JOHNSON: Support State FairLike many South Dakotans, I look forward to this time of year. In addition to the start of football season, it’s also time for the South Dakota State Fair. For me, there is no better way to cap off my summer than being with friends and family in Huron.
By: U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, Guest columnist
Like many South Dakotans, I look forward to this time of year. In addition to the start of football season, it’s also time for the South Dakota State Fair. For me, there is no better way to cap off my summer than being with friends and family in Huron.
The State Fair brings together folks from all across the state to celebrate South Dakota. Between the concerts, rides, games and fried food, there is plenty of enjoyment had by all. I can’t say I have tried a fried candy bar, but I do enjoy seeing all of the new food creations each year.
Beginning in 1865, South Dakota families have been spending time together at the fair. My wife Barbara and I always loved to see the joy on our children’s faces when they were running around the fairgrounds.
The fair also is a great place to learn. Whether it is an exhibit showcasing new farm equipment or other technology, there are always new experiences to be had for fair-goers. For young South Dakotans, the 4-H competitions are a fantastic educational opportunity. Thousands of youth work hard all year to prepare for the 4-H events. These competitions teach the participants the value of hard work and determination. When I meet with 4-Hers throughout the year, I can tell how much joy participating at the State Fair brings them.
One of the other special things about our State Fair is that it gives us the opportunity to support our agriculture sector. It doesn’t matter if someone works on a farm or not. South Dakotans recognize the impact agriculture has on our state and can spend time at the state fair celebrating the hard work everyone involved in our agriculture economy has put in during the past year. This year’s drought has been difficult for many of our producers and they need our support now more than ever. With more than 30,000 farms generating $20 billion in economic activity, the State Fair is where we come together to applaud South Dakota agriculture.
What I enjoy most about the fair is seeing all of the friendly faces. I will be around the fairgrounds again this year, and I hope to see a lot of you. The South Dakota State Fair is a perfect way to end the summer. the latest technology in farm machinery, crop genetics, and many other advances that improve production agriculture. But this year we are all reminded that in spite of these beneficial technological advances, adequate rainfall and less than extreme temperatures are still the key requirements for successful crop and livestock production.
At last year’s State Fair, as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I visited with many farmers and ranchers about the Farm Bill, and I was told over and over again just how important it was to protect crop insurance, which I am pleased to say we accomplished in the Senate-passed version of the Farm Bill. In fact, we were able to strengthen certain crop insurance provisions and reauthorize livestock disaster assistance programs I included in the 2008 Farm Bill, at the request of South Dakota’s livestock producers.
After visiting with farmers and ranchers across South Dakota over the summer and at the State Fair, I introduced a bill late last year that was used as the foundation for the Commodity Title in the Senate’s 2012 Farm Bill. My legislation saved more than $22 billion by eliminating direct and counter-cyclical payments, as well as the ACRE and SURE programs. I replaced these programs with a much less costly “shallow loss” program that would fill in a portion of the revenue loss gap not covered by crop insurance — and provide assistance only when it is needed, which is what South Dakota farmers told me they wanted.
The Senate Farm bill also includes an amendment I offered in the Committee that will help protect South Dakota’s native grasslands. My sodsaver amendment requires that crop insurance covers crops planted on native sod and longstanding grasslands converted to cropland only at the land’s production potential — not the production potential of land that has been farmed for several years. This sodsaver provision is projected to save $200 million over 10 years.
Because the Conservation Reserve Program is critical to South Dakota agriculture, I also made certain that no changes were made to CRP that would have weakened the program and decreased its effectiveness for South Dakota producers. With more than one million acres enrolled in CRP in South Dakota, it provides nesting habitat that supports the states $225 million pheasant hunting revenue.
As drought hit South Dakota livestock producers especially hard this year by reducing hay supplies and grazing, I strongly urged USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to open land enrolled in CRP for emergency haying and grazing. Within a week, the Secretary opened CRP acres in every South Dakota county to emergency haying and grazing beginning after August 1st and reduced the annual CRP payment reduction from 25 percent to 10 percent for CRP participants who hayed or grazed their CRP.
I sincerely hope that even though we have experienced the worst drought in years, farmers, ranchers, and their families will once again attend the South Dakota State Fair to share the past year’s experiences with friends, neighbors and acquaintances from around South Dakota. I hope to see you there.