Click here or on the picture above to watch Thune’s speech.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) this week discussed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) decision to allow haying and grazing of cover crops on prevent plant acres without reducing a producer’s crop insurance indemnity. The decision from USDA came just one week after Thune convened a meeting with USDA Deputy Secretary Steve Censky and USDA Undersecretary Bill Northey during which Thune relayed South Dakota producers’ concerns and strongly encouraged USDA to allow for early, penalty-free haying and grazing of cover crops given this year’s tough growing conditions.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, later today we’ll hopefully be taking up legislation to address the humanitarian crisis along our southern border.
“2019 has seen an overwhelming flood of migrants.
“So far this fiscal year, roughly 600,000 individuals have been apprehended at our southern border.
“That’s approximately 200,000 more people than were apprehended during fiscal year 2018.
“And we still have more than three months to go.
“Agencies that deal with the situation on the border are stretched to the breaking point.
“Shelters are overloaded, and providing adequate medical care is becoming more and more difficult.
“The Department of Homeland Security has been forced to pull nearly 1,000 border patrol officers from other areas to assist with the surge of migrants.
“The Department of Health and Human Services, which is tasked with caring for unaccompanied children who cross the border, will be out of money to care for these children by early July.
“That means that caregivers for these children would have to work without pay, and private organizations with federal grants to care for these children would go without their funding.
“The president sent over an emergency funding request to address this humanitarian crisis more than seven weeks ago.
“And Republicans were ready to take it up immediately.
“But the Democrat-controlled House was not interested.
“Because the president was the one doing the asking.
“House Democrats’ number-one priority is obstructing the president.
“It doesn’t matter if he’s asking for desperately needed funds to address a humanitarian crisis.
“Democrats aren’t interested.
“When it became clear that the House was not serious about addressing this crisis, the Senate decided to move forward.
“And last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an overwhelmingly bipartisan measure to provide desperately needed resources for the southern border.
“Now the House is seeking to take up a supplemental of its own.
“This should be good news, but unfortunately the House bill is just another exercise in partisanship.
“The House is attempting to take up a bill that the president won’t sign – as House leaders have known from the beginning.
“While I suppose we should be glad the House is at least acknowledging the situation at the border now, passing partisan legislation that will go nowhere in the Senate or with the president is no help.
“The Senate has come together and will pass a real bipartisan measure that the president will sign.
“The House should drop the partisan posturing and obstruction and pass the Senate bill so that we can get these desperately needed funds to the southern border.
“Mr. President, I’ve been down to the floor several times in recent weeks to talk about the challenges facing our agriculture producers.
“While the economy as a whole continues to thrive, our nation’s farmers and ranchers are struggling.
“Thanks to natural disasters, protracted trade disputes, and several years of low commodity prices, farmers and ranchers have had a tough few years.
“As the senior senator from South Dakota, I’m privileged to represent thousands of farmers and ranchers here in the Senate, and addressing their needs – and getting the ag economy going again – are big priorities of mine.
“That’s why I spend a lot of time talking to the Department of Agriculture about ways we can support the agriculture community.
“And I’m very pleased that we have one big victory to celebrate this week – the Department of Agriculture’s adjustment of the haying and grazing date for cover crops planted on prevent plant acres.
“Mr. President, farmers and ranchers throughout the Midwest 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 corn and soybeans at all this year.
“As a result, many farmers will be forced to plant quick-growing cover crops on their prevent plant acres for feed and grazing once their fields finally dry out, and to protect the soil from erosion.
“But before last week’s Agriculture Department decision, farmers in northern states like South Dakota faced a problem.
“The Department of Agriculture had set November 1 as the first date on which farmers could harvest cover crops planted on prevent plant acres for feed or use them for pasture, without having their crop insurance indemnity reduced.
“Farmers who hayed or grazed before this date faced a reduction in their prevent plant indemnity payments – crop insurance to help them cover their income loss when fields can’t be planted due to flooding or other issues.
“Now, November 1 is generally a pretty reasonable date for farmers in southern states.
“But for farmers in northern states like South Dakota, November 1 is too late for harvesting thanks to killing frost and the risk of late fall and early winter storms.
“And it is too late to maximize the use of cover crops for pasture, since a killing frost is liable to flatten cover crops before they are grazed.
“I heard from a lot of farmers about this November 1 date and the dilemma they were facing about whether to plant cover crops that they might not be able to harvest or graze.
“And so beginning in early May my office approached the Department of Agriculture about changing the November 1 date.
“I then led a bipartisan group of Senate Agriculture Committee members in sending a letter to the department making our case for farmers.
“And then I followed the letter with a request for a face-to-face meeting with top Agriculture Department officials so that I could explain the challenges farmers were facing in person.
“And a week and a half ago, USDA Deputy Secretary Steve Censky and USDA Undersecretary Bill Northey came to my office.
“During our meeting, I emphasized that not only did the date need to be changed, but it needed to be changed now so farmers could make plans to seed cover crops.
“The decision about whether or not to plant a cover crop is a time-sensitive decision.
“And farmers were rapidly running out of time to make that call.
“One week after our meeting, the Department of Agriculture announced that it would move up the November 1 date for this year by two months, to September 1 – a significant amount of time that will enable a lot of South Dakota farmers to plant cover crops without worrying about whether they will be able to successfully harvest or graze them.
“I met with South Dakota farmers in Aberdeen, South Dakota, on Friday, and they were very happy about the Department of Agriculture’s decision.
“Mr. President, cover crops are a win-win.
“They’re good for the environment because they prevent soil erosion, which can pollute streams and rivers and worsen flooding.
“And they’re good for farmers because they improve soil health, protect soil from erosion, and can provide an important source of feed.
“That second benefit is particularly important for farmers right now.
“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, and so will the supply of alfalfa due to winterkill.
“Cover crops will be crucial to alleviating this feed shortage.
“I’m currently working with the Department of Agriculture to ensure that farmers have flexibility to use existing supplies of available seed for cover crops.
“And I will be encouraging the Agriculture Department to release Conservation Reserve Program acres for emergency haying and grazing this year to further address the feed shortage.
“Mr. President, I am very pleased that the Department of Agriculture heard the concerns we were expressing and moved the November 1 haying and grazing date up to September 1 for this year.
“South Dakota farmers and ranchers can rest assured that I will continue to share the challenges they’re facing with the Agriculture Department.
“And I will continue to do everything I can here in Washington to support our nation’s farmers and ranchers and get our agriculture economy thriving.”