Senator John Thune
Agriculture is a way of life in South Dakota. Not only is it the state’s largest industry and the economic engine of our rural communities, but our state’s rural areas are where many families raise their children and mold the next generation of farmers and ranchers—making agriculture very important to our state’s future.
Agriculture has changed over the past two decades with crop production becoming more efficient and increasing yields. Farmers are keeping up with the latest technology using satellite steering systems for their machinery and applying seed, fertilizer, and chemicals with pinpoint accuracy and precision.
I believe agriculture policy should follow this example of efficiency. As South Dakota’s only member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I take very seriously the responsibility of ensuring that the farm policy coming out of Washington is defensible to taxpayers and responsive to the modern day needs of farmers and ranchers. Over the past year and a half, I have introduced Farm Bill legislation that collectively would save more than $50 billion over 10 years and eliminate unneeded and costly programs.
As I talked to farmers and ranchers across the state in preparation for this Farm Bill, they were very clear about the importance of a strong crop insurance program, and they were just as clear that they were willing to give up the current Commodity Title programs such as direct and counter-cyclical payments, ACRE, and SURE programs. As I worked with the Senate Ag Committee on drafting the 2012 legislation, these requests remained among my top priorities. My proposals to provide market-based payments for revenue losses due to substantial crop losses or steep price declines, in exchange for the elimination of the direct, counter-cyclical, ACRE, and SURE programs were included in the 2012 Senate-passed Farm Bill. For these reasons, I supported the 2012 Farm Bill, as I did with the previous two Farm Bills, because it included the reforms necessary to move agriculture into the future.
Unfortunately, this year’s Senate Farm Bill reauthorizes a 20th century Commodity Title program for 21st century production agriculture and offers only minimal reforms amounting to about $4 billion in savings to the $800 billion food stamp program. The Commodity Title of this year’s Senate bill included a new program called Adverse Market Payments which uses outdated counter-cyclical payments calculated using high fixed target prices that overwhelmingly benefit rice and peanuts. The addition of this new program, at a cost of more than $3 billion to taxpayers, was completely against the wishes of South Dakota farmers, and a huge step backward from the reforms we passed last year. The inclusion of this program and the minimal reforms in the Nutrition Title are major factors contributing to my no vote on this bill.
Prior to passage, I offered two amendments on the Senate Floor that would have eliminated the outdated target price program and made modest reforms to save taxpayer dollars within the food stamp program. However, out of more than 240 amendments that were filed on the Senate floor, only 14 received votes. This procedural decision to minimize amendment votes left me without an opportunity to make improvements to the Farm Bill, and is yet another reason I could not support the legislation.While I was unable to vote for the 2013 Senate Farm Bill, the legislation still has a number of steps before becoming law, and I will take every opportunity to make it a better Farm Bill for South Dakota prior to final passage.