Recent Press Releases

Washington, D.C. —  Senator Thune today released the below statement after the Senate voted to override President Bush's Farm Bill veto by a count of 82 to 13. Prior to the override vote in the Senate, the House of Representatives voted 306 to 110 to override the President's veto. Under the Constitution, a two-thirds majority vote is necessary in both legislative chambers to enact a bill into law after a Presidential veto.

"In vetoing the Farm Bill, President Bush overlooked the substantial gains we made in promoting second-generation biofuels, protecting the farm safety net, creating a permanent disaster program, and funding and adding important conservation programs," said Thune. "There will never be a perfect Farm Bill, but the 2008 bill is a major victory for South Dakota. Although the President has stated that this bill was too expensive, we need to keep in mind that 73 percent of the funding is directed to food stamps and nutrition programs - only 11 percent actually funds commodity payments for farmers and seven percent to conservation programs."

    Senator Thune's 2008 Farm Bill Achievements:
    Biofuels Innovation Program
    This Thune provision in the Farm Bill Energy Title would provide a cost-share payment and per-acre rental payment to producers who have committed to growing energy-dedicated crops for a local biorefinery. This program would also provide a per-ton payment to farmers for collecting, storing, and transporting biomass (such as corn cobs) to cellulosic ethanol plants. In total, this program will provide such sums as are necessary in mandatory funding to producers to jumpstart the cellulosic ethanol industry. Cellulosic ethanol production represents the next generation of renewable fuel production which could help to reduce our nation's dangerous dependence on foreign sources of oil.

    Permanent Disaster Title
    Senator Thune fought to include the Senate Farm Bill's permanent disaster program in the 2008 Farm Bill, which will provide timely assistance for losses due to natural disasters. The final Farm Bill establishes a trust fund totaling $3.8 billion over the next five years which will be used to timely provide disaster assistance when losses occur. The House-passed version of the Farm Bill failed to include a permanent disaster title despite its strong support within the agriculture community. The 2008 Farm Bill, with the Senate's permanent disaster program included will allow farmers and ranchers to plan for the future knowing the farm safety net has been strengthened.

    The Senate bill includes a reauthorization of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) with a 32 million acre cap. Several of Senator Thune's recommendations to strengthen and reauthorize the Wetlands Reserve Program and Grasslands Reserve Program were included in the Conservation Title. Overall, the Senate-passed bill includes more than $4 billion in additional funding for conservation programs that will benefit South Dakota's soil, water, and wildlife for years to come.

    Loan Deficiency Payments (LDPs)
    Senator Thune preserved a critical component of the Farm Bill family farm safety net. A Thune amendment, passed in the Senate Agriculture Committee, removed a potentially harmful requirement in the Committee's bill that would have negatively affected all grain producers by requiring that they sell their crop at the time of claiming an LDP, which provides a payment to producers in times of low commodity prices.

    Sun Grant Initiative
    The Final Farm bill reauthorizes the Sun Grant Initiative, which is coordinated by South Dakota State University. Thune has been working with members of the Senate Agriculture Committee to underscore the important renewable fuels research taking place at South Dakota State University and other Land Grant Universities across the country.

    Stronger Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) Language
    Senator Thune requested that the House-passed COOL language be strengthened to clarify that all categories of red meat are required to be labeled. At Senator Thune's urging, the Senate Agriculture Committee corrected a potentially fatal flaw to the House-passed COOL provisions that will make implementing mandatory COOL clear, concise, and beyond legal challenge. Thune successfully convinced conferees to strengthen final COOL language in the Conference Report.

    Tighter Payment Limitations
    Although Senator Thune voted for even tighter payment limitations during debate of the Farm Bill, the final bill includes significant reform to focus farm payments to smaller family farms. Only producers with less than $500,000 in off-farm income or $750,000 in overall income would be eligible to receive direct payments. Maximum direct payments would remain at $40,000 per person and $80,000 per couple. The new income limit test does not apply for price supports, CCC grain loans and counter-cyclical payments, which are earned when grain prices drop below a certain threshold. Conservation payments are limited to individuals with adjusted gross incomes of $1 million or less, unless two-thirds of that income comes from agriculture or forestry. The final farm bill also prohibits payments from going to deceased farmers.

    Farm Service Agency (FSA) Office Closure
    Throughout the Farm Bill debate Senator Thune fought tirelessly to keep South Dakota's FSA County Offices open. In 2007, Senator Thune was the first member of Congress to introduce legislation to protect FSA offices from closure and specified that county offices could only be closed if FSA conducted an evaluation of cost savings at FSA headquarters. In March 2008, Senator Thune announced that the Campbell County FSA Office, which was scheduled to be shuttered, would remain open. On May 13, 2008, Senator Thune announced that as a result of his negotiations with FSA Headquarters, the remaining South Dakota offices on the closure list would also stay open. The 2008 Farm Bill includes a 2-year moratorium on the closure of FSA County Offices, with the exception of offices 20 miles or less from another FSA office. Senator Thune included language in the Conference Report which requires that FSA notify applicable members of Congress when future FSA county offices are scheduled to be closed. Additionally, as a result of Senator Thune's bill, the FSA is currently conducting a top-down evaluation of potential cost savings at its three national headquarters and state offices due to concerns that FSA was only targeting county offices for restructuring and cost savings.

    Native American Nutrition Tribal Assistance
    This Thune provision in the Farm Bill authorizes $5 million per year, for the life of the 2008 Farm Bill, for the purchase and distribution of traditional, locally-grown food produced by Native American farmers, ranchers and producers.

    Open Fields Legislation
    In May, Senator Thune joined a bipartisan group of Senators in cosponsoring the Open Fields Act. For the first time ever, federal mandatory funding ($10 million per year) will be available to expand the already successful walk-in program in South Dakota and in other states. South Dakota landowners voluntarily enroll more than 1 million acres of privately owned land in South Dakota's program every year. Senator Thune inserted a provision in the Farm Bill which will grant a higher priority for South Dakota when funds are awarded because the state advertises the location of its walk-in areas.

    Ethanol Import Tariff
    The final Farm Bill also extends the 54-cent tariff on each gallon of imported ethanol. The import tariff, which offsets the domestic ethanol tax credit, is an important protection for both the growing domestic ethanol industry and the U.S. taxpayer. The new expiration for the tariff is January 1, 2011.

Senator John Thune serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee and is the ranking member of the Energy, Science and Technology Subcommittee. In addition to working to craft the 2008 Farm bill, Senator Thune also played a role in advocating South Dakota's needs during the 2002 Farm Bill when he served on the Agriculture Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.