It’s been dry…
By Rep. Kristi Noem
It’s been dry to say the very least. Every county in the state has experienced this year’s drought to some degree, with many facing severe or extreme conditions. Well over half of South Dakota’s wheat is in poor or very poor condition, as is most of our barley, oats and alfalfa. Corn and soybeans are hurting too. Meanwhile, many pastures have been brown for some time, leaving ranchers with a severe feed shortage and forcing many to downsize their herds.
Every farmer and rancher understands agriculture is a risky business. You can have good crops for a decade, but one or two bad years can change everything. Times like this underscore the importance of providing a safety net to those who maintain our food supply.
Earlier this month, I joined members of the House Agriculture Committee for a Farm Bill listening session where these safety nets were a primary focus. During the 2014 Farm Bill debate, I fought hard as a member of the final negotiating team to strengthen crop insurance and make the Livestock Forage Program permanent, because ranchers should have some certainty about the safety nets available when drought conditions leave wheat heads unfilled and pastures bare. At the same time, taxpayers deserve certainty too. By building safety-net programs like this into the budget rather than doing crisis-by-crisis emergency spending, we can better predict financial needs and avoid deficit spending.
Additionally, I’ve been pleased to see Secretary Perdue incrementally open South Dakota’s CRP acres for haying and grazing, following a request I made to do so. He also allowed for certain CRP contract holders to donate their hay to livestock producers in drought-stricken counties. This relief was needed, but I believe this is an area where ranchers ought to have more certainty. In late July, I introduced the Donations in Rough Years (DRY) Act. This bill would permanently allow the hay harvested on certain CRP acres to be donated to ranchers struggling to meet their feed needs.
Droughts and fires can leave thousands of acres bare, while farmers and ranchers elsewhere are forced to destroy good hay. There’s just no reason feed should be wasted. The DRY Act offers a commonsense solution. More specifically, the bill would allow for hay harvested in line with CRP management practices to be donated to ranchers suffering from a severe drought (categorized as D2 on the U.S. Drought Monitor) for eight weeks or an extreme drought (categorized as D3) for any length of time. If a presidential disaster is declared due to fire, ranchers would also be eligible to receive donated hay.
Too often, the federal government waits until a situation gets bad before figuring out how to deal with it. In situations where days matter – such as in the midst of a drought-induced feed shortage – relief can come too late. We should be more proactive. That’s why it was important to fight to strengthen crop insurance and make livestock disaster programs permanent. It’s also why I believe the DRY Act is necessary. It won’t make the rain fall, but perhaps it can give a little peace of mind at a very unpredictable time.