Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today announced the first Farm Bill Forum and the topics on which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be seeking input from America's farmers, ranchers and rural residents regarding the development of the 2007 Farm Bill.

"The next farm bill will affect America's entire agricultural community," said Johanns. "That's why I want to ask America's farmers and ranchers how our farm policy is working and how we can make it better. I believe very strongly that they deserve a voice in this process."

The first Farm Bill Forum will be held in Nashville, Tenn. on July 7 from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. CDT at RFD-TV Northstar Studios. The public is invited to attend and participate in the forum, which will be broadcast live on RFD-TV. In addition to accommodating approximately 300 in the audience, the forum also will accept calls from across the nation.

Johanns made the announcement in remarks to the State Convention of the Illinois FFA in Springfield, Ill. The 2002 Farm Bill, which authorizes many of the programs operated by USDA, expires with the 2007 crop year.

Johanns noted that in his remarks that he was approaching the Farm Bill Forums with an open mind. "I do not begin this process with preconceived notions about the direction future farm policy should take," said Johanns. "We will use the feedback we receive to help us determine the best course for a new Farm Bill."

Throughout 2005, Johanns and other senior USDA officials will participate in the Farm Bill Forums that will be held across the country. The dates, locations and times of the forums will be announced as they are scheduled and be available on the USDA Web site at www.usda.gov. The public will be invited to attend the forums and to present oral comments.

As the current Farm Bill covers a diverse array of program areas, six topics have been identified to provide a framework for the forums. The primary topics addressed at the forums will reflect various concerns affecting rural America such as commodity, conservation, and rural economic development issues. In addition, some forums will be dedicated to other important programs authorized by the farm bill such as food assistance, research and education programs.

USDA will be seeking public discussion on farm policy considerations

regarding: the competitiveness of U.S. agriculture in global and domestic markets; challenges facing new farmers and ranchers as they enter agriculture; appropriateness and effectiveness of the distribution of farm program benefits; achievement of conservation and environmental goals; and enhancement of rural economic growth and opportunities to expand agricultural products, markets and research.

The public will be invited to provide comments on six specific questions based on these policy considerations:

1. How should farm policy be designed to maximize U.S. competitiveness and our country's ability to effectively compete in global markets?

2. How should farm policy address any unintended consequences and ensure that such consequences do not discourage new farmers and the next generation of farmers from entering production agriculture?

3. How should farm policy be designed to effectively and fairly distribute assistance to producers?

4. How can farm policy best achieve conservation and environmental goals?

5. How can Federal rural and farm programs provide effective assistance in rural areas?

6. How should agricultural product development, marketing and research- related issues be addressed in the next farm bill?

Notice of these questions will be published in the June 17, 2005 Federal Register. Comments will be accepted at public forums and may also be submitted electronically via the Internet at the USDA home page

(www.usda.gov) by selecting "Farm Bill Forums," by email to FarmBill@usda.gov or by mail to Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, Farm Bill, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, DC 20250-3355.

USDA will review the public comments received by December 30, 2005, including any analyses, reports, studies and other material submitted with the comments, that address the six questions.

USDA