Working Toward a Farm Bill That’s Done Right and On Time
By Sen. John Thune
For folks who haven’t been following my “Thune Farm Bill” effort in the Senate, thanks to the help of stakeholder groups and individual farmers and ranchers throughout South Dakota, we made significant progress last year as we laid important groundwork for the 2018 farm bill. The current farm bill expires this fall, and one of my top priorities for 2018 is ensuring the next farm bill is done right and on time.
Last March, I announced that I’d be introducing multiple individual farm bill proposals that cover most sections of the overall bill. My goal was simple. I wanted to put pen to paper early on in the process – beginning more than one year ahead of the deadline – so we could start having a discussion about items that could be included in the new bill. By starting this conversation early, we would be able to get ahead of the game, and I’m glad we did.
The first proposal I introduced last year would create the Soil Health and Income Protection Program, or SHIPP for short. It’s designed to be a new voluntary income protection program for farmers that would help meet the production and soil health needs in today’s agriculture economy. The new program, which offers a short-term alternative to the popular Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and its long-term requirements, is widely supported. Scott VanderWal, the president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, called it “commonsense” and said it had the potential be a “helpful tool” for South Dakota farmers.
Shortly after I rolled out SHIPP, I introduced a set of proposals that would greatly improve how easement programs are managed by adding flexibility to CRP and creating new options for other easement programs. My legislation would boost the CRP acreage cap to 30 million acres, which represents a 25 percent increase, and it would create a new target acreage enrollment for each state based on historical enrollment. South Dakota is expected to lose nearly 60 percent of its existing CRP acres during the years covered by the 2018 farm bill, so it was clear to me that some changes needed to be made.
From there, I introduced numerous other proposals that would, among other things, simplify the Agriculture Risk Coverage-County payment process for multi-county farms, require a mandatory crop acreage base update, improve eligibility for disaster-related diseases under the Livestock Indemnity Program, accelerate the availability of Livestock Forage Program assistance for counties in the D2 Drought Monitor category, increase the effectiveness of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, and improve the National Environmental Policy Act.
We closed out 2017 with a proposal to expand the sodsaver initiative, which I first authored in the 2008 and 2014 farm bills, for nationwide implementation. In 2018, we picked up right where we left off. This month, I introduced a bill that would help individual Native American ranchers by providing them with premium assistance for grazing loss crop insurance and disaster assistance eligibility for horses that are owned for personal use when natural disasters strike.
Taken as a whole, these bills represent some of the most extensive farm bill policy recommendations that have been introduced this Congress. Again, and I can’t emphasize it enough, we wouldn’t be here without the hard work and dedication of the men and women in South Dakota’s agriculture industry who provided their advice and suggestions along the way. As we approach this fall’s deadline, they’re needed now more than ever.