Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Agriculture, Forestry, and Nutrition Committee and veteran of three Farm Bills in Congress, today made the following statement regarding the Senate passage of the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (H.R. 2642) by a vote of 68 to 32:
“Today’s passage of the 2014 Farm Bill is a significant win for South Dakota farmers and ranchers as it includes critical livestock assistance and a secure crop insurance program. Every year our agriculture producers harvest the highest quality, lowest cost food supply in the world at great financial risk, and they deserve the certainty that comes with a new five-year Farm Bill and sound crop insurance. In particular, ranchers who are coping with significant 2012 grazing losses and the devastating livestock losses from last October’s winter storm Atlas will receive much-needed disaster assistance through the Livestock Forage Program and Livestock Indemnity Program, which I first authored in the 2008 Farm Bill. This assistance was critical to helping South Dakota ranchers through past disasters, and I worked to ensure this assistance will not expire under the new Farm Bill.”
Several critical programs and policies championed by Thune were included in the final version of the 2014 Farm Bill including:
- Disaster Assistance: For the 2008 Farm Bill, Thune authored the first-ever multi-year agriculture disaster assistance programs, which provided timely disaster payments to farmers and ranchers from 2008 through 2011. These programs were reauthorized in the 2014 Farm Bill retroactive to cover 2012 losses, and Thune will continue working with the Department of Agriculture to ensure disaster payments are made as soon as possible to the hundreds of ranchers still dealing with the grazing and forage losses of the 2012 drought and livestock losses due to last October’s winter storm Atlas, which weighed heavily into Thune’s decision to support the Farm Bill. To ensure there will be no future gaps in livestock disaster coverage, Thune secured a 10-year baseline for livestock disaster programs to ensure they will not expire before the end of this Farm Bill.
- Farm Safety Net: In 2011, Thune introduced legislation to reform commodity programs by replacing direct payments, counter-cyclical payments programs, ACRE, and SURE with a market oriented revenue-based payments program that complemented federal crop insurance. At the time of introduction, Thune’s plan would have saved over $20 billion while providing a more effective safety net for agriculture producers. While some elements of this proposal remained in the final legislation, unfortunately the bill’s Commodity Title safety net provisions moved toward a fixed target price program that Thune has opposed.
- Pine Beetles: The Forestry Title of the 2014 Farm Bill includes several of Thune’s proposals to streamline and provide improved management tools for the U.S. Forest Service. In particular, the new Farm Bill increases the use of proven Healthy Forest Restoration Act authorities that will help reduce the threat of wildfire and allow the Forest Service to proactively treat certain forest landscapes before they are decimated by the pine beetle. The new Farm Bill also expands “Good Neighbor Authority” to all Forest Service lands, includes a 3,000-acre categorical exclusion that will help address severe forest health problems on a much timelier basis, and provides the U.S. Forest Service with greater flexibility in dealing with large-scale forest health problems.
- Conservation: Thune worked to include a Sodsaver provision in the Farm Bill, which limits crop insurance subsidies and indemnities on crops grown on newly converted sod in six states, including the entire Prairie Pothole Region and Nebraska. This provision does not prohibit producers from converting native sod, but simply scales back premium support and indemnities on the newly converted acres of native sod for the first four years of production. Additionally, Thune worked to include a common-sense policy that links conservation compliance requirements to crop insurance premium subsidy eligibility. Finally, Thune was able to secure the inclusion of modifications to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) so that residue and cover from CRP can be effectively managed and utilized which replaces the current policy of harvesting the residue and later burning it at taxpayers’ expense.
Although the 2014 Farm Bill included some Commodity Title reforms, Thune is concerned about the new Price Loss Coverage program that makes payments to farmers based on high government-set fixed reference prices. For the past four years, Thune has worked to move farm programs away from fixed reference prices that distort planting decisions and raise the potential for retaliatory trade sanctions against our agriculture producers. Thune will continue to promote farm policy reforms that save taxpayer dollars and better serve South Dakota’s agriculture industry.“Twenty-first century agriculture needs a 21st century Farm Bill,” said Thune. “While not perfect, this Farm Bill includes some key wins. I will continue fighting for commodity policy reforms that provide a better market for farmers and a better value for taxpayers.”