Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s Weekly Column: Grounded in Ag

Grounded in Ag
By Rep. Kristi Noem

South Dakota is grounded in agriculture. Our families are rooted in it; our economy relies on it; and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But agriculture has had some tough years. We’ve been hit by floods, droughts, and trade disputes, pushing many operations to the breaking point.

I’ve fought to make sure producers have a safety net during times like this. Pushing the 2014 Farm Bill across the line was a significant victory. But as the trade situation grew more rocky, I pressed the administration on the need for another safety net. As an initial step, they offered producers short-term support, but my message back to the administration was that we need trade, not aid. We need to be building new markets – in foreign countries, but also here in the U.S.

Ethanol can be a big piece of that. For years, fuel blended with 15 percent ethanol (E-15) could only be sold for 9 months out of the year. After significant pressure from myself and others, President Trump announced this fall that he’d take steps to allow for year-round sales of E-15, potentially bringing about 2 billion bushels of corn into the market. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was a driving force behind the change, and this month, we were fortunate to welcome him to South Dakota, celebrating the victory at one of the world’s largest biofuel producers, South Dakota-based POET.

After touring POET, we traveled to a farm near Lennox for a roundtable discussion with producers across the state. We heard a lot about trade. Many there explained they understood the need to level the playing field for America, but as Secretary Perdue rightly said: “You can’t pay the bills with patriotism.”

While there’s a lot of work to do on the trade front, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement was a very encouraging step forward. People are coming to the table. They’re negotiating with the administration. And American interests are advancing with each deal struck.

Before leaving, Secretary Perdue and I stopped by Brandon Valley Intermediate School for an assembly and to help serve students lunch. As many know, there has been robust discussion around school meals for years now. Under Obama-era regulations, schools’ hands were tied. They could hardly serve meat. Cheese and milk was difficult to put on the tray, because of its salt content. And many schools were facing financial straits because of it.

I’ve been working to ditch the one-size-fits-all model for meal requirements. As one of his first acts as Secretary, Sonny went ahead and loosened the regulations, giving schools much-needed flexibility. I want to make his rules permanent through law and have legislation to do that.

Overall, it was a tremendous visit, where Secretary Perdue was able to get a good glimpse of what grounds us as South Dakotans. That’s important because I’ve always believed what you see with your eyes, you carry in your heart. I have no doubt Secretary Perdue now carries a bit of South Dakota with him.

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