March 7, 2006


US official, pork producers discuss trade and farm bill issues



US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns discussed international trade, goals for the next farm bill and other issues with delegates and reporters at the National Pork Industry Forum.


Trade is "enormously important" to US agricultural producers because about 27 percent of agricultural receipts come from international sales, said Johanns, who spoke Saturday at the event, which was held in Kansas City.


US agriculture is unbelievably productive, he said, with an annual production growth of 2 percent. However, population and consumption annual growth is only about 1 percent, which means international trade must continue to grow for producers to be able to sell their products.


Also, with 95 percent of the world's population outside of the US, America's producers have a tremendous opportunity to sell larger amounts of their products to the world markets.


In a summary of the key areas of discussion at more than 50 farm bill forums held across the nation in 2005, Johanns said the USDA's rural development programmes were widely supported. Conservation efforts were also strongly supported for the most part but there were some concerns among cattlemen in the western regions of the nation. Farm subsidy programmes received mixed reviews on a regional basis, he said, with most producers in the Midwest saying payment limits are needed, while producers in the South were very opposed to payment limits.


He said only five commodity groups--wheat, corn, soybeans, cotton, and rice--receive over 90 percent of the farm programme payments. However, today, income from specialty crops is equal to that of the top five crops. Specialty crop growers want a place in the next farm bill, he said.


Concerning when the next farm bill will be written, he said "you are not going to see a farm bill written in 2006". Johanns predicts that it will be written in spring 2007.


Following his presentation and discussion with pork forum delegates, Johanns met with representatives of the press, fielding questions on a variety of topics including animal disease and meat trade.


Frozen chicken stocks at the end of January hit a new record high, due to a significant decline in export sales in recent months amid consumer concerns in Asia and Europe about bird flu. When asked if the US Department of Agriculture has plans to purchase more chicken for its food assistance programmes, Johanns said the department does not plan to purchase any more chicken than normal this year.


On the matter of discussions with Japan about US beef trade, he said he would be meeting with Japanese officials in London soon and hopes that there will be an agreement in the near future. However, he could not give a specific date of when that could happen.


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