Senator John ThuneAfter months of deliberation, the Senate Agriculture Committee has written and passed its version of the 2007 Farm Bill. This legislation is important for all Americans and it would have a major impact on South Dakota's economy for years to come.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I recently had the privledge to help craft the Senate version of the 2007 Farm Bill. Leading up to the Committee action, I have been meeting South Dakota farmers and ranchers, to hear what they wanted in the next farm bill. Prior to writing the bill, the Senate Agriculture Committee held 29 full Committee hearings to discern what in the 2002 Farm Bill worked and what didn't.
I also had the opportunity to conduct an Energy Subcommittee field hearing in Brookings earlier this year to further explore options for expanding production of cellulosic ethanol. As a result of this hearing, I introduced first-of-its-kind legislation that would encourage development of the cellulosic ethanol industry and provide financial incentives to begin production of biofuels feedstock such as switchgrass. I am pleased that the Energy Title of the 2007 Farm Bill includes most of the provisions of my legislation. I firmly believe that this provision will go a long way in advancing our nation's renewable energy production as we work to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy.
I am pleased with the Conservation Title in this Committee bill as it reauthorizes important programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and maintains the 39.2 million acre acreage cap that I fought for when I helped draft the 2002 Farm Bill. Several of my recommendations to strengthen and reauthorize the Wetlands Reserve Program and Grasslands Reserve Program were included in the Committee's Conservation Title.
One of the greatest concerns I had with the bill that we considered in Committee was a subtle change that would have radically altered and reduced the effectiveness of the Loan Deficiency Payment Program by altering the current provisions concerning ownership of grain. In the Committee mark-up, I offered an amendment to preserve this critical component of the family farm safety net. After a rigorous debate with USDA representatives and Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, my amendment was accepted by a wide margin and the current farmer-friendly policy remains in place in the bill.
Another serious problem was addressed by my amendment which created a new classification of Farm Service Agency County offices. My amendment would ensure that most FSA offices will no longer subject to closure for the duration of the farm bill. This amendment was voted upon and accepted by the Committee because they share my belief that the FSA offices across Rural America must remain open and continue serving farmers with essential services - especially now, on the eve of delivering a brand new farm bill.
When it comes to Country of Origin labeling (COOL), I believe that South Dakota ranchers and others across the nation produce the best, safest meat in the world. American consumers deserve to know where their meat comes from. I am pleased to say that because of my work on the Agriculture Committee, stronger more precise language governing the standards and implementation for mandatory country of origin labeling have been included in the Committee's bill.
The Farm Bill will have a positive impact on Indian Country as well. I fought to improve nutrition on reservations across the country by expanding a program to provide more fruits and vegetables in schools on Indian Reservations. I also worked to include provisions to expand markets for Native agricultural products like bison.
No Farm Bill is perfect, and there is still a lot of work to be done on the floor of the Senate. I believe this week's Agriculture Committee Farm Bill is a positive step for South Dakota agriculture and energy producers, and I look forward to continuing my 2007 Farm Bill efforts on the Senate floor.