From the time I was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, I have consistently supported the South Dakota family farmer and rancher. I have worked diligently to help farmers and ranchers market their livestock and crops more effectively. Whether it is the passage of my Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law, working to encourage value-added agriculture opportunities, or helping to open new export markets, I am committed to increasing the profitability of our farmers and ranchers.
I have worked to fight concentration in the livestock industry by offering the Packer Ban bill, and helped pass legislation addressing mandatory price reporting by the packing industry. The increasing concentration in the agriculture industry threatens the viability of our family farmers and the livelihood of our rural communities, and I am committed to fighting its influence.
Our ranchers and farmers are responsible for producing wholesome, nutritious commodities for our nation's food supply and deserve a fair price for their product. Ensuring viability is key to bringing more young farmers into the fold.
As Congress moves forward with the Farm Bill reauthorization process, I will continue to look for ways to ensure a common-sense approach to federal agriculture programs so that our producers can spend more time producing our nation's food supply and less time juggling unnecessary paperwork or waiting for overdue payments.
From my position on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and specifically the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, I have the ability to ensure South Dakota gets fair representation in the appropriations process. Farm Bill programs are only as successful as the money put behind them and I will continue to fight for meaningful funding for these important programs. Working for South Dakota's rural and agricultural communities is among my top priorities here in the United States Senate.
Farms and ranches across South Dakota and throughout the nation have been ravaged by one of the worst droughts in the past 50 years. As family farms anxiously monitor their fields and producers are forced to sell off their livestock herds, out-migration continues to threaten rural America. All of this is why I have worked hard throughout my time in Congress to include a structured, permanent agriculture disaster response program in the Farm Bill. The Senate passed our version of the 2012 Farm Bill, known as the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act (S. 3240), on June 21, 2012. The bill, which I supported, would reauthorize and extend disaster assistance for producers, including for losses experienced this year. The Livestock Indemnity Program, Livestock Forage Program, and the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) are three of the reauthorized programs in the bill which stand to benefit South Dakota farmers and ranchers who suffer losses from national disasters. According to the National Climatic Data Center, this year’s drought now ranks among the ten largest in the past century. I will continue to work with my colleagues and the United States Department of Agriculture to ensure that producers have the resources they need to deal with the overwhelming drought conditions and that disaster programs function as intended. I will also continue to call on the House of Representatives to take up and pass a Farm Bill in order to provide certainty for South Dakota producers. Without a reauthorization, key disaster assistance is not available to folks facing a problem that is fully out of their control.
One other way in which I have worked to extend assistance to producers has been to encourage the Department of Agriculture to allow for the emergency haying and grazing of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). I sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack on July 12, 2012, in support of a request from the South Dakota Farm Service Agency State Committee seeking flexibility for the emergency haying and grazing on certain wetland and farmable wetland acres. On August 1, 2012, Secretary Vilsack announced that he would allow for such emergency haying and grazing.
An agriculture disaster is no different from any other type of natural disaster, and comprehensive agriculture disaster assistance is necessary to keep farmers and ranchers in the fold. Additionally, it is crucial to ensure that dollars are distributed in as timely a manner as possible.
County of Origin Labeling (COOL)
Throughout my years in Congress, I have worked tirelessly to promote Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). As the author of this program, I have seen broad bipartisan support of COOL in the United States Congress, along with strong public support. This program is not just a consumer right-to-know issue; it is a valuable marketing tool for ranchers and farmers.
President Bush signed mandatory COOL into law in the 2002 Farm Bill, with an implementation date of September 30, 2004. However, since being signed into law, COOL fell victim to a series of backroom deals, closed door discussions, delays, postponements, and policy riders attached to appropriations bills. The 2008 Farm Bill amended and clarified the commitment to require COOL implementation and the final rule to implement COOL took effect on March 16, 2009.
Less than one year into implementation, continued opposition to COOL from Canada and Mexico to use the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) trade dispute resolution process to challenge some features that apply to labeling meat. Both countries assert that COOL distorts trading practices by reducing the value and number of cattle and hogs shipped to the U.S. market.
