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IN OTHER WORDS: Advocating for agriculture

While today's agricultural news is dominated by low commodity prices and the resulting four-year decline in farm incomes, South Dakota farm families like mine have reason for optimism. A growing global middle class has created an insatiable appet...

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While today's agricultural news is dominated by low commodity prices and the resulting four-year decline in farm incomes, South Dakota farm families like mine have reason for optimism. A growing global middle class has created an insatiable appetite for the food and fiber that America's farmers grow more efficiently, transport more quickly and at a higher consistency and quality level than our competitors.

Another advantage that sets apart U.S. agriculture - access to credit. U.S. banks just came off their most profitable year in history. Our Farm Credit System, a network of financial cooperatives established to serve rural communities and agriculture, is stronger than it has ever been.

This comes at a time when the industry needs access to all sources of credit and liquidity to grow a new season of food. I know because I am a director for Farm Credit Services of America (FCSAmerica), the largest locally governed cooperative in the Farm Credit System. I am one of the 51,000 farmers, ranchers and agribusiness operators in South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming who own FCSAmerica. Our cooperative provides a constant source of liquidity, without regard to financial conditions in the industry. I am proud of our important mission in serving rural communities and agriculture.

Built on a unique business model, our cooperative also keeps stockholder capital as close to the farm as possible. Each year, FCSAmerica retains a portion of its net income to sustain its financial strength to serve customers, then returns the remaining share to customer-owners in the form of cash-back dividends.

This month, FCSAmerica will return $160 million in 2016 profits to eligible farmers and ranchers in our four states. Since 2004, we have returned $1.3 billion to farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses.This is money that we producers invest in our operations, save for the future and use to support the local schools, churches and businesses in our communities. Our cooperative-business model works for agriculture, and it works for South Dakota, where ag is the No. 1 industry in the state.

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Beyond South Dakota, Farm Credit representatives from my co-op have been active in carrying farmers' voices to Washington. We advocate for the continuation of policies that strengthen our nation's capacity to produce food. This includes bipartisan support for the farm bill, which blends urban interests like food and nutrition with rural interests that include programs to help farmers cope with volatile markets. It also includes support for the public/private partnership that delivers crop insurance, as well as stability in the Renewable Fuel Standard to avoid extreme shifts in corn and ethanol markets.

Farming is hard work, but there's no profession we would rather pursue. In times like these, South Dakotans can be proud that our local Farm Credit lender is strong and advocating for agriculture.

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