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January 29, 2008   Email to Friend 

Darryal Ray
(334) 613-4187
January 29, 2008

Secretary of Agriculture Ed Shafer testifies before Senate Confirmation Hearing.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Ed Schafer was sworn in as the 29th secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) -- and the third for President George W. Bush -- following his confirmation by the Senate just hours before Monday's State of the Union Address.

"I appreciate that the Senate today unanimously confirmed Ed Schafer to be our next Secretary of Agriculture," Bush said in a statement released by the White House. "As a two-term governor and business leader, Ed has distinguished himself as an executive with a proven record of results."

"Ed will lead a department that oversees our food, agriculture, natural resources, food safety, and health and nutrition programs," Bush added. "He will be an advocate for farmers, ranchers and consumers as he works to open new markets for their products. And he will work with the Congress to pass a responsible farm bill that will provide a safety net for farmers and protect our lands and the environment, while at the same time ensuring federal tax dollars are spent wisely."

Following his confirmation, Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation released a statement congratulating Schafer.

"Farm Bureau congratulates Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer on his unanimous confirmation by the U.S. Senate," said Stallman. "Secretary Schafer's extensive experience with agriculture during his two terms as governor of North Dakota should benefit all Americans as he assumes oversight of crucial farm, food and conservation programs.

"Secretary Schafer's experience with grain and livestock import issues, and his understanding of the importance of home-grown fuels such as biodiesel and ethanol, are among his many strengths," Stallman added. "As trade negotiations on farm goods continue, we offer our support for his efforts to open important new markets. As the opportunity arises, we will offer Secretary Schafer insights on the new farm bill from our farmer and rancher members who work on the land to provide food, fiber and fuel for our nation. We look forward to working with him and thank his predecessor, Chuck Conner, for his efforts as acting secretary."

Schafer, a former governor of North Dakota from 1992 to 2000, was sworn in by Vice President Dick Cheney as Schafer's wife, Nancy, held the Bible -- just in time to attend Bush's State of the Union address as a member of the Cabinet. He succeeds Mike Johanns, who resigned last year to run for the Senate. The department has been directed in the interim by Conner as acting agriculture secretary.

Prior to Monday's confirmation hearing, Schafer met with the Senate Agriculture Committee where several members of the panel urged him to push through a workable version of the $286 billion farm bill. Both the House and Senate passed their own versions last year, but both contain tax provisions to raise additional funds for farm programs and have been criticized by Bush as "funding gimmicks." Bush has threatened to veto both bills.

The last farm bill expired Oct. 1, 2007, but the USDA has been operating under a short-term extension that ends March 15.

In Bush's State of the Union Address, providing food aid to the world's needy and increasing opportunities for trade were among the issues raised. He did not mention the farm bill, and did not tout the benefits of ethanol and biodiesel as he has in previous such addresses.

Regarding food aid, Bush said, "America is leading the fight against global hunger. Today, more than half the world's food aid comes from the United States. And tonight, I ask Congress to support an innovative proposal to provide food assistance by purchasing crops directly from farmers in the developing world, so we can build up local agriculture and help break the cycle of famine."

On trade, Bush said, "We must trust American workers to compete with anyone in the world and empower them by opening up new markets overseas. Today, our economic growth increasingly depends on our ability to sell American goods and crops and services all over the world.

"So we're working to break down barriers to trade and investment wherever we can. We're working for a successful Doha Round of trade talks, and we must complete a good agreement this year. At the same time, we're pursuing opportunities to open up new markets by passing free trade agreements."

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