Presenting the first major speech of her newly begun tenure as the 27th secretary of agriculture, Ann Veneman discussed the focus the Bush Administration will take toward U.S. food and fiber policy.

Veneman appeared before attendees of the 2001 U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Outlook Forum, in Arlington, VA.

Secretary Veneman highlighted the need for an improved safety net for the production sector that works within an open market framework.

She added government cannot force solutions and that the approach taken by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest challenging different commodity groups to come together to develop a comprehensive set of program alternative was one that should improve the overall process.

Of note in her speech was mention of the important role pest-disease prevention and eradication programs would have in helping producers eliminate production robbing problems and increased costs.

Veneman discussed key areas for the Administration including: pursuit of an aggressive trade policy to expand exports and open new markets; provide a strong safety net and continue toward market-based solutions; expand efforts to improve food safety and the use of new technologies; develop new regulations within a sound science framework; and work toward pro-Agriculture reforms to tax policies.

With the Administration yet to release its budget, Veneman was unable to provide significant level of detail of the key points she highlighted. Also lacking was comment about potential short-term relief that might be advanced to aid producers in 2001, and on the status of publication of the final rule to trigger the release of 2000 disaster assistance payments.

In other presentations, World Trade Organization Director-General Mike Moore and Ambassador Rita Derrick Hayes, deputy U.S. trade representative to the World Trade Organization, discussed the progress that has been made and the potential for further agreements when the next round of talks begins later this year.

Opening the first day of the forum was a panel discussion keyed around the development of new farm legislation, at the end of the current program.

Sen. Robert Duncan, District 28, has introduced two agriculture related bills to the 77th Texas State Legislature, both targeted toward helping agricultural producers.

SB 717 makes technical clarifications to law governing the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Program.

First, the bill gives the ag commissioner the ability to appoint advisory committees for active or proposed eradication zones. Appointed committee members would be provided the same legal immunity as is provided to Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation board members. Appointed committees would be subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Second, SB 717 ensures that the boll weevil assessment lien will not be bound by changes to Chapter 9 of Texas Business and Commerce Code that take effect June, 2001. The changes to Chapter 9, enacted in the 76th legislature (1999), will add provisions for agricultural liens that would not be in accord with the original intent of the BW assessment lien statute and the BW assessment lien could not be treated as an agricultural lien under Chapter 9. Duncan's concern is that the lien should remain being treated as a security interest created by a seller and that the original intent of the lien statute continue to be served.

Under SB 779, Duncan has crafted legislation to protect agricultural producers who have contracted an agricultural product, but do not get paid. Under current law, growers are way hack in line behind other creditors, but this bill creates an agricultural lien that makes a producer's contract a priority.

Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., and Texas Farm Bureau have worked closely with Senator and his staff on these bills to ensure the needs of producers are met.

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