Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s Weekly Column: Where the Farm Bill Stands

noem press header kristi noem headshot May 21 2014Where the Farm Bill Stands
By Rep. Kristi Noem

It’s hard to believe fall is already here, although take just one step out the door and the temperature will remove all doubts.  For most of my life, this time of year meant hours in the combine.  I loved it and it’s one of the things I miss most these days. While the wheat harvest is wrapped up, soybeans and sunflowers are just getting started – and corn will be right behind.  While some areas are seeing good yields, others were hit by drought or hail damage.  Even high yields will not be enough to offset the low prices we are seeing in the markets.

These lower commodity prices have weakened farm income, worsened credit conditions, and pushed down the value of cropland by between 3 and 5 percent from a year ago, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s August report. 

It’s no secret that farming has always been an unpredictable way of life. But farmers are resilient and optimistic.  You have to be. After all, it might be the only industry where most people take out massive loans at the beginning of a year – only to bury that money in the ground in the form of seed, fertilizer, and herbicide.  We pray it produces a good yield and that someone will actually pay us a fair price for what we’ve grown.  That level of unpredictability is why the Farm Bill is so important.

I had the opportunity to be a member of the final negotiating team during the 2014 Farm Bill debate.  With only 29 members of the House and Senate having backgrounds in farming or ranching, it was a challenge to pass.  Nonetheless, we were able to finalize legislation that maintained strong risk-management programs for crop producers, strengthened livestock disaster programs, protected our native grasslands, and invested in ag-related research. 

Two years later, we’re still focused on making sure the Farm Bill is implemented correctly and fairly.  We’re also looking forward, getting input on how to improve the legislation during the next go-around. 

One of the things we’re looking at is how to improve the commodity safety net.  We know there have been concerns over the current commodity programs.  As a result, we’re again collecting feedback from farmers about the kind of system that would be most helpful to get through tough times.

We are also working to re-evaluate some of the processes in place for producers. For example, the wetland determinations process has resulted in a tremendous backlog.  I am working with the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson, and North Dakota Representative Kevin Cramer on legislation to address this backlog and enact permanent reforms that make the determination process more efficient, accountable, and transparent.

Finally, we’re looking to strengthen the conservation programs needed to protect vulnerable habitats as well as prime hunting and fishing grounds.  This includes CRP.  Only 101 acres were accepted in South Dakota during the last general sign up, which is much lower than in previous years. I am looking for feedback from producers about how we can make that program more targeted and successful.

The next few years could be tough for many in agriculture – even with strong yields. That’s why it’s critical we have farm programs that provide a safety net, not just for the producer, but for the food supply on which our families rely.

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