By Sen. John Thune
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: it’s never too early to start working on the next farm bill. That’s why earlier this year, I decided to get a head start on the 2018 farm bill by introducing several marker bills well before the current legislation expires. I’ve already written three farm bills during my time in Congress, and with the help of farmers and ranchers throughout South Dakota, I’m eager to hit the ground running on my fourth.
In March and April, I unveiled several modifications to the conservation title of the farm bill, including creating a new income protection program for farmers. The Soil Health and Income Protection Program – or SHIPP, for short – would provide farmers greater flexibility with their land by giving them the opportunity to enroll in this new short-term conserving use program. Another proposal I’ve introduced would increase the Conservation Reserve Program acreage cap by 25 percent to 30 million acres.
Most recently, I’ve proposed several updates to the commodity title of the farm bill, specifically the process by which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allocates commodity assistance for grain farmers. First, I codify a common-sense payment method for the Agriculture Risk Coverage-County (ARC-CO) program, which was designed to be a safety net for farmers and ranchers. Under my proposal, ARC-CO payments would be determined by the payment rate for the county in which the participating land is physically located, instead of USDA’s current inequitable payment process that for some farmers can result in higher and unearned payments than Congress intended.
I also included a provision that would update hundreds of millions of base acres in the United States – portions of land that have been planted or were considered planted at one time or another. Based on old rules, farmers could use base acres that were calculated as far back as 1991 to determine commodity payments they receive in 2017. Essentially, a farmer who hasn’t planted his or her land to a commodity crop in 26 years could still receive a payment for that land today. I think we need to update this payment process with more recent data, which would likely save taxpayers more money.
Fighting for farmers and ranchers doesn’t end with the farm bill. I also think we need to reform our tax code so it does a better job of working for, rather than against the hard-working people who make agriculture South Dakota’s top industry. I recently introduced a major tax reform proposal that would help farmers and ranchers recover investment costs – tractors, combines, or even the farm’s pickup truck, for example – more quickly. Accelerating cost recovery means farmers and ranchers have more money to keep the operation running, which helps them stay on their land and hopefully pass it from one generation to the next.
Agriculture policy is always important to farmers and ranchers, but particularly now in today’s weak agriculture economy. These farmers and ranchers know their stuff, and they aren’t afraid to share their opinions either. That’s why I was glad USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue recently joined me in South Dakota so he could hear directly from the folks who help feed South Dakota and the rest of the world. They had a lot of great ideas on how to improve agriculture policy, and I know the secretary left with a better understanding of what South Dakota farmers want and need.
The hard work and dedication that farmers and ranchers tirelessly invest in their operations is not entirely understood by folks who’ve never tilled the land, cared for livestock, harvested a crop, or prayed for a rainy forecast. We can all learn a thing or two from what they do for our country, and I will never tire in my mission to defend them in Congress.