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December 17, 2006 - Farming on Capitol Hill

I spent three days in Washington, DC earlier this month and it marked the 31st consecutive year I have made that trip. The reason...to conduct the annual year-end radio/TV interview with the Secretary of Agriculture, to look back at the year just ending, and look ahead to agricultural changes and opportunities in the new year.

Secretary Mike Johanns said while he couldn't take credit for the Fall rally in the grain market, he is delighted, and credited ethanol demand as well as export demand for the surprising strength in the market. He said there will be a new farm bill written in 2007, but he wasn't nearly as optimistic about resumption or a satisfactory conclusion of WTO world trade talks.

There is a lot of farming on Capitol Hill and my visit provided time to visit with folks who are involved in agricultural lissues throughout the year. Bill Lesher, who has helped write seven farm bills since the 70's, feels lit will be a challenge to write a new farm bill with so many trade questions still unanswered. he thinks there could be an extension until some of those questions are resolved.

A visit with Eldon Gould, who became Administrator of the USDA Risk Management Agency 14 months ago, focused on Federal Crop Insurance. There has been a dramatic increase in farmer participation in crop insurance dudring the past decade; $26 billion in coverage written in 1996, $34 billion in 2000 and just a few dollars short of $50 billion in 2006. Eldon said part of the reason is new programs, notably a program to insure pasture and rangeland that is in its first year.

The next stop was the office of Ken Hobbie, President of the U.S. Grains Council, the industry-supported organization charged with increasing exports of U.S. grains around the world. Ken said the Fall corn rally not only surprised U.S. farmers, it also caught a lot of foreign buyers off guard. However, it has not slowed purchases of U.S. corn because buyers realioze it is a demand market and any kind of weather problem in the 2007 crop year could send prices even higher.

Final stop was the office of Gary Baise, the leading environmental lawyer in Washington, taking the side of farmers in environmental lawsuits. He said it is a full time job with lawsuits attempting to curtail or shut down farming operations on the increase. He caught my attention with a new movement in California calling for a No-Farm-Day, one day a week, in the Nation's #1 agricultural state. If it becomes a reality, it would mean no outdoor farm work, one day a week!

I share these stories to emphasie there is a lot of farming year-round on Capitol Hill and, as producers, you need to always be alert and involved!

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.