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A Tale of Two Economies

By Sen. John Thune

February 14, 2020

It’s no secret that the agriculture economy has seen better days. Bad weather, low commodity prices, and protracted trade disputes have created an untenable situation for many folks in the heartland. What’s flyover country to some is home to others, particularly those who help feed the world, and I’ll never stop fighting for them or their way of life.

In 2018, we passed a pro-farmer, pro-agriculture farm bill that made meaningful improvements to existing agriculture policy, including by strengthening critical safety net programs. It also created new policy like my Soil Health and Income Protection Program, a pilot program for states like South Dakota that will serve as a short-term alternative to the popular Conservation Reserve Program.

As important as farm bills are, agriculture policy doesn’t begin and end once the bill is signed into law. It would be a lot easier if that were true, but the issues that are important to the agriculture community can evolve quickly, and it requires policymakers to stay focused and forward-thinking.

One of the most important things we can do to help the agriculture economy thrive is to continue negotiating good trade deals. I was a strong advocate for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a 21st century update to the decades-old North American Free Trade Agreement. USMCA, which was signed into law in January, maintains and expands access to the two biggest markets for American agriculture products and provides certainty about what these markets will look like in the foreseeable future.

The president also recently signed phase one of a trade agreement the administration has been negotiating with China. While we must ensure China maintains its end of the deal – something I’m committed to doing – increased U.S. agriculture exports would be a boon to producers in South Dakota and around the country.  

In what can best be described as a tale of two economies, the agriculture economy has lagged far behind the broader U.S. economy. In fact, today’s economy is one of the strongest I’ve ever seen, thanks, in large part, to policies like tax reform.

The unemployment rate is near its lowest level in 50 years and has been below 4 percent for the past 12 months. The labor force participation rate – a reflection of the number of people who have found a job or decided to start looking again – is at its highest level in seven years. The economy has created an average of 171,000 jobs per month over the last year. Wages are growing. The stock market is up, which means 401ks and pensions are, too. If you could create a blueprint for a booming economy, this would be it.  

While this is good news for American workers, they’re merely words on a page for producers who are worried about what steps they might have to take to make ends meet ahead of what could be another difficult planting season. Others are anxious that further trade disputes could close or further restrict market access around the globe. They crave certainty in what has been a highly uncertain time.

Farming and ranching is a tough business, and it always seems like the hardest day is yet to come. Thankfully, South Dakota is full tough men and women who always seem to make it look a lot easier than it is, especially during hard times like these. That’s why we can’t let the strong economy overshadow what’s happening in farm country or cause lawmakers to overlook this reality.  

As someone who is proud to represent America’s heartland and the hardworking people who help feed the world, farm country’s priorities are my priorities, and I stand ready to fight for them day in and day out.