Thune: Economic challenges surround farm bill effort
This will be the fourth time U.S. Sen. John Thune has had a hand in writing a farm bill in the United States Congress. And this will likely be the toughest of those four efforts, the senator said Thursday at a question-and-answer meeting with abo...
This will be the fourth time U.S. Sen. John Thune has had a hand in writing a farm bill in the United States Congress.
And this will likely be the toughest of those four efforts, the senator said Thursday at a question-and-answer meeting with about 40 community members at the Cornerstone Coffee House in downtown Mitchell.
Commodity prices are low and farmers and ranchers have some fears about tariff threats with foreign countries, meaning pressure is on for many farmers across the country with farm incomes down. Thune said that's top of mind when trying to put the nation's primary agricultural policy into place.
"With the three previous farm bills I've been associated with, we've written them at a time where commodity prices were pretty good, so your economic outlook was solid," he said. "Now we're doing it at a time where prices are historically low, there's historically low net farm income, and at a time when agriculture is really hurting. So I think there's a sense of urgency with this farm bill, which hopefully will help us get it done on time that provides that safety net until times get better."
The current law - passed in 2014 - expires on Sept. 30. Thune said the goal is for the Senate Agriculture Committee to mark up the bill in the next month and to get it on the Senate floor this summer. He hopes to have a bill to President Donald Trump by September.
Among Thune's focuses include an expansion of Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, acres, which are capped at 24 million acres. A Senate version of the bill calls for 30 million acres and Thune said the state-by-state caps would rise, including for South Dakota. The state had just under 1 million enrolled acres in September 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"What we're trying to do is to make sure that South Dakota is getting its fair share of CRP acres," he said. "It would increase the amount significantly and it would put it into law that amount, which I think is important. In recent sign-ups, our guys have put acres in and haven't gotten them qualified. Some of them have gone to Colorado and Washington state and we certainly have a lot acres that could use the attention of the CRP program."
Thune is also emphasizing the Soil Health and Income Protection Program, or SHIPP, a newer, shorter-term program that could be an alternative to CRP, which isn't an option for many farmers.
"I hope we can make it work because we have a lot of stuff on the table," he said.