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S.D. delegation: Federal regulations hinder U.S. ag industry

South Dakota's congressional delegation said federal regulations are disrupting what U.S. Sen. John Thune called the state's "most important industry."...

U.S. Senator John Thune (R), right, delivers remarks while U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R), center, and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R) follow Thune's remarks during a panel called "Check-in From Washington, DC" during Dakotafest on Wednesday morning east of Mitchell. (Matt Gade/Republic)
U.S. Senator John Thune (R), right, delivers remarks while U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R), center, and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R) follow Thune's remarks during a panel called "Check-in From Washington, DC" during Dakotafest on Wednesday morning east of Mitchell. (Matt Gade/Republic)

South Dakota's congressional delegation said federal regulations are disrupting what U.S. Sen. John Thune called the state's "most important industry."

Thune was joined by fellow U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem to discuss Washington D.C.'s impact on the agriculture industry as part of a forum Wednesday at Dakotafest in Mitchell.

Atop a raised stage in front of approximately 100 attendees, the trio of elected officials criticized a slew of regulations suppressing the income of farmers.

"There's no way around it, folks, in the last years under the Obama administration we have seen 600 new major regulations," Thune said. "And when I say major regulations, that's defined as a regulation that cost the economy $100 million a year or more."

Thune, currently the longest-tenured South Dakota delegate in D.C., said federal regulations are costing Americans $743 billion annually, or $2,300 per family. And while he said the state's delegation has "fought the good fight" for South Dakota's farmers, he said regulations like the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule proposed under the Clean Water Act are having a negative impact on South Dakotans.

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"Those are regulations that make it very, very difficult to create jobs," Thune said. "It's more expensive, more difficult to create jobs in this country, and if you're in agriculture, to make a living."

And Rounds, who went on the offensive against WOTUS later in the forum, said these regulations are in effect during one of the worst years in the agriculture industry in the last 87 years.

Rounds said the 2015 farm economy was comparable to the sluggish economy seen in the 1980s. He said the 38 percent drop in farm income from 2014 to 2015 was the largest decline since 1983. And in the last 87 years, Rounds said, there have only been 12 inflation-adjusted years with lower farm incomes than 2015.

Like Thune, Noem said heavy federal regulation doesn't help the South Dakota farmer in the challenging agriculture industry.

"I think the regulations we face coming out of Washington, D.C. are a threat to our way of life," Noem said. "Just in fiscal year 2015, 79,000 pages of regulations were written and put into place by the Obama administration. That is a weight around your neck."

Through Wednesday's forum, discussion kept returning to WOTUS, the recently stayed rule that would alter the definition for Waters of the United States subject to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversight. According to Rounds, the Army Corps of Engineers is already attempting to require federal permission from farmers trying to shift acreage from one crop to another. He said the Corps is using WOTUS as the basis for the demand.
"This is crazy, this is absolutely not what the founding fathers wanted, that is not what Congress had intended for it in the 1970s," Rounds said. "And this is just a case of it is overreach."

Noem also spoke out against WOTUS, calling it the EPA's way to take dollars out of American pockets and control over their land.

"I think it changes our way of life in South Dakota," Noem said. "You can get a 2- or 3-inch rain running across your land or your yard or even your driveway, if you go out there and divert that water to protect your personal property without an EPA permit, then you can face fines up to $30,000 or more per day if you're in violation of that."

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One plan the three delegates agreed would provide a benefit for South Dakota farmers is the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TPP is a proposed trade agreement between the United States and 11 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region that would cut taxes on American goods exported.

While the trio agreed the deal may not be perfect, and Thune said it wouldn't have the support to pass this year, Noem said it would be a good deal for South Dakotans.

"But the reason that we continue to pursue trade agreements is because when South Dakota has a trade agreement and we're selling a product to another country, when we have that trade agreement we can sell 11.5 times more goods to that country than we do when we don't have trade agreements," Noem said.

If the plan does move forward, Thune said it would allow South Dakota farmers to take advantage of a growing global population.

"By 2050, there are going to be 9 billion people in the world," Thune said. "Somebody's got to feed them, and I think the American farmer is going to be that person who feeds them."

Delegation looks to boost conservation programs

With crop production rising, at least one expert has pointed to conservation reserve program (CRP) as a means of shrinking the market to boost commodity prices. But with only 102 acres of CRP accepted in the state this year, according to Thune, and what Noem said is 60,000 acres of CRP expiring in September, the state's lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives said the delegation needs to push for increased CRP access.

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"It's our job to go out there and advocate for changes to be made so we get more bang for our buck out of that program here in South Dakota where it's so important that we have a balance of habitat and production ground," Noem said.

Thune agreed, saying half of all CRP approved this year was in three states, Kansas, Colorado and Washington. Thune called the low amount of CRP acres enrolled in the state "absolutely ridiculous."

"I think in terms of the conservation type of of the Farm Bill, 24 million acres in the CRP is not going to be enough, especially with low commodity prices," Thune said.

Thune for Trump

For the last question of the forum, a spectator asked the three Republicans what she should do in November when heading to the polls.

She said one thing she won't be doing is voting for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, prompting a response from Thune.

"Can you vote for Hillary (Clinton)?" Thune asked.

When the audience member said she won't vote for Clinton, Thune acknowledged there are other options on the ballot, but he said many voters will find themselves asking if they are for or against Democratic nominee Clinton. For those against Clinton, Thune suggested Trump should be their choice.

"My point very simply is, if you want a different direction for the country, you are certainly not going to get that with Hillary Clinton," Thune said. "With Hillary Clinton, you are going to get liberal appointments to the Supreme Court, where there could be as many as two, three, who knows how many vacancies?"

Thune's comments garnered a rousing round of applause, and a smile and nod of agreement from both Rounds and Noem.

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