SALEM, Ohio – The son of a dairy farmer left Washington, D.C., last week, walking away from what he called a ‘dream come true’ to follow his heart home to Nebraska.
That man was Mike Johanns, and the dream come true was his nearly three-year appointment as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Johanns tendered his resignation from the USDA post Sept. 19 and plans to run in 2008 for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.
Johanns served as secretary of agriculture since Jan. 21, 2005.
In the wake of the announcement, President George Bush appointed Deputy Agriculture Secretary Charles Conner as acting secretary.
Farewell. In the resignation letter, Johanns praised Bush’s leadership and vision and credited it with giving agriculture a strong foothold in the U.S. and international economies.
Johanns also credited the administration’s policies with creating the lowest farm debt-to-asset ratio in more than 45 years, farm family incomes well above the national household average, and strong conservation and nutrition programs.
Johanns, who leaves the Beltway while the 2007 farm bill is in its final stages of debate in the Senate, says he’s leaving that policy in “supremely capable hands” under Charles Conner and the rest of the USDA staff.
“Few people are as knowledgeable and insightful about farm bill policy,” as Conner, Johanns said.
Praise. In the White House Rose Garden Sept. 20, Pres. Bush shared with the nation Johanns’ decision to head home and reflected on his tenure in the department of agriculture.
“Mike has been an outstanding member of my Cabinet. I knew he would be when I asked him to become the Secretary of Agriculture,” Bush said, calling Johanns a decent and honest person who gets things done.
Bush also reflected on Johanns’ appointment and the practical farm experience he brought to Washington.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better Secretary of Agriculture.”
Reactions. Several farm groups spoke out to express their sense of loss in Johanns’ resignation, and also looked back on the steps he took to make the agricultural industry stronger.
“During Secretary Johanns’ tenure at the department he has shown an openness and willingness to travel to the countryside and listen to those who live, work and raise their families in rural America. I give him a lot of credit for that,” said Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union.
“While we didn’t always agree on the issues, he was an active participant in the process.”
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, called Johanns “an ardent advocate for American agriculture’s ability to provide renewable energy” and a “bold proponent of giving farmers innovative technologies for food and fiber production.”
Stallman also said Johanns was “one of the most accessible secretaries of agriculture we have had in recent memory.”
The National Pork Producers Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association referred to Johanns as a supporter and friend of their respective groups, and lauded his work on free trade agreements and recovering lost export markets.
“Mike Johanns has been a great friend to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the cattle industry, as well as to production agriculture as a whole,” said John Queen, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“We hate to lose a friend like that.”
Difficult decision. In his resignation letter, Johanns called his tenure at USDA “an opportunity of a lifetime” and his decision to leave a difficult one.
“As I have often noted, I never dreamed of becoming secretary of agriculture as a child because it seemed so far removed from our 160-acre farm [in Iowa]. I hope young people growing up on farms and in rural communities today realize that no dream is too big in America.”
Replacement. USDA files say Charles Conner has been deputy secretary of agriculture since May 2, 2005.
He grew up on a corn, soybean and cattle farm in Benton County, Ind., and holds a degree in agricultural economics from Purdue.
Before joining USDA, he tracked agricultural issues for the National Economic Council, was president of the Corn Refiners Association, and served as a staff member with the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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