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NOEM: Field to fork: The farm bill explained

By Rep. Kristi Noem

U.S. House of Representatives

Just days ago, the House passed the farm bill, moving it over the line and into Senate territory, where it also passed.

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It has been a privilege to serve as South Dakota's voice throughout the negotiations as a member of the Conference Committee. As is true in any negotiation, we didn't get everything we wanted, but progress was made on many programs important to South Dakotans.

Winter storm Atlas brought the urgency of passing the farm bill to the forefront of the debate in Congress. I'm proud the final bill includes a provision I helped author to provide relief.

The South Dakota Stockgrowers Association writes it is "a strong livestock disaster program that will support our family ranches who are still rebuilding after the terrible blizzard in October."

This livestock disaster program will be retroactive for 2012 and 2013, offering support to those hit by the blizzard as well as earlier droughts. Once the president signs the bill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will work to implement the program, at which time producers will get a better idea of when and how they can begin applying for relief.

For crop producers, the South Dakota Soybean Association writes that the legislation "establishes practical risk management programs." More specifically, the bill maintains a strong crop insurance program, giving farmers a critical safety net. That safety net helps maintain America's safe and reliable food supply, which all of us will benefit from at the grocery store.

About 15 percent of the farm bill involves traditional farm programs. The other 85 percent involves nutrition, conservation, forestry, research and more.

The Black Hills currently face a small foe that leaves a big trail: the pine beetle. The farm bill gives the Forest Service more tools, including a provision I authored that allows them to put up to 3,000 acres of forestland on a fast track through the regulatory process. That means we can get help more quickly to highly infested areas and sections more prone to forest fires. This was something U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell discussed when I hosted him in the Black Hills last November.

The farm bill also maintains the Sun Grant Initiative, which has created a network of universities -- including South Dakota State University -- that work together to help build a bio-based renewable energy economy. This is an important part of our all-of-the-above energy approach, which could reduce prices at home and at the pump.

For hunters and conservationists, the farm bill includes a provision based on the Protect Our Prairies Act that I wrote. This will decrease crop insurance support for the first four years after native grassland is broken in South Dakota and other states, encouraging farmers to treat these important grasslands differently than traditional cropland.

An Office of Tribal Relations will also be established within the USDA, which will help improve communication between the USDA and tribal nations. It's another provision that I authored after hearing from South Dakota's tribes that want to better utilize USDA programs.

We were also able to ensure those who rely on food assistance continue to have access to it. The bipartisan Conference Committee approved a number of reforms that will help eliminate fraud and protect taxpayers while still upholding the program's integrity.

While much more is included in the farm bill for producers and consumers, we were able to yield more than $20 billion in savings.

We are almost across the finish line. I urge the president to finalize this legislation quickly so we can begin working with the USDA on the bill's implementation.