Iowa Public Television


Johanns Leaves USDA on Eve of 2007 Farm Bill

posted on September 21, 2007

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. The equity markets soared this week after the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates.

*The Fed aggressively cut its benchmark interest rate by one-half of 1 percent – more dramatic than investors were expecting.

That brought out the bulls on *Wall Street as the Dow Jones industrials advanced 335 points in its largest single-day gain in nearly five years. The rally stalled on Thursday, but the index of 30 blue-chip stocks now is 13,820, just under the record close of 14,000, set in July.

*Meanwhile, the Labor Department reported its Consumer Price Index fell slightly in August for the first time in 10 month supporting the Fed's decision to cut interest rates.

This week's economic developments weren't lost in the din of Washington, where Senate lawmakers are about to draft their version of the next Farm Bill. But even as the Senate charts its course for the future of U.S. farm policy, the Bush administration's top agricultural official announced this week that he is seeking greener pastures.


Johanns Leaves USDA on Eve of 2007 Farm Bill

President Bush: "…I want to thank you for your service, thank you for your friendship, thank you for your commitment to America's farmers and ranchers and our country. And Laura and I wish you all the very best."

After weeks of rumors and speculation, President Bush accepted the resignation of his second Secretary of Agriculture in less than seven years.

Sec. Mike Johanns, USDA: "Mr. President, under your leadership American agriculture is stronger today than at any time in history -- whether you look at farm equity, whether you look at net cash income, whether you look at agricultural exports, records are being set under your leadership and they're being broken each year with a new record. It's your leadership that has made the difference."

During his Rose Garden resignation speech, Johanns championed what he called an "honorable" run as the nation's 28th USDA Secretary. But long-term analysis of Johanns' tenure may be mixed.

The former Nebraska Governor assumed the post in early 2005 and presided over unprecedented growth in America's rural economy. But while renewable energy is fueling a financial renaissance for many farmers, the nation's newest farm bill may be months away from final passage.

While beef trade with Asian countries like Japan and South Korea have partially reopened, the lack of a large-scale WTO trade deal remains elusive and negotiations still are deadlocked.

President Bush: "I remember when Mike came here to the Oval he said to me, he said, what I'm going to do is I'm going to travel the country and reach out to the stakeholders to lay the foundation for farm legislation. And that's exactly what he did."

Johanns spent much of his tenure touring the country as part of his 2007 farm bill listening sessions. And while he says those listening sessions were folded into Agricultural policy, Johanns' departure on the eve of the 2007 farm bill raises eyebrows.

The farm bill process is largely a legislative branch effort but that did not prevent some farm state lawmakers from going on the attack. Sen. Kent Conrad called Johanns' actions "borderline irresponsible" so close to the nation's largest agricultural legislation.

The Bush Administration and Johanns insist USDA is in the capable hands of acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner. Conner, an Indiana native and former deputy under Johanns, has been the Administration's point-man for the farm bill on Capitol Hill.

As for Johanns, party leaders in his home state of Nebraska claim the former Governor will run for the 2008 U.S. Senate spot vacated by retiring Senator Chuck Hagel.

Sec. Mike Johanns, USDA: "But even as I look forward to returning to the good life in Nebraska, I look back on what has been truly an opportunity of a lifetime; for me a dream come true for a farmer's son."


Tags: agriculture Congress government markets news policy USDA