Representing South Dakota’s agriculture producers continues to be one of my highest priorities in the Senate as I begin work on my third Farm Bill since being elected to Congress.
While serving on both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, I have worked to ensure that South Dakota agriculture—the state’s number one industry with impacts of more than $20 billion to the economy—has been well represented during the drafting of Farm Bills.
On May 26th the Senate Agriculture Committee will hold its first 2012 Farm Bill hearing. The upcoming Farm Bill will undoubtedly present the greatest challenge of any I have helped draft due to the limited amount of funding available in the current budget environment. The federal deficit simply cannot be allowed to spiral out of control, meaning farm program spending will be reduced in the 2012 Farm Bill.
Production agriculture began contributing to federal deficit reduction two years ago through changes made to crop insurance, which resulted in a savings of more than $6 billion. Of that amount, $4 billion was returned to the U.S. Treasury for deficit reduction.
For the past year, I have met and visited with farmers and ranchers across South Dakota, and they are very much aware of the current debt crisis and are willing to contribute even more to reduce the federal debt. Their only ask is that the level of their contribution to reduce the national debt be matched equally by similar reductions to other federal programs.
U.S. farmers and ranchers are being singled out by non-farming interests and by urban members of Congress who are seeking to reduce crucial Farm Bill safety net programs to the point of offering little or no protection when natural disasters destroy crops and livestock.
South Dakota’s agriculture producers have not asked me for a handout. They would much rather earn income directly from crop and livestock sales and from the land—not the government. In fact, they’ve told me they are willing to give up Farm Bill direct payments in exchange for a continued secure crop insurance program, and I’ve made my colleagues on the agriculture committee aware that preserving crop insurance and providing an adequate safety net are my highest Farm Bill priorities.
The Farm Bill also offers conservation programs that provide the land stewardship tools farmers and ranchers need to keep their operations sustainable so they are preserved for future generations. The Conservation Reserve Program, for example, not only protects marginal and fragile lands, but provides habitat to pheasants which contribute more than $200 million to South Dakota’s economy from hunting.
Safety net and conservation programs are critical to South Dakota agriculture. I will be fighting for both of these as drafting the 2012 Farm Bill unfolds.