US Senator John Thune’s Weekly Column: Agriculture Remains a Top Priority in the New Congress

Agriculture Remains a Top Priority in the New Congress
By Senator John Thune

John_Thune_official_photoLast year’s passage of the 2014 Farm Bill was a significant step forward for South Dakota farmers, ranchers, and agri-businesses, as it included critical livestock assistance and a secure crop insurance program. While not perfect, the bill provided important reforms to the previous Farm Bill to help move ag policy into the 21st century. As we move into the new session of Congress guided by a Republican majority in the House and Senate, ag policy remains a top priority for me.

As South Dakota’s senior senator, lone member of the delegation serving on a congressional agriculture committee, member of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, and chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, my committee assignments provide unique opportunities to address key agriculture priorities.

My role as chairman of the Commerce Committee will help strengthen South Dakota’s rail, transportation, and telecommunications infrastructure, which is important to keeping our agriculture and business economy strong and healthy. This past harvest season, agriculture producers were hit particularly hard by the rail service backlogs. As chairman of the Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over transportation issues, I will continue working closely with the Surface Transportation Board, which has direct oversight over our railroads to prevent future backlogs from occurring.

As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax and trade issues, I am committed to working toward tax reform that will simplify the tax system. Comprehensive tax reform is particularly important for farmers who pay taxes at the individual rates. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, more than 96 percent of farms and 75 percent of farm sales are taxed at the individual tax rates. I will also be reintroducing my legislation to repeal the federal estate tax, better known as the death tax. Protecting South Dakota agriculture from the confiscatory and unfair death tax is critical if we want to allow family farms to pass to the next generation.

South Dakota’s agriculture industry is very dependent on exports, with more than 40 percent of its annual soybean crop sent overseas. As a Member of the Finance Committee, I will fight for Trade Promotion Authority and favorable trade agreements to open new markets abroad to South Dakota’s agricultural products.

Finally, as a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, I will continue to keep a watchful eye on the implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill. Crop insurance is the most important safety net tool for our state’s farmers. Thanks to crop insurance and past federal Farm Bill programs, most farmers have been able to sustain their operations while providing the safest and most affordable food supply in the world. I will continue to advocate for South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers as the U.S. Department of Agriculture implements Farm Bill commodity programs, conservation programs, and other important agriculture programs.

Agriculture is the backbone of South Dakota’s economy. As your U.S. Senator I am eager to work on the pressing issues facing South Dakota, and I look forward to being a strong voice in Washington for the South Dakota agriculture industry.

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