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South Dakota Congressional delegation stresses importance of the nutrition, production link in farm bill

South Dakota congressional members, in a South Dakota Farm Bureau Farm Bill forum at Dakotafest, a farm show at Mitchell, S.D., on Aug. 17, 2022, urge keeping the nutrition/production link in writing and improving a 2023 farm bill to replace a the current one that was written in 2018.

A U.S. senator in a plaid blue shirt gestures and speaks about farm legislation, flanked by colleague congressman and senator at left and right, on a farm show dais.
U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., makes a point in a farm bill panel at the Dakotafest farm show in Mitchell, South Dakota, on Aug. 17, 2022. At left is U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., and at right is U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
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MITCHELL, S.D. — The 2018 farm bill offers a strong foundation as a farm safety net for farmers and hungry Americans, but groups are looking for ways to improve in in 2023 and beyond.

The South Dakota Farm Bureau moderated a forum on the 2023 farm bill at the Dakotafest farm show in Mitchell, South Dakota, on Aug. 17, 2022. The event featured South Dakota’s entire congressional delegation — Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds and Rep. Dusty Johnson — all Republicans, as well as commodity and food distribution representatives.

Zippy Duvall, the American Farm Bureau Federation president, moderated the well-attended forum and urged farmers and farm groups to “stick together” in “modernizing” the bill.

Scott VanderWal, president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau and vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, noted there are more than 150 new members of the House of Representatives and 50 new members of the U.S. Senate since the 2018 farm bill was written, so the industry must make sure they understand the bill’s importance for food and nutrition.

A man in a blue plaid, short-sleeved shirt sits flanked by a Dakotafest farm show backdrop, and speaking into a microphone.
U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaking at farm bill forum sponsored by the South Dakota Farm Bureau at the Dakotafest farm show in Mitchell, South Dakota, on Aug. 17, 2022, said the five-year farm bill that expires in September 2023 offers opportunities to update reference prices undergirding safety net programs.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Thune, who is working on his fifth farm bill, said there have been a few Senate Agriculture Committee hearings, and he’s had listening sessions across the state, but that activity will increase in anticipation of a new bill.

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‘Producer-driven’

“We want a farm bill that is producer-driven,” and workable, Thune said. The top priority is a strong crop insurance program, which has been the cornerstone of a farm safety net since the 2008 farm bill, which was designed to move away from adhoc assistance.

Thune wants to update “reference prices” for the so-called Title I farm price support programs — Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs. He noted the ARC and PLC programs weren’t triggered during the pandemic when commodity prices dropped to some low levels. Updates will depend on how much money can be allocated to it.

Also, Thune would like to make the conservation title in the bill more “workable, more functional, more usable, particularly on the livestock side, for fencing and water distribution.” He’d like to increase the payment limits on Conservation Reserve Program, which he said “hasn’t been raised since 1985,” and need to be on par with the ARC and PLC programs, with limits up to $125,000.

NRCS reforms

A man speaks into a microphone, wearing a black polo shirt, flanked by a Dakotafest farm show backdrop.
U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., speaking at farm bill forum sponsored by the South Dakota Farm Bureau at the Dakotafest farm show in Mitchell, South Dakota, on Aug. 17, 2022, says he’s working on legislation to reform the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and would seek to eliminate federal permanent land easements and change their penalties.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Rounds, who does not sit on the Senate Agriculture Committee, drew applause when he said he working on legislation that would “reform the NRCS” — the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service — to make it a “better neighbor.” Among other things, he wants to eliminate “permanent easements.”

Rounds wants to make easement compliance penalties “proactive only, and not looking retroactively,” he wants to remove references in the easements to “woody vegetation,” and to protect participants from “changing rationales for wetland determination.”

On a related topic Rounds warned his congressional colleagues not to make CRP too much of a “working lands” program, with automatic or easy haying or grazing, because it exists in large part because of political support of wildlife enthusiasts. This is important in South Dakota, which is a magnet for pheasant hunter tourism.

The CRP program is often tapped during droughts and other weather disasters to keep livestock producers from going under, and that is how it should stay, Rounds said.

The congressional members all urged farmers to support the continued link between nutrition programs and farm support programs, in part because this gives some urban legislators a reason to vote for it.

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A man in a blue and orange plaid shirt, speaks into a microphone, flanked by a Dakotafest farm show backdrop.
U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., speaking at farm bill forum sponsored by the South Dakota Farm Bureau at the Dakotafest farm show in Mitchell, South Dakota, on Aug. 17, 2022, said farmers are concerned about economic safety nets but also excited about the farm bill’s role in putting meat, milk and other products in reach of needy Americans.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Johnson said the 2018 farm bill had a budget projection of $1.3 trillion over 10 years, although the policies are authorized over five years. He said one problem is that 80% of farm income over a four-year period was federal funds, either through adhoc COVID-19 or trade reprisal relief.

Rounds noted that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program program for needy families was projected to cost $159 billion this year, and is projected to cost $149 billion in 2023. Johnson, however, noted SNAP spending should be more than a political alliance for farmers.

“It’s something that American producers are excited to do — how do we get beef and milk into the bellies of these kids,” Johnson said. He said he likes that South Dakota requires young people without dependents to be in work or training program at least 20 hours a week to receive food stamps.

The positives

Scott Stahl, president of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, said the 2018 farm bill has been successful, but said it needed to be “modernized” to make sure that producers have fair profit margins as inflation raises costs.

“Eighty percent of our costs are associated with energy costs, when you look at fertilizer, fuel, and transportation,” he said.

Kevin Deinert, first vice president of the South Dakota Soybean Association, urged the congressmen to look at ways to support conservation programs that help farmers, and to support ways to utilize the product in biodiesel, including improving infrastructure like locks and dams and rail to get the products to market.

Austin Havlik, a Mitchell, South Dakota, banker and member of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, asked the delegation to work toward enhanced, buy-up coverage options for Non-insured Disaster Assistance Program, a program that fills in when the Pasture, Range and Forage Insurance isn’t reliable because of distance to mesonet weather data.

Havlick asked about the feasibility of cost-share for putting fencing and water on Conservation Reserve Program to complement conservation practices, and work toward ways to get young people back to the farm and ranch.

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In policies not directly part of the farm bill, Rounds urged changes in USDA policies that since 2003 have allowed companies to put “Product of the USA” label on beef and other products, if it is simply repackaged in the U.S.

A U.S. senator speaks into a microphone at a table at right, flanked by two congressional colleagues and the president of a national farm organization.
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From right, U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. comments about potential legislation, flanked by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., in a farm bill panel moderated by Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau, at the Dakotafest farm show in Mitchell, South Dakota, on Aug. 17, 2022.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Johnson noted progress for agriculture from a bill he passed that would increase transparency requirements from the “big four” packing companies, and year-round E15 (gasoline with 15% ethanol) — an increase from the current 10% blend in regular gas. He said he is concerned about making sure that Chinese interests don’t increase their holdings of U.S. agriculture , or ag processing noting that

All three were concerned about $20 billion in the new Inflation Reduction Act. All said they don’t know how the USDA will spend the money but Johnson said some colleagues want it to come with “strings attached.”

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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