South Dakota’s number one industry is agriculture, which is why our state needs an effective Farm Bill. In both the House and Senate, I have fought hard to promote South Dakota’s agriculture economy and to protect the way of life for South Dakota’s farming families by actively engaging in creating sound Agriculture policies. As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I helped draft the 2002 Farm Bill and as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I helped craft the 2008 Farm Bill. In 2012, I worked across party lines with my colleagues on the Committee to draft S. 3240, the Senate-passed version of a new five-year Farm Bill, which would have saved taxpayers more than $23 billion while still providing a robust safety net for agriculture producers. Unfortunately, the U.S. House of Representatives did not pass a 2012 Farm Bill before January 1, 2013, so an extension of most provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill through September 30, 2013 was included as part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.
In 2013, as a Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have a renewed opportunity to help draft a comprehensive five-year Farm Bill. I am hopeful that a number of successful measures from the 2012 Senate-passed Farm Bill will be reconsidered and included. The Senate-passed 2012 Farm Bill achieved many of my goals by saving more than $23 billion while providing a strong safety net, improving the Conservation and Forestry Titles, and preserving and strengthening crop insurance. The Commodity Title in the 2012 Senate-passed Farm Bill used the reform-minded legislation I introduced in September of 2011, the Aggregate Revenue and Risk Management (ARRM) Act of 2011 as a framework. As my legislation proposed, the Senate Farm Bill eliminated the Direct and Counter-cyclical Payment Program, Average Crop Revenue Election Program, and Supplemental Revenue Election Program and replaces these programs with ARRM, which was modified and became known as the Average Risk Coverage (ARC) program in the Senate-passed Farm Bill.
In addition to reforming the Commodity Title in the Senate-passed Farm Bill in 2012, common-sense changes were made that would have strengthened the Conservation Title, including the consolidation of 23 conservation programs into 13, while reauthorizing the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program, two conservation programs very important to South Dakota producers. I also offered an amendment during the Senate Agriculture Committee’s markup of the Farm Bill, which was accepted by the committee, to discourage native sod and grassland conversion by those who use federally subsidized crop insurance to guarantee a profit from this land rather than relying on the land’s actual productive capability. The Congressional Budget Office projected my Sodsaver amendment would save nearly $200 million over the next 10 years.
Additionally, I was able to get an important provision included in the Forestry Title based on legislation I introduced in March of 2012, the National Forest Emergency Response Act, to combat the growing pine beetle infestation in the Black Hills and other national forestland. This provision requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary to, within 60 days of passage of the Farm Bill, name at least one National Forest in each state, at the request of the Governor, as a special pilot project to more effectively address the pine beetle epidemic.
I also worked to include a reauthorization of permanent livestock programs in the Senate-passed Farm Bill, which would have been retroactive to cover 2012 losses. I will continue to fight for these important livestock disaster programs as we work on the Farm Bill in 2013.
In light of extreme drought conditions over most of South Dakota, I pressured the Secretary of Agriculture to release CRP acres in South Dakota for emergency haying and grazing. More than 550,000 acres were subsequently released by the Secretary to help South Dakota’s grazing and forage livestock producers.
Even beyond the growing season, the continuing drought conditions in South Dakota remain at the forefront of the minds of our state’s agriculture sector. In late 2012, there was an unprecedented effort to unlawfully increase the release of water from the Gavins Point Dam to ease low water levels in the Mississippi River to protect shipping interests. These requested additional water releases would have come at the expense of urgent water needs of farmers, ranchers, and others in South Dakota who depend on Missouri River water. I was able to pressure the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the White House to preserve South Dakota’s resources for the benefit of South Dakota, by spearheading a letter signed by South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas, and Montana Congressional Members, as well as the governors of South Dakota, North Dakota, and Kansas to the President.
In October 2012, I spearheaded a letter signed by a bipartisan group of Senators to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack requesting an investigation of the recent unusually high differences between the prices sheep producers are receiving and over-the-counter prices consumers are paying for lamb. This letter was prompted by a drastic price drop of more than 50 percent in live lamb prices compared to last year and also because a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-run risk protection insurance program is not providing the price protection intended for insured sheep producers. The letter also encourages the USDA Secretary to explore export opportunities for meat and meat products outside traditional North American trade areas. My request came after speaking with sheep producers and leaders in the sheep production industry and learning of the devastating impacts as a result of price drops in the lamb market coupled with extreme drought conditions over the past year.
A major victory for South Dakota’s farm families came in the reform of the estate tax provisions that were included in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. The so-called death tax would have increased to 55 percent from 35 percent and dropped the exemption from federal taxes from $5.12 million to $1 million, impacting over half of South Dakota’s farms. Instead, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 reinstates the exemption at $5.12 million and indexes this amount for inflation going forward. Estates above the exemption amount are taxed at a rate of 40%. This still leaves a tax burden on 15-20% of farm families in South Dakota, and I will continue to work to eliminate the federal estate tax in the upcoming Congress.
Disaster Resources for South Dakotans
- South Dakota FSA
- US Drought Monitor
- National Weather Service link, in connection with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association website providing current drought monitoring data, as well as historic data and future projections.
- USGS National Drought Monitoring Map System
- State of South Dakota Drought Task Force
- South Dakota FEMA Disaster Declarations
|6/14/13||Senate’s 2013 Farm Bill Moves Ag Policy in the Wrong Direction|
|6/10/13||Thune Statement on 2013 Farm Bill|
|6/6/13||Thune Continues to Demand Answers from EPA on Personal Data Leak|
|5/14/13||Thune Statement on Farm Bill Markup|
|5/14/13||Thune Offers Amendments to Farm Bill|
|5/14/13||Thune at Ag Markup of Farm Bill|