Johanns resigns from USDA post

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It's finally official that Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns will hang up his hat as Secretary of Agriculture after weeks of speculation that he'd be leaving. Wednesday he handed over a resignation letter to the President effective immediately. Although he did not officially announce his candidacy for the Republican Senate seat vacated by retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel, media reports this week indicated he is already rounding up support for the bid.

Farmers recognize Johanns as one of the most down-to-earth secretaries whose time in the cabinet was characterized by his desire to get out in the countryside, hear the concerns of farmers, and present them to Congress.

The voice of the Administration is now gone as Congress wrangles over its farm bill. In his resignation letter Johanns pointed out the House version of the bill included several of the Administration's proposals and he hoped the Senate would do the same.

Current Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner will take over the reigns of the position as Johanns steps down as acting secretary in the interim. Conner said this morning he refused to speculate on the White House's decision for a permanent successor.

But in the meantime, Johanns said he leaves the farm bill finalization in "supremely capable hands." And most in the ag community agree. When former Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman burnt her bridges in the last farm bill debate, Conner mended ways and was there to help craft one of the most popular farm bills ever. In his letter to the President, Johanns said Conner is "supported by some of the most dedicated civil servants in the federal government."

Along with Johanns, Conner led farm bill listening sessions around the country, hearing first-hand from farmers and other stakeholders about their likes and dislikes with the current farm bill. He also led USDA's review of more than 4,000 comments that were used to develop a sound policy direction for the future of American agriculture. Johanns commented on Conner that "few people are as knowledgeable and insightful about farm bill policy."

In his resignation, Johanns thanked the President for his confidence and support. "For a farm boy from Iowa, this truly has been an opportunity of a lifetime. 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." Before joining the Cabinet, Johanns served as governor of Nebraska. He's served in the Cabinet for three years.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, Iowa, said he had a good working relationship with Johanns and "was very impressed by how involved he was in this farm bill process." Harkin added he felt Johanns had a positive effect on the Conservation Security Program as well as renewable energy and biobased products.

Harkin added praises to Conner, saying he was a "good choice" to serve as acting secretary. "I have known him for over 20 years and believe his involvement in this farm bill process will make for a smooth transition."

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman praised the work Johanns did. "He gave the administration a credible voice and an enhanced level of influence on all fronts related to America's farmers and ranchers, including the farm bill," he said.

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