Though his schedule is tight, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman will have time to speak with farmers during his visit to the Tri-Cities on Thursday.
While much of his time will be spent with farming leaders, Glickman can hear from the average Washington grower while he tours a farm near Kennewick and stops at a farm-shop to meet with commodity and farm groups, said Tom Amontree, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The specific times and locations of Glickman’s stops won’t be released by the USDA until late today, when the schedule is finalized.
He is coming to look at the Eastern Washington soil and see first-hand the wind-erosion problems described to him by farming advocates and the Washington state congressional delegation.
The secretary also will hear comments on the Conservation Reserve Program, a federally funded program that pays farmers who qualify to leave a portion of their fields idle for the sake of the environment. In the most recent CRP sign-up, Washington farmers came in last among farm states with only a 20 percent approval rate for their applications. Oregon and Idaho both had approval rates of over 80 percent.
That prompted Eastern Washington members of Congress to charge the agency had made a mistake in reviewing applications from the state. Glickman has said no mistakes were made.
U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., convinced a House committee to cut money for two high-ranking USDA officials who oversee the program. Glickman is supporting an attempt to restore the funding by Rep. Charles Stenholm of Texas, the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee.
Nethercutt said he hopes to talk with Glickman this morning to find “common ground” before a vote on that funding cut occurs late today.
“I think we can win the vote if it comes to that,” he said. “We’ll get some Democrats but we’ll lose some Republicans.”
Some Eastern Washington wheat farmers have said they would like to ask Glickman about the discrepancy.
“He is very open to meeting with farmers,” said USDA spokesman Amontree. “Any farmer that wants to can meet with the secretary when he’s on the site. It will be very informal.”
Glickman, who is making his second visit to the state since becoming secretary in 1995, is not scheduled to give a speech.
According to a preliminary schedule, Glickman should arrive in the Tri-Cities on Thursday after noon, and depart before 5 p.m. Along with seeing a farm and meeting with farming representatives, the secretary is scheduled to speak to representatives of Native American groups.
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