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Noem seeks crop insurance revisions for next Farm Bill

U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem speaks during a forum at Dakotafest in 2016. (Matt Gade/Republic)

U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem is hoping to see the next iteration of the Farm Bill get kicked over to the Senate well in advance of its expiration.

The Agriculture Act of 2014, commonly known as the Farm Bill, is set to expire after the 2018 fiscal year, but Noem said Wednesday that discussion to renew the act is about to heat up.

"Because of a three-year decline in farm income, he has made it very clear that they want to move quite quickly and get this Farm Bill passed on time and not let any policy expire," Noem said during a media call, referencing talks with House Agriculture Committee Chair U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway.

The Farm Bill supports a wide swath of programs, most notably crop insurance and conservation services, and Noem said the House Republicans' goal is to move the bill to the Senate by the end of the year. When the bill was approved by a 68-32 Senate vote in 2014, it was backed by both U.S. Sen. John Thune and former U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, of South Dakota.

This time around, Noem expects to see some attention given to the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program that's concerned some of her fellow South Dakota farmers.

"I've heard from a lot of folks across South Dakota that the ARC program needs some revisions, so we'll have good debate on the committees to do that," Noem said.

In 2015, the ARC-County program was causing some unhappiness for South Dakotans. The program eliminated the statewide guarantees farmers had become used to, shifting in favor of targeted payments based on county yields.

In some extreme cases, two producers with land in neighboring counties received vastly different crop insurance returns. For example, Clay County farmers received $2.76 per yield of corn for 2014 while neighboring Union County received $84.11 per yield for the first year of the new Farm Bill.

Aside from continuing to improve crop insurance programs, Noem expects "safety net" services like disaster relief will join conservation program expansion as the top priorities during Farm Bill discussions.

And by kicking off the discussion early, Noem sees a window of opportunity to get the deal done prior to the Farm Bill's expiration.

"But I think because we're sitting in a position where we're starting earlier on this Farm Bill — we've never stopped the education process since the last one, and the new members we've already started talking to — I think we are in a good position to get the next Farm Bill completed," Noem said.

Noem also spoke about two other ag-related issues on Wednesday.

Shortly after his inauguration in January, President Donald Trump pulled out of the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement. Despite Trump giving the TPP the boot, Noem remained optimistic about the Trump administration's intentions to instead pursue bilateral trade agreements.

"So I'm hopeful that even though the TPP doesn't look like it had a strong future, that doesn't necessarily mean the negotiations are stopping," said Noem.

The fourth-term Republican representative, who's also running for governor in 2018, also answered questions about Mexican Sen. Armando Rios Piter's statement he would introduce legislation to buy corn from Brazil and Argentina rather than the U.S.

Noem speculated the move could be "retaliation" for recent rhetoric. Rios Piter's intentions were announced after a Trump campaign fueled in part by repeated calls for the creation of a strengthened U.S.-Mexico border wall, which he claims Mexico will pay for.

"But our hope is that Mexico recognizes the reliance on us and the affordability of our commodities," Noem said. "We look at our trade agreements as opportunities to continue to sell more and more of those commodities to other countries, and that's why we are focusing on new countries all the time, too."

In the wake of Rios Piter's statements, Noem said she didn't want recent discussions to distract from creating fair and accessible markets and fulfilling the world's food needs.