U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a longtime member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today discussed his priorities to help agriculture producers weather the COVID-19 pandemic and the ways he will continue to provide support for our nation’s farmers and ranchers. Thune said he believes recently confirmed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is sincere in his desire to work with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and he is eager to work with him to resume the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), allow more producers to qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and promote biofuels as a form of clean energy.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, on Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture.
“It’s a role he’s familiar with, having previously served as agriculture secretary under President Obama.
“I voted in support of his nomination because I believe he understands the issues facing farmers and ranchers and is sincere in his desire to work with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to support our nation’s agriculture producers.
“Mr. President, agriculture is the lifeblood of my home state of South Dakota, and fighting for farmers and ranchers is one of my top priorities here in the Senate.
“I’m very pleased to once again be serving on the Senate Agriculture Committee in this Congress, which gives me an important platform to advocate for South Dakota farmers and ranchers and farmers and ranchers around the country.
“One huge priority for me over the past year has been making sure agriculture producers have the support they need to weather this pandemic.
“During debate on the CARES Act – our largest coronavirus relief bill to date – I fought to make sure we included relief for farmers and ranchers.
“And I followed up by advocating for cattle producers with the Department of Agriculture to make sure they would receive funds.
“I also worked to ensure that additional relief for farmers and ranchers was included in the COVID legislation we passed in December.
“The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program the USDA established to distribute funding included in the CARES Act has distributed billions in direct support to agriculture producers, which has been key to helping them weather this pandemic.
“Now that Secretary Vilsack has been confirmed, I urge him to lift the Biden administration’s freeze on part of this important program and distribute the additional funding from the December relief package as soon as possible.
“I also urge the Agriculture Department to use its authority to provide assistance to agriculture processors like the biofuels industry.
“Mr. President, during my meeting with Secretary Vilsack prior to his confirmation, we spent time discussing my Soil Health and Income Protection Program, which became law as part of the 2018 farm bill.
“SHIPP allows farmers to take their lowest-performing cropland out of production for three to five years.
“This benefits the environment by increasing soil health and water quality.
“And it benefits farmers by providing them with a rental payment for the acres they’ve temporarily removed from production.
“I will continue to urge Secretary Vilsack to expand farmers’ access to SHIPP by holding another sign-up this year.
“I will also continue to urge him to address another priority I brought up in our meeting – the November 1 haying and grazing date for cover crops on prevented plant acres, which is too late in the year for farmers in more northern states like South Dakota.
“Mr. President, as I said, one of my top priorities has been making sure farmers and ranchers have the support they need during the pandemic.
“When it became clear that farmers and ranchers were largely missing out on the Paycheck Protection Program Congress set up to help small businesses weather the pandemic, Senator Baldwin and I introduced legislation to allow more farmers and ranchers to access the program by allowing them to use their gross income rather than their net income to determine their loan award.
“Our Paycheck Protection for Producers Act became law as part of the coronavirus relief bill Congress passed in December.
“And Senator Baldwin and I have continued to engage with the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration to ensure the Paycheck Protection Program is working properly for farmers and ranchers.
“For example, we recently led a bipartisan letter urging broader implementation of our Paycheck Protection for Producers Act to ensure that farmers and ranchers organized as partnerships or limited liability companies are allowed to apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans using this more favorable gross income formula, as intended.
“Mr. President, these issues are front of mind for ag producers in my state.
“And last week I had the opportunity to discuss many of them in person with representatives of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, which represents and advocates for corn farmers in South Dakota.
“Another thing we spent a lot of time talking about was biofuels.
“In addition to helping to feed our nation, corn and soybean farmers provide essential feedstocks for biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel, which provide an important source of cleaner energy.
“I’ve long been an advocate for biofuels for their clean energy potential and the benefits they offer to the agriculture industry.
“When I met with Secretary Vilsack, he committed to working with me to promote ethanol as a form of clean energy – a commitment he echoed at his confirmation hearing.
“I recently introduced two bipartisan bills to support the increased use of biofuels and emphasize their clean energy potential.
“The Adopt GREET Act, which I introduced with Senator Klobuchar, would require the Environmental Protection Agency to update its greenhouse gas modeling for ethanol and biodiesel by using the U.S. Department of Energy’s GREET model.
“A recent Harvard study found that ethanol is 46 percent cleaner than gasoline, with some technologies reducing lifecycle emissions by as much as 61 percent.
“These findings underscore how biofuels can reduce emissions in the near term using our nation’s existing vehicles.
“Currently, however, the EPA’s modeling does not fully recognize the tremendous emissions-reducing potential of ethanol and other biofuels.
“The Adopt GREET Act would fix this problem and pave the way for increased biofuel use both here and abroad.
“I also introduced a bill to advance long-stalled biofuel registrations with the EPA.
“Regulatory inaction has stifled the advancement of promising technologies like ethanol derived from corn kernel fiber – even though some of these fuels are already being safely used in states like California.
“My bill would speed up the approval process for these innovative biofuels.
“This would allow biofuel producers to capitalize on the research and facility investments they have made and improve their operating margins, while further lowering emissions and helping our nation’s corn and soybean producers by reinforcing this essential market.
“Mr. President, the pandemic highlighted vulnerabilities in our nation’s food supply chain, especially when it comes to meat processing capacity.
“Too much of our nation’s processing capacity is concentrated in a handful of facilities, leaving our meat supply vulnerable if a problem – like a coronavirus outbreak – occurs at one of these plants.
“I recently introduced the Strengthening Local Processing Act with Senator Merkley.
“Our legislation would help expand national meat processing capacity by providing new resources for smaller, more local meat processing operations.
“Spreading out and expanding our nation’s meat processing capacity over more plants will make our nation’s meat supply less vulnerable to interruption in situations like the coronavirus pandemic or natural disasters and provide livestock producers with more marketing options.
“Mr. President, I’m proud to represent South Dakota farmers and ranchers here in Congress.“And I will continue to do everything I can to ensure that all of our nation’s farmers and ranchers have the support they need to weather the rest of this pandemic and continue feeding our nation – and the world.”