Thoughts from Dakotafest
By Rep. Kristi Noem
Farming is one of the only businesses where you take out massive loans at the beginning of the year, bury that money in the ground in the form of seed and fertilizer, then hope and pray there’s something to harvest in the fall. Despite the risk, it’s important we grow our own food, and that understanding has made the Farm Bill a bipartisan priority for decades. But as cities grow and families get further from America’s agricultural roots, it’s increasingly challenging to build support.
In 2014, I had to fight members of my own party to get the Farm Bill done, and I was proud the final legislation included a strong safety net for producers and a meaningful livestock disaster program. With the 2014 Farm Bill expiring in a little over a year, we’re beginning debate on what the next Farm Bill will look like, hopefully building in enough time to educate non-rural policymakers about why agriculture safety nets are necessary.
At Dakotafest this year, I had the opportunity to hear from producers about what they’d like to get out of the upcoming Farm Bill debates: what’s working, what isn’t, and what can be done about it.
Josh, a rancher near Wall, talked about the drought, its impact on his operation, and areas where disaster programs could be better. Many ranchers had to downsize their herds because they couldn’t access good feed, given the drought. Meanwhile, in other parts of the state, farmers were forced to destroy good hay that was harvested as part of certain CRP management practices. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s what current policy requires.
Earlier this summer, I introduced the DRY Act, which would allow farmers to donate this hay to ranchers suffering from bad droughts or fires. It’s commonsense, and I’d like to see it included in the next Farm Bill.
I also heard from Mike, whose homestead near Hecla is older than South Dakota itself. As Mike put it, he’s always “two weeks from a drought and one night from a flood,” so even though it’s been a dry year, he had some serious concerns about the wetland determinations process.
Wetlands are protected for conservation purposes. If property is determined to be a wetland, certain changes – such as laying drain tile in a field – are not allowed without a landowner losing the ability to participate in federal Farm Bill programs and crop insurance. The determinations process has a history of backlogs, and in some cases, it can take years to get everything straightened out. That doesn’t work, which is why I wrote the Wetland Determinations Efficiency and Transparency Act. This legislation, which I’m hopeful will be in the next Farm Bill, aims to better ensure producers get timely determinations.
I also had a lot of discussions about various aspects of CRP. Many young farmers, for instance, are concerned that the ag economy can change significantly from year-to-year, and if CRP rates aren’t updated quickly enough, they can distort local rental markets, making it difficult to access productive farmland. Earlier this month, I introduced the Fair CRP Payment Act to better ensure CRP rates accurately reflect the current cost of renting farmland.
These legislative proposals are only the beginning. We’re working on a number of other bills as well, but I want to keep hearing from you about what more is needed. If I missed you at Dakotafest, catch me at another event. Call my office. Send an email. Now is the time to start setting the parameters for the next Farm Bill.
With each Farm Bill, fewer and fewer policymakers have a connection to agriculture. I like to remind them that while not everyone farms, everyone eats. Even still, it’s a tough climb. But I’ll keep fighting.