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Prepping for talks on next Farm Bill

Input needed on livestock issues

By Connie Sieh Groop for Tri-State Livestock News

As talks begin on the 2023 Farm Bill, ideas surface about potential issues that may become part of this legislation that sets the future for ag policy in the United States. Even though voting on this bill is more than a year away, input is critical for those involved in South Dakota’s number one industry.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune hosted recent roundtable discussions focused on the commodity and crop insurance titles of the next farm bill. Soon, livestock producers will be asked to add to the conversation.

In remarks made in March, Thune said, “I will hold additional roundtables to cover other farm bill priorities, including livestock, conservation, and forestry issues.”



He emphasized, “From my conversations with South Dakota ag producers, it’s clear that we need to ensure that the Conservation Reserve Program continues to be an effective option for producers and landowners.”

Thune introduced the Conservation Reserve Program Improvement Act, which he said he will work to get included in the 2023 farm bill.



“The Conservation Reserve Program Improvement Act is the first of multiple bills that I plan to introduce in the run-up to the 2023 farm bill to address the concerns of farmers and ranchers.”

During his time in Congress, Thune has worked on four farm bills. He said he’s proud of the nearly 20 measures he worked on which became part of the 2018 Farm Bill.

In the House

South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson said people are talking about too much risk in the livestock sector when it comes to national farm policy and people would like to see changes in the next farm bill.

“I think people are concerned about animal disease and they wonder if there are additional things we can do from the perspective of research and development, such as strengthening the vaccines bank. Clearly the farm bill has a lot of focus on disaster programs. People on both sides are talking about ways to strengthen some of the working lands conservation efforts.”

Congress crafts a farm bill at the national level that sets government policies. “One strength we have in the agricultural policy arena is that we aren’t monkeying with ag issues every quarter,” Johnson said. “We deal with major policies which focus on things like disaster programs and crop insurance in the farm bill that is passed every five years. Producers know what the rules are, and they play by the rules.”

There is a reticence to make ad hoc changes to policy outside of the farm bill. There are some exceptions, he said. “The weakness in the cattle market is so profound that I introduced legislation which passed in the House to increase transparency for the major meat packers. My cattle contract bill passed out of the house in December. If we cannot get the Senate to act on that stand-alone bill, then we would try to get it included in the farm bill. We want to address the concentration in the livestock industry.”

In the House of Representatives, there are only 28 members out of 435 who represent districts more rural than urban. The Congressional Budget Office recorded $867 billion dedicated to the 2018 Farm Bill. While 76% of that $867 billion went to the U.S. nutrition program, only 9% and 7% went to conservation and farm programs, respectively. Urban House members know the importance of the nutrition portion and so the farm policy and nutrition programs continue to be joined in the farm bill. Because of that, Johnson said, “I don’t know how we would get major ag policy through the House if nutrition was not a part of the discussion.”

People in the state contribute important ideas. “It’s been the case in my three years that some of the best ag policy comes from those in production agriculture,” Johnson said. “Three years ago, when things were so wet, I was in Parker. Ten producers gathered with me in a machine shed. Because of our talk, I got the SEEDD act passed, which allowed more flexibility for the harvest of cover crops on prevent plant acres. That came directly from South Dakota producers. It’s now the law of the land. That would not have been created if not for South Dakota producers sharing that idea with me.”

“It’s likely that I’ll be the chairperson of the Livestock subcommittee as we work on the passing the next Farm Bill,” Johnson said. “It’s an exciting place to be. Anyone who has a specific policy idea, let me know or contact Chance Hunley in our DC office to let us know what you are thinking.”

South Dakota Stockgrowers

As an organization, the South Dakota Stockgrowers look forward to sitting down at upcoming roundtable discussions hosted by Sen. Thune. There will be some that specifically address livestock.

James Halverson, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers, shared some thoughts.

“There has been some talk of some insurance type of programs for livestock producers, like what grain farmers can purchase. I can’t say that the Stockgrowers will be for or against something like that, but that’s one rumbling I’ve heard. Obviously, with tough markets for livestock producers, I think that’s a legitimate conversation. It seems like there is interest from the delegation in DC to do that.”

Their group is pretty leery of some programs because of President Biden’s administration executive order of 30 x 30. That doesn’t mean they are against conservation efforts. He said, “We need to be careful moving forward not to give up our private property rights. Ranchers and farmers are great stewards of the land. And if we can get paid and recognized for doing that, that’s great. We sure as heck don’t want to do that at the expense of giving up our property rights, as that is what our country was built on.”

Conversations are beginning and the group is looking forward to taking part in the listening sessions with the members of Congress.

“Our group must be prepared as we figure out what we want to see in policy. That is grass-roots legislation at its best. We can affect the things that go into this bill. It obviously will be a huge bill that will take time to debate and craft. We feel we have a good working relationship with all our members of Congress and will be in contact with them about specific issues.”

