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Noem plans farm bill tour

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks during a news conference attended by Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., at left, and other congressional leaders Jan. 14 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

South Dakota farmers and ranchers have waited a long time to get a new farm bill through Congress, but they won't have to wait long to talk to Rep. Kristi Noem about the policies that will govern American agriculture for the next five years.

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Noem, R-S.D., plans to tour the state to provide information about the new programs and how farmers and ranchers can use them. Specific dates and venues will be released in the coming days, she told reporters Wednesday.

"I'm very happy the farm bill has passed through the House and also the Senate," she said. "I'm looking forward to the president signing that bill into law. I'm looking forward to traveling around South Dakota and talking to South Dakotans."

Noem has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release details of how and when the various farm bill programs will be implemented, as well as "when we can see the rules and guidelines on these programs come out and when payments will be made to producers looking for relief," she said.

Noem said she is largely satisfied with the way the farm bill turned out, saying that farmers and ranchers need a safety net but not "a golden parachute."

"The ag industry is very different than a lot of other industries. The risks are huge," she said, noting one bad year or bad decision could wipe out an entire operation. "We've got crop insurance to get us through the tough times. It was never meant to guarantee a profit."

Noem said she believes crop insurance will alleviate the need for Congress to pass ad hoc disaster payments after catastrophic weather events, and she noted the taxpayer subsidies for crop insurance premiums have been budgeted and "paid for."

"If you start going back to disaster programs, those are never paid for. It's a lot more responsible to try to cover this kind of risk through a crop insurance program," she said.

Noem supports the retention of country-of-origin labeling for meat and said she isn't too worried about a legal challenge by trading partners at the World Trade Organization.

"Consumers deserve information about where their food comes from. We have the best, safest food supply available in the world," she said. "If we lose a case and the WTO does rule against what we have right now, then we could change. But we have to wait and see what that ruling is."

Noem said she "wholeheartedly disagrees" with criticism from the Heritage Foundation that the farm bill continues payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILT) on federal lands. That program pays local governments for what federal property would generate in local property taxes if it were privately owned.

"They obviously haven't spent time in our western states," Noem said, noting the federal government owns a much higher percentage of land in the west than in other parts of the country. "As long as that federal land is there, you can't ignore the impact that has on our tax base for a lot of these schools. That allows us to fix roads, to pay for police officers, what any other property owner in those areas would do. The federal government needs to pay its bills.

"It's a fairness issue, and I'm disappointed that Heritage doesn't recognize that."