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March 16, 2005   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
March 16, 2005

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Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, right, discusses U.S. farm policy with Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby, center, and Federation National Affairs Director Keith Gray prior to addressing more than 200 farmers gathered in Washington for the organization's annual legislative trip.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - American farmers are being asked to help curb the national deficit through cuts in farm programs proposed in President's Bush new budget. But many Alabama farmers believe that without those farm programs, agriculture will have a hard time surviving in their state.

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns spoke to more than 200 farmers attending the Alabama Farmers Federation's annual Washington Legislative trip Wednesday morning in the nation's capital. He said he supports the president's proposed budget, which includes cuts to farm programs.

However, Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby said this trip will help members of Congress and other national leaders realize the negative effects such cuts would have on Alabama farmers.

"Our leaders are in the process of making decisions that will have long-range effects on agriculture in our country," Newby said. "It's also important that consumers understand that, when they are talking about these cuts. The United States doesn't want to become dependent on foreign countries for its food and fiber."

The farm bill acts as a multi-year contract for farmers who make long-range business and investment decisions. The current farm bill was written to last through 2007; however, the president's proposal seeks to make program cuts prior to that time.

Secretary Johanns told Alabama farmers that controlling the deficit was a priority for the president, adding that all areas of government will be asked to tighten their belts, including agriculture.

Congressman Collin Peterson, D- Minn., the ranking democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, spoke immediately after Johanns on Wednesday morning and took an opposing view on many of the positions addressed by the secretary.

Peterson said the farm bill was a contract with farmers -- and it isn't fair to change the rules in the middle of the game. He encouraged Alabama farmers to seek support from their senators to block the president's budget.

The speakers also disagreed on a recent court decision that delayed resumption of Canadian beef exports to the United States. Johanns said the decision to reopen the border was based on sound science and that science indicates resumption of those imports is safe.

Peterson said science was the basis for the judge's ruling, which set aside a March 7 date to reopen Canadian borders. He said a cow from that country, which tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was born two years after feed associated with the disease had been banned in Canada. He said further study is needed before allowing Canadian beef back into the United States.

Japanese reporters were present for Johanns' remarks during the meeting with Alabama farmers and questioned him afterwards about the resumption of American beef exports to Japan.

Johanns said he believes beef exports to Japan should resume soon, adding that he is working with Japanese officials to set a target date.

Peterson, on the other hand, said Japan's decision to continue to block U.S. beef into its country is both political and economical. He said prices for beef produced in Japan have skyrocketed since the ban went into effect, and many producers there have close ties with Japan's agricultural leaders. Keeping American beef out, keeps their prices high, he said.

Alabama farmers will meet with their congressmen Thursday morning during breakfast sessions where, in addition to the president's proposed budgets, they are likely to discuss trade with Cuba. Alabama farmers could lose exports under a new interpretation of trade laws that requires cash-only transactions with Cuba. Prior to a recent ruling by the Treasury Department, Cuba paid for food and medical supplies shipped from the United States before it was unloaded in Havana. The department ruled that items must be paid for before they leave port in America -- a barrier that some farmers fear will send Cubans shopping elsewhere.

Also Thursday, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, will address the Alabama group during a lunch at the Russell Senate Office Building.

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