WASHINGTON, D.C. (KELO-AM) U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) today released the following statement on the farm bill conference report:
"The bipartisan farm bill conference report released yesterday will be good for South Dakota farmers and ranchers, will continue to feed the hungry, and will make meaningful reductions to the deficit. I’m pleased that negotiators were able to reach a reasonable compromise between the Senate and House versions of the bill.
This conference report represents a huge win for South Dakota ranchers. Our Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program will be allowed to continue, ranchers hit by the Atlas blizzard and the 2012 drought will finally get the disaster aid they need, and they will have access to key conservation programs that help them improve their operations.
The compromise bill also gives farmers long-term certainty and an effective safety net through new revenue and target price programs. Additionally, the crop insurance program will be strengthened and will continue to enable producers to effectively manage their risk.
Of course, with any compromise comes some disappointment. I’m discouraged by weakened payment limitations for the commodity programs, and I’m frustrated that the bill punts the decision of defining who is eligible for payments to the Secretary of Agriculture."
The farm bill conference report includes several provisions Senator Johnson worked on with colleagues to ensure they were part of the final version, including:
- Livestock Support – In addition to maintaining Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), the conference report also allows USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act. Livestock producers will also have access to several key disaster assistance programs, including the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), Livestock Forage Program (LFP), and the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP).
- Maintains a strong crop insurance program
- Eliminates direct payments
- Establishes conservation compliance requirements – The conference report will establish reasonable conservation compliance requirements for farmers to be eligible for premium support through federal crop insurance program. A sodsaver provision will also discourage producers from converting native sod to crop production.
- Mandatory Rural Development funding – Similar to the Senate-passed bill, the conference report would provide mandatory funding for a variety of USDA programs, including the Value-Added Producer Grant Program, the Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program, and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program.
- Mandatory funding for energy programs - The conference report includes approximately $881 million in mandatory funding, similar to the Senate-passed bill, for key energy title programs, including the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), the Biorefinery Assistance Program, and the Biobased Markets Program.
- Forest Health - The conference report gives the Forest Service expanded tools and flexibility to address forest health issues like the pine beetle epidemic in the Black Hills National Forest. It provides the Forest Service with “good neighbor” authority to increase cooperation with state forest officials. It also permanently authorizes stewardship contracting, which combine timber harvesting with conservation work to achieve watershed restoration and other land management goals. Building on the Mountain Pine Beetle Response Project in the Black Hills NF and the approach of the Health Forests Restoration Act, the conference report allows for designated treatment areas on national forests to streamline activities to combat insect and disease epidemics.
- Rural housing fix – The conference report contains a Johnson-authored provision that was included in the Senate-passed bill that will ensure hundreds of rural communities across the nation, including Aberdeen, Brookings, and Watertown, remain eligible for rural housing programs administered by USDA. The provision will grandfather currently eligible communities that meet the population threshold until 2020 and raise the population cap from 25,000 to 35,000. These programs help rural communities by providing homeownership options for individuals and financing assistance for developers of multi-family housing projects.