September 21, 2005

Ag secretary hears worries about young farmers and food stamps

Johanns conducted a farm-bill forum at the Farm Science Review, a three-day exposition of farm equipment and businesses that usually draws about 130,000 people.

Johanns talked little during the three-hour forum, saying he preferred to hear what people had to say as the administration develops its proposals for the next farm bill, which Congress plans to write in 2006.

Julie Watson, 18, told Johanns she grew up on her family's 350-acre farm in Salesville in Guernsey County with her brother and sister.

Watson said the biggest challenge for young people who want to start a farm on their own is getting the money.

"A lot of banks won't provide that," she said.

Watson said the farm bill needs to have a provision that encourages banks to make special loans for budding farmers.

"It's extremely difficult with the cost of land and the cost of machinery and equipment and to get started buying animals and seed for anyone to get that involved in the industry at the very beginning," she said.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Food Banks, urged Johanns to strengthen the food-stamp program and protect it from budget cuts.

The association represents food banks, food pantries and homeless shelters around the state.

Hamler-Fugitt said people on food stamps who use the food pantries are coming to the pantries more frequently - every two weeks instead of every two-and-a-half weeks - as their food stamps run out.

She said food stamps bring millions of dollars to the state.

"And food stamps help keep businesses in areas that would not otherwise be there," she said.

Prior to the forum, Johanns announced 72 Ohio counties have been designated as agricultural disaster areas because of drought conditions, making farmers there eligible for emergency low-interest loans. Farmers in an additional 16 contiguous counties are also eligible.

"I know firsthand the challenges it creates for farmers and ranchers because I've lived through it," Johanns said. "We are going to do everything we can through USDA to be helpful. It's a very tough situation to lose a crop or to have a crop where literally you question whether it's worth it to go out and harvest it."

Johanns applauded Ohio for pursuing the production of ethanol, a grain-based alternative fuel.

"Every indication is this is an area where we are going to see good growth, both in ethanol, biodiesel, biomass," he said.

Gov. Bob Taft, who accompanied Johanns, announced he signed an executive order Tuesday requiring the Ohio Department of Transportation to increase its use of ethanol and biodiesel in its vehicles. The order requires the agency to use up to 1 million gallons of biodiesel in its trucks each year.

"We've got to get into this business," Taft said. "This is the future."
LONDON, Ohio - U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns was urged Tuesday to make a greater effort to help young people get into farming and to protect and strengthen the nation's food-stamp program.


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