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Noem looks to farm bill conference

The farm bill that passed the U.S. House 216-208 Thursday, without the traditional nutrition title, has a long way to go before it becomes the nation's agriculture policy, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said.

"At least now we have a vehicle we can put into conference," Noem said, referring to the process in which the House and Senate versions of the bill will be merged. "We are closer to a version that can be signed into law by the president."

Noem voted for the bill, which passed along party lines.

Noem said House leaders assured her they would bring the so-called nutrition title, which includes the controversial food stamp program, to the floor for a vote within a week or two.

A fight over this portion of the bill sunk the entire piece of legislation in June, as Republicans pushed for reforms and cuts while many Democrats opposed such measures.

Noem supports several reforms, including banning lottery winners from receiving food stamps and drugtesting recipients, and she said without those House-backed reforms the Senate's version of the nutrition title is likely to stand after the conference committee is done.

"We need to put some reforms into that program to put some integrity back into that system.

"I want those dollars to only be going to people who have hit difficult times and need to put food on the table for their families," Noem said.

Beyond that, Noem's top priority is a safety net for farmers, she said.

"At the end of the day I want to make sure we have a safety net. If this is the vehicle that can get us there, I think the ag community will be on the same page," Noem said, noting that many agriculture organizations formally opposed splitting up the farm bill.

Noem backed four main provisions in the House version of the bill, all of which were included in some form in the final version approved by the House.

They include:

--Livestock Disaster Protection Act: This would extend the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), the Livestock Forage Program (LFP) and the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) authorized in the 2008 farm bill for the life of the farm bill, as well as provide retroactive coverage for fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

--Protect Our Prairies Act: This would encourage good land stewardship practices and preserve habitats for pheasants, ducks and other wildlife on native sod and on grasslands that haven't been farmed in the past, while estimated to save taxpayers nearly $200 million over 10 years.

--National Forest Emergency Response Act: This would streamline processes to get boots on the ground faster for pine beetle mitigation efforts.

--USDA Office of Tribal Relations: This would permanently establish an Office of Tribal Relations within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help improve communication between the USDA and tribes. This provision requires USDA to use existing resources to establish the office.