Dakotafest Annual Opportunity to Bring All Ag Groups Together
By U.S. Senator Mike Rounds
For more than two decades, Dakotafest has been an annual event that brings together ag leaders and producers from across the state together into one place. With nearly 500 agribusinesses on-site to showcase their latest products, it is one of the premier ag events of the Northern Plains. I was grateful for the opportunity to join Sen. John Thune, Rep. Kristi Noem and area producers for Dakotafest’s annual farm policy forum again this year. Hearing firsthand from South Dakota producers is critically important as we work toward smarter, better policies for farmers and ranchers.
With the farm economy struggling and drought conditions affecting this year’s crop across the state, this year’s forum focused on the upcoming farm bill and how we can strengthen programs to help producers get through tough seasons. Maintaining and strengthening safety net provisions of the farm bill such as the crop insurance program remains my top priority in farm bill discussions. I also support raising the enrollment cap of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which was reduced from 32 million acres in the 2008 farm bill to 24 million acres by the end of the 2014 farm bill.
During the forum, I also heard concerns about conservation easements, particularly perpetual easements which are often agreements made by previous generations and may no longer serve their purpose for current farmers or ranchers who tend the land. That’s because perpetual easements are forever. I believe shorter-term easements would allow each generation to decide how they want to manage their land. During the last Congress, I introduced legislation that would make sure landowners know they have options for shorter-term easements when they enter into an easement agreement with the federal government. I will continue working to give our landowners greater optionality when it comes to perpetual conservation easements.
Farmers and ranchers are also concerned about having access to capital, particularly during tough times like this in order to keep their operations above water. As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, I have been looking closely at proposals to provide additional capital to ag lenders who provide both commercial and residential loans to producers. We have heard from producers that increasing the cap on the Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan guarantee limit will open up much-needed capital for farmers and ranchers.
With the current farm bill expiring in just over a year, it is important to begin discussions now about changes that need to be made in the next farm bill. Hearing firsthand from farmers and ranchers about their experiences with federal ag programs is crucial. We must make certain that federal policies work with – rather than against – our producers as they work to feed a growing global population.
I thank those who took time out of their day to visit with us at Dakotafest this year and I encourage all those involved in agriculture to remain engaged in the coming year as we continue to shape the next farm bill in Congress.