“These discussions provide a terrific opportunity to affect positive change for so much of our industry,” Halverson said. “We look forward to the process and hope to get some good things done.”

South Dakota Farm Bureau

As Scott VanderWal was elected president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau in 2004, he has experience in providing input into the national farm bill. The Farm Bureau has a nation-wide working group with all the state directors working on ideas to go into the background policy material that will be distributed to members.

He explained, “We intentionally go to our members and say, ‘What are you looking for in the Farm Bill?’ Our working group is ahead of the policy development process. We put together backgrounders for the policy development process which starts this summer. The goal is to have our state and national policy in place before those in Congress really get rolling on the new legislation.”

VanderWal shared his thoughts about the discussions that will take place. “First, we want to preserve crop insurance and will make that priority number one, and I’m sure that will continue. It’s a valuable tool that is subsidized but it includes personal responsibility by farmers and ranchers.” He also noted that for those in farming and ranching, the PLC and ARC programs work pretty well.

He said that adjustments need to be made for livestock producers. “For the rancher, we need to look at the livestock risk protection program. I’m hearing that there is a problem in that it currently does not include grazing lands.”

It’s become clear that the data collection systems need to be more accurate for some of the climate-based ag programs. Expanding the Mesonet system will be important to include more collection points especially in West River. (Mesonet is a network of automated weather and environmental monitoring stations designed to observe localized meteorological phenomena, including rainfall.) VanderWal said he’d heard from some producers who wanted to file a claim with FSA for lack of hay because it had been so dry. The current system showed their area had enough rainfall, so FSA denied the claim. “So that’s a problem. This is something we will work on correcting.”

There is concern that the current administration looks at everything through two different prisms: social equity and climate change. There are some rumblings that environmental groups might push to get some climate-change “solutions” put into crop insurance as either incentives or requirements. “Our answer to that is if you start out with an incentive, like a cheaper rate, or better coverage, that eventually that turns into requirements. Our stand all along on climate-change issues is that they need to be market-based, voluntary and make economic sense. If they link crop insurance subsidies to some type of requirements, we would not be in favor of that at this point.”

With his history, VanderWal knows it’s a process, where there is a lot of give and take to get a positive piece of legislation developed.

“We ask our members to get involved by advocating for these positions, too. We as leaders can go to Capitol Hill, but the representatives and senators in Congress really value hearing from individuals. People need to speak up on their own behalf. Senators or representatives love being able to share a personal story that can be used in a congressional hearing. That personal story gets people’s attention and is something people can understand.”

VanderWal emphasized, “We depend on our members to provide input and put policy in place.”

South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association

As it’s still early, Eric Jennings said their leadership group of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association has heard little from the membership, but they will reach out to members to get their input.

“I think many are waiting to see what mid-term elections will bring. If the Democrats maintain their majority, then it’s expected that there will be a lot about climate in the Farm Bill. There is a lot of talk about carbon sequestration and 30 x 30 out here, but it’s not known if that will make it into the legislation.”

He continued, “Either way, in my opinion, I think we will see some enhanced conservation measures. Sen. Thune has brought up a bill to include cost share with infrastructure for fencing and water. Some of that may be for CRP acres for grazing and that may be a way for new producers to get some pastureland. It’s a struggle for new producers to get started. If they can utilize CRP with cost-share, then there can benefits to soil and plant health.”

Forage insurance and price protection for feeder cattle will be part of the discussion.

Jennings took part in the 2018 Farm Bill discussion, but not in a leadership role. During that time, they discussed shortcomings with the pasture rainfall index. A need to place more Mesonate station in the western part of the state was recognized. That has a lot to do with the accuracy of the drought monitor. Many programs key payments off those readings.

Jennings said the livestock payments depend on the level of drought and how long it lasts. They need accurate data as they key payout off those numbers. Millions of dollars are at stake and need to go to the producers in need. With the Mesonate discussion, it was clear there was a disconnect with few reporting stations in western South Dakota.

“I’m on our county FSA operating committee and have gained a better working knowledge of how the data is used. It is important for the livestock indemnity program to have accurate data for weather, especially to indicate temperatures, moisture and wind chills.”

There may be a push for more Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) or Conservation Security Program (CSP) which are big on conservation. There is talk about adding incentives.

As listening sessions begin, people need to speak up. “If producers have some ideas, they should make their voices heard. They can communicate their needs to industry representatives. All citizens have the right to be involved.”

He admits, for most people, being part of the farm bill discussion is intimidating. “It’s so big and cumbersome, it’s hard to know what they include in the legislation. Once discussions start, then more ideas may flow.”

For now, many are working to get calves on the ground, to recover from recent snows and to second guess Mother Nature as far as how much the grass will rebound.

Jennings emphasized, “All livestock people need to work together to form a coalition to provide the needs of our industry. A big factor in the success is deciding what we can agree on and what we work toward getting done.”

 


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