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Johnson seeks input on new farm bill from ag community

Modified: Thursday, Nov 22nd, 2012

HURON — House passage of a new farm bill remains uncertain as Congress returns for its lame duck session next week, but Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., spent part of his recess asking for the opinions of agriculture producers, agriculture bankers and insurance brokers and representatives of the South Dakota Farmers Union.

The five-year bill passed by the Senate provides producers with the certainty they need, he said. It strengthens crop insurance, reauthorizes livestock disaster assistance and ends direct payments, while reducing the deficit by $23 billion over 10 years.

At an hour-long roundtable discussion in Huron on Tuesday, farmers talked about the uncertainty they are facing as they try to make planting decisions for next year.

Republican House leaders failed to bring a farm bill to a vote prior to the general election, saying they didn’t think they had the support needed for passage.

Johnson went around the table at one point, asking for opinions on options they would prefer over others as negotiations continue over the bill.

Fran Fritz, who works with conservation programs, said she’s concerned about future funding. Without the farm bill, there will likely be problems with tree planting. Taxes and costs of inputs for farmers are also a concern.

“I want the farm bill. We need the continuity,” she said. “It will happen.

“Conservation programs are not a flash in the pan,” Fritz added. “It’s a long-term solution.”

Producer Joel Keierleber of Colome said he’s convinced that without good crop insurance all young farmers would have gone bankrupt because of the drought.

The Senate bill increases crop insurance coverage in exchange for the loss of direct payments.

“The farmers involved here didn’t have much of a problem with that,” Johnson said after the meeting.

“The problem is, I suspect, in the South where they are much more reliant on cotton and rice,” he said, saying they are more reliant on direct payments.

The need for good land conservation has been brought home to folks in the plains states as they watched the PBS presentation of Ken Burns’ “Dust Bowl” documentary this week.

Conservation programs have been very helpful, said Keierleber.

“These programs really benefit the public, not just the farmers,” he said.

Johnson asked for input on the Conservation Reserve Program as well as how the drought has had an impact on such issues as crop insurance.

With lingering dry weather, livestock producers had to start feeding their cows much earlier than normal because of pasture conditions.

Ethanol has taken more of the corn market, but the industry is here to stay. Mitch Fargen of the South Dakota Farmers Union said, “let the free market take care of it — everyone will have to take a little dip.”

Johnson said the failure of the House to pass a farm bill means the savings in the Senate bill are not achieved.

“This provides no certainty for producers and the country is close to reverting back to the agriculture policies of the 1940s,” he said in a news release.

Without a farm bill, livestock disaster assistance programs have expired, and no new contracts can be issued for the Conservation Reserve Program, Grasslands Reserve Program or Wetlands Reserve Program, he said.

After the meeting, Johnson said he heard less resistance from the cattle producers and the grain people than he expected regarding prices going up for grain and livestock.

“That has a huge consequence for the ethanol people,” he said. “I thought there would be more resistance between the cattle feeders and the ethanol people than there was. They seem to all get along.”

For the complete article see the 11-21-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-21-2012 paper.

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