Johanns’ confirmation is easy; it’s everything else that will be hard


A few days after his presidential nomination to replace Ann Veneman as secretary of agriculture, Nebraska Gov. Michael Johanns got a whiff of just how nightmarish his self-described “dream job” will be.
While making pre-confirmation visits to members of the Senate Agriculture Committee Dec. 7, Johanns heard about the importance of timber policy from outgoing committee chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
Yes, timber.
After all, Johanns will be overseer to 9 percent of the nation’s land, the 191 million acres managed by USDA’s Forest Service.
It’s a multibillion-dollar woodlot the size of Texas with more miles of roads than the national interstate highway system and 34,267 of USDA’s 113,000 employees.
Cotton. Later he got a seminar on American cotton policy from the expected new ag committee chairman, Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
One imagines Johanns listening politely to Chambliss’ southern fried defense of cotton all the while knowing that U.S. lawyers will likely fail in attempts to convince the World Trade Organization Dec. 13 that it was wrong to declare American cotton subsidies illegal earlier this year.
Second pick? Then it was on to a chat with fellow Cornhusker Ben Nelson, a centrist Democrat and, according to published reports, the Nebraskan the White House really wanted to lead USDA.
Nelson was all smiles – why not; Johanns at USDA removes Nelson’s main reelection rival in 2006 – while informing the guv that there is bipartisan support in the Senate to again push mandatory country of origin labeling on meatpackers and food processors.
The food fight. COOL, along with mandatory national animal identification, is a food fight the Bush Administration and House Republicans want to avoid.
Their legislative plate already needs sideboards (Social Security reform, tax reform, another run at an ethanol-enhancing transportation bill, needed cuts in federal spending, Iraq


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.