On November 18, 2011, a WTO dispute settlement panel found that COOL treats imported livestock less favorably than U.S. livestock and does not meet its objective to provide complete information to consumers on the origin of meat products. The U.S. appealed the panel report on March 23, 2012. Finally, the WTO Appellate Body upheld the dispute resolution panel’s findings but reversed the finding that COOL does not fulfill its objective to provide consumers with information regarding the origin of their meat.
The Appellate Body correctly affirms the right of the U.S. to adopt labeling requirements in order to inform consumers as to the origin of the meat they purchase for their families. In essence, the ruling upholds the COOL statute but says there are problems with the implementation of the program. I will continue to work closely with the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Trade Representative, to identify the appropriate steps forward and to ensure that the program is carried out as Congress intended, in full compliance with WTO rules.
With agriculture as South Dakota’s number one industry and our state’s biggest economic driver, the importance of a strong Farm Bill is critical to South Dakota’s future. While I'm confident our agriculture future is a bright one, with skyrocketing input costs, uncertainty in the commodities markets, and weather events outside of the control of producers like the terrible drought that has plagued much of the country, an effective safety net is crucial for our national food security.
The Senate passed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, commonly referred to as the Farm Bill, with bipartisan support on a 64-35 vote on June 21, 2012. The bill approved by the Senate will reduce the deficit by more than $23 billion over ten years while supporting millions of jobs around the country that rely on agriculture. By eliminating direct payments, the bill takes an important step in making our farm support system more responsive to actual need rather than sending payments to producers no matter what they grow. At the same time, the bill maintains a strong crop insurance program and creates a new system that makes assistance available to producers when they actually experience a loss.
Besides these areas of reform, this farm bill contains a number of provisions that will strengthen rural America and influence our nation's agriculture industry, nutrition agenda, conservation practices, energy strategy, and rural development initiatives.
The bill takes important steps to combine and streamline our conservation programs while still allowing us to continue meeting the same land, water, and wildlife goals. The bill also contains an important nationwide sodsaver provision, which I have long supported, that will discourage the breaking of native sod for crop production.
A critically important component of the Senate-passed Farm Bill is that it reauthorizes the livestock disaster assistance programs that expired in September 2011. Specifically, the bill retroactively reauthorizes the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), the Livestock Forage Program (LFP), and the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) for losses experienced since October 1, 2011 through the life of the bill. Given the ongoing drought in South Dakota and across the country, it is even more vital that programs with a proven track record of providing producers with necessary and sufficient access to emergency assistance are continued.
In addition to disaster assistance, the Senate-passed Farm Bill included several provisions I’d worked extensively on with my colleagues on the topic of payment limitations. I have long believed that we need to target our farm programs to small and medium-sized family farmers, particularly given current budget constraints. The underlying bill contains a $50,000 hard cap on payments (doubled if a spouse is involved in the operation) under the new Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program, which would replace the current direct and counter-cyclical payments program. During floor consideration, the Senate also adopted an amendment that Senator Grassley (R-IA) and I offered to cap marketing loan gains at $75,000 (doubled if a spouse is involved in the operation). The final bill contains an overall cap of $250,000 on title 1 commodity programs. Additionally, the bill includes important language to close loopholes that have enabled “paper partners” to receive payments even though they do not contribute any labor to their operations.
While the final bill passed by the Senate certainly isn’t perfect, it reduces the deficit, supports millions of jobs, makes meaningful reforms to agriculture policy, and continues to make important investments in our rural communities. The process now has shifted to the House of Representatives where, without passage of a Farm Bill reauthorization, key disaster assistance will not be available for producers and the key reforms included in the Senate bill will not be enacted. The House must act in order to give our producers and rural communities the certainty that only a full reauthorization can provide.
While our farm policy is important, federal programs are only as good as the funding put behind them. From my seat on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, I will continue to push for policies that benefit South Dakota and fund and deliver our federal farm programs to rural communities.