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Peoria Journal Star Friday September 21, 2007

Central Illinoisans call Johanns' work memorable

PEORIA - The resignation of Mike Johanns as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture triggered numerous responses from central Illinois and around the country.

Johanns, who resigned Thursday in order to run for the U.S. Senate in his native Nebraska, drew praise from the president of the Bloomington-based Illinois Farm Bureau. "With all of the listening sessions he conducted around the country, Johanns is certainly going to be known for the work he's put into the farm bill debate," said Philip Nelson.

The new USDA head also brought approval from Nelson. "I think (Acting Secretary) Chuck Conner is a logical choice to fill the post because he brings a wealth of knowledge and background to that job. Coming from the Midwest, he's a strong proponent of renewable fuels," he said.

Renewable fuels, including corn-based ethanol, wasn't the only issue during the two-and-a-half years Johanns headed the USDA. "Johanns came to office at a busy time," said Cimeron Frost of the Illinois Beef Association, referring to issues like the animal ID program and country-of-origin labeling.

"(Johanns) jumped in with both feet. I think he helped keep people's trust in USDA. As director of agriculture, he was producer-oriented. He tried to help the industry," said Frost.

That sentiment was echoed by the National Pork Producers Council in Washington, D.C., which called Johanns a "true friend of livestock producers" in a statement from President Jill Appell, a pork producer from Altona, near Galesburg.

If Johanns succeeds in gaining public office that should be good for the nation's farmers, said Peoria County Farm Bureau manager Patrick Kirchhofer. "Legislators with an ag background are few and far between in Congress. He would be influential on agricultural issues as someone who's been out in the country talking to farmers," he said.

Johanns talked to some of those farmers while in Decatur last month for the Farm Progress Show, noted Kirchhofer.

Johanns presided over the department at a time when agriculture became increasingly important in developing fuel sources for the nation, said Harry Danforth, associate area director of USDA research facilities in the Midwest, from his office at the Peoria Ag Lab.

"(Johanns) was a great supporter of many of the renewable fuels projects we've undertaken," he said.

"At USDA, fuel (research) has become of a focus, and not just ethanol. We're looking at new directions for bioenergy. We look for continued support in that regard," said Danforth.

But Johanns also had critics. "We are certainly disappointed in Secretary Johanns' unwillingness to consider the interests of independent cattle producers," said Bill Bullard, executive director of R-CALF, a Billings, Mont.-based organization of cattle producers. R-CALF has clashed with USDA over country-of-origin labeling, the animal ID program as well as trade issues.

"The (USDA's) failure to allow voluntary testing for BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) has cost this country billions of dollars in lost trade with other nations," he said.


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