The Farm Bill

August 25, 2005

August 25, 2005

Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Johanns has been listening and talking to farmers, focusing more than anything, on the next farm bill. He has been a big hit with his constituents. He is relaxed, at home, and can speak our language. I am encouraged because when the next bill is written, I expect the Secretary to be in the middle of the negotiations, and that is good. In fact, I was talking with him this morning, he is looking forward to being an active player in writing the next bill.

Every farm bill is written under its own unique circumstances. This one will feel the pressure of the crushing budget deficit. Also with farm subsidies expected to jump from 14 billion dollars in 2004 to 24 billion in 2005, we can expect some tough questions. This farm bill will be written in harmony with the world trade negotiations. House Agriculture Committee Chairman, Bob Goodlatte, made it clear that the U.S. will not "unilaterally disarm" when it comes to farm subsidies if Europe and other trading partners refuse to accept serious program reforms. Good.

Farm organizations and rural members of Congress will focus on saving the farm program money for farmers and rural America. However, they will be forced to shift the money around to spending priorities that will add allies. Conservation may be given more money -- a greener farm bill. Specialty crops could bring in some California and Arizona support, but that may not be so easy because as was pointed out to Sec. Johanns in his listening sessions, California Central Valley farmers already receive a huge water subsidy.

As in past farm bills, taking care of the food stamp lobby can mean support for farm programs. "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours."

Since the money pie will almost surely be smaller, each commodity group will be fighting to be sure someone doesn't cut into their slice of the pie.

Finally, we have the added backdrop of an urban press that is very hostile to farm program spending.

It is going to be more of a "free for all" than we have seen for a long time.

Until next week I am John Block from Washington.