Senator John ThuneFor more than a year, the Senate Agriculture Committee, of which I am a member, worked to draft a new Farm Bill. The Senate Farm Bill, which passed December 14, 2007, made a bold statement about the future of permanent disaster relief for U.S. agriculture producers. The Senate farm bill includes a $5 billion permanent disaster program, which represents a significant victory for farmers in South Dakota and across the nation.
South Dakota's farmers and ranchers have experienced first-hand the devastation that can result from natural disasters such as drought, flooding, hail, and crop disease. I find it unacceptable to make producers wait for much-needed assistance while politicians wrangle over ad hoc disaster relief measures.
As the past few years of ad hoc disaster programs prove, Congress, rather than timely responding to individual disasters as they happen, spends years playing politics, while farmers wait to receive much-needed assistance. Authorizing and funding a permanent disaster program would put an end to this.
To be eligible for assistance from the new permanent disaster program, producers must participate in available crop insurance. This requirement will strengthen the crop insurance program and help producers manage risk.
I have succeeded in the Senate, and previously in the House of Representatives, in securing ad hoc disaster funding for South Dakota. I believe, however, that a permanent disaster program is needed because setting aside money for disasters will help to expedite payments to producers.
The Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill over two months ago, and the House of Representatives passed its own version last year as well. The two bills must be reconciled by a conference committee made up of members of the Senate and the House Agriculture Committees. As I write this, two weeks before the most recent extension of the 2002 Farm Bill expires, the House has yet to appoint conferees.
The Farm Bill passed by the House does not include a permanent disaster program; instead it would rely on the ad hoc disaster program which has failed to timely assist producers who suffer losses. The permanent disaster program is one of the reasons the Senate passed its Farm Bill by a bipartisan veto-proof majority. The Senate conferees know this fact, and I hope that once the House names its conferees, the final version of the Farm Bill will include a permanent disaster program.