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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed what he has been doing to help the struggling agriculture economy. From pressing USDA officials on prevent plant and conservation issues to calling on Congress to support the United States-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement, Thune is working to help get the farm economy thriving again.
Full text of the speech below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, our economy is thriving.
“Republican economic policies, particularly the historic tax reform legislation we passed at the end of 2017, have helped produce economic growth, higher wages, and better opportunities for workers.
“But unfortunately, our nation’s agriculture economy is trailing behind the economy as a whole.
“A combination of natural disasters, low commodity prices, and protracted trade disputes have left farmers and ranchers and rural businesses struggling.
“Although 2019 crop prices have improved, millions of acres of cropland will go unplanted, leaving many farmers with no crops to market this year.
“Farmers and ranchers have a tough job.
“Feeding our nation – and the world – is tough, backbreaking work.
“Farmers and ranchers put in long days that start before the sun rises and often end long after the sun has set.
“And yet no matter how hard they work, all of their labor can be undone by one devastating storm or flood.
“For most Americans, a bad storm might mean a wet or delayed commute.
“For farmers and ranchers, it can mean the loss of a substantial part of their livelihood.
“I’m proud to represent South Dakota’s hardworking farmers and ranchers in the Senate.
“And addressing their needs is one of my biggest priorities here in Washington.
“Right now, I’m working on several fronts to expand economic opportunity for farmers and ranchers and help them access the support they need.
“I recently requested a meeting with the Department of Agriculture to discuss cover crop harvest flexibility on prevent plant acres, Market Facilitation Program payments, and Conservation Reserve Program sign-ups.
“And last Thursday, the deputy agriculture secretary – the second-highest-ranking official at the Department of Agriculture – and the USDA undersecretary for farm production and conservation came to my office to meet with me on these issues.
“One important topic of discussion was moving up the November 1 date for haying or grazing cover crops planted on prevented plant acres.
“South Dakota farmers and ranchers are currently facing the fallout from severe winter storms, heavy rainfall, bomb cyclones, and spring flooding.
“Planting is behind schedule, and some farmers’ fields are so flooded that they won’t be able to plant at all this year.
“And the situation is similar throughout the Midwest.
“As a result, many farmers are thinking about planting quick-growing cover crops on their prevent plant acres for feed and grazing once their fields finally dry out, to protect the soil from erosion.
“But there’s a problem.
“Right now, the Department of Agriculture doesn’t allow farmers to harvest or graze cover crops on prevent plant acres or use them for pasture until November 1.
“Farmers who hay or graze before this date face a reduction in their prevent plant payments – crop insurance to help them cover their income loss when fields can’t be planted due to flooding or other issues.
“November 1 is generally a pretty reasonable date for farmers in southern states.
“But in northern states like South Dakota, November 1 is too late for harvesting thanks to the risk of snow and other late fall or early winter storms.
“It’s also too late to maximize the use of cover crops for pasture, since the ground can freeze before cover crops are fully grazed.
“Due to last year’s severe and lengthy winter, feed supplies disappeared, leaving no reserves.
“Cornstalks, a source of grazing and bedding, will be in short supply this year, resulting in severe feed shortages and a need for additional roughage.
“That’s why I’ve been pressing the Department of Agriculture to move this date up for farmers in northern states.
“Cover crops are a win-win situation and can reduce feed shortages for many livestock producers.
“They also help the environment by preventing soil erosion, which can pollute streams and rivers and worsen flooding.
“And they benefit farmers by improving soil health, which improves future crop yields.
“It’s important that we don’t discourage farmers from planting cover crops by insisting on the November 1 harvest date, and I emphasized that point to the deputy secretary and the undersecretary.
“I know the Department of Agriculture is looking at this issue right now, and I will continue to encourage the department to reach a decision that addresses the reality faced by northern farmers.
“Another subject I raised at the meeting last week was Conservation Reserve Program sign-ups.
“All farmers are familiar with the Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, which provides incentives for farmers to take environmentally sensitive land out of production for 10 to 15 years.
“The Conservation Reserve Program helps the environment by improving soil health and water quality and providing habitat for wildlife, including endangered and threatened species.
“And it helps farmers by reducing their crop insurance costs and providing them with an annual payment for the land they’ve taken out of production.
“I’ve spent years pushing for an increase in the Conservation Reserve Program’s acreage cap, and we finally got a substantial increase in last year’s farm bill.
“But the Department of Agriculture needs to expedite both general and continuous CRP sign-ups to allow farmers to take full advantage of the cap increase.
“Taking millions of acres of land out of crop production in the next year could have a big impact on the farm economy by driving up commodity prices, which will boost farm income.
“But in order for this to happen, we need to make sure that farmers can get their less-productive land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program and out of crop production by next year.
“That’s why I’ve been urging the Agriculture Department to make sure farmers can sign up in a timely manner.
“I also urged the department to expedite sign-ups for the Soil Health and Income Protection Program.
“I introduced the Soil Health and Income Protection Program, which became law as part of last year’s farm bill, to address the concerns of farmers who were interested in the Conservation Reserve Program but didn’t want to take portions of their land out of production for a decade or more.
“The Soil Health and Income Protection Program, or SHIPP, provides a new, short-term option for farmers that will allow them to take their worst-performing cropland out of production for three to five years, instead of the 10 to 15 required by CRP rules.
“Like CRP, it will protect our environment while improving the bottom line for farmers.
“And the sooner we get this program implemented, the sooner farmers and the environment will see the benefits.
“I’ve also been pressing the USDA to issue guidelines for the second round of Market Facilitation Program payments, and I emphasized this point again at last Thursday’s meeting.
“While I know our farmers would rather receive a check from the marketplace than from the government, we have safety-net programs in place to help in exactly the kind of situation our farmers are in today.
“I am continuing to press the administration on when the government will wrap up negotiations on the various trade deals under consideration.
“I strongly support the administration’s goal of strengthening market access for our nation’s farmers and ranchers, and we’ve made real progress in negotiations.
“Now it’s time to push for a conclusion to these deals.
“In addition to increased market access, farmers and ranchers need certainty about what international markets will look like.
“I am also pushing for congressional consideration of one already-concluded trade agreement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, in the near future.
“This agreement will preserve and expand farmers and ranchers’ market access to Canada and Mexico, and Congress should take it up and pass it as soon as possible.
“Mr. President, I want to say to all of South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers, I know you all have had a very tough few years.
“I am working hard here in Washington to do whatever I can to support you.
“And I will keep fighting every day to get our agriculture economy thriving again.”