S.D. coalition announces ‘Back the Farm Bill’ campaign

A broad coalition made up of South Dakota agriculture, energy, conservation and technology groups, and the state’s largest network of food banks held a press conference today to announce a “Back the Farm Bill” campaign aimed at raising awareness of the need for a comprehensive, five-year federal farm bill.

The press conference was held during Ag Appreciation Day at the Sioux Empire Fair and included leaders from a wide range of interests who all support the passage of a long-term farm bill before the current extension of the 2008 farm bill expires Sept. 30, 2013. The coalition currently includes 16 groups from across the state of South Dakota that have agreed to support five main points: The farm bill must be a compromise; another extension of the 2008 farm bill is not a viable option; the farm bill must contain a nutrition title; Congress should not repeal permanent law; and the House must name conferees to work out compromises on the farm bill.

“This coalition is about raising awareness on how the farm bill is important to everyone, not just farmers,” said Doug Sombke, president of the South Dakota Farmers Union. “This is about food, conservation, energy, economic development, jobs, trade, rural and urban America, and all Americans.”

Lisa Richardson, executive director of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, said the farm bill cuts costs, reduces the deficit and needs to be signed into law before the current bill expires Sept. 30.

“We have the largest deficit reduction, nonpartisan bill in Congress,” Richardson said. “The farm bill needs to happen, it needs to be completed, and it needs to be done end of September, period. Compromise is not a four-letter word. We need to get this farm bill done. We need to get it done before it expires.”

Matt Gassen, executive director of Feeding South Dakota, the state’s largest network of food banks, said the nutrition title of the farm bill is vital because it provides food assistance to low-income Americans through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“This group of coalition members, each and every one, agrees that the nutrition title needs to be a part of the farm bill,” Gassen said. “They all see the value that the nutrition title has to the farm bill and the people that farm bill serves. It’s important to realize that the farm bill isn’t just for farmers. The farm bill impacts rural communities, farm communities just as much.”

Eric Lindstrom with Ducks Unlimited said although the farm bill has progressed through the Senate, it has been stalled and defeated in the House, only to be split after the House passed a farm bill without a nutrition title. He said South Dakotans and people across the country need to speak up and tell their members of Congress to support the farm bill.

“Congress works for us,” Lindstrom said. “It’s time for them to hear from their constituents back home. When they return to work in September they only have a few weeks of legislative action left before the bill expires on September 30. Over 16 million American jobs depend on this bill passing, so we need to get it passed.”

Matt McLarty, a board member of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association, said the farm bill is extremely important to the future of renewable energy projects in the state and partisan politics is jeopardizing that.

“It’s a little sad that this group has to come together to demand Congress to do their job,” McLarty said. “The farm bill, for a very long time, has been a bipartisan bill with the best of the Democrats and the best of the Republicans coming together to do what’s right for rural South Dakota. There are energy programs that are part of the farm bill, such as the Rural Energy for America Program, which provides grants and loans to people who are looking into renewable energy, energy efficiency and geothermal projects. It’s time Congress got back to work, did their job, and passed a farm bill for South Dakota.”

During the “Back the Farm Bill” campaign, many of the groups will reach out to their members and the public to encourage their support of the legislation and to encourage them to contact members of Congress to urge their support. The campaign will culminate on August 31, 2013, with a Back the Farm Bill Rally during the South Dakota State Fair. The rally will begin at 1 p.m. at the Freedom Stage at the fairgrounds.

The 2008 farm bill was extended until this September after the U.S. House failed to vote on the farm bill in 2012 and an extension was agreed upon as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal at the end of 2012. The House defeated the farm bill in 2013, and later passed a bill that included only farm programs and left out the nutrition title which funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, school lunch programs, and food programs for seniors.

The coalition members include:

– American Coalition for Ethanol

– Black Hills Forest Resource Association

– Dakota Rural Action

– Ducks Unlimited

– Feeding South Dakota

– Pheasants Forever

– South Dakota Biotech Association

– South Dakota Corn Growers Association

– South Dakota Dairy Producers

– South Dakota Farmers Union

– South Dakota Grasslands Coalition

– South Dakota Sheep Growers Association

– South Dakota Stockgrowers Association

– South Dakota Wind Energy Association

– Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

– Yankton Area Chamber of Commerce

–Back the Farm Bill