Varilek, Noem tussle over farm billUS House Agriculture Committee to launch debate of legislation today.
By: Denise Ross, The Daily Republic
Democrat Matt Varilek outlined a farm bill plan Tuesday, a day before the House Agriculture Committee is set to begin debating a new bill.
In a written statement outlining his farm bill priorities, Varilek questioned first-term Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s effort in crafting the bill and her work on the House Ag Committee. Varilek seeks to unseat Noem, a Republican, in November.
The two agree that livestock disaster protection should be included in a new bill, but Varilek said Noem has claimed too much credit for provisions that are expected to be included in the legislation.
“Congresswoman Noem has said ‘her fingerprints are all over’ the new Farm Bill, and she cites as evidence her support for reauthorizing these livestock disaster programs,” reads Varilek’s statement. “But what she doesn’t tell you is that the language of ‘her’ bill was authored in the Senate, and included with bipartisan support in the Senate Farm Bill. There hasn’t been any question about the importance of these non-controversial programs, or about the likelihood of their being reauthorized.”
In April, Noem introduced the Livestock Disaster Protection Act in the House and worked with Agriculture Committee leaders to include the language in the farm bill.
“The risk our farmers, ranchers and all livestock owners in South Dakota take is undeniable,” Noem said in a news release at the time. “My bill gives some long-term certainty to our livestock owners so they’ll keep on taking the risk to contribute to our state and nation’s robust agriculture industry.”
In addition to the livestock provisions, Noem joined Minnesota Democrat Tim Walz in May to introduce a sodsaver provision that seeks to reduce crop insurance payments to farmers who plow up land that had been conserved for wildlife habitat or similar uses.
And Noem has pushed legislation that would allow the U.S. Forest Service to combat pine beetle infestations more quickly.
In his statement, Varilek praised the recently passed Senate version of a farm bill which moves away from direct payments to farmers in favor of federally subsidized crop insurance. He argues that government support should first go to “family scale farms,” but he doesn’t define “family scale.”
He says: “If a farmer or a rancher wants to buy up half the county and make it harder for young producers to get started in the business, they should do so at their own risk, without federal subsidies that underwrite their purchase.”
Varilek outlined the following priorities in his statement:
• Shoring up and protecting country-of-origin meat labeling.
• A ban on packer ownership of livestock and other provisions to strengthen the position of independent cattle producers.
• Support for conservation programs including the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
• Support for ethanol incentives. “The Farm Bill under consideration in the House contains no mandatory funding for critically important energy programs like the Renewable Energy for America Program or the Biorefinery Assistance Program,” he wrote.
• Increased funding for rural development loan and assistance programs to farmers, ranchers and rural entrepreneurs. This area has suffered cuts that are too deep, he said.
• Maintaining adequate funding for the food stamp program. Varilek noted that critics have complained the House version of the farm bill aims to make steep cuts in this aid program for the poor. “Though there may be little political upside in doing so, I would defend this program for folks who do not abuse it,” he wrote.
Noem is a member of the House Ag Committee, and so far in his campaign Varilek’s chief criticism has been that she hasn’t attended enough of the committee meetings and hasn’t spoken out enough. He repeated that charge Tuesday.
Noem has defended herself, saying she has gotten her work done quietly and that South Dakotans don’t send politicians to Washington to talk.