Farmers say new farm bill provides certainty
WESSINGTON SPRINGS -- Most of the visitors at the 24th Annual Wessington Springs Farm and Home Show Monday appeared to be content about enjoying what area exhibitors had to show and offer.
And when it comes to the recently passed farm bill in Congress, local farmers are generally satisfied about that, too. Cattle and grain farmers visiting the show Monday indicated they support the effort to get something done, including the work on the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and on crop insurance.
Bruce Eilers, who has about 125 cows and lives outside Wessington Springs, said the bill isn't something that scares him, especially because it mostly affirms what was already in place.
"I figure that it can't be that bad," Eilers said. "At least they passed something."
On the CRP front, the bill includes new swampbuster and sod-saver provisions, which will be important in South Dakota for preserving wetlands and grasslands. The swampbuster program allows for farmers in the federal crop insurance program to protect wetlands. Ducks Unlimited says the provision will conserve more than 1.3 million small or seasonal wetlands in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.
In the sod-saver provision, the legislation eliminates subsidies to farmers who plow previously unplowed land for the first time. It is to discourage farmers from tilling grasslands that are important for ducks and pheasant nesting areas. Overall, the amount of acres enrolled in CRP programs will decrease from 27.5 million acres in 2014 to 24 million acres in 2018.
"That's probably the right deal to be honest," Eilers said. "You have to make it worthwhile for those who are in the program."
On the crop insurance front, the system will now move to a program that requires producers to suffer losses before payouts are made.
In addition, the $4.5 billion per year of federal direct payments to recipients -- based on how many acres they own and not on the condition of the crop -- have now been eliminated. Under the new bill, the federal government will cover losses in revenue based on crop yield. The legislation also capped how much money an individual farmer can receive from the crop insurance program in a year at $125,000. There's also a replacement for previous price support programs that allows farmers to get payments if crop prices fall below predetermined target prices.
"You really just have to take care of your stuff and let things happen," Herb Barber, of Wessington Springs, said. "With your tax money, that's a well-spent deal, especially when you don't know what the market is going to do."
Barber said that he had heard mostly good things about the legislation and he was most interested in the CRP moves.
"It's a give-a-little, take-a-little type of deal," Barber said.
The $956 billion legislation was signed by President Barack Obama Feb. 7. As was pointed out by at least two farmers in the Wessington Springs Elementary gym Monday, most of the bill has little do with the actual farming of the land taking place in Jerauld County and in the surrounding area. A Washington Post report indicates that $756 billion is geared toward nutrition and food stamp programs, or more than 75 percent of the total bill's cost.
Roger Hainy, president of the Jerauld/Sanborn/Aurora County Farm Bureau, was at the show handing out calendars, can coolers and notepads.
"I'm glad they did something," Hainy said. "It's not perfect by any means, but it's nice to have some certainty for farmers in the area. And when they finally decided to get something done, it didn't seem like it was a very difficult process."
For the ranchers hit hard by the blizzard last October in western South Dakota, they will benefit from the restart of a livestock disaster program that had expired with the end of the last farm bill and U.S Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has pushed for that to go into effect immediately to help with aid.
"That's certainly good for those guys out west who can make use of that right away," Jeff Messmer, of Wessington Springs, said.
With 400 head of cattle and 1,500 acres of crops on his own land, Messmer said he likes to keep things in perspective when it comes to evaluating the South Dakota congressional delegation in Washington.
"I think they did a good job, as good as you can do," he said, complementing the work of Sens. John Thune and Tim Johnson and Rep. Kristi Noem. "We don't have the pull that we probably used to. We're a state of only 800,000 or so, and that's really the size of a big city. They're looking at us as the minority really."