By Senator John Thune
April 26th was a great day for South Dakota farmers and ranchers as two key events occurred in Washington, D.C. that will help our agriculture community breathe a little easier.
After months of work with my colleagues on the Senate Agriculture Committee, the Committee passed its version of the 2012 Farm Bill. This Farm Bill achieved many of my goals as it saves more than $23 billion; eliminates the Direct and Counter-cyclical Payment (DCP) Program, Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) Program, and Supplemental Revenue Assistance (SURE) Program; includes a strong Conservation Title; reauthorizes the permanent livestock disaster programs I was able to include in the 2008 Farm Bill; and most importantly, it not only preserves but strengthens crop insurance. The Aggregate Revenue and Risk Management (ARRM) Program I introduced in a bill last year was used as the framework for the Commodity Title of the Senate Agriculture Committee Farm Bill, and provided a savings of more than $20 billion.
The 2012 Farm Bill includes a provision I authored that will reduce crop insurance benefits for native sod converted to crop production and also eliminates policies that have encouraged the misuse of crop insurance. Inclusion of my provision, offered as an amendment, added an additional $200 million in savings for the Farm Bill.
In addition to finding much-needed budget savings and strengthening crop insurance, I was able to get language into the Farm Bill's Forestry Title based on legislation I introduced a few weeks ago that will help the Forest Service more effectively fight pine beetles in the Black Hills National Forest and other Forests across the country that face extreme fire hazards.
Although there is room for improvement to the Committee-passed Farm Bill, I believe it is a strong step toward reforming agriculture programs in a fiscally responsible way.
The second key event that took place on April 26th was the Department of Labor's (DOL) announcement that it will be backing off of its absurd proposed youth farm labor rule. After working relentlessly to defeat this out of touch rule-including introducing a bipartisan bill cosponsored by 44 of my Senate colleagues-the DOL finally caved on this government overreach. This rule, if finalized, would have drastically changed nearly every family farm and ranch operation, and discouraged countless young people from working on farms and ranches or pursuing careers in agriculture at a critical time when the average age of our farmers and ranchers is approaching 60 years old. The DOL rule was a prime example of what happens when government gets too big.
Although the battle for common sense is far from over in Washington, with your help, we were able to pass a Farm Bill that saves taxpayer dollars while ensuring a necessary safety net for our agriculture community, and defeat a government power grab.