Sharing Our Agricultural Traditions
By Rep. Kristi Noem
For nearly 100 years, my family has farmed the land we live on. It’s more than a business to us. It’s a tradition, a way of life – one that we share with many across the state.
Earlier this month, I was pleased to welcome U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to South Dakota and give him a peak into our tradition of agriculture and the people behind it. While it was his first official visit to the state as Secretary, it wasn’t his first trip here altogether. We’ve actually hunted pheasant near my home in the state’s northeastern corner a few times before (he’s a really good shot, by the way) and he’s ridden in the combine with me while I harvested our crops.
South Dakota was a natural stop during his first few weeks on the job, as it’s a microcosm of the many issues under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) jurisdiction. From farm and ranch policy to forestry to hunting and fishing, we have a little of everything.
To start the day, we sat down with tribal leaders, who have a significant number of farmers and ranchers within their constituencies. Because of the unique relationship between tribal governments and the U.S. government, I wrote legislation to establish a permanent Office of Tribal Relations within USDA. That provision was successfully rolled into the 2014 Farm Bill and we continue to monitor its implementation today.
Additionally, Secretary Perdue was shown the Black Hills National Forest and the damage done by a decades-long pine beetle infestation. While the Forest Service announced the beetle had finally been beat this April, work remains. Helpful provisions were included in the 2014 Farm Bill at my request, but we will need the continued support of USDA to repair the damage and make the forest more resilient against future outbreaks.
Following the tour, we sat down with producers. While the current Farm Bill will run through 2018, work has already begun on the next one and Secretary Perdue will be essential in implementing that legislation.
The livestock disaster and crop insurance programs have given many South Dakotans an essential safety net, but changes to the commodity programs are needed. We’ll also be looking to improve the Farm Bill’s wetland determinations provisions. Under existing regulations, producers have been delayed in making improvements to their land because of a years-long backlog. I’ve sponsored bipartisan legislation to address this and am hopeful we’ll see it included. Corrections must also be made to CRP (the Conservation Reserve Program), which only accepted 101 acres in South Dakota during the last sign-up period despite thousands of acres being submitted for consideration.
The day also included a stop at Ellsworth. To make the point that the Farm Bill is really a food bill, I often tell folks that while not everyone farms, everyone eats. I also like to mention that good farm policy is essential to our national security. If other countries control our food supply, they can control us. Food security is national security.
I’ve always been proud to be part of South Dakota’s tradition of agriculture, making it all the more special that I could show our newest Secretary of Agriculture how we do it with excellence.