Farm Bill discussed during DakotaFest | TSLN.com

Farm Bill discussed during DakotaFest

Congresswoman Noem addresses the Dakotafest crowd. Photo by Amanda Radke

The Farm Bill was a big topic at the 2013 DakotaFest in Mitchell, S.D., last month, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Bob Stallman and Rep. Kristi Noem addressed attendees and shared their insights on the new farm bill.

Stallman admitted that Washington is currently grid-locked, but he believes that passing the farm bill is not impossible.

"It can be done, but it's going to take some work … on our part," said Stallman.

There has been discussion on splitting the farm policies from the nutrition programs, and while some are supportive of that move, others are strongly opposed.

"Some people say 'whoa, that sounds like a good idea; we just want to see a farm bill,'" added Stallman. "The problem is you won't see a farm bill without a nutrition title; that's just the political reality that exists with the Democrats controlling the senate and holding the White House. We know the nutrition programs need to be reformed, so I say let's explore this. The nutrition program can't continue to grow at the rate it is. Let's explore the options and the reforms that are wanted and needed instead of making the farm bill a political pawn between nutrition and farm programs. The debate is currently … Democrats vs. Republicans instead of getting an appropriate farm bill passed.

"Without a farm bill … we would have had a disaster in the last couple of years of drought, much like what we saw in the 1980s. The infrastructure of the farm bill helped to save some of these farms from buckling and having to sell out. We also need a farm bill because of our budget. We all know our budget is in a rough place right now. Farmers and ranchers are willing to do their part, but we shouldn't have to sacrifice more than any other group."

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"The farm bill is a national security issue," said Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) at the DakotaFest "town hall" meeting. "The minute we rely on another country to feed us is the same time we allow another country to control us. That's the lens I look through. It weakens a country when they can't grow their own food. If we don't have a safety net, then we set ourself up for disaster bills. We budget for a farm bill, and I think it's a much more responsible way to deal with our food products rather than to not budget and plan and then have to have a reactive disaster bill added after the fact."

"This is the most reformed farm bill in our history," she explained. "We eliminated direct payments. We also put reforms in place to consolidate our conservation programs, so there was less administrative, and allowed more dollars to be used directly for the farmers and ranchers… We cut $16 billion from the farm bill, but they were common-sense cuts. If we don't get a farm bill done, we just perpetuate the status quo. We will continue to see abuses in the nutrition program. We will continue to overspend. And, we will not get the new reforms. I believe at the end of the day, we will get it done for the betterment of agriculture and the future of our country."

Stallman and Noem both answered many questions for the audience, here's some of them:

Question:"Is there anything in the farm bill to help pass ranches from generation to generation?"

Stallman:"No, not at all, but we have been focusing on this in the tax arena. We think it should have been passed years ago, but it hasn't been yet. The Extension Service, which is a funded part of the farm bill, does have some education programs on transitioning the ranch. There are also Beginning Farmer and Rancher Programs, which could help. But we all know that agriculture is very capital-intensive, so it can be very difficult for young people to get started in production agriculture. Yet, we know that the largest burden is the tax load after death."

In closing, Stallman urged attendees to visit with their elected officials in Washington, D.C.

"We need to get a farm bill passed," he said. "Bring the heat to the U.S. Congress over the August recess because we are tired of them not working for us. They are supposed to work for us, and not be focused on party allegiances."

Question:What will be done in replacement of direct payments?

Noem:"…now instead of direct payments, there will be more risk placed in crop insurance. There will be some price points and yield points, but I feel the Southern crops got a better deal than the Midwest corn, soybeans and wheat."

Question: How are we sitting with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)?

Noem:"We will have a real battle on our hands when it comes to RFS. Everyone here in South Dakota knows the benefits of ethanol as another market for our crop and the opportunity to have another fuel source. The only policy that is still in place that affects ethanol is the RFS, and there has been some talk about removing that. Here is my point of view on that: ethanol has never been on a level playing field as the big oil companies. Until they are on a level playing field, I feel the RFS needs to be in place."

Question: Should there be a requirement to have to pass a drug test to receive food stamps?

Noem:"Yes, I think we should explore that. It would change our culture in this country. When people hit hard times, they should be able to get help. But it would eliminate abuse of the program for folks who don't necessarily need it."

Question:Why can't we just split the farm bill, so that farmers aren't blamed for the expense of the farm bill?

Noem:"Farmers are frustrated that 80 percent of the farm bill actually goes to nutrition programs instead of farmers. That's why the farm bill was initially split in the House. But I'm afraid we would never get the votes needed to pass the farm side without the nutrition side. There are some folks who won't vote on the farm bill because they don't represent farmers in their districts."

Stallman ended on an optimistic note, "The good news is American agriculture is healthy. Yes, we have some weather problems in part of the country. We have some market issues for some commodities. And, we have fighting among some agricultural groups. But overall, agriculture is healthy. In the next 50 years, we will have to feed nine billion people, so there are plenty of opportunities for farmers and ranchers to succeed."