VARILEK: House should act and do right by farmers, ranchersIn South Dakota, agriculture is a huge part of our economy and our cultural heritage. Each of us can cite our own personal connections to farming and ranching.
By: Matt Varilek, Guest columnist
In South Dakota, agriculture is a huge part of our economy and our cultural heritage. Each of us can cite our own personal connections to farming and ranching.
For me, my Grandpa Joe Hejl still lives today in the very same rural Yankton County farm house where he was born over 80 years ago. I grew up in Yankton and Tabor — and like a lot of young people around our state, my opportunities for earning extra money were on local farms, where I picked rocks, and “rode the bean bar” in the days before Roundup Ready beans.
Given the importance of agriculture in South Dakota, our lone member of Congress must be an aggressive, hard-working advocate for farmers and ranchers, especially as work continues in the House of Representatives on a new farm bill.
For that reason, I felt it was important to proactively lay out my own views about the right direction of ag policy, and recently I released a detailed paper that includes my stances on a wide range of ag issues. It is available in full at my website.
The farm bill remains so important to our rural economy because a whole year’s worth of work on a family farm or ranch can be wiped out by a single storm or infestation. The drought that is gripping many parts of our state serves as a strong reminder that, even though agriculture has had good years recently, lean years can return at any time.
Sound ag policy must include a strong but fiscally responsible safety net for family scale farms and ranches. I also support fair and transparent pricing for buyers and sellers, incentives for helping rural America to meet demand for food, fuel and fiber, and incentives for doing so in ways that conserve land and water resources for future generations.
Unfortunately, the farm bill being considered by the House misses the mark when it comes to standing up for South Dakota farmers and ranchers.
For instance, the House version includes a provision that could lead to the elimination of Country of Original Labeling (COOL) in our supermarkets. I have long agreed with those who say that consumers should be able to tell where their steak came from, in the same way they can read the tag on a T-shirt. We need to keep pushing forward on COOL, but the House farm bill could make it harder to implement.
In addition, rather than targeting federal assistance to family farms and ranches, the House bill would enable large producers — many of them rice and peanut farmers in the South — to collect even more in federal subsidies. The federal government simply can’t afford to subsidize everyone. If a farmer or a rancher wants to buy up half the county, they should do so at their own risk, without federal subsidies.
Perhaps worst of all, it’s not yet clear whether the House will even move forward with the farm bill reauthorization process. The Senate has already acted to pass a farm bill that is good for South Dakota. Yet, once again, the dysfunctional, tea party dominated House of Representatives cannot quit playing politics long enough to pass this legislation that is so critical to rural America.
Farmers and ranchers in South Dakota need to know what rules they will have to play by after the current farm bill expires Sept. 30. Without timely action, there will likely be no disaster assistance programs available for producers suffering from the drought. I call on the House leadership to make much needed reforms to this legislation, and pass the bill so our farmers and ranchers have the certainty they need to continue raising the crops and livestock that feed our nation and the world.
Matt Varilek is the Democratic candidate for South Dakota’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.