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South Dakotans rally for a new federal farm bill: Groups say it impacts every American

Posted: Monday, Sep 2nd, 2013

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., speaks during a Farm Bill rally Saturday at the South Dakota State Fair. In the next photo, Brandon Willis, administrator of USDA's Risk Management Agency, also spoke at the event which was held at the Freedom Stage. PHOTOS COURTESY CHRIS STUDER

HURON — A broad coalition of organizations across South Dakota is urging Congress to act quickly to reauthorize the nation’s farm bill, saying its comprehensive programs impact all Americans every day.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a hunter, a fisherman, a grower, a feeder or an eater,” said Mike Stephenson, regional representative for Pheasants Forever in South Dakota.

Led by South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke, members of the coalition took to the State Fair’s Freedom Stage on Saturday to continue a farm bill rally they began in August.

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., who others called a long-time champion of agriculture and the hungry, said he is hearing the message loud and clear in Washington, D.C.

“I share your frustration about how slow this process has been,” he said.

Earlier in the summer, Johnson and two-thirds of his Senate colleagues passed a farm bill. Not everything in the bill was perfect, and Johnson said he was among those who disagreed with some of it.

“But that’s what compromise is all about, and that’s what we have to do to develop a long-term farm bill,” he said.

House members passed a bill after separating out the nutrition title. Action on that awaits their return after the August recess.

Sombke said rural America would best be served if South Dakota’s lone member of Congress – Rep. Kristi Noem – is named as a House conferee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions.

“This is not about selfishness,” Sombke said. “This is coming together, creating what we need to have for a farm bill.”

Passing a farm bill into law — something the federal government has done since 1933 — in part provides a safety net for producers, feeds the hungry and reduces the national debt, Johnson said.

For the last 80 years, the succession of farm bills has evolved to meet the needs of Americans, said Brandon Willis, administrator of the Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency.

Newer components have included the nutrition title to feed hard-working families struggling to make ends meet and rural development programs that make loans to improve lives. An energy title has created jobs, and conservation programs are saving precious topsoil.

“So you combine a solid federal policy with the ingenuity and the hard work of the American farmer,” Willis said. “People who do not even set foot on a farm benefit because of stable food production.”

Willis said U.S. consumers pay the least amount of their income at the grocery store than any other developed nation.

“It doesn’t happen by accident,” he said.

But he said policies need to keep up with the times.

“An outdated policy will give us outdated results,” he said.

Lisa Richardson, executive director of the South Dakota Corn Growers, said it is baffling to even consider that a farm bill that is the largest deficit-reduction, bipartisan legislation in Congress would not be passed. It would save between $23 and $40 billion taxpayer dollars.

“Collectively, we don’t agree on everything but we have to get a farm bill done or we all lose,” she said. “Every South Dakotan loses.”

Corn farmers have a lifeline with a ready market in ethanol, said Tom Hitchcock, chief executive officer of Redfield Energy.

The 15 ethanol facilities in the state produce one billion gallons annually, more than twice the amount of gas sold in South Dakota.

The state ranks seventh in the nation in ethanol production, and 360 million bushels of corn are crushed each year, with nearly one third of it going back as high-quality, high-protein cattle and poultry feed, Hitchcock said.

Ethanol plants contribute $3.8 billion to the state’s economy, or nearly $5,000 per citizen.

Feeding South Dakota has 350 partner organizations that help provide food to families in need, said Matt Gassen, executive director.

The agency also has a partnership with USDA’s commodities and food nutrition programs through the farm bill.

“It’s those programs that help us supplement all that we need to be able to reach out to the tens of thousands of South Dakotans who battle every day to put food on the table,” Gassen said.

The farm bill should be bipartisan, but passage will require compromise, he said.

“But as we’re doing that, it’s our hope that we don’t gut the nutrition program in an effort to save those millions and billions of dollars that our country desperately needs to do,” he said.

For the complete article see the 09-01-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 09-01-2013 paper.

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