, and strengthen program integrity.