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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed the state of the agriculture economy and what he is doing in Congress to address the concerns that South Dakota farmers and ranchers have expressed to him.
Full text of the speech below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, our economy has made tremendous strides over the past two years.
“Americans on the whole have access to more jobs, higher wages, and more opportunities.
“But unfortunately, our nation’s agriculture economy is trailing behind the broader economy.
“A combination of low commodity prices, protracted trade disputes, and natural disasters and weather-related issues have left many farmers and ranchers struggling.
“Nationwide, net farm income is about half of what it was in 2013.
“In my home state of South Dakota, farmers and ranchers are currently facing the fallout from severe winter storms, heavy rainfall, bomb cyclones, and spring flooding.
“Less than half of this year’s acreage intended for corn has been planted.
“Compare that to this time last year, when 96 percent of our state’s corn was in the ground and growing.
“To date, just 14 percent of South Dakota’s soybeans have been planted, compared to 83 percent at this time last year.
“To make matters worse, for many farmers this year’s planting season is already over, as their land is completely flooded and will not dry out in time for anything to be planted.
“And other states that produce the bulk of our country’s corn and soybeans are facing similar planting challenges.
“There have been some recent wins for farmers and ranchers.
“The administration’s announcement that it is lifting the ban on the year-round sale of E15, 15 percent ethanol-blended fuel, is great news for corn producers in South Dakota and around the nation.
“It’s a big win for consumers too, who will have access to this cleaner, lower-cost fuel during the summer driving season for the first time.
“I’ve spent nearly my entire time in the Senate advocating for higher blends of ethanol, and I’m very pleased that the Trump administration has followed through on its commitment to address this issue.
“Another recent win was Japan’s announcement that it was lifting age limits on U.S. beef imports, giving America’s ranchers full access to the Japanese market.
“CNBC reports that the U.S. Meat Export Federation predicts that Japan’s move could increase U.S. beef sales to Japan by $150 million to $200 million per year.
“But while these victories are important, there’s a lot more work to be done to get our nation’s farmers and ranchers thriving.
“I hear regularly from South Dakota ag producers about the challenges they’re facing, and I constantly share their concerns with the administration, whether I’m meeting with the president or other officials.
“One of the biggest things we can do for our nation’s farmers and ranchers is secure trade deals that will open up new markets for American agriculture products.
“I support the president’s efforts to secure more favorable treatment for American products and his determination to ensure China honors the trade commitments it’s made.
“But I believe we need to wrap up negotiations on the various agreements we’re discussing as quickly as possible.
“Along with increased market access, farmers and ranchers need certainty about what international markets are going to look like.
“I’m committed to doing everything I can to advance trade agreements with Japan and the European Union.
“I’m also doing everything I can to move the United States-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement through Congress in the near future.
“This agreement would benefit American agriculture, create jobs, and grow our economy, and we should pass it as soon as possible.
“And we should be wary of any action that might jeopardize this trade agreement and the markets it will open for our producers.
“Another issue of concern to farmers and ranchers is the implementation of the 2018 farm bill.
“Getting a pro-agriculture, pro-farmer farm bill to the president was one of my top priorities last year, and I’m proud of the bill we delivered.
“I took ideas and suggestions from South Dakota farmers and ranchers and developed more than 40 proposals aimed at making life better for American agriculture producers.
“Nearly 20 of my proposals were included in the final bill, including my new short-term soil-building conservation program for farmers who don’t want to tie up ground for 10 years or more in the Conservation Reserve Program.
“Now that the farm bill is law, though, we have to make sure it’s implemented in a timely manner and as Congress intended.
“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 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.
“I’ve been strongly urging the department to make sure farmers can sign up in a timely manner.
“Taking millions of acres of environmentally sensitive land out of crop production in the next year could have a big impact on the farm economy by driving up commodity prices and increasing farmers’ profits.
“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.
“South Dakota farmers and ranchers are the lifeblood of our state, and I’m committed to doing everything I can to address their needs here in Washington.
“In addition to working on trade issues and farm bill implementation, I’m working with the Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency to ensure our farmers are treated fairly under crop insurance prevent plant and cover crop rules.
“And I’ve been working with the Agriculture Department to make certain the recently announced second round of Market Facilitation Program payments do not affect this year’s planting decisions.
“I’ve also requested that this second round of MFP payments provide equitable assistance to all producers, especially those with failed and damaged crops or who were prevented from planting this year’s crops due to adverse weather.
“And as I said, I will continue to push for trade agreements with China and other countries so our nation’s farmers can receive a check from the sale of their products overseas instead of from the Department of Agriculture.
“I also recently led a letter to the president in support of Governor Noem’s request for a major disaster declaration in South Dakota.
“And two weeks ago, I voted in favor of the Additional Supplemental Appropriations Act, which would provide additional disaster funding for states and territories harmed by last year’s hurricanes and wildfires and this year’s flooding.
“The bill also includes $3 billion to provide assistance for farmers’ crop losses from the 2018 and 2019 natural disasters.
“Mr. President, our nation’s farmers and ranchers have a tough, backbreaking job.
“Instead of air-conditioned and heated offices, they labor in the hot sun, the cold rain, and the snow.
“They start their days before the sun rises, and often end them long after the sun falls.
“Most Americans never think about the blood, sweat, and tears that have gone into that bag of apples or gallon of milk they grab off the grocery store shelf.
“But we are all the beneficiaries of the hard work and dedication of our nation’s farmers and ranchers.
“It is an honor to represent so many of these hardworking people in the Senate.
“To South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers, I want to say, I hear you.
“I know that things have been incredibly tough for you all over the past few years.
“I know that you are fighting through a lot of challenges.
“I am committed to making sure Washington addresses your priorities.
“And I will do everything I can to make sure that you have access to the support and the resources you need to continue feeding our nation, and the world.”