NOEM: A diversity of issues impacting agriculture
I love what Bridger Gordon, a student from Whitewood, wrote about agriculture: "Agriculture encompasses — and enhances — the environment, harnessing soil, water, sunlight to produce food, habitat, employment." That observation helped Bridger win a national essay contest this year, which came with a $1,000 prize and a trip to Washington, DC, to celebrate National Ag Day on March 21.
Bridger is right. The impact of agriculture is expansive, which is why America has offered producers a safety net for decades in the Farm Bill. While the deadline is still more than a year away, work on the next Farm Bill is already underway. Hearings have begun and I"m working with the Ag Committee Chairman Conaway to be sure South Dakota producers have the support they need.
The 2014 Farm Bill was one of the most reformed we've seen. It maintained strong risk-management programs, strengthened the livestock disaster program and invested in ag-related research. But improvements are needed. I'm working on legislation, for instance, that would streamline the process for wetland determinations, ensuring producers get a timely response and have an efficient path for appeals.
We must also make sure commodity programs work as they were intended. I've heard many concerns about how ARC-county was administered, so we're looking at possible improvements there.
Changes to conservation programs, like CRP are also being discussed. During the last general signup, only 101 acres were accepted into CRP in South Dakota even though producers submitted applications for thousands more. The numbers don't add up.
In addition to the Farm Bill, I want to make the regulatory environment work better for agriculture. Already, Congress and President Trump have delayed, suspended or reversed more than 90 Obama-era regulations, including many impacting rural South Dakota. The president announced steps to roll back the controversial Waters of the US rule, for example, just weeks after I sent a letter urging him to do so.
I've also been in touch with the administration on the importance of maintaining a strong Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) which helps get ethanol and biodiesel into gas pumps around the country. This is something the Obama administration often fell short on, but I'm encouraged by the Trump administration's repeated commitments to RFS.
We're also working on comprehensive tax reform. In 2015, we permanently extended Section 179 which many use when purchasing equipment. I've also been supportive of a $1-per-gallon tax credit for biodiesel to help decrease our reliance on foreign oil and increase support for American-grown fuels. More must be done though.
In the House's blueprint for tax reform, we're looking to lower tax rates for small businesses, simplify the tax code and repeal the taxes that make it more difficult to pass an ag operation from one generation to the next (this includes the death tax).
While ag policy is largely dictated by Congress, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a lot of influence too. I was pleased to see former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue nominated as USDA Secretary. Sonny and I have hunted pheasants together many times. I know he understands our industry because he's lived it. He was raised on a row-crop farm, became a veterinarian and at one point even ran a grain and fertilizer business. I'm looking forward to being able to work with him on South Dakota priorities.
I am incredibly proud to represent so many farmers and ranchers, the very people who — as Bridger Gordon observed — grow the world's food, preserve our local habitat and provide employment for more than 120,000 people in South Dakota. Thank you for all you do.