High school students and others were all ears Tuesday as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns ticked off the Administration's farm bill proposals aimed at beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. Johanns held a roundtable discussion on the beginning farmer title of the 2007 Farm Bill proposals during the 79th annual Iowa FFA Leadership Conference, which was held on the Iowa State University campus in Ames.
"If you go back and look at all past farm bills you will find there has never been this much devoted to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers," declared Johanns.
Key components of the proposals include raising the direct payment limit by 20%, adding $250 million to producer income over 10 years, reserving a portion of conservation assistance funds to support beginning producers and providing more loan flexibility for down payments on land purchases.
Maximum down payment loan would be increased from the current limit of $100,000 to $200,000. "Plus, our proposal cuts the interest rate on beginning farmer loans in half – to 2% and payments would be deferred for one year," noted Johanns. Limits on direct ownership and operating loans would be raised to $500,000 from the current statutory limit of $400,000 for both loans.
The round table was sort of a continuation of farm bill forums conducted around the country last year by USDA. Members of the audience had the opportunity to comment and ask questions. ISU senior ag student Kyle Maas asked Johanns what advantages he sees for beginning farmers. "Never in my lifetime has there been more opportunity for beginning producers when you consider all of the opportunities in the renewable fuels arena," said Johanns.
The secretary also addressed the state FFA convention saying, "the future strength of American agriculture depends in part on the ability of young men and women to overcome the challenges associated with entering production agriculture. I believe our proposals will help address those challenges and support the success of the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Our proposals provide tangible benefits and help in leveraging assets to purchased or expand farm and ranch operations."
To access USDA farm bill proposals by title go to www.USDA.gov/farmbill.