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New proposal announced as work begins on 2018 farm bill

(Republic file photo)1 / 2
Sen. John Thune shares a laugh with member of the Scotland Rotary Club Dick Behl during a stop on Thursday at the Recreation Bar in Scotland in July. (Matt Gade/Republic)2 / 2

U.S. Sen. John Thune said the 2018 farm bill will need "innovative solutions and flexibility" to alleviate low commodity prices that are plaguing producers.

The third-term Republican senator on Thursday introduced the Soil Health and Income Protection Program (SHIPP), the first individual farm bill proposal he plans to bring forward in the coming months.

"We want to get ahead of the game," Thune told The Daily Republic by phone while acknowledging the last farm bill dragged out and was two years late. "We want to put together the best possible farm bill for the times that we're in, and these are some pretty tough times in production agriculture."

A voluntary program, SHIPP would provide farmers with a short-term acreage conservation program. The commitment for farmers would be three to five years, and the annual payment rate would be one-half of the Conservation Reserve Program general sign-up rental per-acre rate for the county.

The proposal also says SHIPP acres may also be hayed or grazed outside of "nesting and brood-rearing period" for pheasants "established for the county, with adequate stubble height left standing to protect the soil."

"Sen. Thune's new farm bill program has the potential to be a helpful tool for farmers in today's agriculture economy that has been bogged down by low commodity prices and numerous challenges in meeting the cost of production for most crops," said Scott VanderWal, president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, in a press release.

SHIPP is another conservation option for farmers to get paid, but doesn't have the 10-year commitment like CRP, which was established in the 1985 farm bill and pays landowners to set aside marginal ground and keep it out of agricultural production to help reduce soil erosion, improve soil and air quality and develop wildlife habitat.

The 2014 farm bill capped CRP acreage at 24 million acres enrolled nationwide, which was down significantly from 32 million acres set in the 2008 farm bill.

Thune — a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry — said there has not been a target number settled for CRP acreage for the 2018 farm bill. Minnesota-based nonprofit Pheasants Forever on Wednesday testified to the subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry and recommended to raise the acreage cap of CRP nationwide to a minimum of 40 million acres.

"It's clear we need to do better," Thune said. "We'll be looking at making changes that allow CRP to be more flexible."

This isn't the first time Thune has introduced legislation to aid conservation.

In the 2014 farm bill, Thune included the "sodsaver provision," which reduces the federal crop insurance subsidy available on any land that farmers convert from native prairie to cropland.

Thune said Thursday he hopes to expand the provision from six upper Midwest states to the entire country.

"We have a series of ideas we'll be rolling out in the coming months after taking input and we'll be relying a lot on the farmers and ranchers in South Dakota for their ideas," he said.

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